Korean pop’s recent surge onto the international market is far from an overnight phenomenon. The endless chains of idol stars from the land of the morning calm are intensely trained products of the nation’s top entertainment labels.
At the very forefront of this battle frontier of idol groups fighting for supremacy, S.M. Entertainment, founded by singer-turned-music-mogul Soo Man Lee, administers more than half of k-pop’s most popular singers. While the label is responsible for popularizing boy bands like TVXQ, Super Junior, and SHINee that earn screeching cries from female fans in Bangkok to Paris, they’re far from whom we’re checking for.
Then there's Girls’ Generation—S.M. Entertainment’s record-breaking 9-piece girl group. Since its debut in 2007, the band has raked in numerous prestigious awards, and sweetly crooned infectious chart-topping singles (“Gee ,” “Genie,” and “Run Devil Run”) that were stupidly addictive enough to stay afloat on top of music countdowns for months.
After dominating music charts, television variety programs, and advertisements (appearing in ads for soft drinks, water filters, fast food chains, clothing, computer games etc.) in their native Korea, the female version of the Wu-Tang went on to garner a similar success in the world’s second biggest music market—Japan.
Thanks to the Internet, and few of S.M.’s senior artists (BoA and TVXQ!) previously paving successful paths, Girls’ Generation’s 2011 debut was greeted with tremendous success. Dropping bombs on Japan’s Oricon Chart with the self-titled debut shooting to number one, and its single (a Japanese version of “Gee”) going double platinum, stateside music powerhouse Interscope decided to get a piece of the action. On November 19, Girls’ Generation will release its U.S. maxi single through Interscope, thus, officially setting off its American debut.
Over the years, Complex has documented Girls’ Generation’s sparkling rise. When S.M. Entertainment held a three-hour-long concert at Madison Square Garden late last month, we had to get down with our favorite k-pop group for a talk. Despite their crammed press junket, Complex was granted to meet all nine members for a discussion pertaining to stardom, men, and a small commentary we previously made, which didn’t sit too well with the Korean public.
Interview by Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)
Complex: Your latest single, “The Boys,” has a more mature vibe compared to the group’s previous emphasis on cutesy themes. Was it a conscious makeover to cater to the American market?
Seohyun: No. Not necessarily. We first released “The Boys” in Korea actually. It was a challenge for us to bring a style that’s different from what we’re known for in the past. It wasn’t an effort to appeal to the American market, but rather it was our artistic approach to present a more developed look. Every time we release a new album, we try something new. And our recent change was no different.
Tiffany: Yeah, we never settled with a specific concept. We’ve always kept it as a growth. We started out when we were 17, and now we’re 22. So we’re trying to take the approach as mature 22-year-old young ladies.
Complex: Since I’ve mentioned the group’s emphasis on cutesy antics, let me ask if you guys normally talk with animated hand gestures and cute facial expressions.
All: [Laughs.] No!
Hyoyeon: I guess we jokingly do it amongst each other, but not seriously.
Tiffany: But we are a lot more animated than normal people.
Jessica: [Imitates a gesture.] Hi, girls.
Tiffany: You know like normal people will say, “My head hurts.” But I guess we’ll have some form of gesture that goes along with it.
Jessica: Yeah, we do talk with a lot more action involved than normal people.
Sooyoung: I don’t know if you’re familiar, but our dance choreographer, Rino Nakasone, who’s been instructing our choreography from the beginning, laid out a set of moves and gestures that are fitting for each member.
Complex: So these gestures were instructed.
Jessica: And for each song they’re different.
Sooyoung: They’re actually part of the choreography. But because we have so many of those pose and gestures, I feel like many people assume that we’re super bubbly and animated. It’s not like I’m going to ask Jessica [poses a gesture], “Did you eat?”
Jessica: [Poses a gesture.] No, I didn’t.
Complex: I’ve noticed from footages that almost all the performances are done with heels on. How are your feet?
Sooyoung: We’re dying in pain! After a concert, our feet are literally burning.
Seohyun: A lot of calluses.
Yuri: Our feet are in bad shape.
Taeyeon: We take care of them, but they get messed up so easily.
Yuri: We’ve been wearing heels for so long, we’ve gotten so used to them that we feel more comfortable wearing them when we’re going up on stage. It straightens our postures; it makes us feel more confident. It’s not comfortable, but we’re so adjusted now that it feels weird without them.