I remember the first time that I saw television show K-pop Star‘s makeshift girl group SuPearls — comprised of Park Ji-min, Lee Seung-joo, Lee Jung-mi, and Michelle Lee — perform SNSD‘s “The Boys.” From the first note to the last, it was brilliant and near flawless; in fact, one might be hard pressed to recall anything in K-pop that has been as utterly impressive as was that performance. It was almost certainly better received by the audience at large than was the original version of the song sung by SNSD; to hear such rich and full-bodied voices coming out of such young women — especially since a good many idols far older than they can barely carry a tune in a bucket — added to the sense of overall amazement that many fans felt. For those of us who have long been building our own soapboxes, climbing on them, and loudly lamenting the lack of true talent in Korean entertainment, it was like finding a diamond mine underneath one’s house.
SuPearls’ jazzy rendition of “The Boys” was perhaps only topped by their equally jazzy rendition of “Fame.” In case you can’t remember how unbelievably amazing it sounded, here’s a refresher:
For the non-Korean speakers reading, BoA says shortly after Park Ji-min begins singing, “No way.” And that’s pretty much how I felt. How was this real?
But it seemed as though SuPearls was to be a short-lived phenomenon, as the group was subsequently split and all members (save Park Ji-min, who went on to win and sign with JYPE) were eliminated as the show progressed. Many (myself included) expressed skepticism at how the careers of these extremely promising young women would unfold; as has been noted over and over again, the Korean entertainment industry is not exactly kind to solo artists, nor is there a great deal of space available for raw vocal talent. But YG Entertainment has, in what has got to be one of the smartest decisions anyone in K-pop has made in years, decided to sign all of the remaining SuPearls members and recreate the group, replacing Park Ji-min with Lee Ha-yi, the show’s runner-up.
Why is this a brilliant move? A few reasons:
- SuPearls is, quite obviously, a group — and like it or not, groups are the name of the game in K-pop. Granted, the simple fact of being a group is not a guarantor of success, but it certainly makes it much more likely that these four young women won’t simply fade into the background or get lost amidst a pool of quite literally hundreds of different K-pop acts.
- The group has the advantage of being a fan favorite. Who wasn’t rooting for SuPearls after they started singing as a unit? They are completely adorable, insanely talented, and totally spunky (Lee Seung-joo, I’m looking at you. You go, girl). One can’t help but grin like a silly fool when they’re on stage doin’ their thang; I had the privilege of seeing them perform live a few days ago and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is fact. That the group is so beloved ensures that YG will have to do very little to promote them as one would ordinarily do a new group; they probably won’t, for example, have upwards of thirty teasers, prologue songs, and obnoxious showcases like some group that I could name (coughEXOcoughsputter). They’ll simply debut to anticipation by virtue of the fact that they appeared and excelled on K-pop Star.
- Individually, all of the members are talented and could easily put out outstanding solo songs. But together? These girls can harmonize like nobody’s business. It’s a sad day when I find myself impressed that TaeTiSeo managed to harmonize two bars of music, but SuPearls has already proved themselves able to handle complex harmonies and melodies with practiced ease. Even Piggy Dolls, who were supposedly marketed on their voices, didn’t really attempt vocal blending or harmonization, despite the fact that all three of them are in possession of killer voices. SuPearls has the opportunity to fill in a niche in K-pop that is presently pretty vacant — and there’s no question that they can and will do an admirable job with it.
In addition to being a smart business move on YG’s part, the signing and almost immediate marketing of Michelle Lee is a positive note for progress in K-pop. As JYP noted after her Michelle Lee’s elimination, it is an unfortunate reality that Korean society at large has yet to fully accept its biracial members — and it is very likely that her elimination was at least in part due to the fact that the voting population was in some way put off by her ethnic background. Her addition to the YG family is not necessarily representative of a new trend in K-pop; after all, there are plenty of biracial entertainers active in the industry (Yoon Mi-rae and Insooni, for example). However, it is indicative of a growing tide of acceptance and appreciation of the new and different in Korean society at large. Recently, Filipino-Korean Jasmine Lee became the first non-ethnic Korean representative elected to South Korea’s General Assembly — and she surely won’t be the last Korean minority member to make waves in South Korea. Michelle Lee’s inclusion in SuPearls represents the continuation of this trend and will undoubtedly raise the profile of racial issues in the future.
The only teensy tiny problem with the SuPearls (at least to my eyes) is that it won’t really be SuPearls — Park Ji-min will likely debut as a solo artist under JYPE, and Lee Ha-yi will take her place as the fourth member of the group. This change will not make a tremendous difference in terms of vocals; there’s no question that Lee Ha-yi will be able to fill Park Ji-min’s shoes. However, as someone who has adored Park Ji-min since her audition on K-pop Star, I can’t help but feel that the whole dynamic of the group will be different — and that makes me slightly disappointed. Additionally, given the uphill climb that solo artists in Korean entertainment often face, I worry that Park Ji-min won’t enjoy the same degree of (deserved) success that she might have experienced had she debuted with SuPearls instead. Of course, how both she and SuPearls will fare once they officially enter the fray remains to be seen — and it is entirely possible that neither of them will be as successful as this writer anticipates. But without SuPearls (and indeed, SuPearls without Park Ji-min) might lead to some unexpected outcomes. We’ll have to wait and see.
What do you think, Seoulmates? Are you excited for SuPearls to debut?