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Why MAMADOL is Integral to the K-pop Industry

This six member supergroup proved that idols don’t have to choose between starting a family or having a successful career

Riddhi Chakraborty Feb 14, 2022

MAMADOL comprises of six legendary former idols who left the K-pop industry to start families. Photo: Courtesy of CJ ENM

I’ve been thinking about ageism a lot lately. It’s something that the entertainment industry is notorious for, and having a job that involves interactions with celebrities and fandoms across the globe grants an insight into why this happens, and why women are at prime targets for this discriminatory movement. Celebrities aren’t the only ones that are targeted–every woman in any industry faces this particular form of judgement. We often see statements like ‘you’re too old to be doing this’–whether its our jobs, fandom spaces or society in general, there seems to be a limitation on what women are ‘allowed’ to enjoy or do, and there is pressure to adhere to roles we’re ‘meant’ to fill.

We’ve all seen this while growing up; when our favorite female stars reach a ‘certain’ age or choose to get married and have children, something changes. The way they’re perceived in the industry takes a drastic turn and they’re somehow pushed into roles centred around maternity and age. Whether or not they’re personally ready to change how they see themselves, the industry itself expects them to step away from their career to ‘focus on raising a family.’ I first began noticing this as a child when female actors I liked would leave the film industry when they had kids or when they got older. There also weren’t a lot of realistic roles for older female actors in films either–outside of playing the mother or grandmother and a homemaker, there weren’t that many depictions of women who chose not to have families, and this more often than not spilled into the actors’ real lives. When they wanted to make comebacks, the roles available became limited–something that male actors don’t have to worry about as they romance actresses 20 years their junior onscreen. This is changing slowly of course as we enter the era of OTT content, but we still have a long way to go.

The K-pop industry is still relatively young, but it is not exempt to this mindset. In fact, in addition to female artists in relationships facing judgement, male artists face it too. Marriage and children makes any artist somehow less desirable, and this is something we’ve discussed before about K-pop and it’s penchant for ‘cult marketing.’ While there has been some positive change since then and more artists are happily announcing their weddings and the birth of their children, the idea of idols who are parents returning to their careers still seems somewhat alien to certain audiences. It’s understandable, because suddenly you’re aware your favorite artist is an adult with a family–perhaps not quite at the stage where you are in life. The relatability and desirability might dip for a fan, but that doesn’t mean the idol has stopped being the artist they always were: a musician capable of outstanding stages, choreography and vocal performances. Marriage and kids are a part of an artist’s life–like most human beings–and not their entire identity. The chance to keep performing shouldn’t be lost if they have a family. Why must they choose between the two?

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This was a question brought into the spotlight with the debut of the K-pop supergroup, MAMADOL. Formed via the TvN reality show Mama the Idol, MAMADOL comprises of six legendary former idols who had left behind the world of K-pop when they got married and had kids. The members are Sunye formerly of Wonder Girls, Kahi formerly of After School, Park Jungah formerly of Jewelry, Yang Eunji formerly of Baby V.O.X Re.V, solo artist Byul and actress and former member of rock band BellaMafia, Hyun Jyuni. The artists are mainly from the First and Second Generation of K-pop (debuting in the late Nineties and early 2000s) and their age range spans a decade, with the youngest member (Sunye) at 32 years old and the oldest (Kahi) at 42. All the members of MAMADOL were prominent artists prior to giving up their careers to raise families and still have strong fandoms till today. To qualify for participation, each artist had to have a minimum of 2000 members in their official fan clubs and a social media following that exceeded 20,000. When TvN launched Mama the Idol, these six idols stepped onto the stage and guess what? It was like they never left.

Over the eight episodes of the show, choreography routines were mastered, cover songs were performed and a debut track was premiered–all with precision and professionalism. One Million Dance studio’s founder and celebrated choreographer Lia Kim–who stepped in to teach MAMADOL their new routines–was in tears during one episode of the show, stunned by their talent and commitment. Each artist’s family and children were also present for a lot of the live performances over the duration of Mama the Idol, and it was clear they were seeing these moms through a brand new lens. Other Second Generation artists, like Sandara Park of 2NE1 and Sunye’s fellow Wonder Girls bandmate Sunmi, stepped in to show their support for MAMADOL via live collaborative performances, while several younger artists attended to cheer them all on from the audience. The show’s host, vocalist and producer WOODZ, was another pillar of support from the Third Generation of K-pop.

MAMADOL debuted on January 28th with the house-pop single “Wooah Hip” and it was an instant hit. The music video as of this writing has over two million views, while the track entered Billboard’s World Digital Songs chart at Number 14 and was one of the top 20 most streamed K-pop tracks on Spotify in 2022 so far. Their cover performance of Fourth Generation girl group Aespa’s “Next Level” was another roaring success, as was their debut stage on the live show M Countdown.There was a confidence that comes from being an experienced idol, and each performance was a joy to witness. Not only did MAMADOL sound fantastic, they looked incredible and performed with the same enthusiasm as they did in their heydays–in fact, having experienced artists brought in a level of charisma that’s hard for rookies to master during a debut live performance.

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It was also perfect timing for MAMADOL to debut, considering we are currently seeing a massive renaissance of the First and Second Generation of K-pop as idols return from hiatus or military service to release new music again. Mega stars BIGBANG just announced their upcoming return last week, while artists like 2PM, CL, Yubin (also of Wonder Girls), Super Junior and more have been constantly releasing new music since 2021 and seeing their fandoms grow with new listeners. 2022 is the year of nostalgia and legendary comebacks, plus proof that there’s no such thing as a ‘shelf life’ when it comes to being an artist.

It was devastating to learn that MAMADOL was a short-term project and apparently disbanded after releasing just one single. The way things were taking off and the amount of attention Mama the Idol was getting was definitely enough to warrant an EP and a full promotional cycle. Some of the members of MAMADOL do live outside South Korea and can’t return to being an idol full-time, but that doesn’t mean we have to say goodbye forever; a comeback once every couple of years or special performances will mean the world to old fans and new if the group is open to it. Who knows, maybe the amount of buzz on social media and the streaming numbers for “Wooah Hip” might convince TvN’s parent company CJ ENM to invest in a long-term plan.

As of now, the six members of MAMADOL have gone their separate ways again, but they’ve brought about a fundamental change in the industry; being a mom doesn’t mean you can’t have any other identity, being older and being sexy aren’t mutually exclusive, and the impact of an idol isn’t something that can be easily erased. Plenty of fans still pray for new music from the artists who changed their lives, and the return of inactive musicians is one of the best things to happen in 2022. While we don’t know what the future holds for MAMADOL–or if we’ll ever see a project like this again– the door has been kicked wide open and the fanbases are ready. All the artists have to do is come back– we’ll be right here waiting.