Wednesday, September 21, 2011
The Only Band That Matters
Fair warning: this post will change your life, at least for a little while. If you are outside Korea or the K-Pop universe, continue at your own risk. Or maybe I’ve just lost my mind.
For the last week or two, Girls’ Generation songs have been running through my head pretty much 97% of the time, awake or asleep. Shit is catchy. I’m well aware that shit might be shit too, but we’ll get to that.
Much like chess, or the Korean script that Girls’ Generation members actually write in, this is a band that's easy to learn but near impossible to master. To kick off, they have a ridiculous 9 members, none of whom play an instrument. However, they are so crazy popular and prolific on the K-Pop/Korean Wave scene that each member has her own Wikipedia page... in English.
Becoming a Nirvana completionist (which, for the most part, I am) is a reasonably easy endeavor. Doing the same for, say, Bob Dylan or all jam bands takes a considerable degree of effort. To own every Girls’ Generation recording is next to impossible. K-Pop is an insanely fluid medium, chock full of remixes, EPs, and of course Japanese imports. According to Wikipedia, Girls’ Generation boasts 3 studio albums, two repackaged albums, 3 EPs, a live album, and a single in Korea, plus an album, an EP, and three singles in Japan. Yet, they’ve only been releasing music since 2007. That’s 15 recordings in one way or another. I downloaded nine, and they don’t match up with those 15 at all, and all nine are all from 2008 or before. Plus, this doesn’t even count commercial music that, like, they literally make for commercials, which themselves are massive hits here.
For a seemingly simple girl band, this is just the beginning of the mystery. Girls’ Generation, of course, is not their only name. In Korean, they’re called 소녀시대, which is romanized as Sonyeo Shidae. They are also abbreviated as SNSD, or as Soshi (소시). Having a Korean name is no surprise for a Korean band, of course, but most K-Pop bands are called the same thing in English and Korean. To make matters more confusing, Girls’ Generation not only has two self-titled albums, they also have a song called, yes, “Girls’ Generation,” of which there are several different versions that appear on multiple recordings. I suppose to keep all the loose ends straight, one could visit soshified.com. This website is dedicated to all things SNSD, and has been updated every day, sometimes several times a day, since 2008. They have 82,000 Twitter followers, including me as of right now, and Twitter is still in its infancy in Korea.
So why them? Why now? Did spending all this time in Korea finally make me crack?
SNSD hold a lot of potential appeal. If you watched the video at the top of the page, I don’t think I really need to explain. Yet, Asia is dripping with sexy girl pop groups, so why fall for this one?
A. Girls’ Generation are totally real. They put together interesting videos. The one at the top is one continuous shot, but, like all things SNSD, there are other versions of the video. In their recent, catchy-as-fuck Run Devil Run video, they even glance at their own dark sides, away from their usual saccharine oeuvre. Of course, the “good” side ultimately wins, but come on, they aren’t 2NE1, that’s the way it had to go.
B. Girls’ Generation are totally fake. Rumors of plastic surgery are widespread, including stories that they had their calf muscles surgically altered. None of them play instruments or write songs, at least so far as I know. They change their hair so often and look so similar that only Soshiefied message board nerds and Korean middle school girls can tell them apart. I sure as hell can’t. That kind of plastic is kind of refreshing, for some reason. I was a little heartbroken when the Reverend Horton Heat did a car commercial, though I know they deserved the payday. SNSD makes no qualms about selling out. As I mentioned, at least two of their largest hits were originally jingles for LG cell phones. Thus, I can never be disappointed.
C. What, are you a NES/NAS n00b? There has never been, nor will there ever be a “c.”
To continue to explain the “why them?” factor, I should mention two other things that I like - cute girls wearing shirts with numbers on them, and good old mysteries. Here, in the video (one of the videos) for “Oh,” we see both. (BTW, notice the beginning of the light side/dark side battle at the end of the video here.)
As we can see, the girls are all wearing jerseys or tank tops or whatever with a number on it. Why? See, I covered both the cute girls in numbers and the mystery factor there. Fortunately, the internets has answers. According to blog.ningin.com, there is a reason. Taeyeon (the leader) is 9 because there are 9 girls in the group. Sooyung is 24 because she loves her fans and wants to be with them all day (sure). Seohyeon is 11 to be number one in all things (then why not 1?) Tiffany is 0 because of a printing error. A printing error! Apparently, she wanted to be 01. Jessica is 22 for her age, but almost all of them are the same age, so that’s kinda weird. I guess Yuri was 21 at the time, so she went with that. Hyoyeon took 32, because it was her favorite number. Too bad she didn’t pick 34. Maybe she respected Walter Payton too much to rock his number. Sunny is 12 because her favorite numbers are 1 and 2. That seems really suspect, especially since 12 is a fine number on its own, particularly for those of us who didn’t grow up with the metric system. Yoona is lucky 7, which means she’s at best a beginner at craps.
Mystery solved, right? Then what the fuck is this?
Yep, in this video, they were wearing sweatshirts with their names and numbers on them, but with different numbers. I guess we'll never really get to the bottom of this.
As for the other argument, the “did Korea finally make me crack?” aspect, there’s another reason for liking this band.
Korea is a wonderful country in a lot of ways, particularly Seoul, but there are times, many times, that it just drives me nuts. Often times, there is no escape. You can’t get to any other country overland, so it’s not like I could flip out and drive to Mexico like I could back home. I’ve learned to appreciate the differences in Korean cities and regions, but they are still a whole lot more the same than they are different. On top of that, there’s no drugs. Fucking Tylenol isn’t available outside of pharmacies, Ny-Quil is prescription, and real drugs simply don’t exist.
Essentially, there are only two ways to alter your reality. Booze of course, but that can get annoying/fattening/boring/routine. The other? Pop music, of course.
Pop music is escapist and other-worldly most everywhere, but the only places I can really compare for living are Korea and America. American pop is certainly not grounded in any sort of real life, particularly the more pre-fab top-40 sort. Then again, America is so vast that one could imagine NSYNC living out the false universe that they created in Orlando or Orange County, and more recently, one could imagine somebody living some sort of Lady Ga Ga existence in Manhattan. Nobody could live an SNSD video in Korea. It would be hard to pull off in Narnia. It’s pure aural drugs of the highest grade.
To sum up - Girl’s Generation is a group of nine leggy girls that don’t wear much and ride the line between real and fake as well as between fantasy and reality. They deliver ocular heroin with ridiculously catchy songs that they didn’t write. They are unquestionably the most popular girl group in Korea and form the very core of what modern Korean pop culture is, yet at the same time they are the single most escapist entity available in a country of 50 million in which over 30% of the populace has the same surname. They are at the same time imminently mysterious and lowest-common-denominator approachable. They are concurrently worthy subjects of a doctoral dissertation and dismissible by the most base of music critics. To come full circle, with apologies to The Clash, they are the only band that matters.
You want more? Here’s a couple bonus videos.