While many fans can only dream of studying K-Pop at university, for some students in South Korea, it’s a reality. Howon University’s Department of K-Pop recently debuted its very own girl group, Azer. Now, in a new interview, the professor who put the group together revealed she debuted the group “out of spite”.
Situated in Gunsan, South Korea, Howon University is a private institution known for teaching members of GOT7, Wanna One, VIXX, 2PM, BtoB, and After School. Back in 2019, the university opened a Department of K-Pop with the aim of helping students advance into K-Pop careers, from vocal trainer to idol manager—and, of course, debuting as actual idols.
While its acceptance rates aren’t anywhere near as low as most K-Pop agencies, Howon University’s Department of K-Pop is fairly competitive. They admit just over 40 students per year, with a ratio of 8.52 applications to 1 acceptance. Those lucky enough to be admitted are typically trained in all things K-Pop, including dance, singing, acting, songwriting, self-development, and creative thinking.
But this year, the university decided to go one step further than just teaching by actually debuting its own K-Pop group. Back in March, seven-member girl group Azer debuted with their first single, “Elegante”. In just over a month, they’ve almost reached half a million views on YouTube.
The group was put together by Professor Shin Yeon Ah, the head of the K-Pop department and a member of former ballad group Big Mama. Given that K-Pop groups are almost always debuted by agencies, Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with Professor Shin to find out just why she decided to create Azer. Perhaps surprisingly, she answered, “Out of spite,”—not spite to the members, but to K-Pop agencies themselves.
Elaborating on her stance, Professor Shin explained that many of the students at Howon University’s Department of K-Pop once tried to make it in the traditional way. A lot of the students auditioned for agencies and many even trained under them. “But none of them got the chance to debut,” says Shin Yeon Ah. ”
Worse, the professor and singer revealed that once these students passed the age of 20, their companies no longer take care of them. The vast majority of idols debut in their teen years or early 20s, so it’s no surprise that many agencies decide to let go of trainees who are about to surpass that point. The kids became discouraged,” explained Professor Shin—something she wants to tackle.
As a senior of the industry and an educator, I wanted to let them know that it wasn’t over.
— Professor Shin Yeon Ah
Originally, Professor Shin was only aiming to put together a project group that would cover other girl group’s songs. However, as Azer came together, her ambitions soared. Taking charge of training the students, the professor chose the final lineup—Yookyung, Minseo, Mijung, Soyeon, Jaein, Juyeon, and Yoojin—based on which members fit together best. “Everyone was excellent,” Shin Yeon Ah lamented, “I’m just sorry to the girls who didn’t get chosen.”
I thought of it as just a year-end project that we would present in December. Nobody thought we were going to debut as a girl group.
Of course, it’s difficult for Azer to compete with big-name groups, no matter how ambitious their founder is. In order to put together the group on a university budget, Professor Shin asked her acquaintance to write them a song, and all the students in the department worked together on the choreography. And, of course, the members haven’t achieved fame on a huge scale. They still live in their school dorms or nearby apartments working part-time jobs.
That said, debuting under their university rather than an agency also has its benefits. There are no strict training regimes and no rules on using phones or socializing. On top of that, while big agencies have been affected by COVID-19, the members have no trouble promoting themselves online. When they’re free, they come together to discuss what they’ll upload to their YouTube channel.
And, while they may not be huge in Korea, their music video is doing remarkably well for a rookie group without an agency. Alongside over 400,000 views, they also have thousands of comments from international fans. “The nationality [of people who watch us] is so diverse,” says Jaein.
A Brazilian fan even asked us to come and perform for them there. It’s so fun to translate the comments and read through all of them.
In the future, the Azer members say they hope to film a second music video, eventually perform on a music show, and “make history as proud and confident women“. On top of that, they’re also willing to perform for military soldiers across the country. “We’ll try even harder than Brave Girls,” says Yoojin.
Watch Azer’s music video for “Elegante” here: