The latest updates on the ongoing FIFTY FIFTY contract mess were originally a bunch of back-and-forth between media outlets, primarily investigative journalism show Unanswered Questions and tabloid Dispatch. However, recently the first court ruling has been handed down and ATTRAKT have been handed a win, as FIFTY FIFTY‘s request for a provisional injunction against their contract was rejected.
Basically, they provided background information on the conflict, and notably FIFTY FIFTY’s reps claimed again that the payment settlements weren’t clear. Essentially, they suspected that the money FIFTY FIFTY earned was also going towards paying off other company debts, like the investment from Interpark into Jeon Hong Joon‘s other company Star Crew. An expert the show had on calculated that FIFTY FIFTY’s revenue should’ve paid off the 3 billion won in direct expenses the agency claims by now
Despite that being hashed out, the primarily focus was on the relationship between ATTRAKT and FIFTY FIFTY, as their parents spoke out about the treatment by the company. The things highlighted by the show were the parents claiming that the members were strictly controlled by the company, had CCTV to monitor members at all times, and were forced to do daily BMI checks. Perhaps most notably, they say the agency didn’t provide proper meals and the made them trash food their parents had sent in front of them. The parents said the CEO was feared by the members to the point where members would have panic attacks, and that one fainted and woke up in the hospital. Speaking of health, Aran‘s illness apparently existed prior to the group’s debut, and another member also had health problems, but their lawyer said they were made to continue training and performing up until recently.
The show also talked to an alleged insider employee of ATTRAKT, who says all the girls did was train in the basement and absolves them of blame in the situation, explaining that Jeon Hong Joon didn’t care about the members, never attended an evaluation, and only wanted to raise funds for the group to grow the agency.
As far as SIAHN goes, it was revealed “Cupid” was originally titled “Cupid Is A Hoe”, and the English version is basically the same song as the demo with only three words changed, yet all copyrights are signed away to SIAHN.
In terms of the reaction to Unanswered Questions mostly siding with FIFTY FIFTY, people were mad as hell. To some extent, I understand it, as being disappointed that a show of this stature didn’t have a more comprehensive overview of the whole situation is valid. They seemed to focus more on the dark side of the K-pop industry narrative, and didn’t really do their usual deep dive into things. That said, I also think it portrayed things closer to what they are, which is a tampering dispute between industry veterans. They just didn’t dogpile onto FIFTY FIFTY themselves, and some of the responses to the show — like bringing up a feminism “controversy” from 2017 — reeked of a certain demo being extremely passionate and gleeful to back an industry vet and go after four young women. No surprise, I suppose.
Anyway, not all the criticism of Unanswered Questions was as vacuous. Dispatch released a rebuttal to inconsistencies they found in the episode, saying that unlike what the ATTRAKT employee claimed, Jeon Hong Joon attended all monthly evaluations (providing evidence for one time). They also say it was an employee of The Givers who dumped food/snacks their family sent in ATTRAKT’s building (CCTV provided), that the incident happened because the members weren’t losing weight and it was The Givers that proposed diets, and go on to say that the incident happened when they were trainees, so if they didn’t like it they shouldn’t have signed the contract after.
Despite this, the members did not lose weight. There was even a member who reached over 50kg. Baek had entered the dormitory to find the reason why the members were failing their diet.
Additionally, in terms of the monetary issue, they say the settlement errors and delay was due to The Givers and not ATTRAKT, and they provided texts from SIAHN apologizing for the errors. Also, they explain that the investment into Star Crew wasn’t something the members need to pay back, rather that total is around 3 billion won between four members, the amount invested in their debut.
While the financial criticism and lack of overall due diligence by the show is valid, I’m more appalled that this confirms at least a couple incidents actually happened. Given that The Givers were under the employ of ATTRAKT, that it happened at their building, and ATTRAKT apparently had this video the whole time, it makes me think they didn’t exactly have a problem with it all going on. It feels somewhat absurd then, that the focus is on which side made the members suffer, while nobody cares that it happened to begin with. Like the main problem in that equation is that their health was deteriorating, no matter which corporate entity was to blame.
Regardless, eventually this led to Unanswered Questions issuing an apology for their coverage, saying that they’ll release a follow-up to fill in the gaps.
Probably should note that other reports followed that expressed concerns regarding FIFTY FIFTY’s diets causing health problems.
On August 22, 10Asia reported that it had obtained evidence that ATTRAKT had claimed it had spent ₩7.26 million KRW (about $5,420 USD) on food for the members during the period of June 2020 to March 2023. That equates to around ₩220,000 KRW (about $164 USD) a month for the members and ₩55,000 KRW (about $41.00 USD) per member.
10Asia also reported that during 12 months out of the aforementioned 33 months, the company had spent 0 on food for the members. The report also states that the members’ food schedule was packed with chicken breast and coffee. Even worse, the report stated that on numerous times, the members had to pay for label employees’ meal expenses.
Specifically, a trainer of the members was concerned about their diets.
They are protein deficient and need to eat vegetables. They must eat breakfast. They are malnourished and need to eat their dietary supplements. Diet jellies should be eaten as snacks only. It can not replace their actual meals.
It was further claimed that they didn’t meet with a nutritionist about things until June of 2022, and even then they were given about $7 a day for a salad bar, with their lawyer claiming that they were required to cook, take pictures of the food, and send it to their company.
This doesn’t necessarily surprise me, but I also don’t understand people saying that if this was problematic then the whole K-pop industry is because all idols likely have to go through similar. That’s not the gotcha that they think, because objectively … yeah, that is the reality. It’s built on stuff like starving teens so people want to spend money on them. Not great.
Alright, now to the latest and most significant event, which is the courts siding with ATTRAKT over FIFTY FIFTY in their request to put an injunction in place against their contract.
The judge addressed FIFTY FIFTY’s claims one-by-one.
Lack Of Financial Transparency
However, the court ultimately found that there was “insufficient evidence” to grant a suspension. In terms of financial transparency, the court stated that after reviewing ATTRAKT’s finances, in light of production costs and other expenses, there was “no evidence of any unpaid earnings that FIFTY FIFTY should have received by now.”
While there was a specific omission on the company’s statement for April (FIFTY FIFTY’s digital music revenue for the month had been marked as 0), the mistake was corrected as soon as ATTRAKT was made aware of it—and according to a report by Dispatch, the error was actually made by an employee of Ahn Sung Il (SIAHN)’s company The Givers.
“There was no instance of FIFTY FIFTY making a request for correction and the agency not complying, and there was no instance of the agency violating their duty more than once or for a long period of time,” explained the court. “It is difficult to see this incident as causing an irreparable breach of trust.”
Not Taking Care Of Members Health
The court also dismissed the claim that the company had not taken care of the members’ health, stating, “After discovering the issue with FIFTY FIFTY’s [Aran’s] health, the agency [ATTRAKT] arranged for her to be diagnosed. They then checked on her diagnosis and progress, and they adjusted their promotion schedule and set up a date for the surgery.”
ATTRAKT’s Lack Of Resources
As for ATTRAKT’s alleged lack of resources following the end of their contract with The Givers, the court responded, “It is difficult to say that the agency is in violation of their exclusive contract just because The Givers is no longer working with the company.”
The judge was also critical of FIFTY FIFTY not bringing up the issues before filing to suspend their contract.
“The group’s activities came to a halt because of Jung Eun Ah [Aran]’s surgery, and because some of the members came down with COVID-19, they each returned to their own family homes,” noted the judge. “Immediately afterwards, they suddenly sent the agency notice that they would be ending their exclusive contracts.”
“There is no way to see this as [ATTRAKT] refusing to make corrections in spite of a request for correction,” they continued.
Not sure if “they let her see a doctor” is necessarily a best argument that the company cared for their health, though obviously this ruling a pretty bad indicator for them in terms of how this case might go. An appeal is likely coming, so if they have anything else on the financial side then it would be an ideal time to bring it up.
We will see how this unfolds, but the path forward admittedly looks bleak. FIFTY FIFTY needed legal wins to have any chance to get back in the good graces of the public and return to their careers, but it’s hard to see them salvaging much at this rate. Meanwhile, it seems like ATTRAKT have won a pyrrhic victory where they’re left with a group that hates them and a public that doesn’t want the group to succeed anyway. I can’t see ATTRAKT collecting on any penalty fees either, so not sure anybody really wins. Sad shit.