Op-ed: Peak Time finale a bittersweet victory

From the beginning of Peak Time, I was rooting for Vanner.

Since early 2021, I’ve been a devoted VVS. I attend fan meetings, buy video calls and even followed them on tour last year. So, even with other groups I enjoy competing, I wanted Vanner to win the global showcase, an album and 300 million won (roughly $225,479.14). As you can imagine, the feeling was indescribable when I watched the tears of joy stream down their faces as the host announced they had won it all. Taehwan holding the big check while Younggwang and Hyeseong held bouquets of flowers made it feel like their hard work paid off and my votes made a difference.

Vanner wins Peak Time - Hyeseong and Youngkwang hold flowers at each end while Taehwan (center) holds a big check
Vanner takes home the top prize.

Yet, something was missing. Not something, but someone: Team 23:00.

Anyone watching the first episode of Peak Time was impressed with Team 23:00’s cover of TVXQ’s seminal K-pop classic “Mirotic.” From immaculate vocals and choreography to their obvious joy and charisma, it’s no wonder this performance went viral. When they followed it up with an adorable and show stopping cover of “Shine” by Pentagon, I realized I would be okay with Vanner taking second place only if DGNA were first.

Throughout Peak TIme, Vanner was open about their struggles as “part-time idols.” Team 23:00 was not so open, which was understandable if you knew who they were going into the competition.

Known as The Boss/DGNA, the boy group debuted in 2010 with 5 members under Open World Entertainment. For those who have been into K-pop for a while, just the name of that company sends a chill down the spine. Considering the sensitivity and severity of the scandal, I won’t relay the details here. However, I encourage you to watch videos from Chaennie Lisoo or Midnight Theories if you’d like more information.

The most important factor in this context is the heinous crimes of the company’s CEO’s lead to the dissolution of the company and halted the activities of DGNA and labelmate X-5. X-5 would later sign with a different company and debut under the name LU:KUS, while DGNA would focus on Japanese promotions since they were still signed with Sony Music Japan. However, as the group explained in the first episode, their contract expired in 2017 and their group activities came to an end.

“Without this chance, gathering and showing our dance and song will not happen anymore,” Karam said in an interview. “We put our life on it and try it.”

Despite their hardship, they never considered themselves disbanded. Karam, Jay and Injun came back together after five years to put on one stellar performance after another.

Unfortunately, their delightful “Chamomile” stage would be their last Peak Time performance. Team 23:00, The Boss/DGNA, was removed from the competition after private photos of Karam partying with Japanese adult video actresses were leaked online. Regardless of the invasion of Karam’s privacy, he and his members faced consequences. Despite a track record of excellent performances, they would no longer compete on Peak Time.

This decision was not only devastating, but infuriating. They were consistently among the Top 6 groups week after week, often coming in second place on fan votes alone. Considering the timing of the leak and account was only created in February 2023, it feels like deliberate sabotage from the Twitter user. Not only that but, at least from my perspective, the photos were not all that scandalous. Considering Karam is a man in his early thirties, it’s completely justifiable to spend his free time partying with friends regardless of their professions. The photo of him smoking a cigarette isn’t what I would consider flattering, but it’s not something that should potentially cost him his career.

Regardless of the user’s motive or the legitimacy of the scandal, the damage was done. After private discussions with each other and the production team, DGNA made their decision. Their exit from the program was graceful, apologizing profusely to the production team and the competing teams while thanking them for the opportunity. On April 12, Karam posted another apology on his personal Instagram.

Thankfully, this won’t be the last audiences will see of DGNA. On April 19, the group announced a fan meeting would take place in South Korea on May 20. This is both exciting and not surprising when you look back at the group’s introduction on Peak Time:

“We will not give up on our dream until the end,” Karam said. “We also want to show you there are some boys who have been working hard.”

Vanner’s victory is one I plan on celebrating every day for the foreseeable future. I only wish DGNA was on that finale stage with them.

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