Recently, Laboum was accused of committing sajaegi. It became a large issue since they won a KBS Music Bank award against South Korea’s National Sweetheart IU. A broad definition for the Korean word ‘sajaegi’ is chart manipulation, whether it’s physical or digital. So how does sajaegi affect music charts, rankings and the Korean entertainment industry as a whole? Does it actually work, or does it ultimately cause more harm than good? OH! Press dives in and present you their thoughts on it.
Sajaegi isn’t new to anyone who’s been around long enough. For years, prominent K-Pop companies SM, JYP and YG have all been extremely outspoken in condemning it. They even led a request for South Korean police to investigate the matter back in 2013. And then once again in 2015, Park Jin Young of JYP personally vouched for SM and YG, assuring the public that they don’t engage in digital sajaegi. On the other hand, South Korean digital music site MelOn also asserted that sajaegi isn’t possible on their charts.
But why is this so significant in the first place? And if it is so widely condemned, why resort to such a move?
For me, the implication here is obvious: if the claims hold any veracity at all, it’s quite possibly a final bid at noise marketing. All publicity is good publicity, right? Often it’s the unknown groups who find themselves at the heart of sajaegi allegations. It’s one thing to be a unknown rookie, but a whole different ball-game for those still considered nugu way past their rookie stage. And because sajaegi is so difficult to prove (or disprove) beyond a shadow of a doubt, these allegations often amount to nothing in the legal sphere. Or at least according to what is apparent to us as outsiders.
Take Laboum for instance. Even with K-netizens’ seemingly damning detective work, their label still stands their ground. They’ve even threatened that they would take legal action against defamation. The efficacy of their warnings appears doubtful because, for once, a majority of K-netizens and I-netizens alike seem to agree on something: Laboum’s sudden rise in physical sales and Music Bank win remain questionable. Many have even taken to mocking the Laboum girls for it online. A move that, I feel, is needlessly cruel. Whether the claim is true or not, simply the notion of it has already caused so much harm.
But then again, it’s also true that people are paying a little bit more attention and listening to Laboum now. I’ll let my fellow writers have their own say on this.
Social and industry reputation is on the line when an entertainment agency is rumoured or found guilty of sajaegi. Many agencies have been caught because of accusations of sajaegi, and their artists suffer from a huge amount of criticism. The aim of the K-Pop game is to win and hit daebak, but if an artist wins on the back of dirty tricks behind closed doors, it surely takes the glory away from it. Wins would lose their significance. People beyond fandoms might even turn their backs whenever that artist is mentioned. Other artists may even judge those who are tied in suspected sajaegi. Unfortunately, this is out of an artist’s control but their reputation is damaged from their agency’s unethical doings.
There is much to be outweighed when considering sajaegi and most companies would be aware of this. The Korean music industry is forever growing and changing. As a result, the many idol groups pumped out to fulfil this rigorous cycle is unfathomable. As we’ve discussed in earlier Press Talks, the rise to fame is a mixture of luck, perseverance and, unfortunately for many, not a path they will ever walk down. Sajaegi, in ways, is a cry of desperation, a last resort and one that most companies would not even consider. As we’ve seen with the case of Laboum, rumours alone can create an immense amount of backlash. Whilst Laboum is the most recent case, with possibly the strangest numbers, they are not alone for this month. Both physical and digital manipulation are extremely expensive processes that can sometimes result in a revenue loss for said artist’s comeback.
So one may think, if there are so many negatives, why would a company still commit sajaegi? The answer to that is fairly complex, and possibly one that, we, as bystanders, will never know or understand. There’s a saying that no publicity is bad publicity. A music show win, or even topping one chart can be the difference between stardom and being lost in the crowd. And I believe this is the exact reason companies commit it. It’s done in hopes that the backlash will result in one extra person, or rather many people checking out the song or group and becoming a fan. In concept with the pacing of the industry, one would believe that the backlash, whilst immense at first, will slowly diminish over time. What’s most important is that the name of the group has popped up in the minds of the public.
However, there is something that Laboum’s chart positions has shown that is flawed. Regardless of their Music Bank win and Hanteo sales, their chart positions remain below one hundred. People have actively become anti-fans of the group, for an action the company took as a call for help, and their last chance in ways. Whilst others see sajaegi as a treacherous crime and something that is filled with negativity, my opinions dither. I understand why suspected sajaegi causes anger and despair for the fans of other artists promoting at the same time, having dealt with it first hand. However, now that I look back, it’s a pitiful act, and it would very much hurt the dignity of the artist in question. So even if causes a fairness discrepancy, the act itself is something that brings an overwhelming sadness to me. It honestly hurts to see that the dreams of so many young individuals have come to this. And it makes me unable to hate or dislike the artist. It’s just more of a natural course due to their situation. As such, I don’t see it as merely something negative or positive.
Sajaegi is never right! Plain and simple. Especially when it leads to a group getting recognized for accomplishments that are not genuine but are bought by the company. It is even more hurtful when one takes into consideration the groups that do try to achieve the impossible through, generally, genuine means. However, I would argue that the biggest issue with sajaegi is the moral implications. Now chart manipulation is not confined to music alone, nor is it exclusive to the Korean scene. But the moral issues surrounding it are always the most important. It is unfair to both an artist’s peers and fans and it gives a false sense of relevance that is very misleading.
Regarding Laboum’s case, the entire thing was just absurd. However, one thing must be made clear. The issue did not attract attention because of IU; their album sales had been suspicious since the beginning. It was only after they won against IU that people began to dig deeper. If the goal was to get a lot of noise regarding the group, then it worked. But it backfired spectacularly. The group’s name is now forever tainted with the accusations of sajaegi. Even though the sales ended up being ‘legal’ in a sense, they were still morally unfair. I do not know just how much information has been dispersed to Laboum or if they even knew about the deal in the first place. I place the blame entirely on their company’s shoulders. At any rate, the company should learn their lesson for they dug their own grave and there is no way that Laboum will rise from this.
It’s a complicated issue, and that’s why we decided to cover it even though our thoughts on it may seem simple. Sajaegi is a business move. Companies often lose money on groups that remain at nugu level and need interest from investors. That’s what it boils down to. The more albums they sell, the better their charting, and the more interest comes in from investors to support the label and their group.
I would also argue that apart from morals, sajaegi also doesn’t harm anyone but other nugu groups. So, IU lost the award. Has her career plummeted? Would she be affected by it? Unlikely. She has plenty of awards and recognition. If Laboum had been up against, say, Stellar, or Hello Venus, then that’s motivation to look into the sales.
We have to remember that until investigations happen, and it’s confirmed their label committed the crime, that we don’t know whether they’re guilty. On MakeStar, the girls far exceeded their goal of around $9,000, reaching a goal of $76,000, with almost 500 backers. Fans are dedicated. Unless they’re not.
What are your thoughts about sajaegi? Share with us by leaving a comment down below!