Is this the end for Girls’ Generation?

While the rest of the K-pop world seems to be going about business as usual, it’s been a trying few months for the SONE fandom. Dating scandals, a bungled comeback and a loss to rivals 2NE1 on the charts have cracked the usually impenetrable exterior of the group’s superstar status. With speculation that SNSD’s contracts could be ending this year and a new SM girl group to debut, a certain fatalistic feeling is starting to attach itself to the group. Shortly after Mr. Mr. proved to be an underwhelming comeback, a comment made by SME CEO Kim Young Min back in 2010 resurfaced to cast doubts on the future of SNSD:

“SNSD will disappear someday, and another group will replace them. We used to view BoA and TVXQ as individual artists, but for this reason, we started to view them as SM artists. The SM brand now has its own profit value.”

Are SNSD really on their way out? The Korea Times recently speculated that SM are choosing to confirm dating rumours because they are planning to end the group soon. We can’t know for certain whether this is true, but what SM’s actions reveal regardless is that SNSD no longer need to be available to the public as “the nation’s girl group.” They are no longer public property. “Industry reps” have commented that this move has sent the group into a crisis and, while the comment is a tad overblown, it does provoke the question of what SM even want from SNSD anymore. It’s true, as some netizens have claimed, that SM could save SNSD with another “Gee” but fans know more than to expect that these days. SM have been coasting on the “SM brand” for a little too long with their biggest girl group, churning out rushed choreography, albums filled with filler tracks and underwhelming stage shows with the hopes that “Girls’ Generation” is enough of a drawcard to keep the fans coming back. Many fans are aware of this manipulation, of course, but continue to support the girls out of love for the group. I’m sure it’s a feeling that many fans of older artists understand.

snsdcasiobabyg

The thing is, when it comes down to it, SNSD stopped being about the music years ago. They’ve released two major Korean singles in the last two and a half years and barely promoted their two Japanese albums inbetween. Instead most of the time SNSD are being hired to promote department stores, jeans, watches, bags, make-up, perfume, sanitary pads – you name it. After securing their place at the top, SNSD’s image has become less about being the K-pop girls with the catchy dance moves and songs and more about being “the best girl group in Korea.” They show up to movie premieres and fan-signs, make a flawless entrance, say what people want to hear, stick around for a few hours and then leave. SNSD are essentially very well disciplined ready-for-hire models that sell their beauty, celebrity, wit, and a sort of comforting happiness that comes from looking at shiny, pretty things. It’s that special type of “cultural technology” that SM have been pushing with just the right variety of elements – innocence, capability, unattainability – to make the group stand out from the rest.

wpid-20140111-snsd2SNSD were so flawless that many of us came to love them and wanted them to keep achieving, keep winning awards, just so that something so seemingly pure could continue to thrive in the world. In fact, after years of sporadic and often mediocre musical activity from the group, it seems like their popularity has only survived through the mythology that SONEs have created around SNSD’s image. K-pop, in the digital age that we live in, has bred a very intense, intimate form of celebrity where an idol can embody celebrity without even having to actually perform on a stage. Without SM, YG or whoever’s interference, the fandom has developed its own infrastructure of fancammers, translators and GIF makers to circulate their favourite group’s image, often blurring the line between image and reality. As long as there is some semblance of the idol – whether an airport photo, a blurry fancam or a tweeted fanaccount – fans can create their own FMVS, GIFs, photobooks, fanfictions etc. to satisfy themselves. Whether you condone this behaviour or not, fans have done a lot of work to make K-pop what it is on the international stage. They’ve acted as free distribution for K-pop around the world and have played a huge role in making SNSD what they are to the international fandom.

The reason why SNSD’s last few months are a “crisis” then is not just because of a bad song or a few deluded fans, it’s something more than that. SM have begun to demythologise SNSD, and because of that, they are letting the relationship between SNSD as image and SNSD the K-pop group break down. By screwing up SNSD’s comeback they lost the image of success that the group depends on to stay appealing. By revealing the member’s love lives they cut off one of their main arteries, the fans – the only people who were going to uphold Soshi’s perfect image in the face of whatever sub-par business decision they make. If SM want to keep this relationship going, they need to produce something really worth celebrating again – something fresh that can legitimise the group’s dominance to the public and let the fandom acquiesce some authority back to the company. We saw a little bit of a glimpse of it during the lead-up to the Mr. Mr. promotions when the group decided to reveal a more intimate, fun side through their Soshi Now videos but that window quickly and inexplicably closed. For now, it just seems like it’s been decided that it isn’t worth taking the gamble anymore, Soshi as image has hit a wall.

Have the angels fallen to Earth? cr: kakkaiwa.tumblr.com

Have the angels fallen to Earth? cr: kakkaiwa.tumblr.com

In an interview last month, the vocalist of the K-indie group Nell, Kim Jong Wan, claimed that SNSD were “the beginning and end of girl groups.” By this I think he meant of the ideal of what a K-pop girl group could be. If this is true, then what are K-pop girl groups really about? Is the answer found in some golden combination of record sales, our private fantasies and some societal ideal of what girls could be? Kim Young Min believes that SNSD will eventually be replaced, but I don’t really know what that will look like when it happens. I feel like within the overlapping spheres of business, fan culture and, the physical idols themselves, something was created in Soshi that we might not see again. Honestly, if the girls are happier now that the stranglehold over their image has loosened then it’s probably for the best. On top of that, SNSD’s dominance wasn’t fair to a lot of people who did not fit their mould. We need female idols that are less obedient and less aesthetically pleasing i.e. less likely to succeed. That said, even if you didn’t like what they represented, there was something about SNSD’s success, budget and sheer numbers that made it seem like they were the ones who could really take things to the next level for girls in K-pop. Will we ever see a group of young women at the top of their game, winning all the awards, killing the charts, floating on flying swings again? Was it all worth it just for that dream?

  • Terri

    “SM have begun to demythologise SNSD, and because of that, they are
    letting the relationship between SNSD as image and SNSD the K-pop group
    break down.”
    Excellent piece.

  • http://jpglay.tumblr.com/ ohorat

    this article was really well thought out and thought provoking. thanks for sharing.

  • moar_coffee

    You know, the same thought occurred to me as I saw the news about the members dating leak out and then get confirmed by SM. Something about that felt like the end of an era, and I’m not a SONE or anything.

    • sunnycah15

      why did u comment hereif your not a sone?? this is only belong to the SNSD fans.

      • Guest

        see picture.

        • moar_coffee

          the above comment is me, not sure why it showed up as Guest.

  • PinkFlamingo

    Thank you for the well-written read! While I agree with some of the points, I think it’s a bit hyperbolic. Apologies but this comment will be long, rambly, and possibly written in a bit of a work stupor.

    While it’s true that we’re probably nearing the end of an era, it’s hard to predict the path because if it’s anything that SNSD has been in the last couple of years it’s redefining the boundaries of what a girl group could be. They’re essentially in uncharted territory because they’ve lasted longer and on the top longer than any other girl groups in kpop history (and pretty much most boy groups too). We’re past the idol expiration date essentially for SNSD, but it wouldn’t entirely shock me if they recovered and end up on an even higher pedestal than before. Given a hit comeback (but I think this will be difficult given the different expectations that the Korean public, KSONEs, ISONEs, and SNSD all have for “hit”), they could theoretically comeback stronger than ever having weathered SM’s poor business decisions, multiple dating scandals, etc.

    Maybe it’s because I’m an I-fan and because I’m about the same age as SNSD, but I am fully embracing this shift away from being the “public’s property.” This shift in image is a product of a group maturing from teenagers to young adults to full-fledged adults, and it needed to happen. While I do agree that SM is being business-stupid with how they’re handling comebacks and the music portion of SNSD, I don’t agree with the statement that “by revealing the member’s love lives they cut off one of their main arteries, the fans – the only people who were going to uphold Soshi’s perfect image in the face of whatever sub-par business decision they make.” Dating reveals wouldn’t cut off most of the fans (except maybe the super delusional ones) because most fans already know they’re dating, and for KSONEs, many who have been by Soshi since the early years, I don’t seem them abandoning ship considering they’re older and more mature. True fans will continue to uphold Soshi’s goddess image, and this image has always constructed out of their imperfections. Ironically, to most SONEs, Soshi is perfect because they’re ordinarily down-to-earth and not image conscious. I think SM is making a conscious decision to confirm the dating, and it’s because they don’t see it as a loss in any way. If fans are fickle and leave the fandom, then so be it. They’ll probably just move onto their next girl group anyways. If fans and the public support it, then SNSD just adds to their legacy that they can be a top group and date a variety of people.

    I think it’s hyperbolic to say that “SM have begun to demythologize SNSD” and that’s why we’re in “crisis.” The mythology that SONEs have created around SNSD’s image is still there albeit maybe a little weakened by SM’s incompetency. Yes, they screwed up their comeback, but no, I don’t think the image of success has been erased. They were still successfully able to defend the National Girl Group title despite the problems and despite stiff competition from Korea’s #2 girl group. Like I’ve said before, the dating reveals may have snapped a few SONE shippers back to reality, but I don’t think it’s ever been part of their “perfect” image. Few SONEs would seriously think that these boys were their first relationships or seriously think that they’re dating each other, and given a few days/weeks to snap out of it, most SONEs will continue to support them. I guess I see the “crisis” and the “end” as a product of lackluster comebacks on SM’s part. I don’t think I’d go quite as far as saying that SM is self-sabotaging SNSD because they know they’re about to debut a new girl group. That would be beyond stupid from an economic perspective, and seeing how SM appears to be your prototypical greedy corporation, I don’t see them killing a proven money-winner for an unproven entity; the new girl group would take years to attain the international popularity of SNSD (and in all honesty may more than likely never hit it). I do think part of it is a result of SM not knowing what to do with them at this point considering their longevity and success, but I think it’s a fixable crisis if SM puts in the effort to fix it and if SNSD truly want to stay in the idol spotlight.

    Maybe I’m naive in thinking this, but most SONEs seem like they’ll be loyal until the end because they love the girls. It goes beyond the music and the image. They love SNSD for just being themselves and for being a small part of their lives. That’s the power of fandom; one day you look back on those days and remember the time you spent both spazzing and ranting. At this point, I only wish for their happiness, and if that means leaving the idol game altogether, then so be it. They conquered both the hearts of fangirls and fanboys and rewrote the page on what girl groups could accomplish. SNSD’s success and dominance is undisputed; they’re legends!

    • sophie

      i actually agree with you in many ways and I think this is a really spot on response coming from the fandom. Don’t get me wrong, I will be loyal to SNSD too until the end because I freakin love them so much regardless so I don’t think the fandom itself is experiencing a crisis. The thing is though, the reasons why I love SNSD and the meaning that SNSD have to me as a SONE I think are different to the majority of people who see the end of Soshi as something inevitable because they have been around for so long. So what I was trying to bring out in this is how SNSD is experiencing a crisis in the public’s eye. They haven’t been replaced yet (!) but I do think people are ready to move on to some other ideal. I don’t think the fandom can control that despite how much we are willing to worship the group however they are …And I don’t think SM can pull off another awesome comeback, but I guess until we see what happens with the comeback later this year, we can agree to disagree for now?

      (Also, come on, I’m a SONE. Hyperbole is part of who we are :p)

    • Guest

      you make valid points except where the topic of sm sabotaging snsd and the new girl group come up. sm doesn’t need to get rid of snsd to sabotage them. they just have to keep doing what they’re doing already, which is giving them lackluster releases that take away from their credibility and move them onto lackluster albums and tours in japan (which of course they’re making incredible profit off of). is this really the snsd fans can be proud of? how much longer?

      there’s no reason a new girl group can’t attain explosive popularity and fast, especially knowing sm has their formula down to a t. has an sm group in recent years failed? exo’s rise was deliberate and enormous. members of the new girl group are already being introduced and gaining familiarity with the public. there’s no doubt they will get the better quality music as well. it’s only a matter of time that sensation is upon us.

      • MasterSoshii

        I would rather say SM should focus more on the quality of the comeback song. Something catchy just like before. That’s how they are known.

      • OT12 ❤️

        Actually a few SNSD members wrote lyrics for IGAB album

  • sharaysabel

    Very well said. SNSD is really huge in the market knowing the amount of fans they have and it is disappointing on how SM handled that. I used to see them as the girl group where everybody is pretty and talented. Now I only see them as one of prettiest K-pop girl groups. Its all about their pretty faces. They’re more than that but we can’t see it. They’ve been on the industry for 6 years but I can’t see them as pillars of K-pop music. Maybe hallyu icons would do.

    Now that they’ve ruined the image that keeps this group alive, what would SM do with them now?

  • licalico

    This is a very well-written article and I can’t help but express some of my views.
    (Disclaimer: Might be biased, but at least I tried.)

    Girls’ Generation have always been a trendsetter ever since they started. A girl group with an enormous amount of fangirls more than any other girl group ever had, to a girl group who went far past the average longevity of most (if not all) girl groups and even boy groups without any member change. The whole dating issue, I think, is just another trend being set. In the K-Pop industry, the whole mentality of idols being ‘fans’ property’ and ‘public’s property’ has been going on for far too long and considered the norm (just look at how some people are saying that Girls’ Generation is facing a ‘crisis’ just because they are dating). That is very unhealthy and dehumanize idols. With the ‘nation’s girl group’ going public about dating, showing to people that it is okay, hopefully the trend will shift even a little bit.

    Unfortunately to say, these girls ARE losing fans. I have heard of some people leaving the fandom due to all the mess that has been happening for the last few months. Delusional fans exist in every fandom out there and there is nothing that can be done about that. However, I have to point out that these people are the minority and possibly the newer fans of them. As far as I know, most of us have been coping just fine. Some others might have gotten upset, but eventually we will accept it and move on because we love them.

    Contrary to popular belief, we do not think that the girls are flawless. Not literally, anyway. We are well aware that these girls have their flaws. But these girls… in my years of knowing them, I have never, ever seen them trying to be perfect. They are not conscious about image. They are as humble, as down-to-earth as one could be. I find it funny when people say they have a goddess-like, mysterious, and unreachable kind of image. Appearance-wise, maybe they are goddess-like. Career-wise, maybe they are unreachable. But them as people? HA! No. They are just silly women who like to play around, but also can get serious when they need to. They are perfect to us simply because we love them with all of their imperfections.

    Is this the end for Girls’ Generation? I do not think so. The girls have expressed that they want to keep Girls’ Generation going for as long as possible. They have the money, they have the influence, they have a huge fandom all over the world backing them up, and most importantly, they have their bond with each other. (This might sound naive, but their friendship is one of the few things I genuinely believe in.) Even if SM gives up on them, I think they will not fall apart so easily. If Girls’ Generation ends one day, I hope it is because the girls want it to end, not because the people bring them down.

    Until then, SONEs will always stay by their side. And even after Girls’ Generation ends, we will keep the memories close to our hearts. That way, to some extent Girls’ Generation will be forever, right? ^^

    • Cady Blair Tisdale

      “If Girls’ Generation ends one day, I hope it is because the girls want it to end, not because the people bring them down.” <= I totally love this part!

    • hanny lee

      there’s one thing in snsd that i truly believe the other girl groups don’t have and can’t have,no matter how they try,and that is their soshibond.the other girl groups can never replicate that.EVER.soshibond is probably the most beautiful thing i’ve ever seen in my life.people may think that i love them because of their music or their wits on shows or their appearances,yes,that’s what i like about them,but SOSHIBOND is the only thing that make me LOVE them.for me,leaving this fandom because of dating news or etc is worthless.

  • Sergeant_Im

    Wow this site is really that desperate into getting page hits.

    SNSD is at no.1 on Korea’s Forbes list. That is a sign of their downfall.

    • gath

      I think you didnt even read the article( which raises very valid points, mind you) before you dismissed it and thats bad.

      • Fanatic

        No its not. There’s not a single factual information there. Its a gossip/speculation joke. If a journalist would try to publish something like this in the newspaper in anything other than a column, they’d be fired.

    • sunnycah15

      for me number 0 they’re the best!

  • oh

    opinion~~~~

  • Steph Oh

    Girls’ Generation would last long..longer. SONEs are and will always be there to stand with the girls no matter what speculations are on the way. Girls’ Generation would not be SNSD without SONEs and ofcourse SONEs would not be SONEs without Girls’ Generation.Taeyeon unnie, Tiffany unnie, Jessica unnie, Hyoyeon unnie, Sooyoung unnie, Yoona unnie, Sunny unnie, Seohyun unnie and Yuri unnie: Always remember, SONEs will always be there for you! We’re not just your fans, we are your companion.

  • http://anthagio.com Anthagio

    No matter how big, how successful, or how popular a group becomes, people will eventually move on. That’s all that is happening. The original fans are growing up and moving on with their lives and simply don’t have that much time to devote to GG and the public’s consciousness has moved to a different kind of sound. It happens to everyone. Exo at the moment is massive, but in a few years they will be “struggling” too. However, with groups as big as GG, they’re set. They can continue putting out music that will continue to sell and make them money until they disband. It’s part of any girl or boy group’s shelf life.

    • freeloops

      big bang last for very long and doing well at this moment even with exo emerging. This result is tremendous considering they debuted at 2006. Exo can’t match up with big bang. All singers of big bang can release their own solo albums just look at king taeyang rein in the charts

  • Seti Tesefay

    I love when I can read a comment section where there are intelligent and respectful counterarguments and discussions. It helps me see both sides of the issue without getting turned off.

  • cece22

    Let’s hope so.

  • Lenim phink

    Its a very well written article, thought i agree on some points and some not as we all have different perspective. But i must say we all, include me know that one point is where we are walking down the hills, not crashing though just slowly step by step as we have been proved from the first day of this 2014 year, i think i dont need to explain what had happened right?!
    Its a SM strategy, my own feeling no offence. I wont say SM is going to “destroy” SNSD instead SM is going to put an end of this era, SM is not stupid really. If they just kill SNSD right on the track, how much they will loss their profit, and the hatred they will receive so to make this into some kind of SNSD “suicide” cause they date and thats their fault and “fans” will put the blame on the artist, just see what those fans are doing to Taeyeon right now in which SM definitely have the ability to deny all of those 4 dating news even if its true, this work so great, that its really took a big effect on us, mostly fans are leaving whoever stay then its what SNSD have but SM leave one big impact that at least some of us SONEs we love SNSD because they are they, and we don’t care whoever they date, we can even make it into some kind of joke, its a no big deal for us so we will stay “we are always here” thats what we hold on to.
    SM is a fox, they can control their artist, whoever they want to manipulated and whats more is we knew it yet we keep falling into the trap.
    A new girl group, yes it a possibility just as how the new boy group sky rocket rising of popularity just because SM want it to be. See how they froze the senior group, it obvious to anyone with a rightful mind.
    With the amount of comeback, new albums, mini album, variety show etc SNSD are losing it, obviously.
    But in this industry, there wont be a 2nd Girl Group thay could make as many record and history as SNSD did or as successful as they were, believe it or not the one who can surpass SNSD is SNSD itself.

  • taengu_dookong

    Girl’s Generation is not a girl group you can simply create/remake by adding members who can sing, dance, who has a body of a model, and dorkiness.

    And this is for the reason that each and every member is unique, and different in many ways. They do not try hard to become a perfect idol on screen, they show dorkiness, they do not try to hide off some of their true personalities, we can see imperfections in them, but these imperfections made them perfect in my eyes. They are a “One of a Kind”. It’s very hard to find a group as great as Snsd. Because I, originally became a fan when I first found a fmv containing all of their cuts from shows. In short, I fell in love not just with their voice or their looks. But their personalities
    And to some haters who are saying that snsd is definitely going down.
    Say all you want, but you cannot simply ignore the fact that they made history, and you cannot simply remove the memory of their legacy onto the publics mind. They are irreplaceable.

    • freeloops

      yup. they made korea known to the world together with big bang. These two are the true giants

      • taengu_dookong

        three years later, and they’re still on top. Happy 10th year anniversary ^_^

  • cornet goo

    end of girls generation=end of kpop

  • MasterSoshii

    Sophie, could you explain to me as to why Mr.Mr.’s comeback was screwed up and unsuccessful compared to IGAB and earlier comebacks? Sorry, I joined this fandom since late 2013 so I don’t have any solid comparisons.

  • freeloops

    Well this article has proven to be true for me. Now i have move on to Girl’s Day because minah my new eyecandy is there

  • alvincyt

    Here are what the girls achieved in 2014 so far:

    1. Their mini album “Mr.Mr.” has sold about 159007 copies so far, 3rd best for all artists and tops all females artists. The next female artist after them is 2NE1 with their full album Crush sold 62132 copies. Don’t forget “Mr.Mr.” is not a full album.

    2. Their 3rd Japan Tour with 17 concerts in 7 cities in 2014 gathered a total of 200000 audience.

    3. Their music video “Mr.Mr.” is the 2nd most-viewed kpop video in 2014 so far, only topped by PSY’s hangover. Now it reached 27 million views, more than their best rival 2NE1’s “Come Back Home” and “Happy” combined.

    4. “I Got a Boy”, their last video released on 2013/1/1, still got about 18 million additional views in 2014, equals to 2NE1’s most-viewed video this year – “Come Back Home”.

    5. Even “The Boys” got over 10 million addition views in 2014.

    6. 2 of their Japanese albums awarded “The Best 3 Albums” at Japan Gold Disk Award.

    7. “Mr.Mr.” was listed one of 25 best songs by Time Magazine.

    Whoever believes this is the end of the girls, please try to find someone who do better than them, and convince me with facts instead of your own assumptions and delusions.

    • sunnycah15

      dont compare them to 2NE1 is kinda insult.

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  • Fanatic

    Its a really long and boring article with alot of complete nonsense. Is this the end of SNSD? What end? Its normal career path, they start up as a group, build up an image, evolve, do more individual work and continue to work as a group also. That’s how almost every group functions. That’s even how average job functions.

    Then this “girl groups should be blaablaa”. 2NE1 and SNSD are totally different style wise and both have drone extremely well for years and years. If you’re interesting and make good music, ppl will pay attention, no matter the mold.

    SNSD stopped being about music… oh god. If you wanna be “about music” go hang out in some indie joint and be all bohemian and be as ‘real musician’ as you can. Kpop is about pop music, which is a representation of popular culture. And that includes ALOT more than just music. Even the first generation idols were trained to be complete entertainers, not musicians.

    Now I wanna quote the most retarded line in the entire piece:

    “The reason why SNSD’s last few months are a “crisis” then is not just because of a bad song or a few deluded fans, it’s something more than that. SM have begun to demythologise SNSD, and because of that, they are letting the relationship between SNSD as image and SNSD the K-pop group break down.”

    I haven’t heard something so stupid being said about SNSD ever. The entire success of SNSD is because from the start they were NOT in anyways mythical goddess’s. From the get go they brought in fans with their dorky personalities, talking about farting, perving, drinking, ect. Totally un-girl-like behaviour. Ppl fell in love with how “real” they were. From Taeyeon’s ahjumma laugh, to Yoona’s fishface and gag concert imitations, Sooyong’s gross eyeballs, Hyoyeon’s black man voice ect ect. They are to most open minded girl group ever, and fans loved them for it. You can even see this in their dating news. EVERYONE supports Yoona, and Sooyong, and now also Tiffany and Taeyeon. The only reason Taeyeon gets some hate is cause EXO fans are just insane, and that’s the product of overly manufactured perfect image getting shattered on exo side. SNSD had no problem cause there never was any perfect image.

    Seriously the entire article is random speculations with no facts from ppl who are utterly irrelevant in the music industry or basicly at anything. The only relevant quote is from SM CEO and even that is 2 liner taken completely out of context and can be interpreted numerous ways.

  • Syahunn97

    You really got the point’kim young min is brilliant … Before,dating with same company is illegal..but now? Some some had giving up to them..anyway u are brilliant!!

  • https://twitter.com/mikedo2007 mikedo2007

    After seeing Jessica got booted out of Girls Generation, I’m afraid this article is becoming true.

  • Dhrew Suerto

    I miss the Girls Generation…………….<3 <3 ^_^ ^_^ and there bonding each other I love you Girls Generation……….god bless and good health

  • Howaboutno

    How does it feel knowing SNSD is still the top girl group over 2 years later and 2NE1 bowed out first lmao

  • Simon Ng

    We have AOA and Apink. both styles are the next level in kpop girl band but not SME maaged thank God