On the Dissolution of Sevenlight and the Future of Q-pop

27 September 2020 ☼ Q-popCommentary

Sevenlight, a relatively new group (they’d put out one EP), disbanded at the beginning of this month. Mainly I feel terrible for the good folks behind the Sevenlight France Twitter account; we non-Kazakh-or-Russian-speaking Q-pop followers are in desperate need of any translators we can get, and I hate to see anybody doing such work discouraged.

About Sevenlight itself my feelings were more mixed. Their debut single, Núkte,” reminded me a lot of Infinite–a lot of Infinite: flowers! Angst! Soaring choruses! You could conceivably put N´kte” and The Eye” back-to-back and make a case that the former was inspired by the latter.

Sevenlight initially had seven members, and I know absolutely nothing about five of them. Tachi was one of the Black Dial alumni, and as best I know Sevenlight was his first post-Black Dial project. (One-sentence recap of the Saga of Black Dial: it was a three-singer, two-rapper group that debuted in the spring of 2017; by the end of the year the rappers had split, with much drama, to become EQ; the singers weren’t able to continue the group by themselves.) He apparently left Sevenlight after the EPs recording and went solo; whether he saw the writing on the wall or just wasn’t happy with the group experience, I don’t know. Jan was known as Zhanbolat when he started with Renzo. It appears (if I’m reading the machine translation of this Instagram post right) that Sevenlight was to some degree his ship to captain, and he even tried to keep it going after the producer withdrew his support.

Sevenlight was drawing a great deal of inspiration from K-pop, right down to the BTS covers and the special stages” seemingly designed to look as much like M! Countdown as possible, and I was ambivalent about that; I don’t want Q-pop to be a carbon copy of the older industry. Which does not mean I wanted Sevenlight to fail. That it did fail does not bode well for Q-pop as a whole.

Obviously the best person to diagnose the problem is not someone sitting thousands of miles away with no ability to read Kazakh or Russian. So apply salt generously (and do let me know if someone who can read Kazakh or Russian is opining on these sorts of things). But since I’m what you’ve got: if we go down the list of potential idol-pop revenue sources, a lot of what allows groups to break even in Korea may not be available to their Kazakhstani counterparts:

I may be exaggerating slightly, and underestimating the willingness of dedicated fans to use Google Translate; I should know better, knowing plenty of fellow middle-aged people who thirty years ago were willing to pull off all kinds of logistical feats to get a hold of VHS tapes of subbed animé. But the systems are not at all in place to make buying Q-pop merchandise as easy as popping down to your favorite neighborhood K-pop store, which limits the amount of money Q-pop groups can make outside Kazakhstan. And given that the domestic economy was already ailing before coronavirus…

I’m not even counting digital sales because that’s silly.

In sum, it looks like Q-pop groups are still limited to the domestic market; they don’t have either the proven demand outside Kazakhstan or the capital to be able to set up supply chains to tap into international markets. Korean idol pop only did it with significant government investment, and given the government in question, I’m reluctant to root for such a move, even if ZaQ’s openly advocated for it. (As I’ve written about before, the strategy has its drawbacks even for wildly successful Korean groups.) The problem Q-pop is facing as a whole is, when you’re limited to one market, and that one market starts to shrink, what are your options?