History of K-Pop: Girls’ Generation

History of K-Pop: Girls’ Generation

It’s almost impossible to talk about the international fame of the K-Pop industry without discussing Girls’ Generation, or SNSD. The group propelled K-Pop to international fame, long before American concert appearances or millions of YouTube views were standard fare. SNSD is the first Asian girl group to achieve over 100 million views on five separate music videos and is often still revered as “The Nation’s Girl Group.”

The group made its official debut in 2007 with nine members: Taeyeon, Tiffany, Sunny, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Yoona, Sooyoung, Jessica, and Seohyun.  The group performed their first single, “Into the New World,” on Inkigayo in August of that year. They later released two additional singles, “Girls’ Generation” and “Kissing You,” before releasing their self-titled debut album that November. Although their work was well-received, with their album being the twelfth best-selling album of 2007 in South Korea, the group had yet to rise to the level of fame they would later become renowned for. Instead, their beginnings were humble. The group debuted with a youthful image, wearing little makeup and appearing in charming “girl-next-door” outfits that would later become iconic of the group’s debut.

The group’s real rise to stardom is most associated with the 2009 release of the song “Gee,” an instant classic that appeared on an EP of the same name. The bubblegum pop tune currently has over 200 million views on YouTube, and the song’s success signals not only the longevity of the viral song, but that of Girls’ Generation’s fame as a group. Numerous artists have performed covers of the song, and Girls’ Generation continues to perform it themselves at their own concerts. The song’s addictive chorus and the group’s cute, vibrant image remain iconic not only of one of the group’s most popular songs, but of the K-Pop industry entirely, setting the standard for numerous other songs and performances that seem inspired by the song.

From there, the group went on to heighten their fame with the releases of songs like “Tell Me Your Wish (Genie),” “Run Devil Run,” and “Oh!” While all three songs maintained Girls’ Generation’s signature sound of electro- and bubblegum pop, they also ushered in a new evolution of Girls’ Generation. Rather than simply appearing fresh-faced and innocent, the girls instead appeared sexier and more mature, allowing them to show a side of themselves the public hadn’t seen before. For example, the videos for the songs “Oh!” and “Run Devil Run” mirror each other: in “Oh!” the girls appeared as bright and charismatic cheerleaders, while “Run Devil Run” showed off the girls’ darker, edgier alter-egos. The closing scene of “Oh!” shows the two sets of girls staring one another down. These releases, as well as the ones that followed, showed that Girls’ Generation can venture beyond their debut image and appear more experimental than they had before.

The group continued to receive recognition, including numerous music show wins and two consecutive awards for “Artist of the Year” at the 2010 and 2011 Seoul Music Awards. The girls continued to release hit after hit, with their albums consistently topping their previous sales records. Their appearances on several foreign television shows to promote their third studio album, The Boys, in 2011 marked a particularly significant moment in their career. In order to connect with audiences in the United States, the girls made their U.S. debut with performances of “The Boys” on The Late Show with David Letterman and Live! with Kelly.  The group also appeared on two French television shows to promote the song.

The song was another emblem of the Hallyu wave, and its music video and performances allowed for a different side of Girls’ Generation to show to the public yet again. While many of the group’s previous releases were bubbly pop songs about love, “The Boys” was charismatic, confident, and fierce, with the girls proclaiming their own worth and allure. Additionally, the girls departed from their uniform image, instead appearing in individually styled outfits that set them apart from one another while still maintaining a group appearance. This image proved to be a hit, as the album became the best-selling album of 2011 in South Korea and received international favor.

In 2013, the group made international waves yet again when the inaugural YouTube Music Awards nominated their “I Got A Boy” music video for “Video of the Year.” Although the group was competing against international heartthrob Justin Bieber and viral sensation PSY, they still secured the award, causing international audiences to take notice of the group. The song, which garnered over 200 million YouTube views even before “Gee” did, mixes a variety of genres to create a vivid, memorable tune. Once again, the group didn’t appear in the uniform outfits that they had in past releases. Their outfits in the video were more colorful and different from one another than usual. They incorporated a wide variety of streetwear trends and brands, giving Girls’ Generation another image update.

In early 2014, the group released their single “Mr.Mr.” from their fourth EP of the same name. The song received widespread commercial success and praise for its sophisticated sound and lyrical themes. Girls’ Generation also released a Japanese greatest hits album in July of that year and completed a third Japanese concert tour, further solidifying their success and impact among Japanese audiences.

In spite of their successes that year, 2014 also saw the departure of member Jessica Jung from the group. It’s not completely clear what lead to her departure, as the statements released by Jessica and by SM Entertainment seemed to conflict with one another. Regardless of the reason behind her departure, Girls’ Generation continued to promote as an eight-membered group from then on.

The group continued to release new material throughout 2015, including the catchy and energetic single “Catch Me If You Can,” the 20s-inspired album and single of the same name, Lion Heart, and the powerful and edgy song, “You Think.” Although the group was on hiatus for much of 2016, they returned in 2017 to celebrate their 10th anniversary, releasing the album Holiday Night in July. The album featured two singles, “Holiday” and “All Night,” in which the girls appeared to celebrate their long career while reflecting upon the experiences they shared over the last decade. SM Entertainment released two versions of “All Night” -- one “clean” version, featuring the music video by itself, and one documentary version, featuring side interviews with individual members and behind-the-scenes footage.

 Photo: Sooyoung's Instagram

Photo: Sooyoung's Instagram

In October 2017, SM Entertainment announced that members Tiffany, Seohyun, and Sooyoung had not renewed their contracts with the agency, instead choosing other pursuits for the time being. Tiffany is currently living in Los Angeles and studying acting, while Sooyoung signed with Echo Global Group, an agency that plans to continue supporting her acting and singing activities. Meanwhile, Seohyun is reportedly setting up a one-person agency to manage her own activities. Although many fans feared that the departure of the three members spelled the end of the group itself, SM Entertainment has not announced the group’s disbandment. Nevertheless, the girls appear to remain close, making frequent appearances in one another’s posts on social media.

Additionally, several members of the group have solo careers of their own that show no signs of slowing down. Notably, leader Taeyeon has a large body of solo work, including multiple albums, music videos, and loads of features with other artists, including Crush, Verbal Jint, and DEAN.

Tiffany and Seohyun also have solo albums and music videos, and Hyoyeon has released two singles of her own.

Meanwhile, Yuri, Sunny, Sooyoung, and Yoona have made many appearances on variety shows and in several dramas, with some members playing lead characters in their respective shows. Finally, former member Jessica has released a solo album and a Christmas EP while managing her fashion brand, Blanc & Eclare.

While the group’s future is unclear, the members’ careers are far from over. Regardless of where things may go from here, nothing can diminish the existing impact Girls’ Generation has had on K-Pop and in the music industry. Their work will remain emblematic of some of the most recognizable, iconic songs ever produced by a K-Pop group. Hopefully, we’ll see even more of the group’s successes and achievements in the years to come!

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