Sometimes, despite how much a fandom loves a group, it’s best for everyone that nobody re-signs the contract when the time comes. In November 2014, word got out that BAP had filed a lawsuit against TS Entertainment around unfair working conditions and profit distribution. TS immediately released a statement denying the rumors, but the members immediately slammed them back with a public statement threatening another lawsuit for defamation of character.
But all of that is neither here nor there. The contract remained in place and the group continued to promote – though with some time off for some of the members for various reasons – for another four years. However, in 2018, as their contracts with TS expired one by one, the members left the agency and the group for good. First Bang, then Zelo, then Jongup, Daehyun, and Himchan announced their departures. Nobody was surprised but everybody postulated on what the members, a group for so many years and together as trainees for even longer, would do. Many had very high hopes that they would pull a Beast and start their own label as a group and continue on.
Alas, it didn’t happen that way, and frankly, as things progress, it makes sense. After some silence, Bang released a heartbreakingly sad single on his own label and followed up with a gorgeous and cathartic album both of which were a lot less aggressive than what we’d gotten from him as a member of BAP in the last few years. Daehyun has been working his butt off on a YouTube series all about his efforts to make it as a solo artist and the release of his own EP full of touching ballads and romantic sentiments. Very, very different from both BAP and Bang. Youngjae dropped an EP on his own label and partnered with Jongup for fan signs in Japan and Korea – all delightfully boyfriend next door and adorable.
After leaving TS Entertainment, Zelo signed with A Entertainment and went to work rebranding himself, making Instagram dance videos both in the studio and in the streets of Seoul, and putting out messages regarding the rights of artists and the need to be able to make a living. Just a young man of 22 years having a great time figuring his shit out. That bears repeating, 22 years old. This man has already had a full career in the Kpop industry, been around the world many times, and been through legal battles and a long, painful contract. On June 21, Zelo, barely a legal adult, released his own EP, Distance, with the title track, Questions.
I was so used to the baby faced, giant maknae using his 3G rap in the middle of a BAP track and collabing with other rappers in their personal styles. I had no idea what to expect and frankly, it’s eye-opening and not a tiny bit soul-crushing. On the surface, it’s a great pop album with the standard influences we see all over the place with dance, EDM, hip hop, etc. But listening to the lyrics on each of the tracks you can hear the bittersweet sentiments of a very young person full of pride, goals, doubts, a dash of anger, and a huge amount of talent and experience.
He should be incredibly proud of this EP, but we should all recognize that this is a very specific release in a very transitional time in an artist’s life. He was raised by Kpop, his other members, and an agency that let him down. He loves his fans, he loves music, he loves dance, he loves art. But he’s still working through all of the same stuff we all work through at 22 only he’s on stage with countless people with high expectations – fans and employees alike. That’s a lot to shoulder.
I have faith. He should too.