How The “Tomboy” Concept Sabotaged A Girl Group’s Success
To achieve success, K-Pop idols must be as hardworking as they are talented, but sadly, that’s only half the battle. Mismanagement can extinguish even the brightest stars’ light.
Such was the case for Global Icon, a gender-defying girl group that debuted in 2013. Throughout their three-year career, the group faced backlash from both fans and the general public. The root cause of it? An ongoing identity crisis.
In 2013, most girl groups had either “cute” girl-next-door concepts or “sexy” concepts, with few exceptions. “Girl crush” and “tomboy” concepts were rare, and Global Icon were pioneers.
On April 3, 2013, Global Icon released their debut single “Beatles,” a powerful, hip-hop track with what, at the time, was defined as a masculine sound. The members dressed to match it with short hair, baggy clothes, and boy group-style choreography.
Although “Beatles” was largely well-received by international fans, who praised the group’s fresh take, Global Icon’s home audience was less receptive to the “tomboy” concept. In fact, some wondered why Simtong Entertainment had not simply debuted a boy group instead.
Simtong Entertainment had, in fact, debuted a boy group around the same time that Global Icon was preparing to make their own debut. Tritops originally debuted in 2007 as a three-member group under Joo Paramount Media, but after a lineup change and a hiatus, Tritops moved to Simtong Entertainment…for a short time. In 2013, Tritops decided to part ways with the agency and continued their careers at Van Leader Entertainment in 2014.
At the time, Tritops was Simtong Entertainment’s only boy group. Following Tritops’ departure, Simtong Entertainment held auditions for male trainees, but they would not debut another boy group, AlphaBAT, until nearly the end of 2013. By then, Global Icon had already debuted.
Simtong Entertainment’s doors are always open, as we’re dedicated to discovering and cultivating talented new artists and actors. We’re looking for the next generation stars-in-the-making who’ll lead not only the Korean but also the international entertainment industry.
— Simtong Entertainment
In an interview, Global Icon member Hayeon said, “Honestly, the president of our agency really wanted to form a boy band. It was later decided that we would train and debut with the concept of being a boyish girl group.”
This masculine, tough girl concept was, however, at odds with the members’ true personalities. To debut in the group, they were forced to alter not only their appearances but who they were as individuals.
Most of us have very girly personalities. But in order to be a part of the group, we all had to cut our hair short and really had to de-program our girlish tendencies ― from the style of dancing, right down to simple hand gestures to make ourselves look tougher.
— One Ket
Many fans mistakenly believed that Global Icon’s real selves were the same as their personas, and this led to problems. For instance, when rapper One Ket chose to try sexy performances while competing on MBC‘s Idol Dance Battle D-Style, some fans mistakenly believed she had been forced out of her “true” tomboy nature by the show and her agency.
Some fans were also put off by Global Icon’s comeback single “Giyeuk,” which attempted to blend the group’s boyish debut concept with a more popular “cute” concept. Once again, Global Icon received mixed reactions and failed to find success.
In 2014 and 2015, Global Icon underwent even more turmoil that resulted in contract termination lawsuits, lineup changes, and a hiatus. When Global Icon finally returned with “DoliGo DoliGo” they were unrecognizable, far removed from their original concept.
This playful, new pop song sounded nothing like “Beatles,” and the video received criticism from some fans for both its sexual imagery and its departure from the tomboy concept.
Tomboys? Girly girls? Sexy concepts? All received backlash. In other words, Global Icon just couldn’t win. The group unofficially disbanded in 2016, and some of the former members have gone on to debut in new groups, including BLASTAR and L.U.X.
Looking back now, five years later, some fans are seeing Global Icon, “DoliGo DoliGo,” and the tomboy concept in a new light.
Watch their debut music video here: