New Year, New Look, New SNSD?
In case you’ve been living under a K-pop rock (or in an eggnog-induced food coma — believe me, we’ve all been there), here’s some important news: SNSD, the current queens of K-pop, will be making a highly anticipated Korean comeback. Their latest full-length album, entitled I Got A Boy, (and it’s about time, given that they bragged about bringing all those boys out in 2011) will drop on January 1, 2013, ensuring that SONEs across the globe can ring in the new year to the dulcet tones of fresh GG tunes.
It has been over a year since SNSD released any Korean material (The Boys came out in October 2011); with the exception of TaeTiSeo‘s “Twinkle” promotions, the girls concentrated on solo projects (including forays into the world of acting for Jessica, Yuri, and Sooyoung) and their activities in Japan. In typical SM Entertainment fashion, pre-release materials abound: we’ve already seen a super-cute, nostalgia-laden music video for the song “Dancing Queen,” and a track list has been revealed. Additionally, SM recently unveiled a teaser for the drama version of what I expect will be the music video for the album’s first promotional single. It appears that the girls will act alongside a male that can only be described as the world’s most perfect boyfriend. And to fit the mood, a cute, bouncy, stroll-in-the-park song (which I really hope is not “I Got A Boy”) plays in the background.
SNSD is a group that, perhaps more than any other group or artist in Korean entertainment today, has influence. They can be trendsetters and they can be revolutionaries. Their position atop the proverbial K-pop totem pole allows them a degree of artistic freedom that other, lesser-known groups might not have; where groups in precarious situations hoping to strike gold would do best to follow what sells in hopes of selling, SNSD could confidently break new ground and experiment with new styles while still achieving all-kills on various music charts and stealing trophy after trophy on Music Bank and M! Countdown. Their sales will hardly suffer no matter what they do; if the K-pop machine has taught us anything, it is that top groups can release completely mediocre (and in some cases, quite terrible) music and music videos and that fans will lap it up greedily. I’m still trying to figure out how Super Junior essentially released some version of “Sorry Sorry” four different times and hasn’t become completely irrelevant and ignored. However, SNSD has hardly utilized their position of relative power — for all of the promises fans have heard of image changes, the incorporation of new sounds and styles, and the revelation of a never-before-seen side of SNSD, SNSD’s last album was a regurgitated mess of past concepts that changed absolutely nothing. So many songs relied on an overplayed, cutesy style for which SNSD is getting entirely too old.
SM Entertainment ought to have figured out by now that there is really no need to oscillate between cute and sexy concepts when it comes to SNSD; the concept behind TaeTiSeo’s Twinkle mini-album neither replayed old concepts nor fell decidedly into either the “dark Soshi” or the “cute Soshi” camp. It managed to successfully showcase a new style without reverting to either extreme. However, the MV teaser that we’ve seen holds very little promise for a “new” SNSD; in fact, it does what I was sincerely hoping SNSD would not do, and places them in a position where (at least conceptually) innocence and naiveté are part and parcel of the overall package.
Wearing sweet hats and having Tiffany shout “AYO GG!” might make SNSD seem like they’re taking a hard edge to their new comeback, but let’s take a minute to go through what the teaser actually features. Clearly, SM Entertainment wishes to smack us in the face with how unbelievably perfect Faceless Boy is. Just look at how tenderly he bends down to tie Seohyun‘s shoelaces, and how he wipes Tiffany’s face of invisible food residue! Clearly, he is supposed to be charming. And yet, nearly everything that he does reinforces the image of SNSD as a bunch of childish girls. Call me crazy, but that enormous teddy bear that Yuri receives? A totally impractical gift for a 23-year-old, not to mention inappropriate — and yet, she couldn’t be more thrilled to get it. Sooyoung’s outfit includes knee socks and a hair bow. Jessica reacts to hand-holding the way an 11-year-old might react to receiving a love letter scrawled on the back of a homework assignment. Even Hyoyeon, who earns brownie points with me for her choice of gray nail polish, throws a gross tantrum because the guy is late to a date.
Ladies, please. You’re embarrassing me.
I know, I know. SNSD cannot bite the hand that feeds it, and it can’t be overstated that SNSD really didn’t become the K-pop household name that it is until the aegyo-attack that was “Gee” hit the scene nearly four years ago. It’s also difficult to deny that there are strong norms in South Korea (many of which were likely constructed in the K-pop arena) that favor women who appear infantilized and subordinate to a male counterpart. SNSD members themselves have categorically stated that they think that fans probably don’t want to see them waltzing around on stage with lollipops as they grow older, but here’s the thing: the lollipop accessory isn’t the only thing making the girls look young and silly. In 2013, the ’89 line will turn 24 years old — and in Korean age, they’ll be 25. Lose the wide-eyed look of surprise and innocence and own the fact that you are turning into a grown-ass woman who can tie her own shoes and hold hands with a member of the opposite sex without totally losing her cool.
Granted, one ought not make too much of a simple teaser — and SME is known for producing trollish teasers that are not at all reflective of the actual product. Maybe SNSD will actually surprise us all and introduce some mind-blowing new concept that turns everything on its head. As for me, I won’t necessarily be holding my breath; after all, The Boys promised us fierce and fed us an alarming number of songs that sounded remarkably like cheesy reinterpretations of older releases. It’s obvious that SNSD has found a comfort zone that continues to produce a paycheck, and they seem intent on sticking with it. However, it’s worth remembering that SNSD, unlike many other K-pop groups, can take risks — and it’d be nice to see them do so once in a while.