The series tells the story of a fictional K-pop girl group named ‘Cotton Candy’. ‘Cotton Candy’ is the first girl group of the entertainment agency ‘Star Peace’ with 5 members; a leader with composing and producing skills, Jenna (EXID’s Hani), a trouble maker in the team in charge of rap and main dance, Hyunji (Laboum’s Solbin), the visual center and eldest sister, Stella (Han So Eun), main vocal Elle (WJSN’s Exy), and the child of famous actors’ parents, but is not particularly talented, ChaeA (REDSQUARE’s Green). The members of Cotton Candy, the girl group in the series, are played by actual K-pop idols, except for the actress Han So Eun. The band has just months left on its contract and must face the reality that its dreams may never come true.
Even after being debuted for 6 years, they have failed to reach stardom and are struggling to let go of their unachieved dreams. The girls struggle with various aspects of their lives, and they look tormented and upset as they are at a loss of what to do. Everything goes wrong for Cotton Candy, but the members can't let go of their friendship and dreams. The members decide to leave on their own terms, showing the realistic side of what being in the industry is like, but also an important message about mental health. Meanwhile, leader Ahn Hee Yeon, played by EXID's Hani, does whatever it takes to keep everyone from forgetting her group name "Cotton Candy." Jenna’s voiceover declares, “We’ll die together. I won’t make it alone,” proving her strong desire to make it to the top with her group.
On the other side, Cotton Candy’s label mate K-pop boy band ‘Mars’ surges to popularity and is showered with love and attention. Also with 5 members; talented leader Seo Ji-han (Produce 101’s Kim Min-Gyu), Yul (Hong Eun Ki of RAINZ), Dan (X1’s Lee Eun Sang), Tae Young (BaekSeoHoo), and Ray (Jo Joon Young). Unlike ‘Cotton Candy’ they were popular since the beginning with thousands of fans named ‘Calla’. With them, it shows some of the struggles of a successful group too.
The drama also consists a big role for the Ceo of the ‘Star Piece’, Cha Jae-hyuk (Kwak Si-yang). He is like a calculator who puts reason before emotion. A born entrepreneur who has never experienced failure with great success in every investment. At first, he thinks ‘Cotton Candy’ has zero potential for being an idol group but gives them a last chance to prove him wrong when Jenna says that they will be No. 1 in the charts and then disband. Cha Jae-hyuk might start off as a villain, but it would feel like he turns over a new leaf later on.
Many of the K-pop fans might already be familiar with the girl group EXID, which became successful with only a fan cam video of the member Hani on their song ‘Up & Down’. Even though the group debuted in 2012, changed its members, made sub-units, they still remained as the unknown group. When this song couldn't reach the top 100 on the Gaon chart, the members of the group have appeared on many shows. Hani also has continuous work in music. That’s why Hani could definitely relate with her character Jenna in the drama as she went through everything. In an interview, she said, “Looking at the script, it didn’t feel like a stranger’s story,” she said. “The ‘me’ from the past that exists in all time received a lot of comforts. People in a similar situation will also receive comfort. Acting as a team leader, I learned how powerful and amazing ‘us, together' is.”
Every year in South Korea an average of 300 idol groups prepares to debut when only about 50 can actually debut but generally only 1-2 groups get seriously recognized since their first year of debut. Variety to theatrical performances once debuted, gaining popularity was not an easy task among the idol arena competitors. There are mainly two ways to guarantee success for a newly-debuted idol: the first being an idol group from the Big 3, SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment, and another method is relying on trends from survival shows like "Produce 101”. Even when trainees debut after years of hard work, they don’t get enough rest as they want to fulfill their dreams. Including practicing singing and dancing to perform in each show, each stage, other activities, variety shows, there are no holidays on Saturdays and Sundays.
Korean-American producer Daniel DPD Park was the man behind the effort to take a more realistic look at the world of K-pop, where many dreams and promises lie unfulfilled. The masterpiece "IDOL: The Coup” explores a lot of the difficulties and pitfalls of following your dreams," Park said in a recent interview with The Korea Times. He also said, “When it came to telling stories in Korea, I was excited to go into areas that weren’t really being talked about. The idea that we get to tell a story about a failed K-pop girl group and how they cope with that is amazing to me. It was great to see on what levels storytelling crosses cultural boundaries and where things work and don’t work”. As Korean is not his first language, Daniel Park teamed up with Korean director Noh Jong-chan (Clean with Passion for Now, 2018) and writer Jung Yoon-Jung (Misaeng: Incomplete Life, 2014).
According to Nielsen Korea, the 9 November episode of “IDOL: The Coup” recorded average nationwide viewership ratings of 0.648 percent. "Idol: The Coup" wasn’t able to surpass the 1% rating despite receiving positive feedback for its acting and storyline. According to the fans, it could be because of the broadcast timing of the drama. It broadcasts at 11 pm, a lot later than usual drama timings. These dramas are targeted towards a young audience, but due to their timing, it is not being able to reach the expected audience. It is hardly seen any Idol drama performing well domestically regardless of its cast and plot. That’s because K-pop isn’t a big deal with the Korean general public. If it was popular in Korea then with international views this could have easily been considered a massive hit.
Overall, the drama is planned to show a side of the youth of this age who repeat failures and challenges with growth in which young people who worked hard for their dreams take courageous steps to pursue other dreams without any regrets. The world idols live in looks glamorous, and they look like they are getting so much love, but the drama exposes the parts that are not. In this particular case, the drama is entertaining and makes you think about the girl group ‘Brave Girls’ which suddenly became a hit after so many years.
Also, the story at this point is very realistic because it really is like one of those situations in real life when the older girl group is sidelined because the younger groups in the company became more successful. This drama shows us all things that we might not see or know, especially those moments when members argue, try to leave, or even fight. Many Korean fans who are fond of unknown groups are actively promoting their favorite groups. With the hope that many others will open up and see the talents of our loved ones and the patience and relentless efforts to keep the stage and follow their dreams.
“IDOL: The Coup” deserves to be seen at least once, this drama brings something refreshing and totally needful to the table. It is emotional, realistic, romantic, chaotic and heartbreaking. From acting to its execution, it tells a much-needed story. Lastly, as director Noh Jong Chan shared, “With the drama, you will get to see the hidden world behind the glamour K-pop world.”
* Rumaiysa M Rahman is a 10th grader at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Dhaka