By: Katie Evans
Today marks Girls’ Generation’s seven year-anniversary, and the celebrations both within the group and within the fandom have already kicked off. Notably, the anniversary also marks seven years of SNSD with no lineup changes, an extremely rare feat across the K-Pop industry and an unprecedented one for a group under SM Entertainment. It’s just the latest piece of history that SNSD have made since 2007, and it’s because of their unique, record-setting career that many are wondering what their next steps will be.
Since it became public knowledge that SNSD’s contracts would expire this year, fans have speculated about what the group’s future holds. It’s not an invalid question—SNSD have always been compared and contrasted with the other big-name girl groups of their generation, KARA and the Wonder Girls, both of whom have seen serious changes in the past year. After narrowly avoiding a collapse in 2011, KARA lost Nicole and Jiyoung, who decided not to renew their contracts with DSP Media. The group is currently making a comeback with a new member, but it seems unlikely that they will sustain the success and popularity they had as a five-member group with hits such as 2009’s “Mister.”
The Wonder Girls, on the other hand, sustained their popularity through two lineup changes, but their future seems to be in limbo. The group has not released new music in any language since 2012, and has been on an indefinite break since Sunye’s marriage. Late last year, Sohee chose not to renew her contract with JYP Entertainment, instead signing with BH Entertainment to focus on acting. Other than Yeeun’s recently-released solo album, the remaining members of the group have kept a low profile the past two years. JYPE has repeatedly assured fans that the Wonder Girls have not disbanded, but there is also no timetable for their return as either a four- or three-member group.
With their peers in mind, let’s look back at SNSD. It’s certainly possible that one or more members could choose to leave the company, as Jiyoung, Nicole, and Sohee did, but given SME’s handling of DBSK and Super Junior, SNSD would continue to exist regardless of whether one, two, or even seven members walked away. Super Junior has also continued promotions despite several members serving their mandatory military service, which makes it likely that SME would keep SNSD going even if a member were to take a personal break similar to Sunye’s. In the end, unless all nine leave the company or agree to disband, all signs point to SNSD continuing in some form.
That brings about the next question: Would any of the nine walk away from the group? No one in SNSD or representing SME has said anything either way publicly. SNSD did just release a greatest hits compilation in Japan, including a new ballad called “Indestructible”, so maybe SME is preparing for both outcomes. While some idols broke the news of their departure in advance (Jiyoung), others have parted ways with their company without any sort of warning to the public or even their coworkers (EXO’s Kris).
In the past, SNSD have jokingly complained about their management on variety shows, but there hasn’t been any public discord; rumors that Taeyeon filed a secret lawsuit against SME in 2011 were quickly dismissed earlier this summer. As they’ve risen to the top of K-Pop, SNSD have also received more “benefits” and a more diverse range of job opportunities than their less successful peers. Though the announcements of Tiffany, Sooyoung, Yoona, and Taeyeon’s relationships certainly caused controversy, the fact that SME went public with the news is indicative of the power SNSD holds and the respect they command from both upper management and the public. Unlike other groups that seem to churn out singles constantly, the girls take to social media often to show off vacation pictures. And other than their albums and reality shows as a group, they have had lead roles in dramas and musicals, MC positions at awards ceremonies and variety shows, personal radio shows, and independent ad endorsements.
As a nine-member group under SME, SNSD have had countless successes and opportunities collectively and individually. The resolution of their contracts will show us if the girls want to keep pursuing these opportunities together or try something new.
Now, for a moment, let’s pretend all nine renew their contracts without so much as a blip of controversy. For a group that has broken records both in Korea and Japan, appeared on American and French television and performed on four continents, where do they go next?
One obvious step SNSD will take is the ongoing maturation of their musical sound and fashion style. Yuri and other members have often said in interviews that as they age, their music should age too—with their youngest member, Seohyun, turning 23, SNSD have outgrown their sweet, youthful tracks like “Kissing You” and “Ooh La La.” Their more recent discography has reflected their maturation, particularly the experimental “I Got A Boy” and “Goodbye”, an unconventional breakup song from the “Mr.Mr.” mini album. The styling for “The Boys” and “Mr.Mr.” also projects an adult sophistication. With newer, younger groups debuting left and right (including SME’s newest, Red Velvet), SNSD’s staying power relies on their ability to innovate and mature. “Into The New World” and their other early tracks will remain much-loved classics among fans, but SNSD will need to grow up to stay on top.
This maturation process isn’t just about SNSD’s image—their fanbase will have to grow up, too. The policing of idols’ personal lives by their own fans is disgusting no matter how old said idols are, but it’s completely unacceptable for SONEs to expect nine girls with married peers to keep their relationships behind closed doors. As SNSD ages, their fans must discard the idea that the group belongs to them even when they’re off the clock. If they can’t love SNSD while respecting the girls’ real-life rights, SNSD will have to build a new fanbase that can.
Another possibility for the future is added solo projects and subgroups. TaeTiSeo wasn’t SNSD’s first subgroup, and with SME’s love of intra-company collaborations and project groups, it doesn’t seem like they’ll be their last. Subgroups and solo promotions allow part of a band to take an often well-needed breather while others experiment with musical directions not possible as a whole (The vocally tough “Twinkle”, for example). With Hyuna’s success as a solo artist in mind, it’s easy to imagine, say, Yuri and Hyoyeon doing a catchy, choreographically intense but vocally simple duet. SME could also continue their steady promotion of their sister act with a Jessica and Krystal mini album. Or SNSD could do full-blown, Big Bang-style solo promotions—imagine Taeyeon banking on her drama soundtrack success with a ballad, or an 80s-style bubblegum pop song from Tiffany. With their popularity as a group well-established, SNSD has little to lose from solo projects.
There’s also the question of creating more English-language music for the international market. SME has often teased that a full English-language album from SNSD is on the way, but that ultimately means nothing—JYPE promised and even collected preorders for an English-language Wonder Girls album in 2009, which fans are still waiting for. After BoA’s 2008 American debut fell flat, she returned to exclusively making Korean and Japanese music, and while SNSD commanded attention from The New Yorker to the Late Show in 2011, “The Boys” didn’t crack the mainstream American music scene. With three full-length albums and two mini albums in Asia since their U.S. debut, SME might just be content to check “American debut” off SNSD’s to-do list and move on. Or, given the racist treatment endured by both SNSD (Kelly Ripa’s co-host telling Tiffany, an American citizen, that she spoke surprisingly good English, for example) and PSY in the United States, SME might be trying to keep their top act where they’re most respected—and, of course, where they’re most profitable.
The K-Pop universe is constantly expanding and changing, but for the better part of seven years, SNSD has been the group changing the game and changing themselves to stay on top. The nine teenagers who fled the 2008 Dream Concert stage in tears have grown into one of the most beloved pop acts on the planet. Together or apart, there doesn’t seem to be much SNSD can’t accomplish—what they choose to pursue is the only real question.
Tags: Girls' Generation Hyoyeon Hyuna Jessica KARA Katie Evans Red Velvet Seohyun SM Entertainment Sooyoung Sunye Super Junior Taeyeon Tiffany TVXQ! Wonder Girls Yoona Yuri