Idols Rewind – Chapter 2: Queen of Bluffing

“President Kang.”

A voice tickled my ear.

Half awake, I shuffled my body to lie on my side.

“President Kang!”

“Agh!”

My body jerked awake at the ear-ripping sound.

“Ugh!”

“Kyaa!”

There was a face a hair’s breadth away.

I was surprised, and the owner of the face also seemed to be surprised based on how they started screaming. 

“W-What the heck! Who wakes up like that all of a sudden?!”

A face came into view as she moved to create some distance.

“…Jin-ah Choi?”

What was a girl who should be busy all week with variety shows and promoting her music doing here?

Did Hee-yeon tell Jin-ah after visiting me last evening?

But… Her face looked so young.

It was almost like back when I was raising her as a trainee.

“Huh?”

I tilted my head and stared at her.

She shifted her eyes at the intense look I was giving her.

A lightbulb went off, and my mind started to race.

My eyes widened as wide as saucers.

Finally, the gears started turning properly. I looked at my surroundings.

“This is… the office I used to use.”

“What? The past? Are you still half-asleep, President Kang? You’re acting really weird today. Did you sleep here? No wonder you haven’t answered my calls.”

I looked at her without a word.

Light workout clothes, hair tied in a bun, and no makeup. 

“Jung-han has the day off today, remember? Can you take us to the practice room?”

“Jung-han Yoo?”

Yes, that Jung-han. Can we hurry up, please? You said practice starts today after we finished our events.”

This office. Jung-han Yoo. A young Jin-ah. Events. Practice.

The gears turned in my head, and I came up with one conclusion.

I… returned to the past.

And it was to the time right after I went independent and completely messed up Blue Sherbet’s debut.

***

Why did it have to be now?

If I was going to come back, I would have rather it been when I first went independent.

Just why… did I come back to the time when I was losing connections left and right after that mess-up?

“Ha…”

“What’s up with the sighing?”

Jin-ah looked at me like I was weird as she ate the ice cream I gave her.

This was the girl who would go on to leave me and rise to stardom in the entertainment industry, later becoming a successful entertainer and singer.

That girl was under my management right now.

I wonder if I should be relieved or not.

Come to think of it, my company was seen as the miracle company in the past.

It was for having the golden lineup – Hee-yeon Lee, Jin-ah Choi, Yoon-jung Hwang, Yumi Cho – and then failing spectacularly. 

Thanks to that, dozens of Blue Sherbet’s fancams and videos got over a hundred million views, and their songs often ranked among the top songs in terms of popularity. 

“Why are you here alone?”

“Why else? They’re all sleeping. I came to get you.”

“…Yes, but I’m asking why you’re here alone if they’re all sleeping. It’s five in the morning right now.”

“I’m pretty diligent, you know? They’re all slacking. How can they sleep when working hard like me isn’t enough?” 

“Ha!”

I was at a loss for words.

Like someone wouldn’t call her Queen of Bluffing.

“Diligent? Even though you sleep the most? You’ve been staying up all night during your time off, haven’t you? You came because you were bored, didn’t you? Since you knew I would be here.”

“No! I’m going to work really, really hard. For real!”

Work hard. 

Work hard.

Why do those words hurt my chest so much?

Those girls definitely worked themselves to the bones.

I did, too.

It wasn’t just hard work. We had the talent. We were better than anyone else.

I already proved that at HS Entertainment, and these girls proved it later too.

The reason we failed was because of those b*astards at HS Entertainment. 

‘It was also partially my fault.’

I tried to steer clear of them if I could, and I avoided confrontation.

But I shouldn’t have done that.

I should’ve run in more aggressively with a stronger resolve instead of trying to lay low.

I should’ve taken whatever I could and not be so hesitant to meet conflict head on.

‘I trusted my skills and was too complacent.’

It was because I thought we would definitely succeed.

It was me being overconfident even though I wasn’t at a big agency anymore.

I thought that we could always bounce back even if we failed.

“P-President Kang? Why do you look mad when I said I would work hard…”

“Huh…? Oh, it’s nothing. Yeah, we should work hard. I’m not mad either. I just… have some things to think about.”

“Should I not go to practice?”

I paused to think.

How skilled was Jin-ah at this point in time?

I needed to confirm.

“Let’s go.”

We left the small, old office in Ilsan in an old minivan and rode to an old, remote training facility.

Compared to HS Entertainment’s, it was a very shabby training facility.

I nabbed it when another smaller entertainment agency put this villa with a renovated basement up for grabs.

It wasn’t well-ventilated, and the place got super hot when it was hot and super cold when it was cold.

This was the place those girls nurtured their dreams.

In a situation where their debut was put on indefinite hold again due to HS Entertainment’s decision to launch a boy group, they accepted my offer because of my reputation in the field.

But I couldn’t help but feel guilty when I couldn’t help them succeed and outgrow this poor environment.

Jin-ah exhaled and said, “Wait a minute. I want to stretch a bit.”

“Actually, start with warming up your vocal chords so I can listen to your singing first.”

“I’m good to sing. There’s nothing I can’t do. Singing or dancing, I can do it all even in the morning.”

It was as she said.

This wasn’t like her usual bluffs that she would say out of habit.

Dancing and singing – there was nothing she lacked in the entertainment department.

If you’re asking if her appearance didn’t cut it, that wasn’t it either.

Compared to Hee-yeon and Yoon-jung… she might lose out, but she and Yumi were the charming fan favorites.

It meant she was cute.

“I’m all warmed up. What should I sing? Oh. It almost feels like I’m doing a monthly evaluation for the first time in a while, so I’m feeling a little nervous. Haha!”

“If it was your monthly evaluation, you would’ve at least washed up.”

“I did!” She shouted indignantly. 

But I knew.

On top of being blessed with a constitution that didn’t make it obvious whether she showered or not, she would feel like it was a hassle to shower and actually wouldn’t unless it was a day where she would sweat buckets – like today.

“Okay. Let’s just say you did.”

“I really did!”

“Hm, what about that song? Beyonce’s If I Were a Boy.

“…Right now?”

Her expression stiffened.

“Um…”

“Just try it for now.”

“Fine. It’s difficult but… I’ll try it.”

Beyonce’s hit songs are a must-practice song for female trainees.

So, it wasn’t unreasonable to suddenly request it.

Even though Jin-ah didn’t speak English, she knew how to sing it after practicing this song dozens of times.

The problem was that it was hard to do it right.

She didn’t seem to have confidence at first, but quickly turned serious as if she would just give it her best.

There was a reason why I specifically requested this song for her to sing.

When she was gaining popularity as a TV personality, it was her legendary cover of this song that gained her recognition as a singer.

After going viral with this song, she started her music career on top of being an entertainer. As expected, the success of that cover song wasn’t just luck.

Like everyone else, that performance was strongly ingrained in my head.

Knowing this, I felt like I could get a feel for how much of her potential she’s already realized.

Jin-ah’s eyes narrowed in focus as she studied the lyrics on her phone. Just moments later, the music started to play.

Her voice flowed with the start of the music.

If I were a boy Even just for a day.” 

The beginning went smoothly. 

Given that the song began in a lower vocal range, it was understandable that she couldn’t deliver a powerful opening. 

Her husky voice continued to sing.

‘This is where it really starts.’

The first highlight.

Although emotions were a little muted compared to the later highlights, she should be able to deliver it with impact.

In the timeline that no longer existed, she was able to mesmerize the audience during her cover starting from this part.

If I were a boy!

“Again.”

“…What?”

“That part. Do it again.”

“Oh… Okay!”

Jin-ah messed with the app as I requested.

It was clear that she was flustered.

If I were a boy!

“Again.”

“Right.”

That was slightly stronger, but she still had a long way to go.

It wasn’t the power that was important, but the passion and ability to draw her audience.

She wasn’t at her full potential yet.

“Again.”

“Again.”

“Again.”

Jin-ah became more determined with each attempt, concentrating on listening and trying to breathe life into the song over and over again.

And then suddenly.

“!!!”

A part of her true character shone through, though it was only for that one part. It disappeared the moment she moved on.

It was only that her potential wasn’t fully realized yet. But it was getting ready to take the stage at any moment now.

“Uh… You’re not going to tell me to do it again?”

“That one felt good. Give it another try with that same vibe.”

Jin-ah grinned at the compliment.

…That was bad for my heart just now.

Seeing her after so long, she really was adorable. This was the danger of charming fan favorites like her.

I couldn’t relax.

We trained for about ten more minutes before taking a break.

Even so, she kept playing the song to ingrain its rhythm into her body.

I became lost in thought as I looked at her absentmindedly. 

“…W-Why are you looking at me like that?”

Jin-ah covered her body, embarrassed. 

I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity.

“There’s nothing to cover…”

“What’d you say?!” She shouted with a fiery look in her eyes.

Agh, my ears feel like they’re about to fall off.

“Then why did you look at me like that! You’re not getting any weird thoughts, are you?!”

“Don’t be ridiculous… Um. Jin-ah, hypothetically speaking.”

“?”

“Let’s say that the company does badly, the members part ways, and you succeed at a different company as a TV personality and then a singer. If that happened… how would you feel?”

“What? I wouldn’t like it, but probably also happy.”

“What do you mean?”

“It would be good since I want to be a singer, but I wouldn’t like the company doing badly and our team splitting up.”

…I guess I asked an obvious question.

I thought for a moment that my coming back would ruin their future.

I just had to help them succeed faster and higher.

I just had to make the company be successful and keep them from splitting up

“But why are you saying something so ominous? Don’t you know you can jinx it? I’ll work a little harder and definitely succeed this time.”

Instead of asking me to take responsibility, Jin-ah was blaming herself.

With that mindset, no wonder she was successful in several things.

 “Don’t you all resent me? For taking you away when you all were doing well and not helping you succeed.”

“Resent you? We don’t resent you.”

“Aren’t you angry about your debut not going well?”

“…Honestly?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. Why was I so nervous?

I forced a calm expression and nodded.

“Yes. Be honest.”

“Thing is… It’s weird.”

“What is?”

“I thought I would be all gloomy and sad when we failed. But it kind of feels like there’s hope even if I feel sad or like we missed an opportunity. Like the kind of feeling that we’re not stuck and are still walking properly? It’s hard to express in words, but it’s that kind of feeling. Weird, right…? Normally, failing should fire you up to work harder. I guess I’m not as diligent.”

“…Do the others feel the same?”

“Yes. I don’t think it affects them much. Maybe it’s because you treat us like you always have?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

I treated the same as I did before?

Suddenly, a conversation I had with Hee-yeon came to mind.

– I… succeeded but don’t really feel happy about it. It turns out that I don’t have a place to be myself. You’re not there, and the members aren’t there either. I feel like I’m on my own. 

– You’ve succeeded.

– We had less in the past, but at least we were all together.

Celebrities were treated like products here.

And in this industry, it was an obvious thing to treat the product differently based on its success or failure.

Even by those who managed them.

Maybe Hee-yeon was surrounded by people who treated her not as a ‘person,’ but as a ‘successful product.’

I chuckled.

– In life, results are everything.

– No, it isn’t. Everyone might think that way, but you’re someone who values the process. I would know.

– You don’t think that’s the reason I failed?

– No, I don’t. You weren’t wrong.

Yeah, Heo-yeon was right.

I’m someone who values the process.

I couldn’t do something like discarding or belittling someone just because they failed.

It would be my responsibility, anyway.

Treating artists differently because they failed was nothing but putting the blame on someone else.

Others in this industry might do that, but I believed that not doing so was the least I should do.

So now… I just needed to prove Hee-yeon right.

Just those words that I wasn’t wrong.

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