2018 was a huge year for Hallyu – the wave of Korean culture reverberating beyond East Asia – particularly for K-pop music.
K-pop has been lingering in the background of the Western market for well over a decade, especially after the global (unknowingly) satirical smash “Gangnam Style.” Korea hosted the 2018 Winter Olympic Games and called for their biggest acts to perform at the opening and closing ceremonies for all the world to watch. BTS scored a #1 album on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Dazed Digital regularly covered K-pop music more than ever this year, ultimately giving it cred amongst hip youth culture. Full stop: liking K-pop is fucking cool in 2018.
The appeal and rise of K-pop itself is reflective of our globalized lust for instant gratification. K-pop operates at breakneck speed, with lots of non-scandalous scandals (see: HyunA and E’Dawn of Triple H going public about dating and being kicked off their label for it), underrated bops, new content filtering through every hour. There are groups, sub-units within the groups, soloist projects from members of a group, artists acting in dramas, artists attending or hosting variety shows, artists launching ten ad campaigns in the same week, groups putting out three albums in as little as five months, groups announcing concerts around the globe with three weeks notice, just go, go, go, go, go!
After years of being a casual fan of the music and eccentric music videos, I fell face forward into this cultural craze. It’s fascinating. It wouldn’t have been easy without my friend, Ani, whom I share a mutual love for all things pop music with, helping me ease into discovering more about the K-pop as a whole. For this year’s cmd+vent I asked her to reflect on her year with K-pop, and she kindly wrote about one of her long time favorite groups.
In September 2014, the Tumblr community was talking about Jessica Jung leaving her group, Girls’ Generation. I wasn’t into K-Pop back then, but I did know about GG being one of the biggest girl groups ever, and I was obsessed with “I Got A Boy,” one of their most important singles. I didn’t know much about the industry, and I was only starting to get into music groups of this sort, so I was devastated because I thought this meant the group would be over.
Two years later, I started diving into K-Pop and was thrilled to find out GG were doing more than fine. They’d released an album as eight members in 2015, and had gone on an incredible tour named Phantasia. Losing one member hadn’t stopped these girls at all, and I fell in love with them all over again. Their music kept me company through graduating from university, and then through family drama. The strength of their bond shining through their songs kept me hopeful and happy, and they became one of the most important sources of joy for me at times of despair.
In October 2017, three more members left the company; Tiffany, my favorite, Seohyun and Sooyoung had all decided to pursue a different path – kind of, because their statements all said that though they weren’t renewing their contracts with their company, but they were always going to be a part of GG. This was confusing, and I, for one, was devastated. This couldn’t mean anything good. Losing one member was one thing, but going from eight to five after ten years of being together was a big blow and I was worried about the continuity of the group. Tiffany’s exit in particular was hard on me. She wanted to go back to her hometown, Los Angeles, and go to college. As much as I always want her to have everything she desires, this was heartbreaking for me because it meant I wasn’t going to get content from her for quite a while.
Since I discovered them, GG have always proved me wrong, and in 2018 they did it all over again. Tiffany released three songs this year, while doing multiple advertising campaigns and being featured in so many magazines I’ve lost count. The five members of GG who remained under SM Entertainment put out a single with an incredible B-Side, showing that each of them has more than enough talent to carry a song with absolutely no problem. Taeyeon put out one of my favorite mini albums ever by any artist, and debuted in Japan with two amazing songs. Yuri finally debuted as a solo artist with a perfect mini album. Hyoyeon put out two singles that highlight how much she still has to offer. But above all, throughout the year, all members of GG have made an effort to let the fans know they’re still a group, and they’re forever a family. They show support for each other constantly, whether it be by featuring each other in their music videos, like Tiffany’s “Teach You,” or through social media and interviews, where the three members that left SM always make it a point to remind people they are, and will always be, Girls’ Generation.
This year was a tough one for me, but Girls’ Generation were right by my side once again, in new ways but forever present when I needed them, and for that I am very grateful. Here’s my selection of songs mentioned above, though I highly recommend listening to everything any Girls’ Generation member has ever been involved with and will be happy to provide a full playlist.
My heart wanted to put “Peppermint” here because it’s my favorite of the three songs she’s released so far in her new solo career, but the video for “Teach You” features her bandmates, Hyoyeon and Sooyoung, one still under SM Entertainment, which is a gift I didn’t expect to ever get, much less this shortly after Tiffany leaving the company. We got it because these girls love each other and they don’t need to be constantly reminding us of that, but they do it anyway.
Hyoyeon’s music is a hit or miss with me because it’s not my usual style, but I can’t imagine anyone not being instantly hooked by “Sober.” Her voice really shines in this one, and the music video is jaw dropping. She’s one of the best dancers in the industry, and it’s always a gift to see her move, but this choreography in particular, immersed in the atmosphere, of the video gave me chills.
I didn’t want to be unfair and choose more than one for Taeyeon, but the choice was almost impossible because everything she’s put out this year has been magical. This song is fun and it could have easily been a title track if “Something New” wasn’t there. Taeyeon’s vocal power is impossible to hide, and though her ballads are always priceless, there’s something special about her just having fun with a song like this one.
Because I didn’t choose a ballad for Taeyeon, I’m choosing one for Yuri. Her mini album is amazing, and I strongly recommend checking out the music video for “Into You,” its title track, and giving a listen to the more upbeat tracks. However, “Ending Credit” is the jewel of the crown in my opinion. In this beautiful slow song, Yuri’s velvety vocals are so sweet you can feel every emotion in the lyrics without even paying attention to what they mean. It’s the kind of song that takes you someplace else if you just close your eyes for three minutes and seventeen seconds. It also helps that it’s the promise for a next mini album, which, after listening to the first one, seems like the most urgent of matters.
This is such a special song to me it took me a very long time to figure out how to put what it means into words. It’s a beautiful song, with a lovely melody, and the harmonies are outstanding, as expected from GG. But above all, it’s a song about taking a break. I look up to idols a lot because they inspire me to work hard, to dream big but especially to know dreams don’t happen unless you give your all and stay focused. “Fermata” is about knowing hard work is important, but it’s also important to sometimes take a moment to yourself and breathe. To remember who you are under all those layers of stress. When this song came out, so did a reality show in which we got to see these girls in their almost thirties finally going on a vacation, and after seeing how happy they are on stage and putting out new music they’ve worked hard on, it was so important to me as an adult to see them also enjoying a moment of peace that they earned.
I mean, I couldn’t possibly end this without the title track. Considering this sub-unit only gave us two songs, it seemed fair to include them both. It’s been said many times “Lil’ Touch” was SM’s way of telling us even with five members, GG was always going to be a force to be reckoned with, and the success of a song with zero promotion is a true testament to it.
Ease your way into K-pop with Ani on Twitter: @ceotiffanyyoung
The 4th day of cmd+vent is tomorrow!