Back in the late 1990's and early 2000's S#ARP (pronounced 'sharp') was one of the most popular co-ed K-pop idol groups. Their fun, upbeat music was able to cut its way through much of the competition and find a place within the K-pop world. Although S#ARP had a large number of fans (including yours truly) and were huge stars, they eventually burned out like many stars do. S#ARP might be known more for the way they ended rather than what they did during their careers. It really is a Hollywood story about egos, in-fighting, and a sad end to what was once a really good group.
S#ARP debuted in 1998 as a five member co-ed team featuring Lee Ji Hye, Seo Ji Young, John Kim, Oh Hee Jong, and leader Jang Suk Hyun. The group's first album 'The S#ARP' was tinged more with hip-hop and featured rap-heavy singles like "Yes". The music video for the single also contained a weird rap break with the groups Uptown and Diva making cameo appearances. An odd artistic choice but it showed the type of music the group debuted with. During promotions from their first album, Chris Kim would also join the group as a rapper, bringing the new headcount to six members strong. But following the first album, John Kim and Oh Hee Jong would leave the group while a new member Sori would join the collective.
A New Sound
S#ARP's second album was also a reboot in terms of the musical style of the group. Released in 1999, 'Closer' moved away from the hip hop style of music and went with a more pop oriented sound which was more in line with the other types of idol music being produced at the time. Their single "Tell Me Tell Me" became a fan favorite with its dance pop sound striking a chord with listeners and becoming their first song to reach number 1 on the music charts. The other single from the album "Closer" was also a huge hit for the group, and the upbeat track encapsulated the new sound S#ARP would be known for and has also become one of their most recognizable songs.
By now, the group must have been used to member switches and one final one occurred as Sori would leave the group prior to the release of the third album. 'The Four Letter Word Love' was released in 2000 with the final four members and also featured the single, "Good For You". The album didn't live up to the success that the second album had and while it wasn't a failure, it looked like the group had hit the proverbial sophomore slump.
Hitting It Big
In 2001, S#ARP released their fourth album '4ever Feel So Good' and was unquestionably the biggest album of their careers. The title song "Sweety" became a smash hit that year reached the top of the charts for two weeks. Driven by the vocals of Seo Ji Young and Lee Ji Hye, the song was bright, energetic, and its super-cuteness could not be avoided as it swept across the K-pop charts. This is one of those classic songs that reminds me of my college days, as a former roommate of mine would play this song non-stop. When S#ARP was at their peak, they were on par competing with the biggest idol groups of my day.
"100 Day Prayer" was also another popular song from the album which would go on to reach the top spot on the music charts for multiple weeks as well. To capitalize on the group's surge of popularity, a 4.5 album called 'Flat Album' was released towards the end of the year. The single "My Lips… Like Hot Coffee" becoming their fourth number 1 song and helped make 2001 the pinnacle of S#ARP's career.
The quartet's fifth album 'Style' would be released in September of 2002, but the album was never fully promoted because of one of the most infamous and sensational events in K-pop history.
In October 2002, the group was preparing to appear on KBS Music Bank when members Lee Ji Hye and Seo Ji Young were involved in a physical altercation in an elevator. The exact cause of the fight has always been attributed to the fact that Lee Ji Hye took exception to the way the younger Seo Ji Young was speaking to her, and as is the case in these types of things, the hair pulling ensued. Because of the fighting, Lee Ji Hye was removed by her managers to cool off and only two members of the group (Seo Ji Young and Chris) were able to perform as Jang Suk Hyun was already unable to attend. To add even more fuel to the fire, Seo Ji Young's mother also became involved as she confronted Lee Ji Hye the next day and verbally and physically accosted her as well. Within a week of the incident, their management company, World Music Entertainment, officially announced the break-up of the group.
Very rarely does a fight like this happen without previous incidents so there could have been a history of past problems broiling that eventually boiled over. Seo Ji Young had become the breakout star of the group and at the time, she was openly dating megastar Ryu Si Won so maybe she had a case of the 'Celebrity Syndrome' (Old School Saved by the Bell reference: like how Zack maybe did when he quit the Zack Attack). Maybe Lee Ji Hye felt inferior and there were feelings of jealousy or anger that exploded. Maybe it was just two egos unable to share the same elevator. Whatever the reason, it was a sad ending to a once promising group. Not to mention the other victims of this incident, the two male members who to my knowledge have not been heard from ever since.
The end to S#ARP's career was as shocking as it was sudden, and it was a shame. The group made some very good music that became a part of the life of many a K-pop fan. While a reunion is highly unlikely, their music lives on and hopefully reminds them, as it reminds us, of happier times.