As sad as it is, the second generation of K-Pop is slowly ending. For almost two years now, we’ve been constantly peppered with breaking news of the latest disbandment or lineup change. Sometimes it’s not surprising, like Choa parting ways with AOA after a hiatus and months of rumors. Sometimes it’s completely out of the blue, like when Hoya left Infinite. In any case, you’d think we’d be used to all the change by now. But this latest development concerns Girls’ Generation: the biggest girl group in K-Pop and legends in their own right. And the K-Pop community’s shocked reaction shows just how much we’ll never truly be ready.
It wasn’t exactly a secret that Girls’ Generation was renegotiating their contracts. In fact, SM Entertainment’s power plays infamously ruined what would be their last comeback as eight. Cutting off promotions after a week, hinting to the public that the group might see a shakeup, and several other shady stunts were largely seen as attempts to pressure the members into agreeing to terms that wouldn’t necessarily benefit them. What was supposed to be a joyful celebration of Girls’ Generation’s tenth anniversary turned into a time of unease and panic for the fans. Many stayed positive, praying that the ladies would all renew and stick together. Because I’m more cynical, I realized it was quite possible at least one would go. So I tried to be hopeful, but I braced myself for impact.
Fast forward to a couple months. Things move quickly in K-Pop, so it’s easy for something that happened two months ago to feel like it was two years ago – especially if you’re multifandom and have a lot of groups to keep track of. Most of us either forgot about the drama, or at the very least relegated it to the back of our minds. We were all minding our own business when the bombshell dropped: not one, but three members of Girls’ Generation decided to end their contracts. Tiffany, Sooyoung, and Seohyun are leaving SM Entertainment, and the future of the group is up in the air. SONEs everywhere are stunned.
Out of the three, Sooyoung’s departure is the least surprising. Some idols want to pursue music and performing as a lifetime career, and some enjoy it but ultimately move on to other things. I definitely see Sooyoung in the latter category. She’s good at singing and dancing, but there are other members that SM push more. She’s always gotten more attention for acting and modeling. She’s had lead roles for five years, and she’s filmed at least two or three dramas in 2017 alone. Since SM focuses on Yoona a lot in that area (and perhaps Yuri too), it makes sense for Sooyoung to go elsewhere in order to pursue acting full-time.
There’s also the fact that she’s the most likely to get married soon. The members revealed on Happy Together that Sooyoung has prayed for a spouse since she was young, and she once bought a pair of socks for her future child. It seems she’s quite family-oriented. Her long-term boyfriend Jung Kyung Ho recently said they’d get married once she was satisfied with her career. Perhaps that time isn’t so far away now. I’m definitely sad about Sooyoung leaving, because she was my bias for a while. But I’m also her age, and I’m also in a long-term relationship. So I can sympathize if she wants to move on to that next stage in life – and I haven’t had a quarter of the career that she has!
Tiffany leaving isn’t a huge stretch either, especially since there were recent reports she wanted to study acting in the US. I imagine it’s been hard for her to rebound from her SNS controversy last year (when she used a Japanese rising sun Snapchat sticker on Korea’s National Liberation Day). While I’m personally neutral on the situation, the backlash was completely understandable given the historical context and the unfortunate timing. K-Pop fans are notorious for holding grudges, but this particular instance would be harder to forgive and forget. It didn’t look like it had lasting consequences for her as a member of Girl’s Generation, but it definitely had an impact on any individual career she might have had in South Korea. It’s a shame, because she’d just released her solo and it was really good.
Putting that aside, it’s entirely possible Tiffany just wants to go back home. After all, she’s spent over half her life in a different country. As someone who’s lived abroad for five years, I think there are two types of expats in general. A lot of my fellow American friends have fond memories of the US, but they’ve assimilated into the culture here and they don’t particularly want to go back. I’m a little different: I love living in a different country, but I still hold onto my cultural identity as an American. I’m taking advantage of being here as much as I can, but I know there’ll be a day when I head back home. I have no idea how Tiffany feels as an American living overseas, but if I had to guess I’d say she’s more like me. In any case, it will be interesting to see where she ends up. Her path seems the least clear out of the three, so hopefully she’ll be able to transition smoothly into whatever option she chooses.
I think we can all say Seohyun is the shocker here. I actually thought she was one of the members certain to renew, and my other guesses were sure bets Taeyeon and Yoona. Her position just seemed so solid to outsiders like us. It’s long been rumored that Girls’ Generation’s lead vocalists (Taeyeon, Tiffany, Seohyun) get preferential treatment and can even choose their parts in SNSD songs. Her solo debut earlier this year was a success, picking up a couple of music show wins and leading to her first concert. She’s had a couple of acting roles as well, so it appeared that she had a good balance between group and individual activities. But although Seohyun’s departure seems unexpected, I think it’s a matter of reading in between the lines.
Seohyun wrote the lyrics for most of the songs on her album, which is apparently rare because SM has a rigorous screening process. She also said that SM initially didn’t want her to do a mature concept, instead favoring a innocent early Taylor Swift kind of style
despite the fact that she’s a grown woman in her twenties. So it stands to reason that she’d want more creative control over her music. But reports are saying she wants to focus on acting, which is probably the real surprise. We’ve seen her gain interest in it recently, but I don’t think any of us thought she’d ultimately choose it over singing. Ordinarily, you’d think staying at SM would allow you to have better opportunities. (It could be the same for Sooyoung, but she’s been acting for a while while Seohyun is newer to the scene) But there are rumors that SM was controlling Seohyun’s acting roles and refusing many of her offers. So if she and her agency didn’t see eye to eye on both her music and her individual activities, it makes complete sense that she’d walk.
Though I’m not upset enough to destroy any CDs, I’m definitely saddened by this turn of events. I like a lot of K-Pop groups, but my tastes change so frequently that I only get attached to a select few. And even when I do, they’re mostly boy groups. I can count on one hand how many girl groups I truly get invested in, and Girls’ Generation is one of them. I only knew them for about a year and a half, but they quickly shot to the top of my list. I liked everything about them – their music, their dances, their fashion, and their personalities. I really felt that I could relate to them, since we’re all the same age. Actually, that’s precisely why I try to be so understanding.
Sure I’d like them to stick together, but it’s mostly for reasons that benefit me as a fan. I want to keep buying albums, I want to see them in concert, etc. Also, I like the idea of a girl group in their late twenties dominating an industry where it’s all supposedly downhill after twenty-five. But as hard as it is, I have to look at it from their perspective. EXO – five years in and at the height of their fame – just spoke about how incredible restricting their lifestyle can be, and how they feel like they can’t live their twenties comfortable. So imagine what that’s like after ten years. Girls’ Generation has easily given over half of their lives to this industry and to their fans. Priorities change the closer you get to thirty, and they’re fully entitled to choose a different path.
At the same time, it’s natural for fans to find it so difficult when this happens. A lot of it is because we get so invested, but I think it’s mostly because it breaks the group’s image as a united front. For years, we’re conditioned to think the members are somewhere between best friends and family. We always see the group together, with rare glimpses of family/friends/significant others. So when a member leaves or the group breaks up, it looks like the bond we’ve been taught is unbreakable has snapped. That makes it easy for a fan to feel betrayed, or think it’s all just been an illusion. This is exactly what happened with Jessica’s departure, so it’s understandable SONEs are wary.
Personally, I believe that Girls’ Generation are all close and that they’re all friends. That’s not to say the last decade was all sunshine and rainbows, but I don’t think there are any fake friendships for the cameras. You can’t spend ten years with someone without forging some kind of connection. And limited looks into their private lives show how much they love each other. The news of members leaving is definitely hard to swallow. But we can take comfort in the fact that it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with their bond. Changing agencies won’t automatically end their friendships. They’ll still be close and they’ll still be part of each others lives, even if we fans don’t get to see it as much. The ladies are just looking to their own futures and following their own dreams.
It’s hard to say where Girls’ Generation will go from here. Logistically speaking, they had a really good balance as a team of eight. It’s very hard to imagine what a comeback with five of them would look like, especially since both lead vocals didn’t resign. It’s highly possible the remaining members will pursue individual activities for a while, and we very well may not get new music. But I try not to think about that future just yet. I try to be thankful for everything they gave to us fans. I’m grateful that they made it to ten years and that I got to be here for one of their comebacks. I’ll always wish I discovered them earlier, but I’ll support every single one of them no matter how things turn out. And I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a reunion down the road.
Sources: Youtube, Omona They Didn’t (Livejournal), Soompi, AllKPop News, Instagram (Sooyoung and Seohyun), SM Entertainment, Instyle, Happy Together 3 (KBS)