The Laboum Scandal: Their Music Bank Win Clouded in Controversy

Well, it’s happened– and where was I?  Oh yeah, trying to figure out what Trump is up to and not paying attention to K-pop news at all.

So it turns out that this weekend Laboum–in an enormous upset– won Music Bank’s trophy over superstar IU’s hugely successful new single.  And now pointing fingers and freaking-out audiences (boards are alight with people claiming they’d never heard of Laboum) are in out-and-out conspiracy territory.

And–alas– at present it is really hard to see how Laboum (Lord, how I love them!) could’ve won.

A dedicated thread at onehallyu begins with this roundup of comments from an article:

1. [+1,038, -33] What if they just tossed em a trophy because a Laboum member is the ‘Music Bank’ MC ㅋㅋㅋㅋ this seriously doesn’t make sense at all. How can some nugu group that no one’s even heard of win on a public broadcast music show…

2. [+975, -36] So I took a listen to the song and it was just ridiculous… the PD may as well have given the trophy to Kim Young Chul.

3. [+932, -29] ㅋㅋ How is a song ranked at #300 winning #1 ㅋㅋ is this some joke? Just get rid of the charts completely if handing cash over the PD Is what gets you on it

4. [+63, -6] TEEN TOP screwed IU over and now Laboum is doing it a second time ㅋㅋ It’s not that big of a deal because IU has achieved all of the honors she could ever deserve but even veterans like EXID hasn’t won #1 yet and there are still up and coming rookie groups like Oh My Girl and Lovelyz who haven’t won theirs but Laboum just randomly gets one… ㅡㅡ the members are great and they have a few good songs but they’ve gotten themselves into a huge scandal with sajaegi suspicions galore.

5. [+54, -1] Don’t know who they are and they won… that’s a bit much

6. [+52, -0] The article missed the most important part: their sajaegi suspicions. Their previous album sold 3,000 copies but how is it that their new album sold 30,000 copies in just a week?

7. [+40, -0] I wonder if the PD got any favors from them

8. [+39, -0] I guess their stats make them one of the top 3 album sales of the year for female idols, #1 being Twice, #2 being Red Velvet, and #3 being Laboum… I honestly like Laboum and I’m a fan but this is all wrong. They only have 10,000 fans on their fancafe so how have they managed to sell 28,000 copies of their new album… over a weekend, no less..

9. [+37, -0] No, it’s not “okay”

10. [+36, -2] How can Lovelyz and Girlfriend sell less copies than Labou? ㅋㅋㅋ They’re playing so dirty【-nb-】-drama-circles-laboums-music-bank-win/

–Well, as a huge fan since fall 2014, it’s painful to say this but, yes, a lot of people still “don’t even know who Laboum is”.  And while clearly they’ve been building up momentum since “Journey to Atlantis”, the fact that the “Hwi Hwi” video still credits “honorary producers” (i.e. fan donors) shows that the group is operating on a very minimal budget.

Though perhaps this lends itself to some licit, if gamey, explanation of their new album’s sales?

YeoChin Fairies writes:

What if they have few rich ajusshi fans which contacted the agency before the comeback and said they were ready to bulk-buy a huge huge amount? The agency has been broken af previously. They had a huge debt to pay. How can they suddenly pay to produce 30K albums and buy them back?

Of course, a lot of these commenters are suggesting that some Laboum member found a sugar daddy.

Against this, commenter looks offers a business perspective that clarifies an argument I saw, I think in the comments for a “Winter Story” performance about the financial situation behind Laboum’s company:

their “sponsor” might be signal entertainment group, before the acquisition, those makestar projects probably were legit because NH media was actually broke af, but after the acquisition, i think they just wanted people to think they were still broke so that the sajaegi accusations won’t add up, so they kept the makestar thing going on, they were partially acquired at may 2016, and shortly after at july 2016, Solbin landed the MC job at Music Bank, i don’t think they would lack the money and power to do anything after the acquisition.

–which would help explain why “Journey to Atlantis” had “honorary producer” credits but not “Shooting Love” or “Winter Story” which came after– if there’s now big money backing Laboum BUT they chose to continue to play off Laboum as a Cinderella girl group with no resources to back them BUT THEN decided to bulk buy the new album to promote them.

30,000 physical albums is a lot in K-pop: almost A Pink numbers.  And this was in one week.  There really is, I’m afraid, no way to explain those numbers without heavy manipulation, and not coming from the fans either because, frankly, they just don’t have very many of those.

So I’m afraid there’s no reasonable way to explain “Hwi Hwi”s win except in terms of some trick.  And as many commenters point out, it’s going to be very hard for Laboum to get out from under this tint of scandal, however innocent I think they are of it.  Even without dirty talk about them getting “sponsors”, their company’s behavior will win them many anti-fans.

fleur-noire writes:  Unfortunate that their company’s dumb ass actions will negatively impact the group the most smh

Well, the momentary thrill of hearing they’d won has alas wilted in the face of the overwhelming case that the trophy was not the result of any simple upswell of popularity.  Seeing this win has become an albatross around the girls’ necks, what can we say at this juncture?  I absolve them of blame, and I hope the controversy will perhaps get their music– their singles being uniformly wonderful– better attention, and perhaps in time organic wins will come.  But admittedly this is going to gain them a lot of ridicule and some permanent haters, as well as being a “hot issue” for the entire world of K-pop.  It’s sad to see Laboum given such notoriety– but they do not deserve to have to live with the stain of suspicion.  They do deserve great popularity–and I hope that this sudden and difficult growth in visibility will not prove a curse.  Laboum hwaiting!

[Update:]  Laboum’s agency has released a statement that an “ad company” make the bulk purchases of the physical album.  Commenter adda writes:

I would have preferred the version with a “rich fan” ( or a group of fans) who wanted to offer them a present – their 1st winning on music shows, so they spent $ 100k for that buying their mini-album to support them. Bulk buying as fan support is not sajaegi and definitely wouldn’t have raised so many questions like the version the company offered, with the ad company.

–And admittedly the mechanics of the sales manipulation itself are raising questions, since apparently real-time sales info showed the album moving in retail, so that casts suspicion on the story of the ad company making one bulk purchase.  Some suggest Global H did the dirty work, then foisted off blame on this ad company after the fact.  Sigh.  This story’s a real mess!  Poor sweet Laboum!

And it’s already Soyeon’s birthday in Korea.  Sniff, happy birthday Soyeon!  I’m so sorry for all this!



  1. marieana writes:

    This is getting bigger. I do feel sorry for Laboum for having hate comments like this but this is definitely a normal reaction. People will really ask how, and why but this question should be address to Laboum’s company though. The hate for the members are unnecessary.

    To be honest, the statement of their company that an advertising company brought Laboum’s album for promotions is really bad. If the company’s statement is accepted and will be tolerated, then it would be smart for those groups who have CF’s/advertisements to just convert their cf fees to buying their albums because it will definitely be a win-win, the brand is endorsed by the group/idol and the idol will have more points for the physical sales and will result to win in a music show, but that is if they want a win rather than cash. Groups/Solo acts with high digital sales plus big cf contracts like Bigbang/IU/Twice/SNSD, etc. will definitely be a monster and unbeatable if they will do the same tactic with Laboum’s agency. For those groups who won because of physical sales only, without digital, (example, no digital monster was making a comeback during the month) their win does not really mean their music is enjoyed by the people and their fans. If this is accepted, then there should be no more music show wins and no more year-end awards. Let’s just convert all cf contracts to buying albums and throw away any show awards. There is no point in having any award shows because there is no legit standard if a company is allowed to do this.
    IU is currently the Cf/Brand image of Hyundai,Chamisul,etc., if IU’s agency for example is desperate for a win, this will definitely be easy for her company to do, just contract with those company to have terms of buying albums for their promotion and let’s see if anyone could win against her in music shows, same goes to other groups who have high digital sales.

    I just hope this will all end well both for Laboum, IU and other artists who work hard to earn more fans and have great music.

  2. –The day after I posted this, I thought long and hard about what I would’ve done if I were Laboum’s management and I knew there was this ‘loophole’ way I could promote the group to a trophy win (NB: but really I don’t think we know the trophy was the precise motivation: selling albums may after all have been the only end in view), knowing it would create backlash from some but would propel the group forward in visibility, etc.– would I go for it?

    And I decided I probably would.

    I think Music Bank has to adjust the rules, otherwise we get an arms race with the big companies shipping around 100,000 physical units everytime they come back. But it WAS a legal move, and Laboum has the trophy and, damnit, “Hwi Hwi” is a very likeable tune and I think this is going to be a net boon (boom?) for Laboum.

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