Issue #24: Tierra Whack and I*ZONE

Oh my gawd I love Chuh-pote-lay! Chuh-pote-lay is my liiiiiife!

Guten Tag meine Schlampen,

It’s been a while since this Thursday newsletter has actually come out on a Thursday. Let us rejoice!

And let’s get this par tee starr ted.

HIGHBROW

I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure lately to introduce y’all to some cool new shit in this newsletter. But the problem is that I spend so much of my time watching David Dobrik classics like “OIL ON THE FLOOR WIPEOUT!! (LOT OF PAIN)” that I miss all the cool shit and hear about it way late. So I know I’m often late to the party. But damn, at least I showed up!

And that’s how I feel about my love for Tierra Whack. I know some of you may be like, “I’ve never heard of that person. That’s normal.” But to be a Brooklyn-based Black woman in her early-late twenties and to only have heard about Tierra Whack in 2019 is actually one of the most embarrassing things you can be. But my love for her supersedes my deep, deep, shame.

Tierra Whack is a rapper-slash-music-video-sorceress. And let me tell you, this bitch is so fucking smart! She’s probably known best for two projects: Whack World and Whack History Month. The former is an album of roughly one-minute songs, each accompanied by its own music video. She strings them all together in this visual album that’s wacky and weird and funny and creepy and straight up just really very cool. Tierra is a versatile talent. In the span of 15 minutes, she’s able to showcase her immense range. Whack History Month was five-week period at the top of the year when Tierra Whack decided to drop one single a week. And much like in Whack World, she used this unconventional drop as an opportunity to showcase a variety of musical styles. 

I’m just so amazed by how much she is able to stretch herself on all fronts: her music, her production, her vocals, her performance. I can not WAIT to see what she does with a bigger production budget. Not that she needs more money to make better stuff, but like, imagine Tierra Whack with a Hype Williams budget. Your faves would be OVER.

Whack World and all the singles from Whack History Month are at maximum slappage, but I do have a few favorites I’d like to direct you towards. On Whack World, might I suggest “Hungry Hippo,” “Pet Cemetery,” and “Pretty Ugly.” And on Whack History Month, my go-to roadtrip song is “Wasteland.” Enjoy!

LOWBROW

If you have a K-pop stan in your life, please check up on them. It has been a really rough year.

K-pop suffers from the same pitfalls of any industry that trains children to be perfect-yet-relatable, sexy-but-not-too-sexy, ad-friendly entertainers. We’ve seen so many former-teen idols struggle to cope with the scrutiny and pressure—and the same goes for K-pop. This year, we’ve seen several idols go on hiatus for mental health disorders and “personal circumstances,” we’ve seen idols LEAVE their groups entirely for un-idol-like behavior, we’ve even learned of VERY SERIOUS, EXPLOITIVE crimes committed by idols. It’s been truly so fucking crazy.

And also deeply tragic.

On October 14, it was reported that Sulli, an actress and former member of the K-Pop group f(x), had taken her own life. A month later, her close friend and fellow K-Pop idol Hara reportedly died by suicide as well. Both women were very young—25 and 28 respectively—and were known for being the targets of an especially generous helping of public ire in an industry that’s known for its particularly vicious netizens. It’s really not fair. 

This is all to say, it’s been quite the year for the K-Pop—the industry is booming, but some of the people making it are suffering deeply.

It can be hard to know, as a K-Pop listener, what to do now. I, unfortunately, do not have an answer for you. I just have a recommendation. A recommendation that comes with a lot of bullshit as well.

Let me tell you the story of I*ZONE.

I*ZONE began like all great K-Pop groups do: with a reality competition show. And the one that they started on is a VERY interesting case. Let’s get into it.

The show is Produce 101. If you haven’t read my issue about the show, might I suggest you start there first?

But basically, Produce 101 is a talent search competition that puts together K-Pop groups based on audience votes. And after two wildly successful seasons and two wildly successful K-Pop groups, the Produce team returned to make a Season 3, which they called Produce 48. Why? Because the twist for Season 3 was, not only would Korean trainees compete, but Japanese trainees would as well. Well, “trainee” is not quite the right word to describe the Japanese contestants, because technically, they had already debuted under a well-known J-Pop institution: AKB48. I’m not going to really get into AKB48, but basically it is a nearly 15-year-old mega-girl group of over 120 members that rotate in and out on a regular basis. 

Introducing AKB48 into the mix is very interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, though they are only separated by a single letter, K-Pop and J-Pop are totally different. (This is quite a generalization, but stick with me here) K-Pop is characterized by intense training and high production values. J-Pop relies more on the stage presence and accessibility of their idols. And putting Korean trainees and Japanese trainees with totally different skill sets into the same competition makes for some very interesting television. Secondly, I don’t know if you know much about the history of Korea and Japan, but um… those countries are very much NOT friends. And I simply love it when deeply rooted historic tensions are played out on reality tv shows starring 9th graders in mini skirts. There’s a lot of talk of how “interesting” the “cultural differences” are between the Korean and the Japanese girls… sounds a little sus to me… 

Much like the seasons before it, Produce 48 was a runaway hit. After months of competition, 12 girls are voted into the final lineup, creating I*ZONE, an international girl-group designed specifically to conquer the Korean AND Japanese markets. They made their debut in October of 2018 with a boppington: 라비앙로즈 (La Vie en Rose). They followed that up with another bop-bop-bop-to-the-top, 비올레타 (Violeta). And you know my girls bring the fire to their Japanese songs as well. My personal favorite is 好きと言わせたい (Suki to Iwasetai)—the video garbaggio but the song SLAPS. 

It seemed like I*ZONE were destined for domination. They immediately started to sell albums and rack up views on par with some of the biggest groups in K-Pop. This seemed crazy considering they were 12 random girls shoe-horned into one group. They all seemed to fit so nicely together, their image was so cohesive. They were almost too perfect.

This is where the story gets really fucking psycho.

In July of this year, while the fourth season of Produce 101 was airing, some viewers noticed anomalies in the voting results and started posting about it on social media. By August, the Seoul Metropolitan Police had opened up an investigation into the show’s alleged vote manipulation. The investigation revealed that the final line-ups for seasons 3 and 4 of the Produce series had been determined ahead of time. That meant I*ZONE had been a sham.

The girls have been on a forced hiatus for a few months now while they wait to hear what will happen with their group. It’s unclear whether the idols themselves participated in the fraud—some of the trainees who didn’t make it to the final line up have suggested that certain trainees received music and choreography ahead of the other contestants. But to be fair, some of these idols are literal CHILDREN. The group’s youngest, Jang Won Young, is 15! Where was I at 15? I don’t really remember because that was the peak of my eating disorder and my memories from that time are lost to anorexia brain (you hate to see it), BUT if someone had promised to make me a pop star, I would’ve thrown all of my loved ones under the bus just to get a whiff of fame and fortune. So my heart goes out to the I*ZONE girls—yes, even if they are cheaters—because they are not the power holders here.

The future of I*ZONE is still uncertain. Several producers and entertainment executives associated with the Produce series have been arrested. Truthfully, and this hurts me to say, but all signs are pointing to disbandment.

“But Simone,” you say, “this is a huge bummer! And I read this newsletter to get AWAY from news about election interference.” Well sorry, babe! C’est la vie…

La la la la vie en rose.

You can listen to I*ZONE here and here and here. And if you’re curious, here and here and here are some of my favorite moments from the show, Produce 48.

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As always, thank you so much for reading! And, hey, why not tell your friends and/or twitter followers?

Always love love love!

xoxo,

Simone