When I was 12 years old, the Backstreet Boys released their debut album.
For the next few months, my friends and I spent every recess memorising our parts to all their songs. I was AJ McLean, despite looking nothing like the resident bad girl, and we’d croon along in perfect harmony with BSB. Just five kids having a ball pretending to be their favourite popstars.
Now, 21 years later, those cherished tweenhood memories still make me laugh whenever I reminisce about my youth.
Perhaps that’s why I feel so strongly about the online lynching of Beaunite – because those young girls would never be able to look back on the fun, frivolous act of emulating their beloved Korean girl groups with such warmth.
When the group of 13 kids – aged between 13 and 17 – released a video of themselves on YouTube promoting their “debut” as Singapore’s first K-pop girl group, netizens and zealous K-pop fans brutally delivered everything from ridicule and contempt to unwarranted insults against their families, and most cruelly, death threats.
Days later, the group issued a statement on their social media pages, announcing that they had temporarily disbanded and even apologised for their mistakes.
Mistakes, such as producing a video of poor quality and picking an awkward group name that can, unfortunately, be misread as Be-Auntie. Mistakes, such as misusing the word “debut” and offending a whole legion of impassioned K-pop fans. Mistakes, such as not bothering to learn Korean if they wanted to call themselves a K-pop group.
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But would you have considered, or have had the foresight to consider, the impact of such matters when you’re only 13, or even 17, years old?
My dear Beaunite girls, you did nothing wrong, and you shouldn’t have to apologise.
At your age, you’re allowed to coin silly nicknames for yourselves in your pretend girl group and take amateur videos because you haven’t got a clue. You’re allowed to be ignorant of how triggering a nuanced word like “debut” could be for some people. You’re allowed to make such “mistakes” without having to apologise for it as though you had committed a crime – or for others to attack you like that.
As a K-pop fan (just so we’re clear, I can converse in basic Korean) myself, I’m ashamed that we would pass judgment and bash the kids this ruthlessly in the name of K-pop. Over their inappropriate use of a word which, I’m fairly certain, is merely an attempt of Beaunite’s to simulate all things K-pop.
Enough has been said about how competitive the K-pop industry is, and how rigorous the training is for trainees who have to go through years of hard work before debuting. Worse still is how capricious the business is – despite years of tough training, some tragically get axed by their entertainment companies when deemed to have no potential after all.
In light of that, I can see how it might have displeased K-pop fans when the girls offhandedly threw out an announcement of their “debut”. Still, it’s disturbing to observe how an understanding and love of K-pop can evoke such malice and venom.
Recalling my own popstar wannabe moments, I’m profoundly thankful that social media had not been invented then to capture my cringe-worthy imitations of swag (AJ, remember?) and my awful rap-singing to Get Down, saving me from the hurt and pain of being skewered mercilessly by the worldwide web.
I’ll admit that I squirmed while watching the video – mostly because I felt acutely embarrassed for the girls and I knew what was coming. But I did not laugh, because when I saw the barrage of vicious comments levelled at them, it made me remember how different it was for me as a kid and my heart broke.
In our eagerness to write them off, we forget that our callous – and careless – words have repercussions, too. Instead of rallying to hate so quickly and easily, shouldn’t we be more supportive of a generation that dares to dream, and more forgiving of their adolescent gaffes?
Or have we forgotten how it felt like to indulge in youthful pipe dreams?
Some years back when acoustic covers of pop songs were all the rage, a friend and I dreamed of becoming the local version of YouTube sensation Jayesslee. But we were never brave enough (or good enough) to make that happen.
Still, we often joke, even now, about how if we’d gone ahead with it, we would have to call ourselves The Paper Bag Girls because we’d need to wear paper bags over our faces so that we could remain anonymous and spare ourselves the unconstructive roasting by netizens.
In this respect, I admire the Beaunite girls for their courage. Unlike said friend and myself, they dared to put themselves out there in the pursuit of a dream – unrealistic as it might be right now.
And who knows? Perhaps with the longer and harder training they promised to undergo before returning to the public eye, they might just make something of themselves yet.
This K-pop fan will be eagerly waiting to see what you can do.