04/19/2021 – Congratulations, Apink!

Today is the ten-year anniversary of Apink, one of my favorite K-pop groups. I don’t have anything big planned to commemorate such an achievement, but I have been working intermittently behind-the-scenes on a podcast episode dedicated to them, something like “Apink: A Musical Journey” or “The Art of Apink.” I don’t know, whatever sounds less dumb. But I don’t mind being dumb, because Apink makes for sometimes simple pleasures, with their easy, listenable sound. This is their overall character, “soft” or “cute,” so they lull you and when the surprises come, they hit hard. There’s the gradual “maturing” in tone they’ve developed in the past few years, with hits like “I’m So Sick” and “Eung Eung” — both excellent — but I don’t want to look at that as a change of style. I think it’s all one thing, that there’s a central driver behind songs as disparate in theme as “My My” and “Dumhdurum.” We’ll talk more in-depth about their artistry later.

With Apink especially, their music is only one part of the experience, and maybe that’s true of all K-pop — what drives the rabid fandom of BTS and Blackpink? I imagine it’s the character, the immediacy of a human face. We fall in love with the music and the musicians, and this must be part of the design. For reference, I’m mostly a film fan, and I love David Cronenberg, for example, but it’s not really the same thing. For one, these idols are constantly visible, and with even cursory research, we get a picture of their lives and relationships. It’s like The Truman Show, but we imagine they assert some agency over when they “go live.” I can hardly describe it, but Apink is particularly potent in this department, and I think it’s because, like their music, they’re so refreshingly easygoing. I’ve spoken at length here about Bomi, but it’s all of them — Chorong is cool as a cucumber but always down for the group’s silliness, Eunji is a totally extra big sister, Naeun’s always hiding a smile, Namjoo is a firework, and Hayoung might just be the glue holding everyone together. With only one exception, you can pair off any of them and come up with an endless sitcom (the exception is Naeun and Namjoo, which took me a year to see). They’re just the best, I don’t know.

From left to right: Eunji, Namjoo, Bomi, Naeun, Chorong, Hayoung

Ten years is a considerable amount of time for a K-pop group, and Apink has suffered such little drama over its run that they’re showing no sign of slowing down. Perhaps they got it out of their system early: the seven-piece group lost a member two years in, Hong Yoo-kyung, but this was an amicable split, and as recently as 2018, she met up with the “unnie” line — Chorong, Bomi, Eunji — for a meal. Apink has unlocked the secret to longevity, and that’s probably some combination of high-quality music, infectious group chemistry, and mostly scandal-free personas (Eunji gets into trouble sometimes for her being extra, but that’s a feature, not a bug to me, and Chorong is currently dealing with an old friend stirring up trouble).

Honestly, from my perspective — without fully understanding the hardships of being in a notoriously toxic industry — Apink is like an archetype, or a paragon. They are what K-pop groups should aspire to be, or rather, what K-pop agencies should emulate in their management. They seem healthy and happy, but their passion and work ethic is no lesser — yields still amazing music ten years later.

I’ll leave you with a classic Apink song, and in the meantime, saranghae.

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