With “Under the Radar,” I am spotlighting artists who I believe are completely underrated and unappreciated.
My spotlight on ZE:A has taken quite a bit of time. When I first heard ZE:A over a year ago, I must have been having a bad day or distracted, because I wasn’t really drawn to them. After hearing more of their songs, my interest grew and I realized how great they really were. The “Aftermath” promotions sealed the deal for me. Most recently, I am constantly finding myself walking around singing “Phoenix.” This blog post has really become a labor of love for me. When I initially started writing it, I thought it would take a day or two. Instead, it has taken a week. I’ve listened to many songs, watched countless videos, read articles, and edited the post too many times to remember. Through it all, my love for ZE:A grew exponentially. Sadly, since I can’t really purchase their music, merchandise, or see them live, my only avenues that allow me to show support are YouTube and blogging. I wanted this post to show ZE:A’s talents and to give them the proper respect. Even though I know the members will never see this post, I felt that I should write it properly and do a good job. I also try not to come off as a fan girl, since I’m not that type. HAHA. In the end, I hope others can appreciate the group.
There are probably some obvious tense changes, but just ignore those. Although there is plenty of visuals and eye candy, it is a very long post, so you have been warned. HAHA
Today’s spotlight is on ZE:A!
Name: ZE:A (Children of Empire)
Label: StarEmpire Entertainment
Fan Club: ZE:A’s (or ZE:A STYLE)
Debut Date: January 15, 2010
JunYoung (Moon Jun Young)
Postion: Leader, Vocalist
Birth Date: February 9, 1989
Kevin (Kim Ji Yeop)
Birth Date: February 23, 1988
KwangHee (Hwang Kwang Hee)
Birth Date: August 25, 1988
SiWan (Im Woong Jae)
Birth Date: December 1, 1988
TaeHeon (Kim Tae Hun)
Birth Date: June 18, 1989
HeeCheol (Jung Hee Chul)
Birth Date: December 9, 1989
MinWoo (Ha Min Woo)
Birth Date: September 6, 1990
HyungSik (Park Hyung Sik)
Birth Date: November 16, 1991
DongJun (Kim Dong Jun)
Position: Maknae, Sub-Vocalist
Birth Date: February 11, 1992
In January 2010, ZE:A debuted with their mini-album, Nativity. They reached number 1 on both the Daum album charts and artist charts the day they debuted. Their first performance was of their lead single “Mazeltov,” on Music Bank on January 15, 2010.
For their first comeback in March 2011, they released another single, Leap for Detonation. This time, they featured a slow and dramatic song, “All Day Long”. In July of the same year, they released their third single digitally, Level Up, although no MV was ever released for the song.
Between 2010 and 2011, ZE:A expanded into Japan. Their two singles, ZE:A! and Love Letter/My Only Wish, placed third and second on the Oricon Daily chart, respectively.
In their March 2011 Korean comeback, ZE:A released their first full album, Lovability. This album featured ‘love songs’ but promotions were cut short due to one song, “Be My Girl,” being deemed unsuitable for minors.
In July 2011, ZE:A had another comeback with a special summer single, Exciting!. Music videos for the songs “Watch Out!” and “Heart for 2” were released. On the day “Watch Out” was released, they took the number one spot on Hanteo’s real-time album sales chart. This was the first time they had achieved taking the number one spot.
In November 2011, ZE:A returned to their Japan promotions with the release of the single Daily Daily. The single placed third on the Oricon chart upon it’s release.
In 2012, ZE:A has once again returned to Korea. Although their comeback was delayed due to leader Junyoung suffering an injury, the group returned in July with their album, SPECTACULAR. They promoted with the lead song, “Aftermath,” and also performed a short version of “Body to Body.” In the second week of July, “Aftermath” became the most played song on air. Following this, ZE:A returned in August with the single PHOENIX. PHOENIX was able to rank #1 on Bugs Music, a major Korean music site. This is the first time ZE:A has ranked #1 since their debut. The Japanese release of the song ranked #2 on the Oricon chart, as well.
Possible Reasons for Being Underrated:
ZE:A had an unfortunate debut date and simply got lost in the shuffle. Not only did they debut in 2010, but they debuted at the beginning of the year. Although they initially garnered attention when debuting, it didn’t sustain to the point of them winning awards and gaining a massive following as other rookies that year did. For those of you who are not familiar with 2010 K-Pop, there was an influx of some of the biggest artists around. The subgroups of Orange Caramel, GD&TOP, and SM The Ballad debuted that year. The members of these groups already had massive followings, so they attracted a lot of attention and created hits. We also saw the debut of quite a few rookie groups who have blown up: Miss A, Sistar, CNBLUE, INFINITE, and TEEN TOP. On top of it all, Jaejoong, Yoochun, and Junsu came back in the form of JYJ. It is hard to fight against the tide of attention JYJ created. Having to go against such groups, and established artists having comebacks, is a tough barrier for rookies to break through. If you are even able to be remembered at the end of the year, that is a feat in itself.
As to the month of January, at that time, “Adam Couple” from We Got Married, Jo Kwon and Ga In, had released their duet “We Were In Love.” They were clearly a favorite amongst viewers, and their musical talents had already been recognized through 2AM and Brown Eyed Girls. CNBLUE also won that month, which could be seen as a rookie anomaly, if it weren’t for the fact that they had debuted in Japan the previous year. Just a few short weeks earlier, T-ara also had a comeback. ZE:A was up against tough competition for attention.
For their comeback in March, ZE:A had to compete with artists like KARA and B2ST, and later SNSD and Rain (the King of the Hallyu Wave, in my opinion) at the beginning of April. The following year, in March 2011, they would have to compete with Big Bang, TVXQ, and CNBLUE. In July 2011, they came back at the same time as 2PM, 2NE1, T-ara, and Miss A. With their most recent 2012 comebacks, they have gone up against artists like Super Junior, B2ST, PSY, and KARA.
Affect of Labels
ZE:A comes from one of the smaller companies in the Korean music industry, StarEmpire Entertainment. StarEmpire has a relatively stable roster of artists: ZE:A, Nine Muses, Jewelry, and V.O.S. However, it is difficult for smaller labels to find a stronghold in the market. YG Entertainment, SM Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment are the Big 3 in K-Pop. While smaller labels have found some success, including StarEmpire with Jewelry, when you compete directly against the Big 3, it’s an uphill battle. Although Jewelry and Nine Muses have won awards at year-end ceremonies, ZE:A has been unrepresented in all respects (if Wikipedia is correct). One good thing is that StarEmpire has helped spread K-pop, such as having Nine Muses, former label artist Seo In Young, and ZE:A hold events in Dubai.
They say that “all publicity, is good publicity.” While it’s true that you gain attention when people talk about you, whether good or bad, sometimes that attention is not a good thing. Pre-debut, ZE:A was involved in a bit of a name controversy, and a rather stupid one at that. Apparently, there were people who weren’t too keen on the pronunciation of the group’s name. In particular, these people had issues with the pronunciation being similar to that of Brown Eyed Girl’s member J.ea. The group subsequently altered the pronunciation. This could have caused confusion to the fans they had already acquired through their pre-debut activities. It could have also garnered them some non-fans (I tried to put that as politely as possible without saying antis).
One thing ZE:A does not seem to have is a gimmick or schtick they use to gain more attention. They aren’t sticking with doing a cute concept, or an aggressive one. They also didn’t release a bubblegum-pop dance tune. ZE:A has not labeled themselves as “the next so-and-so” or that they wish to be like one group or another. Although they participated in their own reality shows and held guerrilla concerts, ZE:A debuted as a solid boy group with no need to do something special other than to do what they do best: perform. Without attention-getting concepts that some groups use, such as INFINITE’s synchronization (no offense to INFINITE, because I love them), the group could have just been seen as another boy group.
Why I Think ZE:A is Underrated:
Well for one thing, there is no lack of talent. Every member is good at what they do: from vocalist Dongjun to rapper TaeHeon. They also can dance. When a group with nine members does not have a single member who lacks in talent or is just a pretty face, that says a lot about their quality. I honestly get really annoyed with groups that have one or two stand out members, and the rest are just sub-par back-up dancers. With ZE:A, that is not the case. With them, quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive.
*This was the only decent quality MR removed video I could find*
During live performances, their voices are not overshadowed by a loud backtrack. If one member has to miss a promotion cycle, such as Junyoung having to miss the “Aftermath” and “Phoenix” promotions due to an injury, there is someone there to pick up the vocals.
ZE:A also releases quality songs and a good variety. For instance, ZE:A have shown their cute side with “Here I Am” and “Watch Out.” They have shown their masculine dancing side with “Body to Body.” ZE:A has most recently shown a mature and powerful image with “Phoenix.” They even push boundaries of appropriateness with “Be My Girl” and “Dirty Cat,” and charm you with sweet songs like “Special Day” and “Begin With Kiss.” I enjoy groups who are not one-trick ponies and who are willing to alter their images as they see fit. The music is also produced very well, including a song from hit maker Brave Brothers. There is no unnecessary or excessive use of auto-tune to hide lackluster vocals. I actually listened to a bunch of their songs, 18 of them, to test my belief in this. Their debut song, “Mazeltov,” and “COY Girl” are the only auto-tune exceptions, but still are pretty good songs, since it’s not excessive. ZE:A’s songs are catchy, as well. By “catchy,” I don’t mean mindless drivel that the masses seem to consume at an alarming rate. I mean songs with hooks and lyrics that you can sing to, remember, and have meaning. For example, like I mentioned in my introduction, I find myself constantly walking around singing the chorus and bridge of “Phoenix,” even if I haven’t heard it that day.
Appearance (This is purely opinion on my part)
I really didn’t want to mention their looks, but in the K-pop world, appearance has a legitimate impact on public acceptance. After all, fan girls and fan boys buy albums. I know this is purely opinion, but there is not a single unattractive member in the group. ZE:A caters to different types that people find attractive. You have flower boys in vocalists Siwan and Hyungsik. Vocalist Kevin has a bad-boy edge to him. The fact he speaks English, and has an Aussie accent, should only help his attraction factor (especially for international fans). Maknae Dongjun is a beast: athletic and very nicely built. Leader Junyoung is noted for his Yoochun-like appearance. Yoochun’s attractiveness is widely appreciated. For those who like intense and distinct looks, there are rappers Heecheol and TaeHeon. As for sub-vocalists Kwanghee and Minwoo, I can’t really find a classification for them. Kwanghee has a sort of edgy flower boy look. Minwoo is edgy and masculine, but without the bad boy side. Either way, they both are attractive. A group with 9 legitimately attractive males, with a variety of different looks, should have a big following.
This world that I possess, bigger than what anyone else has
You will never get to know it so I have new law law law
The moment the borders get broken apart, I get brave
The moment, the instant I spread my two wings
Whether or not there are obstacles blocking me
I will keep going forward in that time and space
I think the English translations of the rap portion of “Phoenix” are a good example of ZE:A’s character. Although they have bad timing, ZE:A should be applauded for their courage and resilience in having comebacks during times when top artists are also having their comebacks. They even go as far as to bungee jump to celebrate their comeback. That shows how serious they are about what they do. The fact they consistently put out good music and performances is a quality that the public should recognize and appreciate. ZE:A has done charity work, as well. Also, ZE:A has a good sense of humor and seem to have a genuine brotherly love for each other. If you check out their YouTube channel, there are plenty of behind the scenes videos that will leave you laughing and appreciating their personalities.
The Future of ZE:A
I think it’s important for me to point out that ZE:A has had success in Japan. They have consistently placed high on the Oricon Chart in Japan. A year after their debut, ZE:A was also selected to play roles in a Korean-Japanese collaboration film called RONIN POP. In July, sub-vocalist MinWoo formed a project group, 3Peace Lovers, with two Japanese artists: Nikaido Hayato of Alpha, and actor Sasake Yoshihide. You can find the MV here. ZE:A also recently held a sold out concert in Japan. There seems to be a trend in K-pop: underrated Korean groups receiving more attention/success in Japan, and among international audiences, than in Korea. Hopefully, ZE:A will begin to be recognized more in Korea and abroad.
All the members have either acting experience, experience on variety shows, participated in CFs, or had cameos:
- Kwanghee has already found his place amongst variety idols with his humorous and kkab-like behavior. The fact he is honest about his plastic surgery, and is straightforward when he talks, only adds to his positive image. He even set the Guinness World Record for the most shirt layers at one time with 252. Kwanghee has gained more recognition with his portrayal as “Song Jong Min” on the drama To the Beautiful You. Kwanaghee is now also participating in We Got Married with Secret’s Sunhwa and will be in the cast of the movie Marrying the Mafia 5.
- Siwan is also making a name for himself as an actor. He gained popularity through The Moon Embraces the Sun, which was an enormous hit drama in Korea. Siwan partook in the variety show Birth of a Family 2. He is currently acting in the sitcom Standby.
- Dongjun is known for his beastly image. Although the maknae, he is strong and athletic. He is often favored to win events during Idol Olympics and won two gold medals at last year’s Chuseok special. Dongjun has also participated in the Dream Team 2 variety show and two dramas. He will be making his big screen debut in A Company Man.
- Dongjun, Hyungsik, and Heecheol have been involved in musicals.
- Kevin portrayed an idol on the drama K-Pop: The Ultimate Survival.
- Junyoung portrayed “Cha Hyun Seung” in the drama Poseidon.
- Hyungsik portrayed “Oh Soo Hyun” in the drama Dummy Mommy.
With all their activities, more attention has gone to the group and more people have begun to show appreciation for their music. They have shown advances with “Aftermath” and “Phoenix.” Recently, they were also selected as endorsement models for Step it Up 4: Revolution, and to watch the movie with 200 fans. This came about due to ZE:A being voted as the group survey-takers wanted to see doing flash-mobs, beating out B.A.P, B1A4, and Boyfriend. The love they show for their fans is also important. ZE:A broadcasted their comeback showcase special worldwide so that international fans would be able to see them perform, gave out free hugs, and held a hide-and-seek event in Seoul. There are more examples of how active they are, but it’s too many to list.
Other rookie groups who debuted at the same time as ZE:A have found success, at home, over time. I believe that ZE:A, too, could see success with their new found paths to reaching the public. It would be greatly deserved.
In closing: ZE:A FIGHTING!! (complete with fist pump action)
- Wikipedia (hopefully most of it is correct): ZE:A; StarEmpire Entertainment; Jewelry; Nine Muses; M!Countdown; Inkigayo; Music Bank
- ZE:A Twitter
- Various Member Twitter Accounts (you should really follow them. They are highly entertaining, once you figure out what they are saying using Google translate that is. HAHAHA)
- ZE:A YouTube
- ZE:A Japan Site (simply because I couldn’t translate their Korean Daum Cafe and needed basic info)
- Various other places