Disabilities are embraced at Parastar Entertainment, the one and only in Korea

Cha Haley, CEO of Parastar Entertainment [PARASTAR ENTERTAINMENT]

K-pop’s first trio with hearing impairments, Big Ocean, all began with a question that the CEO of its agency Parastar Entertainment asked herself: “Why not?”

Cha Haley is the founder and CEO of Parastar Entertainment, the only entertainment agency in Korea specializing in talented people with disabilities. Cha founded Parastar Entertainment in September 2020 and has since been recruiting talented people with disabilities in various fields of arts and entertainment, including music, theater and television.

Parastar Entertainment has received investments from Hana Ventures, the Korea Social Investment Foundation (KSIF), Merry Year Social Company (MYSC) and CNT Tech. It is also B Corp certified by the nonprofit organization B Lab, which measures a company’s dedication to social and environmental values. There are 8,560 B Corp companies around the world as of April 2024.

“For a long time, I’ve always thought, ‘Why can’t they be idols?’” Cha told the Korea JoongAng Daily when asked how and when she began the Big Ocean project.

“But the idea was a vague one, and I didn’t start anything serious because the budget needed to make a K-pop group would have been too big. The real work began in January 2023 when I was making plans for the new year and saw the need for something big and sustainable for the company’s long-term survival.”

Members of Big Ocean, set to debut on April 20 [PARASTAR ENTERTAINMENT]

Until the genesis of Big Ocean, Parastar Entertainment had focused on talents who were usually cast for individual appearances or events, such as performances or advertisements, and creating videos for other companies. The company lacked a “superstar” that would keep the company going, which is where K-pop came into the picture.

“We knew that we needed intellectual property of our own, not something that we created for or borrowed from others,” Cha said.

“A K-pop idol was the perfect fit because there’s a set format for how they’re made, and a member of our board was from SM Entertainment. Our investors were skeptical at first, but they recognized our work after a very, very long deliberation and observing our work.”

Helping out the company, along with the investors, was SM Entertainment and SK Telecom. This is the first time for SM Entertainment to let any singer remake H.O.T.’s “Hope” (1998), which was made possible after the K-pop agency reviewed and saw the merit of the Big Ocean project, according to Cha.

As for SK Telecom, it chose Parastar Entertainment as one of the 15 most promising startups in Korea and took them to the Mobile World Congress 2024 in Spain last February to introduce their business model to the world.

“The reason we chose to remake a famed song was because we wanted to make Big Ocean as approachable as possible,” Cha said. “The idea of a hearing-impaired trio itself may be difficult for some people, so the song at least had to be familiar to people’s ears. We’re targeting the overseas markets where the level of acceptance is incomparable to that of Korea.”

Big Ocean will be performing at MBC’s weekly music program “Show! Music Core” on Saturday for its grand debut.

The band will release two new singles in the upcoming months: one in May and another in June. The new songs will be originals, not remakes, according to Cha.

“People have stereotypes of people with disabilities, which are the very things that we want to eradicate through Big Ocean,” Cha said.

“They believe that people with disabilities will only be capable of doing certain things and not others. I want people to realize that those little prejudices that they build up within themselves are meaningless walls that will only block themselves from the future.”