Sometimes, artists drop off the grid completely after debuting, other times they just seem to disappear with no explanation for fans. But what about a group that had a successful run before eventually disbanding? That is Stellar‘s story.
Stellar debuted in 2011 with four members, Gayoung, Jeonyul, Leeseul, and JoA with the single “Rocket Girl”. “Rocket Girl” was unsuccessful and they went under a line-up change before releasing “UFO” the following year. Unfortunately, “UFO” did just as well as “Rocket Girl” leading to a change in the line-up. Members Leeseul and JoA left the group and were replaced by Minhee and Hyoeun.
Stellar’s early concepts were a combination of cute and girl crush, a bit like 2NE1 meets TWICE.
In 2013, the group released their single “Study” which was their first song to chart in the top 100, marking the beginning of their rise to popularity.
The next year, they released their first EP Marionette. And, it was apparent their agency wanted to take them in a new direction. They strayed away from their cute, girl crush image, moving quickly into a sexy concept. The group received heavy criticism for the promotions done to hype up “Marionette”, as fans were asked to “like” images on Facebook in order to reveal a group member’s body part.
The original music video received a 19+ rating, however, despite controversies, the song went on to become their bestselling single. “Marionette” peaked at 35 on Gaon and 34 on Billboard‘s K-Pop Hot 100 chart. Gayoung explained the reason for the drastic change in their concept:
When we first debuted, we were closer to a cute concept. There were things like aliens, but it was a cute concept that fit our age range well. We were able to get a lot of attention at first because we were the group ‘produced by Shinhwa’s Eric’. We released about three albums, but they weren’t good results. So the company was in a difficult situation. Eric eventually left, and there was a time when it was just the CEO and our manager. It was hard. We didn’t even have the financial freedom to go sit at a cafe. We’d get so embarrassed when the van of another celebrity would pass us by. We used to hide our faces.
Because their change in concept, including the incredibly provocative MV, Stellar was finally a huge hit… But at a cost Gayoung revealed that their agency had tricked them into filming the provocative scenes, never fully conveying what their intentions were to the group during the filming.
There was one scene where a member had to drink milk. The script said, ‘Missing your past lover, Tossing and turning in bed, Wake up and drink milk.’ We simply thought that they wanted her to drink milk to portray a morning scene. The member drank the milk for the scene, but they apparently told her, ‘Spill the milk while drinking.’ She thought that she was spilling it to show that the character had no strength, but we were shocked when we read the comments that said, ‘This scene can make you imagine a certain act’. The member who filmed it was only 20 years old at the time, and she was so shocked that she can’t drink white milk to this day. She was hurt a lot. No one knew that was [the purpose of the scene].
The members of Stellar didn’t approve of the sexy concept pushed onto them by their agency, and they did try other concepts. Their 2016 release “Sting” had more of a girlfriend concept, with the group explaining: “This time, we wanted to look more like a girlfriend rather than to look provocative. We put on lighter makeup so that more fans will feel closer to us.” Unfortunately, all other concepts they attempted met the same fate are their pre-Marionette era concepts. Which is to say, they didn’t do well.
We released more albums about ‘Marionette’, but people only remember us for the sexy concept. People say, ‘They only come out with these concepts.’ But we actually did a lot more promotions. It was just that they didn’t get to see the spotlight. It was difficult because they would only respond to our sexy concepts.
As a result, their agency maintained control over their image and whenever the members tried to stand up for themselves, their agency would threaten them with penalty fees. Because they were so young at the time and afraid of being unable to pay a large sum of money, they would let the matter go. Additionally, the girls were only given one meal to split between the four of them.
“During ‘Vibrato’, they all of a sudden told us that day to dance in the outfits. We told them, ‘We can’t dance in these.’ They responded, ‘Just try it. Why do you say no before even trying it.’ We shot about 5 photos with it, and we told them, ‘Look, it’s too much.’ They seemed to agree and told us to change, but those photos were released. When we saw those photos, we called them to argue. They brushed it aside saying, ‘Oh, you didn’t know? Okay sorry, we won’t do it again.’ But the photos were already released so there was nothing we can do. I think they knew that the members were all too kind and soft.”
After their special anniversary concert Interstellar: Time Travel Through 6 Years, it was confirmed that Gayoung and Jeonyul would leave the group as they chose not to renew their contracts with The Entertainment Pascal. Just a couple of days after news of the two leaving was announced, it was revealed that a new member named Youngheun would take their place. Members Youngheun and Soyoung were seen in previews for MIX NINE but ultimately failed to make it through auditions.
In early 2018, Minhee and Hyoeun followed in the footsteps of groupmates Gayoung and Jeonyul and didn’t renew their contracts with the company. As a result, the group was ultimately disbanded.
The members have no regrets about the group disbanding, with Gayoung explaining that not only were the members hurt by the concept, but their families were as well!
Our parents were very upset too. If someone asked them what their daughters were doing, they would tell them that we were promoting as a group called STELLAR. But when you search the group, only sexual photos would come up. They often heard from others, ‘Why does your daughter do this?’ I felt sorry.
Members Minhee and Gayoung have moved on from the group and distanced themselves from the overtly sexual images that were pushed onto them. Minhee is now a successful YouTuber and Gayoung owns a café while also pursuing an acting career.
Despite their happiness at carving their own path in life… it’s undeniable that their agency did them dirty. During a Q&A session hosted on Minhee’s channel, Gayoung revealed that in their 7 years as a group, each member was paid only $9,000 USD despite having a series of hits and making their agency a significant amount of money.
I don’t care what other people may think, but we didn’t make as much profit as they think we did. We never got paid correctly.
Watch Gayoung and Minhee’s Q&A below: