SB Exchange #3: Super Junior
Super Junior is one of the few groups whose discovery for me did not involve SHINee — it did involve YouTube, though, with me randomly stumbling upon Super Junior-M‘s “Perfection“. This led to the discovery of “Bonamana” (to this day my favourite SJ era), and, finally, after a long time, “Sorry, Sorry” (heck, I’d even already heard “Twins (Knockout)” by then). But what really got me stanning the boys was ELF.
A lot of the online K-pop bloggers (and friends) I keep tabs on are ELF, and their sharing of videos, fan accounts, music and other trivia mean that I know more about SJ than I do any other K-pop group, bar SHINee. It was like osmosis, I was surrounded by so much sapphire blue that I couldn’t help but absorb some of it. Also, Super Junior’s 5th album promotions were my first experience of the whole process- from watching freshly released teasers to livestreaming goodbye stages, they were my guide to what is a significant part of the machinations of K-pop.
This week, I’ve roped in Subi, Nabeela and Gil to discuss “the last man standing”:
Subi: Honestly, they’ve been doing the same thing for such a long time now it’s hard to see them doing anything different. Sometimes I find myself wondering if they’re even capable of doing anything differently. They’re stuck in Super Junior circa 2009 and at this point, I’m so desperate, I’d be willing to see, or should I say hear, them do anything different.
That being said, I think musical style that they should return to but more importantly, continue to nurture, synthesize, and ultimately develop, is the Super Junior take on contemporary R&B a la “Sorry, Sorry” and “Sorry, Sorry Answer”. While Super Junior may not have gotten any better than 2009, that was a fantastic year for these boys. With their evergreen hit “Sorry, Sorry,” Super Junior gave us a polished song that included tones of urban minimalism and contemporary funk. It was catchy, addictive, and now, a staple of Korean culture.
What have these boys done since then? They have just continuously and repeatedly given us the same thing over and over again. While asking them to return to the times of “Sorry, Sorry” might seem eyebrow raising after I just gave them a whole lot of schtick about doing the same thing as “Sorry, Sorry”, all I want for them to do is return to the days where they were able to maintain a signature style but continue to give us something else, something different, and something new at the same time. This time just happens to be exemplified the best for me by the dialogue created between “Sorry, Sorry” and “Sorry, Sorry Answer.”
Nabeela: I don’t necessarily think its about singing another genre of music — Super Junior was born and raised on the pop scene, that’s where they are bound to be most successful, and that’s where they will live out their glory until other groups begin to outshine them.
Aside from pop, though, I will say it would be nice to see Super Junior differentiate as they get older. They keep talking about ‘mature’ concept this and ‘different side of us’ that, but we all know what it comes down to — fast beats, serious choreography, and a catchy chorus, or in other words, pop music. I think some jazz or even R&B influences in their music would be a refreshing change for them from time to time, just because I think they have the talent to do it. Their R&B version of “Sorry, Sorry” came out beautifully, so I think a genre like that could be promising for the boys.
And hell, with so many of them, they should do acapella. They could seriously blow my socks off if they had the talent to acapella because of the variety of voices within the group itself.
Gil: Funky? ’cause I’m thinking about old school funk and “Sorry, Sorry” v 2.0 and 3.0 are not funk. But anything without auto-tune. I’m not sure why they keep auto-tuning members like Sungmin, who have perfectly fine vocals, and end up ruining a song. If their next song is another of the same pop song, I’ll throw a hissy fit for two days and write an angry worded letter to the composer (whoever they may be) filled with a plethora of exclamation points and profanities.
But after I heard “Sorry Sorry Answer”, I would say with R&B. I feel that Kyuhyun and Yesung would definitely fit in with the genre. Or just a slower song, one of their best songs was “It’s You” and it was a pop ballad so something that isn’t an outright ballad but has a nice beat to it would work. I mean KRY has the vocal prowess and members like Eunhyuk, Donghae, and Sungmin can sing. Songs like “Andante” and “Blue Tomorrow” fit these boys well but instead we get shitfests like “Mr. Simple” and “A-Cha“.
Subi: This may not be a sub-unit by I demand the following with every fiber of being: give Wookie (Ryeowook) a solo career. Ever since I saw that boy’s solo performance of “Moves Like Jagger,” I want more and more. When the group first debuted, he was my least favorite member, but over the years, he’s really grown on me. From the judo chop he incorporates into his dancing to the permanent look of confusion on his face, and of course, that flawless, crystal like voice, he has become one of my favorites. And his cover of “Moves Like Jagger”: I say, move over Super Junior—its Wookie’s time to shine. He would grow one of those curly, opera mustaches, walk around without a shirt, spritzer to keep his abs ever so nice and shiny, drop an album called “Moves Like Wookie,” where the concept would be geek sexy. Or I would just settle for sub-unit of Kyuhyun, Donghae, Eunhyuk, Siwon, and Ryeowook and the concept would be, drum roll, talent.
Nabeela: If I were to make subgroup, it would be Ryeowook, Sungmin, Kangin, Eunhyuk, and Siwon. Ryeo and Sungmin handle the serious vocals, Eunhyuk raps, Kangin sings the deeper notes, and Siwon is there for publicity. Concept would be a hard one, but I’ll pull the wild card and make them have some bad ass, bad boy swag. They can have guns and leather and Siwon can ride a Harley, and they can be players or a gang. No more playing safe. I’m talking some bad ass fighting and blood and sexy bods. I know Sungmin has a dirty side to him — I saw it once on Star Golden Bell. As for Ryeo, we may actually have to beat the bad ass into him. But he’ll learn. He’s got the jawline to be hunk and a villain. Dont ask me how I know. I just know.
Gil: If I were to create a group I would want Kyuhyun, Yesung, Ryewook, Donghae, Eunhyuk,and Sungmin to do a sexy R&B concept. Pretty much a continuation of “Sorry Sorry Answer” but instead sexier where their voices will make me melt. And like Nabeela said, Sungmin can get his freak on (his ss3 solo anyone?) but I’m a bit worried about Kyuhyun — he seems so awkward around the ladies. But I also want more of Eunhyuk and Donghae, they work well together and I found them to be entertaining. “Oppa Has Risen” was definitely weird but I still enjoyed it and I loved “I Wanna Love You.”
The number of members has been fluctuating a fair bit over the years. What is the magic number, and which members would make up that number?
Subi: This is a hard question to answer because the entire concept behind Super Junior is the large number. And honestly, if I were to create a group just based on talent, then they wouldn’t be charismatic. If I were to create a group based on personality, then they wouldn’t have talent. Super Junior is filled with members that are severely lacking in several departments but together, I can’t believe I’m saying this, it kind of works.
That being said, there are members they can stand to lose and still maintain their concept, persona, or whatever it is ELFs like to cram down my throat. Vote Kibum, Sungmin, Kangin, and yes, even Yesung, off the island and they’ll be just the same as they are now. I’m not saying that these boys are without talent, personality, or whatever, but I just don’t think they add anything to the group.
Nabeela: It’s hard for me to say because I’ve been a lover of SJ since before any lawsuits came to light and when there wasn’t much sub-unit work going on. Though losing Hankyung and Kibum weren’t major losses to the group, they were among the first members that made me fall in love with Super Junior, so it was hard to see them leave, or disappear to the drama scene in Kibum’s case. Also, Kangin was one of my favorites, and I was truly sorry he had to go on military leave on such bad terms with the public. This question is a sentimental one for me. I have always believed the magic number for Super Junior was and is 13.
I personally didn’t believe SJ was going to last as long as they have, considering the enormity of the group. But during the beginning, they built a strong name for themselves and proved their worth not just as singers, but as all around entertainers. They were an established name before the number chaos went down, so I think their talent as entertainers is always going to prevail no matter how many members are present or how many members are not.
As far as Zhou Mi and Henry go, I feel bad for them. They were really just add ons that shared in the limelight only during SJ-M activities and then got shafted when the main members returned to group work. I don’t hate them whatsoever (I will never understand how some fans and ELFs can hate Zhou Mi and Henry) but for me they’re not really the Super Junior I grew up with, so they’re not relevant to me. 13+2 was a nice sentiment, but I still prefer 13.
Gil: It’s hard, like Subi said one of their main attraction points was the fact that they had 13 members. But personally I think Leeteuk and Shindong aren’t necessary to the group. Leeteuk dances and sings, as does every other kpop idol so I don’t feel like he’s necessary, he can go MC and do TV shows. Shindong, oh Shindong, you’re a good dancer but I just ain’t feeling you; I know he’s one of the main dancers but he just turned out to be a backup dancer without that many lines and his raps suck. But then again I didn’t really feel different when Heechul left, or Hangeng; it is a pity to see members leave but I got over it after moping for five minutes.
Henry and Zhou Mi seem to be included more and more in ‘main’ SJ activities, like in SM Town and SS4- they’re even featured in SJ’s song for the SM winter album ‘The Warmest Wish’. While I guess it may feel like that they’re just there to make up the numbers now that The Great Military Duty Relay has begun, do you think it’s possible for these two to cement a permanent position in the main SJ lineup? Or is the only13 movement still going strong enough for it to be an impediment?
Subi: Let me answer your question with a question: Can Pokémon 151 and onwards be considered Pokémon? Can the second generation of Power Rangers onward be considered Power Rangers? Can New Moon and Twilight be considered the same movie? While the last example may throw a monkey in my answer, the answer is yes and no. Yes, in the sense that they are part of the SM family, they are part of Super Junior. But they’re not part of the original Super Junior line up and that will always be something that will prevent them from fully integrating. In the same way, that Eunhyuk and Sungmin are “WTF?!” in Super Junior-M, Henry and Zhou Mi would be “WTF?!” in Super Junior. But I do see a difference between the two aforementioned line up changes. Eunhyuk and Sungmin have been much better received than I’m sure Henry and Zhou Mi would ever. Insert an assortment of statements regarding Korea’s ethnocentrisms and psychotic fandom right here.
Nabeela: No. I don’t think they will ever be permanent members in the main lineup, more so since EXO Planet has a whole Chinese sub-unit. It’s great that Zhou Mi and Henry are getting involved in SM Town and the Super Show, but honestly, those boys deserve to entertainers in their own right and not Super Junior table scraps. I don’t know if they feel the same way, but I definitely think they should be pursuing other entertainment careers separate from SJ because honestly, Only13 movement or not, SM would never substitute them into the main line up. If that really was the intention of having Henry and Zhou Mi in the SM family and SJ family, when Kangin and Kibum peaced out, they should’ve immediately been brought in, however, they were not. It’s a sad reality for them, but I don’t think Papa SM has any other plans for them other than SJ-M.
Gil: No. The Only13 movement was pretty hardcore, fans bought shares of SM so that they could prevent the inclusion of Henry and Zhou Mi. I thought that was the dumbest thing since both actually brought something to the group. SM already said for sure they would not bring them into the main SJ. Although it has gotten better for Henry and Zhou Mi, I still don’t think they will be part of the original Super Junior. Though I would be ecstatic if they did join Super Junior (these two are my favorite) the reality is it won’t happen, but I feel like Henry will turn into a composer for SM seeing as that he has created a lot of songs for the group. But I guess we’ll see.
SJ seem to be the only group that is able to counter claims of SM artists looking too rehearsed and over-choreographed when performing… but this could also be seen as sloppiness on the members’ part, and negligence on SM’s — especially when you have members disappearing for almost half of the performance. How do you see it?
Subi: Super Junior is like an old person who farts in public — they’re just set in their ways. And considering that half this group should be getting married and having kids, that is probably truer than we can imagine. SM knows how to train their artists. They boast some of the greatest talents in Korean Entertainment. But something I’ve noticed with big groups vs. small groups, is that in a big group, lack of talent sticks out like a sore thumb so maybe it’s SM’s fault for not training some of these boys properly or not disciplining them properly but hey, isn’t SM at fault for everything? In all seriousness, Super Junior likes to act like the K-Pop equivalent of a bunch of frat boys around a keg on stage. Polished? No and while I wish it was, it’s their thing and is bizarre as it might be for some to contemplate, it’s how their fans like them.
Nabeela: This is a very interesting question. I think it all goes back to the size of the group. For cohesive and appealing choreography, some of the members need to be out of focus at some point. Watching 13 or 10 or 9 boys dance the same choreo all at the same time can be nauseating, especially considering the speed and intensity of some of the SJ choreography. I think SJ is able to look more natural and not over-rehearsed because there are many moments when pairs or individuals have a chance to break up the uniform flow with a little of their personal attitude. Those tiny moments go a long way in creating a more naturally flowing choreography for a group as large as Super Junior. I have never seen any sort of sloppiness of laziness when the boys are on stage, except for maybe when Heechul’s attitude gets in the way. But overall, I think Super Junior has some of the best dance moves on the pop scene to date, older groups and younger groups included.
Gil: I never really thought of them as sloppy per se, their choreography is pretty intact and doesn’t get all over the place. I can see where the impression comes from, with that large of a group it’s hard to sync perfectly. I dance Bharathanatyam (which has intense choreography) so I personally know how hard it is to be in sync with that many people and execute the moves perfectly. And the thing is not all of the SJ members have the natural ability to dance (like Kyuhyun) so they stick out. But the only time I’ve seen half-assed choreography is with Heechul. I don’t know if it’s the metal in his leg, his attitude or both but I remember the first time I watched their performance I was surprised by his I-couldn’t-care-less attitude.
I absolutely love “Sorry Sorry Answer”- the Yoo Young-Jin version is my second-most played song on iTunes and “It’s You” was definitely their best dance. It does feel like their 3rd album was their peak that have not been able (or allowed) to surpass. Going off Subi’s suggestion, I guess the solution is to time travel back to 2009/10 and knock out whoever’s bright idea it was to continue the “SJ Funky” thing which resulted in “Bonamana” and “Mr. Simple”.
I don’t know if it’s because I was introduced to Super Junior through SJ-M, or because I came to the fandom way after when the whole Only13 movement was at its largest, but I’ve always considered Henry and Zhou Mi to be Super Junior members. Because I was a relatively new fan, at the time I discovered SJ, I didn’t have the chance to really connect with Kibum, Kangin or Hangeng. Sure, there’s a plethora of old videos and stuff available, but it’s just not the same. They’re not here, while Henry and Zhou Mi are (some of the time), ergo, I’m more familiar with the latter two than I am with the former three. So hearing people say that the two are not really part of Super Junior does throw me off a bit — they’re not wrong, of course; but there is a noticeable gap between our views on the subject.
So readers, what are your thoughts on Super Junior?