A Deep Dive Into the Doomed TripleS Business Model
feb 15 2023
Early this year, aspiring 24-member girl group tripleS debuted a subunit called Acid Angel from Asia and wowed me with their EP Access. Despite ethical objections (their heavy association with NFTs and the young ages of the members), I ended my first review of this group relatively positive and excited for new music. When I saw they were going to be releasing Assemble, I knew I wanted to write a review for it. I started out this piece intending to merely do a quick review of their new EP, but it soon grew to be way more than that. I wanted to do a quick rundown of how the group actually integrates NFTs, but when I actually started looking into it, I ended up falling down a rabbit hole. So if you want an actual music review, that will be here. But if you're interested in seeing the results of my research, read on!
When I started researching the group, it became apparent almost immediately that their concept is insane. Well, their group creative concept isn't actually all that special— they're just normal girls until they get superpowers and have to connect with other special girls by travelling through space and time. They debut in subunits with different concepts and each girl has a designated color, time of year, and animal, and they came together in 2018 with the full group song "Hi High"... wait, that's not right. Sorry, I thought I was writing a bio for Loona for a second. You see, tripleS is owned and produced by the company Modhaus, of which former Loona creative director Jaden Jeong is the creator and owner. He seems to be able to only write one concept, but it's not like Loona and Jaden Jeong own the idea of giving members representative colors. It's his lore anyways, so it's not plagiarism... it's just lazy!
Rather, the craziness I'm referring to is their business model. Modhaus claims to want to launch "the world's first K-pop artist made and operated by its fans," according to their website. Okay, sounds cool, but how the hell do you actually do that and still make the company a boatload of money? Jaden Jeong thinks the answer is NFTs! The group has an fanclub type app called COSMO, which doubles as an NFT marketplace. When you download the app, you receive one free Objekt, which is essentially a digital photocard marketed as a rare, one-of-a-kind collectible. People resell these on Ebay for like seven bucks.
Anyways, the "real" purpose of the Objekts is that they give you COMO. Don't ask me what this stands for, I have no idea and it appears no one else knows either (and the irony of this acronym being one letter off from FOMO is not lost on me). All people know is that these are basically points/digital currency you can use to vote for the group's "future activities." I know for a fact this is how the song "Rising" was chosen, and I think this is how subunit members/concepts are chosen too.
The group began promoting in February 2022, when the NFT craze was at its peak. The group promoted their association with NFTs heavily, with Jaden Jeong seemingly proud of their status as the "first girl group to utilize NFTs." Their official account tweeted constantly about Objekts and heavily promoted downloading their app and buying Objekts. TRIPLES HAS AN OFFICAL DISCORD. First Kpop girl group, indeed.
As the NFT craze began to die down and there was considerably less money to be made from cryptobros (and very little money to be made from teenage Kpop stans who were never really the target audience for or excited about NFTs in the first place), Jaden Jeong slowly starting shifting the NFT portion of the product to be less important. In a March 2022 interview, he claimed "It is true that Mode House is preparing for NFT service for member photo cards. But the NFT is not our centerpiece," also stating, "However, if the NFT service is introduced into governance, the fact that the purchase of NFT itself is technically a real fan is certified, so there is a part that pays attention to NFT in that regard." (Emphasis mine)
In other words, buying an NFT isn't required to listen to tripleS and support them... but it sure means you're a real fan.
NFTs and Objekts started being promoted less and less on Twitter and on their website, which now only has coded references to Objekts without actually explaining what they are. Even Modhaus' website (which is confusingly devoid of any actual information about the company or group) doesn't state that the group is an NFT focused project, only focusing on the aforementioned "group created by fans" concept. Now, the group and company barely mention NFTs and fans speculate that the group will eventually do away with them altogether. So what changed?
I'm guessing Jaden Jeong saw the NFT market crash and realized it just wasn't the easy money he thought it was going to be. Honestly, it's probably barely any more profitable than just offering a million preorder benefit photocards and/or incentivizing fans to bulk buy albums, especially now that the NFT market has crashed. This is pure speculation on my part, but I'm guessing Jaden only got so many NFT partnerships before because tripleS was the only Kpop girl group doing it. But now, Metaverse loving companies like SM have invested heavily into NFTs with groups like Aespa, meaning the bigger, more stable, and (presumably) more profitable Aespa are probably the more attractive option to blockchain companies who no longer have the confidence that they can just throw unlimited money into any NFT product and make a killing. TripleS are probably losing a lot of potential partnerships to SM and Aespa.
So, look. I'm really against NFTs. I viscerally hate them, and I thank God everyday that they're finally on their way out. But even if tripleS wasn't about NFTs, and the Objekts were just digital photocards that you can buy in exhange for points to vote on group decisions, this would still be an insane and unstable group/business model. There's a reason groups have creative directors, and Jaden Jeong should know that! I love a lot of Loona's post-Jaden music and MVs, but there's no denying their lore, sound, and visuals kind of fell apart after he left, or at least stopped having any kind of cohesiveness. Girls Planet 999 taught me that the majority of people just vote for what they personally like, whereas creative directors will put aside their personal taste for the sake of a cohesive and well-organized group sound. A seventeen-year-old tripleS stan is not going to objectively choose songs that fit the group's planned creative vision, because they don't know the planned creative vision, and they probably wouldn't care if they did. They're just going to vote for the song they personally want to hear their favorite member sing.
And even if Kpop stans were reasonable, objective people (hold for hysterical laughter) who could come together and be genuinely good creative directors, how could anyone ever actually trust a model like this? It's hard to genuinely believe you're shaping the way this group functions with your three-dollar digital photocard purchase when there's nothing stopping the company from just bulk buying their own Objekts and rigging the votes for what they really want. This is probably what they actually do unless they genuinely don't care about the creative vision of their girl group, and it's hard to see a noted control freak like Jaden Jeong being willing to let the audience decide how to execute his perfect vision.
The only people who can believe in this model are Kpop stans trapped in the throes of a parasocial relationship with an idol, which is probably why the company goes to so much trouble to foster these relationships. Every Kpop group does, but tripleS have a truly unprecedented amount of content for a predebut group from a brand new company run by one guy. They have six reality shows, some of which are COSMO exclusives, including shows that display them living in their dorm (marketed as the "Haus," tying the group to the company and thus the fans to the company as well), the Objekts are specifically photocards instead of anything else, each member is introduced with their own video, the members release vlogs, and the main purpose of voting is to get your favorite member in a unit sooner rather than later. This group wants you to be obsessed with its members, and it's uncomfortable when two of the members are as young as 15 and the rest of them aren't much older.
At the end of the day, Jaden Jeong doesn't really want to monetize NFTs. He wants to monetize parasocial relationships, but the truth is that every other Kpop company is already doing that. So why bother with NFTs? They'll slowly fade out of existence, but the group will remain, minus their central conceit. If Jaden hasn't run out of investor money by then, what happens to the group? The company will have to keep pretending to include fans, but eventually people are going to start disagreeing and turning on each other, even if the company rigs or directs the votes. The fandom will fall to infighting and only the 1% of dedicated fans- the true fans, as Jaden would call them- will continue to spend money on the group. That's nice of them, but it's not enough to sustain a 24-member girl group and all their associated costs for more than a week.
Even in a corrupt and crumbling industry, Jaden Jeong and his new company Modhaus stand out as exemplars of what happens when you put profits over people, money over good marketing, and cons over creativity. I don't see this project sustaining itself, and just like Ladies' Code, Loona, and OnlyOneOf, Jaden will eventually jump ship when his billionaire investors wise up and stop funding his project, or when he decides he's just bored of it. Then he'll charm more investors into giving him more money for a different project. I wouldn't care about this if it was just Jaden's reputation and money on the line, but there are other people involved. Not only the employees at his company, but also the teenage girls he's employing and using to monetize every aspect of their lives are not going to be able to just walk away from this and beg for more money like he is. Jaden Jeong proves, yet again, that he does not care about the people he brings down with him. He treats them like Objekts.