Hwa Sa and her team successfully carried the painful story of being an artist in Korean entertainment through María, her first mini album.
In the eyes of many people, an artist whose creativity entertains people is one of the most enviable careers. An artist seems to be the happiest person in the world because singing does not appear to be stressful at all. The picture of a singer who sings his songs on the stage surrounded by his fans is the picture of happiness that could inspire anyone to be a singer. But who knows that behind this picture of happiness is the tiredness, pressure, and stress from the social expectation, the hope of fans, and especially the music company.
In Korea, it is commonly known that anyone who wants to be an artist needs to take the audition for entering into the music company as a trainee. During the training, the company of them holds the examination to cut the unqualified trainees out. This generates competitive atmosphere that leads to most of them overextending themself to be chosen as a debut singer. This condition has detached the trainees from their childhood that they should go to school and hang out with their friends since they do not have enough time. Moreover, there are many rigid rules to manipulate the image of the trainees not to go against the social value and destroy the image of the company. For example, there are ordered to control the weight and are restricted from using social media in talking to the opposite sex. These restrictive rules have been known to cause mental illness to the trainees and also the artist. Sulli from f(x), Goo Hara from HARA, and Cha In Ha from Surprise U are examples of artist who sadly end up their lives by committing suicide from chronic mental illness.
It is safe to say that mini music companies treat the artist and entertainment products. Their identities were manufactured, assembled, modified, and sold to the fans. More than that, Korean music production is the forced production that forces the artist to produce the song in the way the company wants. The company controls every single step of music production, they would consider the demand first before making any songs or albums. It reflects that the company does not create the songs from the interest and the real identity of the artist but the market demand and profit margin. The forced production dehumanizes the artist since it reduces creativity, and their identity is also corporatized. Thus, many songs in this album are dealing with the pain and love of the singer which are used as the theme of this album. Maria, the 1st mini album by Hwa Sa, reflects her hardship and her pain that are caused by the exploitation in the Korean entertainment industry.
María the album cover
María, made by Hwa Sa and the producer Park Woo-Sang, was released as Hwa Sa’s solo list on June 29th, 2020 through Rainbow Bridge World (RBW) which is a South Korean entertainment company. One of the songs from this album, Maria, has won many awards such as Asian Pop Music Awards 2020 in the branch of The Song of The Year (Overseas), Mnet Asian Music Awards 2020 in the branch of Best Dance Performance-Solo, and Golden Disc Awards 2020 in the branch of Best Digital Song(Bonsang). Hwa Sa (Ahn Hye-jin) debuted in June 2014 as a member of a Korean girl group named Mamamoo. Her baptismal name, Maria, was also used to name a song in the album. Her character is quite obvious that she is really confident and comfortable with being herself. Although the anti-fans have bullied her on her shape, skin tone, and others, she did not take them seriously. Once she gave an interview, and later became famous, that “If I don’t fit into this generation’s standard of beauty, then I will have to become a different standard.”
It suddenly shows her positive attitude about coping with the cynical comments in this album.
The main idea of this album arose from the condition of the artist who had been suffering from the demands for more production from the music industry. It seems like Hwa Sa and many other artists have to carry the expectation of production. Therefore, the purpose of making this album is to comfort people who were in the same place to love themselves more and care less for society. As expected, the message of the album touches the masses. The online community agrees that this album is Hwa Sa’s self-reflection of her feelings because the music video of each song contains the element that visually portrays the album. People get to the theme through the sound, light, camera angle, and many other elements. One of the top comments shared that she listened to this album on Women’s Day which made her cry as the album reminded her that she is also ‘beautiful’ as the other women. I interpret that ‘beautiful’ in this comment means self-value and think that this album is more impactful to many people when it is united with the context of Women’s Day. More than that, some audiences came to listen to one of the songs in this album, Maria, because it was used in the True Beauty Korean series in ep.3. The protagonist who is ugly in the eyes of others danced the song in a show during the school contest emphasizing that everyone, no matter who he or she, is beautiful and self-worth. These comments, better than that, accentuate the success of Hwa Sa and her team in conveying the pain, comforting, and inspiring the people.
The songs could be separated by the theme into 2 groups which are the song of common love and the song of self-love. The songs of common love are Kidding and Why talking about unrequited love that the two did not settle down together. The songs of self-love are Nobody else, Maria, I’m Bad Too, and LMM addressing the story of someone who works really hard to succeed until neglecting happiness and losing identity. Each song has a common message about unanswered devotion. There are three songs that are made to MV containing the elements that communicate the difficulty of the artist. In the song “Intro: Nobody else”, both the lyrics and the name of the song imply that someone is alone. No one loves or takes care of her. Some of the scenes in the mv show when Hwa Sa performed in the concert among thousands of audiences. Her look and action may make her seem happy; however, it contrasts with the lyrics showing the negative emotion of Hwa Sa. Next is the song “Maria.” The opening scene of this song’s mv is a scene with a dead woman who was taken photos by the nosy photographer. The corpse was Hwa Sa herself implying that the journalists and the other people just focus on seeking some benefit from her even if she was dead and ignoring that they should pay respects to the body. This scene signifies the exploitation in the Korean entertainment industry that only focuses on profit and neglects appropriateness. The last song that is made to mv is “LMM” which includes a scene that Hwa Sa wearing a white dress was shot by the arrow; symbolizing toxic comments, the over-controlling music agency, and anyone who mistreats her. A dress Hwa Sa wore implies the role of an artist that her agency wanted it to be.
Although this album has made a successful solo of Hwa Sa and is guaranteed with many music awards, nothing is perfect. The first blemish to the album is the theme. The theme, while clearly coherent is not as explicit as it should be. As mentioned, the songs in this album could be separated into two themes which are the song of common love and the song of self-love. It could be interpreted that this album is not produced to truly convey the self-love theme because it still puts the love songs that are the popular genre among the people in order to sell the album. A deducted point goes for the irony of the album. I think this album is quite ironic because the album talks about the painfulness of the artist that is caused by the music company who modify and change the identity of the artist; however, this album again sells the pain of the artist. Therefore, it could be said that this album is like the music company that treats the artist as the goods to earn the profit from. This album performs successfully in terms of the album’s identity that is different from the others. Despite that, it does not apparently raise awareness about the exploitation in the Korean entertainment industry as the album seems to function. While this album was released and succeeded a lot, the problems still exist and there is no sign for them to be resolved. It is true that just an album could never do anything much about these intractable issues, however, it should somehow raise more public awareness, not just create a new style of the album to sell it then leave the problems.
To my way of thinking, this album is like a mirror that reflects the background of music production that is not beautiful and includes exploitation because almost everything in Korean entertainment is constructed to sell. These businesses have been torturing many people and gain numerous benefits from them paying back with some little incentives. In other words, the Korean entertainment industry is a form of capitalism that somehow gradually breaks people down.