TS Entertainment has recently revealed that Secret is set to come back with their first studio album on October 18th. The concept they are going with this time around is a dark angel concept, which, I am very happy to say, is markedly different from their recent slew of cutesy retro acts. The teaser photos for Sunhwa and Zinger have already been released, and they look elegant and chic. Needless to say, I’m immensely excited for their comeback.

I actually consider myself a staunch supporter of these talented girls, which is a claim that may be debatable given that I haven’t really followed their last two promotion cycles very closely. Although Shy Boy and Starlight Moonlight seemed to have given the girls a boost to popularity in Korea, I don’t think I’m wrong in assuming that the majority of international Secret fans (like myself) actually hated these concepts and instead spent this time hoping that the Secret’s experimental retro phase was only temporary, and would soon blow over.

As a fan of the original Secret charm, it was kind of painful for me to see the girls go from this:

… where they have natural smiles and genuinely look like they’re having fun performing, to this:

… where their performance is filled with cutesy gestures that seem contrived.

Look, I’m not saying that my Western preference for more mature concepts is in any way superior to the Korean preference for aegyo concepts. For one, I believe that preference is something subjective and cannot be judged as ‘better’ or ‘worse’. Additionally, Secret’s big leap into mainstream popularity after testing out their Shy Boy concept meant that they were obviously doing something right in terms of how to gain success in the K-pop industry. What I will say, however, is that the last two promotion cycles for Secret did not sit comfortably with me at all. I have no problem with super-cute when it’s done right (for example, I actually like it on Girl’s Day because they can pull it off while looking natural at the same time) but unlike Girl’s Day, the look just seems a bit fake and out of place on Secret.

Like Subi‘s statement from  a recent roundtable discussion, I’m of the opinion that groups should “do whatever they want, as long as it comes from the heart.” I feel a little sad every time I see an idol forced to do a concept that they probably aren’t too comfortable with. Not only can it cause insecurity, but over time,  it can also influence an idol to adopt aberrant mannerisms and thoughts that their natural self would have never developed on its own. Miss A’s Min briefly touched on this issue in a recent interview about her upcoming movie, Countdown:

“[Some stars] start to believe the image they’re portrayed as in the public is actually their true selves… I try not to end up like that by always reminding myself of who I am and where I’m from. I don’t want to lose myself.”

Secret's initial debut look (2009)

To be honest, I was kind of starting fear that Secret had similarly forgotten its original personality (or had just decided to sell out with no remorse). And although personally, I felt that childlike aegyo never particularly suited any of the members (Sunhwa the ‘visual’ has more of a mature beauty than a cute one, Ji Eun the ‘main vocal’ has more of a powerful voice than a cute one, Hyosung the ‘dancer’ is better at dancing sexy than cute, and Zinger the ‘rapper’ just overall is too much of a strong woman to pull off charading as a child), it was starting to become difficult to even remember what they were even like before they started going down that direction. It also pained me to think that newer fans to K-pop might actually think their two most recent concepts were all there is to the group (this thought also applies to various other groups that had better starting material than what they eventually became known for).

Overall, as a fan of Secret, I think it’s good that they’ve expanded their fanbase, but I am also immensely relieved the aegyo phase has finally come to a close and that – like the Brown Eyed Girls – they are now once again moving forward in a direction closer to their roots. I’m looking forward to seeing what they will have to bring to the table in the next few weeks when they bravely go head to head with SNSD (interestingly enough, both of their new MVs are produced by the same director, Hong Won Gi) in their next promotion cycle.

What are your thoughts?

(Nate, Naver)