Kyuhyun’s return signals the reunification of Super Junior at last! Since Kangin first escaped to the army nine years ago in 2010, Kyuhyun has returned on May 7, following his enlistment in 2017. During the nine-year interim, the group has worked with a varying amount of members while releasing comebacks for Mr. Simple, A-Cha, Sexy, Free & Single, This is Love, Spy, Mamacita, Devil, Play, One More Chance,  and Japanese release Hero. Certain members, such as Choi Siwon, Kim Heechul, Leeteuk, and Shindong have taken to dramas or variety, while others such as Lee Sungmin and Ryeowook chose to work with musicals. 2016 especially saw the absence of four members, but come 2019 and everyone is (relatively) back together.

For now, Kyuhyun faces a welcome return in variety shows through: Knowing Brothers (May 16), Kang’s Restaurant Season 2 (May 31), Salty Tour Season 2 (June 17), and New Journey to the West 7 (broadcast date undecided). Choosing to forego a return to Radio Star, Kyuhyun will mainly be focusing on JTBC and tvN shows. A solo comeback is further planned for the end of May, including a fanmeet and performance at the Seoul Jazz Festival 2019.

Reflecting on Kyuhyun’s enlistment, his service falls in line with those of fellow members Eunhyuk, Donghae, Ryeowook, Heechul, and Yesung – quite uneventful, promising a secure career outlook for the future. Despite having enlisted as a public social worker, netizens were generally understanding of Kyuhyun’s role in the military, considering the terrible 2007 accident that nearly ended his life. The incident had fractured his hip among many other injuries, rendering him incapable of serving in active duty. Heechul and Yesung also enlisted as social service workers due to bodily injuries, while Donghae and Siwon enlisted as auxiliary police officers. The remaining members – Kangin, Leeteuk, Shindong, Sungmin, Eunhyuk, and Ryeowook – had enlisted into active duty.

Netizen reactions have varied for each member’s enlistments, compromising Super Junior’s image throughout the years. Reactions to Kangin’s enlistment in 2010 have been mixed. While most fans eagerly awaited his return, others have been disappointed in his reasons for enlisting, which had included a DUI hit-and-run incident and bar fight. Upon his return, Kangin was particularly quiet and low-key, both in his performances and variety appearances. Nonetheless, he was the first to jumpstart Suju’s long series of enlistments up until this year.

Leeteuk faced tragedy through the murder-suicide of his father and grandparents. Though he was able to attend the funeral, his break from the army was rather shorter than it could’ve been. In response, public sentiment quickly grew to sympathize with him for the unforeseen ordeals. Meanwhile, Heechul, Kyuhyun, and Yesung have cautiously approached the issue of enlisting as public service workers – always a sensitive issue with the greater public.

Netizens’ outlooks were mixed – while most understood Heechul and Kyuhyun, most expressed mixed sentiments on Yesung and his herniated disc. Some could say that he was at risk of compromising the group’s image for a portion of fans and netizens. The same goes for Donghae and Siwon for enlisting as conscripted police officers. Regarding their choice to serve in alternate positions (in comparison to being conscripted to active duty), netizens have been quick to criticize those that have somehow “failed” to fulfill their role as a “proper” soldier. For a good chunk of the public, enlisting as police officers, social service workers, etc. is misunderstood as taking an “easier” way out of the army. Members of Super Junior were not exempt from this outlook, though there were many others who have supported the group’s decisions.

And now, the group is whole at last, to the joy of patient E.L.F.s that waited nearly a decade for their favorite singers to return altogether. Though there has yet to be any concrete plans, Label SJ and leader Leeteuk have promised a full-group comeback in the latter half of 2019, following Kyuhyun’s round of promotions. However, this leads to diverse reactions – from excitement as a fan, to curiosity about their concept, style, and genre, to even a general anxiety about how they will be received an entire generation later. After all, it is definitely plausible to wonder how the members will have a breakthrough amongst an evolved music scene, younger generations, and split public sentiment.

While Super Junior has been known for catchy tunes and unique concepts – from handsome suit attires to Spanish-inspired lyrics, and easy-to-follow choreography moves – other groups have played out their own version of electric pop music, while drawing inspiration from genres such as house, blues, and more. This is not to say that Super Junior doesn’t have their own distinct sound and style – after all, it is what consistently kept them high up on music charts and the front page of Naver every comeback season. Even so, a fall to winter comeback would have to keep up with the trends of the seasons and public sentiment, with an eye out for closely scheduled comebacks from other groups.

There is also the notion that some fans may have “transitioned” to younger, more recent artists during a group’s absence. While agencies normally tackle the ongoing issue of relevancy by staggering the members’ enlistments, it is well known that popularity and fan interest can be fickle. The sole idea of an absence itself tests fans’ loyalty to an idol group, which – depending on circumstances, overall fan sentiment, and a dash of luck – can either make or break a comeback following a hiatus.

Though at the same time, E.L.F.s have proven time and time again that their dedication towards Super Junior will indeed maintain their success. Particularly for this comeback, fans will be encouraged by seeing all of their members back onstage, together. Considering Super Junior’s fairly active onscreen promotions and their foundational popularity, fans should be rest assured that their newest album will receive a hyped welcome.

Or so we hope. After all, fan sentiment has been pretty split among the general fandom, mainly due to the following controversies. Kangin, as is well known, has had the greatest share of legal controversies. His multiple DUIs, an assault case, and being connected to one of Jung Joonyoung’s chat rooms have been a recipe for disaster, brewing mixed sentiment over the years. Siwon also got into hot waters back in 2017 through his French bulldog, Bugsy, biting a vulnerable victim while unleashed. The fact that Siwon and his family continued to not use a leash post-controversy only increased criticism against them for the lax handling of Bugsy.

Meanwhile, Leeteuk received flack last fall for being caught sending a direct message to Momoland Yeonwoo’s fan account, calling her name in an informal manner. Not only was it embarrassing and detrimental to his image, but netizens have expressed their disappointment with the ease in which he attempted to communicate with her. To be frank, if it were Yeonwoo’s real account, it would’ve been difficult on her part to reject the advance of a senior figure in the industry. Particularly if their relationship wasn’t close enough to warrant a direct message in the first place. While we do not have the details of how they are acquainted, it was nonetheless a questionable thing for Leeteuk to do.

Lastly, and perhaps the “lightest” of them all, is Sungmin having married a musical actress back in 2014. The lack of support Sungmin faces from the public largely stems from a fan meeting that he participated in while dating current wife Kim Sa-eun. By this point, a popular moniker for Sungmin had been “Mimi,” which was affectionately coined by his fans. However, fans grew furious upon discovering that, in the fan meeting, Sungmin signed autographs with the fan-given nickname as a means to refer to Kim. On one hand, he has had the complete freedom to do so; yet, fans have felt as if their dedication towards Sungmin was “wasted” on his significant other. Most international onlookers have forgotten or brushed aside this tidbit, but it is actually one of the main reasons why native fans hold grudges against him to this day. Sungmin has since apologized for doing so and proceeded to marry Kim without further controversy.

Even so, under most Super Junior articles, netizens are calling for Kangin, Siwon, and Sungmin to be cast out of the group, or at the very least excluded from the upcoming comeback. Rather than coming from akgae fans (those who support an individual member only), these comments have mostly come from fans well invested into the group, if not the general public. On one hand, it remains understandable that Kangin is no longer welcomed by fans, due to his multiple legal offenses. As for Siwon, opinions have been mixed between Korean and international fans, split between the simple notion of whether he can claim full responsibility for his dog’s behavior or not.

Regarding Sungmin, the cold response to his marriage has kept him on an indefinite hiatus, though this front seems to be lasting an unusually long time. Especially in light of other scandals both within and beyond the group, it is worth considering whether or not it is time to move on from his past mistakes, and simply welcome him as an idol once more. If anything, his marriage is something that ensues primarily between him and his wife, without causing considerable harm to anyone else in particular (save for die-hard fans). It remains up in the air whether he’ll finally be forgiven – though really, a marriage should not compare to other members’ controversies.

In light of both the past and present state of Super Junior and its members, it’s worth observing how their comeback will play out in the latter part of this year. While support for individual members may be split among fans and netizens, the general public is eagerly waiting on a group comeback to commemorate such a long absence. In the meantime, fans of Kyuhyun can look forward to seeing him appear on multiple shows and performances, as Super Junior now passes on the “military torch” towards SHINee and Exo.

Sources: (Asiae News, Digital Chosun Ilbo [(1), (2)], Hankook Ilbo, Hankyung News, Joy News 24, Kookmin Ilbo, MBN News [(1), (2)], New Daily, News1, OSEN, Segye Ilbo, SPOTV News [(1), (2)], Star News, Super Junior Official Website, TenAsia; Images from SM Entertainment, Instagram)