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A fan video containing various pictures and videos where T-ara member Hwayoung (far left) appears to be bullied or ignored by the rest of the group.

By NATASHA IMAN
alltherage@thestar.com.my

THE much-anticipated return of girl group T-ara later this month has been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding group member Hwayoung. Ahead of the group’s July concerts in Tokyo, Japan, it was announced that Hwayoung would not be able to fully participate in the shows due to a leg injury sustained while shooting a music programme, and would only be on stage for parts of the concert.

While the concert was a success, tweets from the other six T-ara members after the concert enraged certain groups of fans, as the tweets were interpreted to be veiled attacks on Hwayoung, implying that she did not show enough determination, and that she had caused the group a great inconvenience by not doing the full show.

The tweets cause a bit of a storm as fans began scrutinising the band’s shows and pointing out signs that not all was well among the girls.Three days after the controversy surfaced, Core Contents Media, the company managing T-ara, stated that it would be making a major announcement concerning T-ara on July 30. Prior to the announcement made, more fuel was added to the fire when some fans started to un-follow Hwayoung on Twitter, and reports emerged claiming that Hwayoung was being bullied by the other T-ara girls.

Fans flocked bulletin boards, petitioning for band member Eunjung’s removal from the TV series We Got Married and Five Fingers, which she had been recently cast in.

When the announcement finally came, it was concerning the dismissal of Hwayoung from the group – something which many fans had already predicted.
Core Contents Media (CCM) CEO Kim Kwang Soo made the announcement at a press conference, stating that the dismissal of Hwayoung was not related to the tweets by her bandmates or the alleged bullying within the group.

The official reason was that CCM had received complaints from 19 staff members – specifically five stylists, seven hair and makeup artists, five on-site managers and two team managers. Hwayoung’s contract was voided immediately after the announcement.

The full press release stated that the CEO had “mentioned during T-ara’s switch from seven to nine members that the possibility of member changes existed for those who did not work hard enough or inflicted damage upon other members”.
The reasons for Hwayoung’s departure were very vague, leaving netizens furious. In an interview after the announcement, Kim was equally vague on the subject, repeatedly stating that he did not want to reveal more to avoid worsening the situation.

However, another statement released shortly after the interview claimed that Hwayoung had been guilty of unacceptable behaviour in the past. Due to her injury, it was decided that she would perform a rap segment sitting on a chair.
Hwayoung rejected the idea, forcing Eunjung and Hyomin to learn the rap segment with very little time left. Hyomin ended up making a mistake on the rap.

The statement also said that after a music programme, Hwayoung had thrown down her crutches, sat on the floor in front of fans and reporters, and threatened to scream at her managers in public.

A witness, however, refuted the statement, saying that while it was true that she had thrown down her crutches, Hwayoung had also been seen crying outside the group’s waiting room, having been barred from entering.

Adding fuel to the fire, a producer from local broadcasting company SBS tweeted that he would no longer be casting T-ara in his programmes, seemingly a show of support for Hwayoung, the apparent victim.

As more evidence slowly comes to light, a website entitled “T-Jinyo” – an acronym in Korean which can be translated to “We Demand The Truth from T-ara” – was formed, and it has already amassed 160,000 members, all demanding for the truth about Hwayoung’s explusion from T-ara.

There is even now a petition calling for the disbandment of the group altogether. The petition states that a group which promotes bullying and refuses to take their jobs seriously does not deserve to be a part of the entertainment industry. The petition collected over 106,000 signatures in a matter of days.

The entire incident has been a huge set-back to the group’s comeback concert. All but 600 tickets to the concert have been returned since the start of the whole drama, and they have been dropped by a few of the companies they had been endorsing.

Fans have been bombarding these companies with calls stating that they will stop buying their products if T-ara continued promoting them.

Cosmetics company Tony Moly even publicly stated that they were in talks to sign a new contract with the girls, but would now be pulling out. Fans have reportedly been entering stores requesting that T-ara posters be taken down.

T-ara subsequently cancelled their appearance at the SBS K-pop Yeosu Expo Super Concert, which was to be their last official event before their comeback at the end of August. T-ara will also no longer be appearing on this week’s regular music programmes.

With the girls avoiding public events and music programs, only time will tell whether T-ara can overcome this obstacle and once again win the hearts of fans around the world.

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