K-Pop — Opinions
Dreamcatcher’s Long Road To Their First Music Show Win Highlights Their Resilience In K-Pop
Dreamcatcher’s winding, long-overdue path to their first music show win after almost 2,000 days points to an inspiring story of grit in a sometimes-harsh and competitive industry — even if they never needed a trophy to prove themselves.
On April 20th, 2022, the longest drought for a girl group active for at least four years finally came to an end. Dreamcatcher, active for 1,923 days since their debut in 2017, won their first music show trophy on MBC M’s “Show Champion”. The actual value of a music show win as far as a group’s prospects can be debatable, especially for groups that have been active for longer like Dreamcatcher. But what most K-Pop fans can agree on is that the mere act of winning a music show is a milestone, an achievement that many K-Pop artists work long hours and train for even longer before that to get to.
For Dreamcatcher, the number of hours and the journey to get to April 20th, 2022 on Show Champion was longer and more winding than most. But in all the trials and tribulations that Dreamcatcher has been through, from re-debuting with two new members and a riskier, non-traditional concept/sound to all of the close-but-not-quite chances at a win to now, taking that longer road has revealed to fans of K-Pop a resiliency against hardship and an admiration that came out in droves when Dreamcatcher finally climbed to the top of the music show mountain.
Using some of their many attempts at picking up a music show win as road markers, here’s how Dreamcatcher kept grinding despite the sometimes volatile and unrelenting nature of the K-Pop industry’s standards for success.
Dreamcatcher first sniffed chances at a music show win in May of 2018, with delayed (but no less hard-charging) rock/pop track “YOU AND I”. Having survived the initial flurry of re-establishment and constant promotion that was their debut year, the highly-anticipated release, along with its otherworldly imagery and prop-filled performance choreography, was the track that got enough of the general public (and its growing international fanbase) to put them in position to compete for a music show win. And like most newer groups, SBS MTV’s The Show, requiring attendance for wins and eschewed by the “big” companies’ groups, would be their best shot.
However, Dreamcatcher would run up against rookie group (G)I-DLE, backed by fairly well-known company Cube Entertainment (home to popular artists such as 4 Minute and BtoB) and one of the most prolific and talented songwriter/producer/choreographers in leader Soyeon. (G)I-DLE’s debut song “LATATA” rocketed to the top of the charts, allowing them to get their first music show win up against Dreamcatcher on The Show.
But while Dreamcatcher would not take home any music show trophies in 2018 (the other attempt, during “What” era, saw Dreamcatcher witness to another first-time music show win for Starship Entertainment’s WJSN (for “Save Me, Save You”) they quietly racked up their highest sales to date (25k Gaon) while also firmly establishing themselves with the international K-Pop fandom. A new round of tours and concerts for Dreamcatcher through Europe, Latin America, and much of Asia did plenty to showcase their non-traditional, yet internationally appealing sound, and an invitation and subsequent chance to perform at KCON 2018 in Los Angeles put them in front of their largest audience yet at the iconic Staples Center. While a more modest fandom awaited them back in South Korea, globally the group’s unique approach to K-Pop style music, storytelling, and darker concept began to catch quite a bit of notice. This core group of fans, along with the revenue from their many events, would serve as the bedrock upon which Dreamcatcher would firmly establish themselves as the “alternate” girl group for which you did not have to expect a more traditional concept or sound. This reputation was only honed and sharpened in the coming years, and wouldn’t have happened without the group’s dedication to making “YOU AND I” one of its most unforgettable songs.
With Dreamcatcher fans curious about what late 2019’s “Raid of Dream” collaboration with mobile game developer Vespa would bring for their first Special Mini Album, Dreamcatcher would release “Deja Vu”, a rock/pop/ballad hybrid that would end up impressing fans with its weighted-sleeves choreography and short story tale of fantasy and apparent betrayal. Their mid September comeback seemed destined to head towards a coveted first music show win, and though fellow girl group CLC won against them earlier in the year with “No”, taking home their own first trophy, timing seemed to favor Dreamcatcher, positioning their strongest tracked week against the latter portion of CLC’s promotions.
But in a moment that would become a flashpoint for some fans’ ire and angst over not having achieved a music show win in two years, Yuehua’s Everglow, a rookie group who just missed their first show trophy with a previous release, swept in on the back of a massive YouTube music video views advantage to edge out Dreamcatcher by a mere eleven points, achieving a first win for themselves (the fourth such group to achieve their first win at the cost of Dreamcatcher’s). Controversy would reign as some fans advocating for Dreamcatcher purported an apparent scoring disparity in the final totals, made worse by a fuzzy “Experts” score that wasn’t well defined. Though later determined that fans’ recalculated totals were based on mistaken scoring for Dreamcatcher’s music video views and that Everglow’s win was legitimate, the damage was done, and the combination of a near loss and the inability at the time to confirm accurate numbers caused no deal of upset emotion from Dreamcatcher fans.
Despite the pain of such a close (and yet so far) brush with first place on a music show (an instance where even Dreamcatcher themselves had to reassure fans not to apologize to them for feeling like they were failing them), Dreamcatcher made great strides in 2019, on a variety of levels. “Deja Vu” had an unforgettable, story-telling choreography, the result of the work of brand new Performance Director Hwang Sooyeon, a former Happyface Entertainment trainee, music survival show participant, and choreographer/dancer who with the help of other choreographers, began morphing Dreamcatcher’s style into the eye-catching, creative dance that persists into today. And it wasn’t the choreography that was the only thing to change. Dreamcatcher’s base rock/pop sound was tinkered with on both the title track and b-side standpoints with producers LEEZ and Ollounder weaving in EDM and other similar elements to create a new, yet still unique, Dreamcatcher sound.
Finally, even though a music show win was not among Dreamcatcher’s firsts that year, the establishment of their first generation fanclub kit and membership, first foray into the United States on tour, and relative success of their first collaboration with Vespa meant that Dreamcatcher wasn’t through working to open new avenues to evolve themselves and their sound, even if the industry or the general public may not have noticed them doing so. They kept moving forward and achieving, ensuring that their future plans would not be deterred by missing out on yet another music show trophy. Many fans, including myself, would cite “Deja Vu” era as the time in which Dreamcatcher would turn the corner from niche girl group into a new level of wide-ranging popularity among the K-Pop fandom.
That turn and subsequent rise would continue on the back of another miss at a music show win in early 2020. Though Dreamcatcher achieved a first by being nominated for MNet’s M! Countdown, the K-Pop industry’s most recognized music show, they would find themselves up against hugely popular “Produce 48” girl group IZ*ONE, a matchup that under normal circumstances would never have come to pass. IZ*ONE’s original comeback date for their first full album in November of 2019 was delayed after a scandal surfaced about manipulation of rankings from Produce 48’s PD. The revised date just happened to coincide with the same schedule as Dreamcatcher’s own first full album, “Dystopia: The Tree of Language”, creating a mismatch of epic proportions that ended up playing out over multiple music shows. Circumstances were further exacerbated by the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, removing music show audiences and shuttering travel, which delayed the work and subsequent return of Chinese member Handong to the group by nearly eight months. The net result was yet another opportunity at a music show win slipping through Dreamcatcher’s fingers.
Once again, however, Dreamcatcher made lemonade from lemons, and continued to work hard to show that they had something to offer the K-Pop industry despite no wins on music shows to show for it. “Dystopia: The Tree of Language” and “Scream”, along with hypnotic B-Side “Red Sun” and extended promotion funk rock song “Black or White” ended up anchoring an already-solid album. Dreamcatcher’s pure versatility in their first full album offering also meant that it ended up on many year-end “best of” K-Pop lists as music to listen to for interesting or unique sounds, with well-known publications such as TIME picking up on Dreamcatcher’s newer, more rock hybrid sound.
Meanwhile, the album’s rock/EDM title track in “Scream” caught many an ear, making the music video Dreamcatcher’s fastest to reach 10 million views in less time than any music video before it, and sales on Gaon jumped by almost a factor of one-third to nearly 60,000 copies, an as-of-yet unheard number for the group to achieve. Dreamcatcher’s fanbase was finally cracking a ceiling as far as relative popularity, and even though the majority of the fans were still global, hints of a group that was finally beginning to get the recognition it deserved began to emerge, especially from those not normally into them. Company-wise, it seemed that some opportunities were finally beginning to open up to them, with MNet’s K:CONTACT online concert series being the largest, most brand-recognizable entity of those Dreamcatcher began to work with. Regardless of whether or not the trophies were coming Dreamcatcher’s way, they were still working hard to establish themselves during their full album (and subsequent) extended promotions, and the results for “Dystopia: The Tree of Language”, showed that, continuing into second story installment and mini album “Dystopia: Lose Myself”.
A flurry of activity from Dreamcatcher and Dreamcatcher Company accompanied the early part of 2021, and a comeback announcement for late January, before most groups and companies decided to release content, seemed to be the ideal time for Dreamcatcher to pick up an early year music show win, fresh off of another exponential jump in sales from summer 2020 release “Dystopia: Lose Myself”. But the arrival of boy groups Golden Child and ONEUS presented a new challenge to the girl group that had been toiling so long in order to achieve the top of any music show. Due to the way boy groups are generally popular as compared to girl groups, any similarly popular boy group stands a pretty good chance against a girl group of the same fanbase. This was the case with Golden Child, whose last-minute push of physical sales, superior voting capability, and most of all, digital streaming and downloading, proved to be the better of Dreamcatcher when the groups went head-to-head on SBS MTV’s The Show. Though the Dreamcatcher fandom and communities had been getting more and more knowledgeable and organized over the past couple of years, the critical mass accompanying Golden Child’s metrics proved to be just a bit too much to the four-year old girl group with the fandom scrapping for every point they could get.
The early part of 2021, however, was about more than just another comeback and a miss for music show competitions. Dreamcatcher and Dreamcatcher Company went into overdrive, revealing not only their first lightstick but a dark robe to go with it, an official store filled with new merchandise, and a release that jumped album sales even further while topping a Korean musical chart (BUGS) for the first time. And nobody should ignore the fact that Handong, feeling a new sense of confidence from her time in China, promoted with the group for the first time since 2019, creating many memorable moments (such as winning Insider King on TongTongCulture) and bringing with her a more assertive, individual attitude that made the group more complete.
As if that wasn’t enough new frontiers such as two members getting to sing songs for the OST of a drama and a full-on reality show (Dreamcatcher’s first) were released and enjoyed by a ton of fans. Once again, Dreamatcher seemed to prove that the best way to get around or get over not getting a music show win would be to ensure that they stayed busy, allowing the company to put more opportunities in front of them that typically come easier to other groups with bigger companies and wins galore. The first part of 2021 is not typically known, at least to Dreamcatcher, to be a time where their comeback seemed to fall flat because they were denied, yet again, a music show win. Instead it was used as a springboard to the first bunch of networking, new variety shows, and other work that Dreamcatcher enthusiastically threw themselves into. This past year, as a result, has been one of Dreamcatcher’s busiest and most far-ranging yet as far as other achievements, and “Odd Eye” era was the genesis of that latest round of Dreamcatcher work and tenacity.
All of this, of course, led to April 20th, 2022, the day that Dreamcatcher finally achieved, from what we now know from their celebratory vLive, a goal that they’ve always set for themselves every comeback but were never quite able to grasp until Show Champion’s 431st episode— a first music show win. It had gotten so difficult to set this goal, according to SuA, that they almost didn’t dare even talk about it as much, for fear of worrying fans or making them feel bad when they couldn’t get one for them. These promotions, in particular, were a difficult time to get one, according to her. And why wouldn’t she believe that, at face value? BIGBANG is a veritable legend in K-Pop, a boy group with iconic individual members that released a heart-wrenching emotional ballad in “Still Life”, and at the time of this writing, IVE is a monster rookie group with double-digit wins on their debut single “ELEVEN”, and following a similar path with “Love Dive”. Why wouldn’t you manage your expectations, as Dreamcatcher apparently did?
But at least for this time around, the stars seemed to align for Dreamcatcher. There were no immensely popular survival show groups, unexpected cancellations, out-of-left-field participants riding a wave of superior views, or anything else weird that might derail Dreamcatcher’s chances. Instead, BIGBANG cut into IVE’s digital score, lowering it while taking the maximum, Dreamcatcher was able to achieve full Broadcast points due to a well-timed Weekly Idol appearance, and the entirety of the pre-vote was won, a voting effort that involved multiple fandoms and tireless dedication. Combined with Dreamcatcher’s week 1 YouTube and sales numbers, the result was a small, 400ish point lead — but it was enough to be able to send Dreamcatcher up to the stage to accept their reward, thank everyone they could, and let out the cathartic emotion that comes from the realization that, at least today, they’d reached the top. Like many first wins achieved by K-Pop groups, Dreamcatcher’s validated years of long, often grueling hours of training, working out issues with fellow members/co-workers along with their own feelings of self-doubt and hardship, and achieving aspirations that often start very early in life but take a long time to realize — if they ever even get there.
Over the years, as I’ve observed Dreamcatcher’s reactions, thoughts, and quotes about music show wins, from wanting them as early as 2017 to setting other goals alongside them to reassuring fans about not feeling bad for them for not getting them, I’d come to believe that they’d deprioritized the prospect of wins in favor of ensuring more salient, practical goals that would ensure long term success and happiness, such as making music you love, getting along with your company and fellow members, being financially secure, and more. Given what they said during their vLive, I do think they still think these things are just as important, maybe more so — but I admittedly underestimated how much getting a first music show win was on their mind.
If anything though, that’s probably the the last point I can make to convince anyone reading here that Dreamcatcher is one of K-Pop’s most resilient groups. To persevere, ensure that you had the guts and the willpower and the emotional fortitude to continue despite repeatedly not meeting a goal that you set for yourself, and yet achieve a ton despite that? That takes true grit, and is not easily achieved or maintained. Perhaps it was fate or a coincidence that their styling for their first music show win contained the battle scars, cuts, and bruises accompanied from fighting for what you believe in, and on behalf of others — or maybe that’s just in Dreamcatcher’s DNA to begin with.