If asked how much they feel their lives have changed in the last four years, what would be their response?
Over the last four years, SNSD has not only dominated the Korean music scene but has also spread their music overseas – even dominating the world’s second largest music industry in Japan – which has earned them worldwide support. One topic that frequents the news is their increasing maturity, to which the girls have modestly responded that it is unsurprising; there is an obvious relationship between age/experience and maturity. (In fact, it’d probably be even more alarming if there wasn’t any change.) Whenever the subject is brought up in interviews, they politely agree to it, but perhaps they do not fully realise how much weight this statement actually holds and just exactly how much that accelerated growth isn’t just a natural occurrence – that is, out of their hands or an inevitable fact of life. As fans, we know that there’s more to their maturity than “just growing older.”
It is obvious that SNSD are incredibly humble and grateful about the adoring popularity they’ve already acquired across the globe, and about the undeniable fact that things are only going to get better from here. Although they are a multitalented and multifaceted group, their popularity has largely come about thanks to their image that appeals to both genders and all ages: their immaculate body proportions and killer S-lines, their exceptionally beautiful, young faces, and their ability to compliment said physical features with bold, fluid dances that seem effortless onstage (the true, almost cruel, nature of these exhausting routines becomes obvious to the typical SONE when he or she attempts to swipe their not-so-slim leg across the ground and into the air without toppling over or pulling a muscle or flicking off their shoe during the chorus of Genie; DJ, put it to rest). For many, I am sure, falling in love with the girls preceded really falling in love with the music and this was because something about their image – whether that be the quick, deliberate sideways shimmies of the tantalising crab leg motion, a wink from Tiffany (that one would soon find out is what is known as her winsome eye smile) that stole your heart beat for a moment, or the picture-perfect formation of all nine girls – was more captivating than the music itself.
As dedicated fans, we now know that once we’ve entered the Soshi world, looking past only their image and focusing on the music is simple to do, but for the newcomer or occasional listener, image plays a much larger role. The beautiful thing about SNSD is that they have embraced a variety of image concepts as well as all kinds of music. No matter which era you stumbled into Soshi’s existence, there’s bound to be something about them that catches your eye, your ear, and eventually your heart.
Before nitpickers nitpick: music does play a large part in their appeal, I know that. SNSD are appealing to a varied demographic because of a vast array of factors, including a steady quality in music. And boy, do they sing well, too. We may have our favourite songs and our least favourites, but there’s no denying that their music is consistently good. Perhaps it’s incorrect to say that image precedes music. Instead, I should say that the former enhances the latter, especially when there are some instances in which songs are released before actual music videos. Especially when we keep listening to their albums even when there are no promotions for particular songs. All aesthetics are key.
Examining how they’ve come to where they are now, one noticeable characteristic is that they as a group have changed significantly. It may be played out a little, but to say that SNSD has progressively matured is probably the most accurate assertion. They are growing older year by year after all, and with age naturally comes maturity. What separates SNSD from other groups is that this growth seems to transcend the typical time span for it to happen. As I said, becoming more mature as time goes by is a natural process, but for someone (or nine someones) to display such quick and substantial sophistication in the professional music world can usually be perceived as exaggerated, counterfeit or unbelievably precocious. But this isn’t the case for SNSD. When you break down their career, it really isn’t that incredulous. In fact, it’s admirable.
In 2007, SNSD entered the Korean music scene as teenagers, high school girls, some even said little sisters. Their image was unspoiled and pure, alluring but simple. Everything about them was natural, from the colour of their hair to their youthful smiles. They epitomised that girl who sat next to you in maths class and who helped you with quadratic algebra (and basically everything else on the syllabus), and even though you laughed when your friends mocked her soft-spoken voice and decorous demeanour, you always stole a glance when their backs were turned. The girl you wanted to walk home. But I digress. When you watch their debut performances, you get a sense from the flawless execution of the intricate yet free spirited choreography that the girls – who at the time were just another rookie girl group debuting – trained and practiced with genuine dedication and resolution. Already from day one were they at the top of their game, and that showed from the huge response following their debut. Then came the phase of delightfully choreographed lollipop waving, maintaining the innocent look before going on hiatus.
During their 2009 comeback with the insanely upbeat and irresistible “Gee,” – arguably the epitome of bubblegum pop – a new look emerged: we saw the girls’ penchant for characteristically low-key T-shirts and skinny jeans, accented not only by zany colours but also their long, slender legs. (Not just anyone can pull off skinny jeans.) Notably, they looked more mature. Singing about falling in love at first sight and the surprise of it hitting you right in the face, they were still cute, still innocently charming, but had become young women. They were now dancing in heels. Needless to say their popularity skyrocketed.
That same year, with what could be called the flip side of “Gee,” SNSD followed up their hit single with “Tell Me Your Wish”: seductive and sexy in every possible way, from the lyrics to their hushed voices to their stern faces. As if flirting with you through the choreography (and by that, I particularly mean by way of their legs), the girls’ commanding maritime concept was easy to become addicted to – hair straightened to match not only their tall standing postures but also their long limbs and crisp white uniforms, blush brushed on in pronounced streaks, accentuating those deep unfaltering stares, and, perhaps most importantly, a perfect crimson pout painted on. (Sunny~) This striking transformation marked a major shift in the girls’ increasing maturity. SNSD may have started their career in a flurry of youthful twirls, but, only two years later, they had become the nation’s most desired women.
2010 saw SNSD’s whimsical “Oh!”, an anthem for the oh-oh-oh-oppas that took the girls even further into K-pop territory. Think pom-poms, colour coordinated ribbons to hold high spouting ponytails, sports uniforms, and high socks. Back to high school, you might think – but this time not the innocent girl in maths class who you admired from afar. We don’t even remember her name. Maybe not even high school anymore. College. SNSD had become the head cheerleaders, the boisterous girls who you could hear from the other end of the field, cheering you on during the big football game. The girls to whom you reciprocated their roars with adoration from as close as you could get.
At the end of the “Oh!” music video, fans caught a glimpse of the notorious looking Black Soshi (although I prefer Badass Soshi), who would soon be promoting a song that would become an anthem for women like them: a song to say to the oppas that got too close, or who were just assholes, to fuck off. So far I’ve only used analogies directed at the stereotypical male fan, and that has been particularly true of the image strategy behind SNSD’s past songs. However, as a girl group, they naturally fall into that middle ground. Girls and boys alike (and women and men and the elderly…) adore them, so of course the next logical step would be to cater to the fairer sex. Clad entirely in black (no, really, from head to toe, disproving the cliché that naked skin constitutes sexy), SNSD’s dark concept – stressed by the song’s harsh, heartless lyrics and the girls’ vindictive expressions – kept viewers at the edge of their seats, leaving fans of any sex tempted but uneasy. No one fucks with Black Soshi.
Amidst their Japanese promotions (in which they revisited both Genie and Gee concepts) near the end of the year, the girls released their third Korean mini-album, its title track “Hoot” shoot-shoot-shooting to the top of the charts. With a mix of 60’s mod and retro-inspired outfits – think oversized geometric patterns and buttons and an accompanying accessories line featuring buckled belts, artfully embellished headbands, thigh high boots, and hats and coats adorned with mink fur – it’s no wonder the nine ladies were able to re-capture the number one spot on the Korean music charts. Once again, the girls displayed their versatility as they dressed in 007 espionage couture, a throwback to the 60’s/70’s, that is better suited for a sophisticated woman with wanderlust and sex appeal than a high school girl who had never even left the country.
Skipping ahead to June 2011, SNSD’s – or should I say Shoujo Jidai’s – first Japanese album was announced and a new image revealed. “Angelic” was the first comment I read after seeing this new concept, and it certainly matched my initial thoughts. Think F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Think the Roaring Twenties. The whole concept encapsulated the dreamlike manner and disposition of those living in prosperity in the 1920s: wealthy, haughty, languid, angelic, untouchable, absolutely beautiful, statue-esque. Look at this photo:
Fitzgerald describes the scene: “the only completely stationary object… was an enormous couch on which [nine] young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon.” All nine clothed completely in white, “their dresses rippling and fluttering as if they had been blown back in after a short flight around the house…” Indubitably dreamlike, when looking at this concept one can’t help but feel a sense of unreality or fantastic reverie, an ambiguous yet unquestionable kind of purity eons away from their debut years, and a definite aura of maturity and sophistication far beyond their years. It’s effortless, yet so sexy.
With age, things do evolve; the girls have grown since Into the New World and it is irrefutable that their image – their faces, bodies, concepts – has changed, has become more sophisticated. They have displayed impressive versatility throughout the years through numerous concepts, and have even embraced ensembles that some would find peculiar, nevertheless pulling them off flawlessly. Furthermore each concept illuminates a different kind of beauty about the nine members. How many times have you looked at a new photo, be it from a photoshoot or an album jacket or a performance or even an airport candid, of any of the nine and thought, “Wow, she’s beautiful”? Then you look at another photo and the same thoughts repeat, maybe this time a little more emphatic (“Holy shit, she is beautiful”) but that same feeling, reminiscent of the fresh sting of cold air that hits you in the face, the almost unsettling shock when you step out of your house on a winter’s day, still creeps up on you. It’s uncalled for though expected, but still completely surprising at the same time. What is so striking about SNSD is that in every photo, music video or performance (and I can only imagine in person), they continue to glow, and it is evident that their ‘mature look’ becomes more pronounced as time goes by. People notice this change because of the multitude of concepts and looks they’ve taken on, each one accentuating their flourishing maturity.
One last thing before I finish: I’d like to talk about their professionalism. This article seems like it won’t end anytime soon if I continue to break down the changes in music styles and so forth, so I’ll just round this off with one last thought. The girls have proved themselves to be professionals in the music world; despite only debuting when they were teenagers, they have continued to work diligently, appearing on countless variety shows through which they’ve displayed their distinct, lovable personalities, being involved in other projects besides SNSD (from hosting radio shows to starring in top-rated dramas to co-hosting music shows), performing full concerts after concerts (think about all of that choreography and all of those songs), flying from one country to another as if catching a bus and only again to perform onstage, they make numerous television appearances and shoot countless CFs and photoshoots, endorsing product after product (although in all honestly, if SNSD endorsed staplers, we’d all buy those staplers). Don’t forget about them having to squeeze in time to learn and perfect dance routines and new songs. Where they get this time from, who the fuck knows.
Over these four years, the workload that each member carries on her shoulders seems to increase; juggling all of that surely denotes that they have become incredibly capable professionals in the entertainment industry. But what doesn’t change – or rather, what becomes more pronounced – is their unwavering appreciation, hard work and level-headedness. They’re persistent, and to succeed in such a competitive industry, you need to know how to push yourself and how to work well with others – that is, not only your group members.
What I mean is this: it’s one thing to work professionally with other people, maintaining a somewhat distant “professional” relationship, but it’s another thing to work with affection towards others, for others, and into the work that you do. We’ve all heard that story about Taeyeon crying as a result of seeing the staff eating on the floor and actually having the initiative to do something about it. We’ve all heard their loud, earnest “kamsahamnidas” and seen those resolute 90-degree bows given to everyone working behind the scenes, these signs of affection and gratitude never perfunctory but instead always sincere. One of my favourite parts about watching fancams of concerts is the ending simply because of their heartfelt bows to the fans; at the end of those ten seconds, their eyes are always shining – and that in itself is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I think what distinguishes SNSD’s professionalism is that they have discovered that there is something meaningful and significant in all the work they have done, which has stemmed from having an affectionate relationship with those working with them and those supporting them. And of course, having each other to depend on.
Moreover, I feel that once you’ve reached a certain position (in any area of expertise), you can easily lose sight of yourself and the expectation is of you to uphold that reputation. However, if you carry something out in a recurring way to diminish risk or failure, it becomes apparent that professionalism is a limitation. Constant transgression and growth is essential – and I feel this is why SNSD transcends “professionalism” in the normal sense: they are unafraid to make mistakes or embrace new ideas and are constantly trying to beat themselves for themselves and for the fans. This is why they can be called mature young women in a professional sense; it is evident that despite their amazing achievements, the nine ladies have not let their success dominate their lives nor have they become complacent.
So going back to the incipient question: what would be the SNSD’s response if asked how much they feel their lives have changed since debuting four years ago? (Forgive the lyrical language here.) I imagine it might go something like this:
Taeyeon, who I could just imagine if asked that very question, would let loose a liquorice-black chuckle that sounds as if it should be emanating from a grizzled 60-year-old ahjumma rather than a fresh-faced young woman. In stark contrast, the maknae, Seohyun, would at first slightly pout her lips and furrow her eyebrows and mull over the question at hand, before the immaculate concentration displayed on her endearing face abruptly transforms into a gawking, embarrassed expression (don’t forget the blubbery “unnie!” leaving her mouth (it seems this has become a reflex)) after hearing an immature, childish remark from Hyoyeon. Yoona would go along with Hyoyeon’s silly banter, the aegyo fat beneath her eyes pushing them upwards so that they become imperceptible – but this almost goes unnoticed due to her gaping alligator-like mouth that covers most of her face. Sooyoung and Yuri would be consumed in a deep conversation, both smirking and responding to each other with serious, inviting and surprised expressions (hint: the topic of conversation usually relates to the word ‘consumed’). Sunny and Tiffany would react to everything around them in a series of jerky movements featuring thigh-slapping and clapping hands (Tiffany unable to sustain her composed Manager Hwang attitude for very long). And lastly, Jessica would probably stare ahead blankly, perhaps trying to hold back a smile, just listening to the abrasive, irrelevant and hilarious conversations among the other members that make up the pleasant atmosphere that she has never grown tired of over the last four years.
Who knows what they would really say? In the end, just having an idea of how they would react to such a question says a whole lot more. Ultimately, SNSD’s nine members may have become women, but at heart they’re still the same girls they were four years ago.
5 August 2007
As we approach SNSD’s 4-year anniversary, it becomes apparent that they have come so far since their debut days. Saying “Oh yes, they’ve matured” is one thing, but knowing exactly why that is the case is mandatory for the dedicated SONE. From their ever-changing image, to their perennial beauty, to their abilities as performers, to their competent professionalism, these girls haven’t just matured, connoting a natural change: they’ve gracefully blossomed and prospered and thrived and [insert every other synonym here] because of their unceasing, tenacious work ethic, all the while remaining grateful to everyone who has helped them get to where they are now and always being humble about their incredible achievements. There is no doubt that the nine ladies have matured in all definitions of the word and will continue to improve and become even better performers. Their stark growth is so recognisable because no one – and I mean no one – could have predicted this amount of success and change during SNSD’s glorious four years.
Collectively, they have changed. But what is so admirable, remarkable and appealing about SNSD is that as nine individual ladies, they have not forgotten who they are and who they want to be.
We love you, So Nyuh Shi Dae!
Happy 4th anniversary! Forever SNSD~
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Images: as tagged (snsdchina.net, jessture.net, thsutleo.com); SM Entertainment