Overflowing with creativity and dramatic hues, K-pop is rarely perceived as a politically fraught music industry. But when it was revealed last week that several members of boy band 24K had been blacklisted under the last presidential regime — meaning they were barred from certain opportunities between 2008-2015 — it reiterated the highly-politicized state of South Korean entertainment, which has also seen several K-pop acts recently involved in the North-South Korean political dialogue.
Five past and current members of 24K — Seokjune, Byungho, Cory, Kisu, and Daeil, plus a manager of the group — were included in a political blacklist, begun during the presidency of Lee Myung-bak and continued during that of Park Geun-hye, allegedly for singing a song in support of now-president Moon Jae-in. Nearly 9,000 artists were included on the list; 24K was the only K-pop group that had members affected.
Led by English-speaking member Cory Hong (the only original member of the act still active in the boy band after multiple lineup changes), 24K told Billboard about the affront to their career and democratic rights via email.
When did 24K first become aware of the blacklisting?
The members found out about being blacklisted through the articles that have been being released. We have heard rumors and speculations about this agenda but never thought it was real. As members of a K-pop boy band, we didn’t think we’d hold that much significance to the campaign of the former and recently impeached presidency. At least, not enough for us to be blacklisted.
What were the band members and agency’s thoughts and feelings upon the discovery?
Kisu and I [Cory] were definitely awestruck from the news. The list didn’t have us down as a group, but rather it was member-specific. It was daunting to think that someone could so easily put an artificial ceiling to our success and career. The staff at Choeun Entertainment had similar reactions. The CEO of our company, in attempts to comfort our dismay, told us, “Hey, at least they recognized you guys,” but the idea that there is such a list out there is still very disappointing.
Why do you believe the band was blacklisted?
We are assuming it was because we supported the current South Korean president Moon’s campaign in 2012 while [he was] running against the former president. We participated in a collaboration campaign song with producer Kim Hyeong Suk and in a campaign commercial. We thought partaking in election campaigns was an expression and just another way of exercising our freedom of free speech. The company thought the same and supported our cause. Recently, we’ve heard that producer Kim Hyeong Suk dedicated three original songs for the current president’s campaign. [We] thought that was really cool.
What effect on 24K’s career did the blacklist have?
None of us actually know the specific effects the blacklisting had on our career. All of our promos and schedules were tied in with our agency. I have heard it was really hard to book certain show and spots at certain stations and broadcasts but never put the two together until I heard the news. I suppose it could have nothing to do with the blacklisting…but lack of promos in Korea forced [us] to opt out of domestic exposure. It did give us a chance to go on more tours, which led to more interactions and quality time spent with the international fans. It was a silver lining and a blessing to know how we still had support out there.
How will 24K move forward following this revelation?
We are hoping to see less discrimination and marginalization in the people’s freedom of speech. We, as a team, will continue to do what we’ve been doing to set ourselves apart from the other groups. Making our own beats, mixing, mastering, writing our own lyrics, choreographies…taking full control of our artistry. We may be blacklisted, but we will continue to make and participate in any projects we as a team decide worth standing by.
Speaking of which, we do have a mini album and the title song “BONNIE N CLYDE” coming out May 25th. The song is loosely based on the 1967 Hollywood film Bonnie and Clyde. After we finish up our domestic promotions, we will be back on the road to show our appreciation for the international fans who kept us afloat.
24K last released their single “Only You” last May.