On December 30, 2016, RaNia made their “Start a Fire” comeback with a mix of new and old members and a new name: BP Rania. As many K-Pop fans have surmised over the years, RaNia/BP Rania is a hot mess thanks to the revolving door of members and DR Music’s pitiful management abilities. “Pitiful,” of course, is putting it lightly. And, just when you think things couldn’t get worse, it does.
In 2016, Alex Reid announced on social media that she is RaNia/BP RaNia’s new leader. This is noteworthy for several reasons as groups with black, white, or mixed members tend to not last long. Among these groups, ChoColat, The Gloss, and Busker Busker are now part of K-Pop lore for the time being (The Gloss never debuted and disbanded, while Busker Busker are “unofficially disbanded”). Reid, who is black, is also the first fully non-Korean girl to be designated a leader. International fans rejoiced in this news, but the joy quickly cooled in the coming months leading up to RaNia’s comeback.
Is Reid Really the Leader?
When the “Start a Fire” MV came out, fans immediately noticed something odd about the video: Reid barely appears in it, and she’s not interacting with the group members. Her rap portions feature her by herself. In the choreography portions, she’s nowhere to be seen either. The only time she is with her groupmates is at the end. The MV got people talking: Is Reid actually the leader? Is she truly a member of the group? Is she only a featuring artist?
Tongues continued to wag when BP Rania performed on the music shows. Reid appears at the beginning of the stages to rap, dance for two seconds, then she exits the stage for the song’s majority, only to come back at the very end. During the dance portions, it appears Reid is unprepared and didn’t learn the choreography well, so she stands out badly. It’s like DR Music isn’t taking the time to help properly train her to be a true member of the group.
During promotions, it later came out that Reid is a co-leader; Ji-Eun is the Korean leader of the group. With this news, fans’ suspicions of Reid’s role in the group seem to be proven true: Reid is just a featuring artist under the guise of a member. Another nail to fans’ theory came January 25, 2017 when DR Music announced Reid wouldn’t be a part of “Make Me Ah” promotions and wouldn’t even be part of the choreography. If Reid is a leader of the group, why is she often left out of promotions, and why is she flounced around like a prop?
The real question is: What is Alex Reid to BP Rania and DR Music?
“Otherness” as a Marketing Tool
In regards to BP Rania and Alex Reid, there is an elephant in the room, and that elephant is Reid’s “otherness” in a country that’s viewed as mono-ethnic and one that is often said to have issue with individuals with darker skin.
Over the years, idols with dark skin often get made fun of by fans and sometimes their own group members (on 2015, members of VIXX were embroiled in a controversy when Hongbin made fun of N’s skin). Dark-skinned idols often wear light makeup, and fans take it upon themselves to use filters to lighten idols’ skin in photos. In a country where light skin is favored, Reid stands out as a trailblazer alongside the likes of Insooni, Yoon Mirae, and Lee Michelle. Because of this, it feels DR Music is using Reid to help RaNia/BP Rania try to gain relevance again, especially in the international market. RaNia tried to break into the Western market before and failed, then constant member shakeups, hiatuses, and the loss of their unique sound and vocal color caused RaNia to fade into the background. Reid’s addition feels like a last hoorah, and DR Music is attempting to capitalize on Reid to win fans. Unfortunately, they make it clear that her race is simply a novelty.
First, when Reid debuted with RaNia in “Demonstrate” (2015), she was nothing more than a featuring artist showing off her rap skills. Initially, she wasn’t even in the “Demonstrate” MV, then during live stages, she would only walk on to rap. Since 2015, nothing has changed apparently. In 2015, DR Music cited visa issues as part of the reason Reid wasn’t much of a factor, which could be true, but it’s not believable years later. In 2017, Reid should be more of a factor within the group now that she should have experienced more training, Korean-language lessons, and further assimilation into Korean culture regardless of if she is traveling between Korea and the US. There was time to help her become a seamless member of the group, but the opportunity appears to have not been taken.
Instead, Reid’s “otherness” is often accentuated in undeniable ways beyond just “featuring” in MVs and music show stages. In MVs and music stages, Reid often wears outfits that are considerably different than her fellow BP Rania members. For example, in the “Start a Fire” MV, during live stages, she is often in a color that doesn’t match the rest of her groupmates’ style. These differences send a not-so-subtle message that Reid is supposed to stand out, that she needs to be noticed, but not for her talent. The differences just shout that she is an outsider. DR Music wants the audience to know of her existence, but not in a positive way.
Even the name change—RaNia to Black Pearl Rania—accentuates that Reid is different. For many fans, the change suggested that Reid is the “Black Pearl” because of her skin color. The name change is odd to say the least and came at a time when Reid was announced as the leader. Given how BP Rania is the only K-Pop girl group with a member who is a person-of-color, the name change is questionable to say the least and adds to the current noise marketing DR Music is trying to achieve.
Choreographer Speaks Up
On January 7 and 12, 2017, BP Rania’s choreographer, RA-GI, took to social media with statements suggesting Reid is not in the group choreography because “she’s a rapper” and that she’s not going to [dance] (Trans. Allkpop). The choreographer later stated:
No matter who looks at it, don’t you think the label would want Alex to be in the full choreography as well? It’s pushing it to say the label pulled Alex out of the choreography~ Things that people can’t generally understand is probably not understandable or pardonable to the label, as well. Probably, it’s because of her personal issues, and there are issues that come from those such as problems with the stage flow, and more. If the fans try to too deeply participate in everything, the artists that make RaNia get exhausted. We can’t fit everything to every fans’ tastes, so I believe it’s the best to watch her improve and support her. I hope RaNia does well. (Trans. Allkpop)
The comments didn’t end there as she continued the discussion with a fan by stating:
She’s not in the choreography due to her own personal issues, and the label wants her to be in the full choreography as well. Also, it’s timely unreasonable and impossible for all six members to relearn choreography to fit Alex, who learned choreography later, for broadcast. However, we can’t always fit the fans’ requests 100%. We will gratefully accept your personal opinions on the general concept and mood of the song. We ask for your continued interest, and I hope you understand that RaNia and many others are working for RaNia. (Trans. Allkpop)
Following the comments, a message appeared on Reid’s Twitter that fans believe is a message directed at the choreographer stating, “If these lies keep magically surfacing I’ll go ahead and come out with the truth. Let it really hit the fan.” While fans speculate this tweet is directed at the choreographer, Reid also has other vague messages on her Twitter that may or may not connect to various issues, so it’s hard to tell directly what the tweet relates to or if it’s surrounding this situation at all. Directly following the tweet, Reid also made references and posted statistics about the Muslim travel ban Donald Trump imposed, so the tweet could relate to that issue too.
A Two-Way Street?
Since 2015, RaNia/BP Rania followers point out that Reid isn’t a pushover based on interview comments and tweets she’s made. When asked about dieting restrictions, she’s mentioned the company doesn’t tell her what to do. For some, this sounds like special treatment, but for others, it’s a show of a strong will.
On some blogs and K-Pop sites, some of the tide has turned on Reid as many wonder, that as a leader, why she’s not participating with the others. One commenter on Allkpop asked, “I’m sorry but what kind of leader is not there most of the time?” Others point to preferential treatment such as Reid designing her own outfits for their “Start a Fire” comeback and even showing an alleged “attitude” when it comes to her participation. Of course, these are just perceptions, and only Reid, BP Rania, and DR Music know what goes on behind the scenes.
A Noticeable, Messy Situation All Around
There is a problem that is noticeable to Western fans. While Reid’s addition is an example of inclusion, it could also be viewed as inherently xenophobic given how Reid is made to stand out purposely all while being excluded. Her situation is oddly contradictory because of the way she is marketed and utilized in BP Rania. The only clear message is that she appears to be signed to save a group that should have faded into obscurity years ago; instead, DR Music has left fans pondering what her true purpose is and why everything involving her up until this point is questionable to say the least.
Either Reid is a true member of BP Rania or she’s not. DR Music keeps straddling the line all while appearing to use her race over any skills or abilities she has. DR Music needs to step up and do the right thing and stop using Reid as a marketing tool by highlighting her race. Just because she isn’t Korean, it doesn’t make her a novelty.
Additionally, as a leader, Reid needs to step up and lead while blending into the group. If there is to be compromise somewhere with how she is utilized and what role she truly plays in the group, Reid, too, needs to do her part.
No matter where the issues lie (or don’t lie), something needs to change because something, obviously, isn’t working and it looks bad for DR Music.