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2015 was a pretty mind-blowing year for K-Pop, and although it’s still a little early for New Years’ parties and Gayo Daejun festivals, we can already point out some of the year’s most obvious rising stars — BTS, MAMAMOO, 4minute’s Jiyoon, BtoB’s Sungjae, and many, many more. But rising stars aren’t always ones that shine so brightly — they just shine brighter than they have before. So instead of talking about 2015’s more obvious winners, let’s talk about someone who we don’t really talk about all that often — Kwon Yuri, member of Girls’ Generation. Her star is shining brighter than ever before, and here’s why.
Despite being an already well-established idol in what is arguably K-Pop’s most well-established group, Yuri has constantly been on the lower end of Girls’ Generation’s popularity rankings. In the past, SM usually threw her one or two unmemorable lines per song, leaving her to stand behind the spotlight (instead of under it) as part of GG’s tragically underused dance line (SM, PLEASE MAKE SHY HAPPEN ALREADY). But 2015 changed everything for Yuri — we are finally hearing her voice outside of two-second ad libs and momentary melodies.
It started with GG’s explosive first release of the year in April, when “Catch Me If You Can” saw Yuri take more singing time (24 seconds) than some of the group’s more usual vocalists like Tiffany (17 seconds) and Seohyun (14 seconds). Not only does she start the song, but she also dances front-and-center for the entire second chorus, in addition to handling both singing and rapping lines throughout the song (in other words, total and complete slayage). But many would be quick to counter the argument that “Catch Me If You Can” is Yuri’s claim to fame, stating that the song is simply an outlier among the group’s discography — one that purposely emphasizes the dance unit more so than did other songs. Since this is a very, very valid counterargument (along with Yuri, Yoona and Sooyoung take a majority of lines throughout the song as well), let’s look at some of the group’s later releases to further prove Yuri’s rising stardom.
Party was the group’s first single album release since their debut in 2007. It featured B-side “Check,” a 90’s style R&B track that was performed a few times on music shows during Party’s first week of release in July. “Check” was a blessing for Yuri fans because she spent a majority of the performances towards the front-and-center, slaying fans with her flawless curvy figure.
To any S<3NE watching the group make their long-awaited comeback in July, Yuri’s presence was definitely notable, much more so than in previous years. The trend continued in “Lion Heart,” in which Yuri sings a large part of the second chorus, and “You Think,” in which she handles an entire dance break. The pattern is unmistakable — Yuri’s role in the group is finally gaining importance. She’s no longer a forgotten dancer — she’s now a vocal and a visual as well. Even Billboard’s K-Pop columnist Jeff Benjamin takes note of Yuri’s increasing share of the line distribution, claiming that it’s “a decision that further shows that Girls’ Gen is embracing change in their eighth year together.”
Many of you might be wondering: Why did Yuri become so much more relevant all of a sudden? Well, the answer definitely isn’t definite. In fact, it’s most likely a mixture of many factors — her raw dancing talent, her blossoming into a full-fledged visual, her curves (something fairly rare in the K-Pop world), the group’s newfound inclination towards sexier, more provocative concepts (where Yuri shines strongest), the departure of one of the group’s main vocalists in 2014, and the announcement of her short-lived relationship with baseball player Oh Seung-Hwan in April of this year. All of these reasons, some of which relate to the group’s changing musical color and lineup, contribute to her upward surge.
Rising stars are not necessarily the idols who wholeheartedly capture the entire public’s attention or gain thousands on their Daum fancafe page — they’re sometimes those who take advantage of the one opportunity they’re given, those who quietly maintain public respect without making a big fuss about their good deeds, or those who, in the case of Yuri, go from dancer to visual/singer/dancer/rapper. It’s pretty safe to say that Yuri is one of 2015’s rising stars — not because she was “the trend” or bringer of cultural revolution, but because she rose among the ranks of her own group, effectively becoming a frontwoman of one of the most powerful acts in K-Pop history.
Kushal Dev is an Indian-American writer based in New Jersey. He discovered K-Pop through friends and YouTube, and has been an avid follower of Korean entertainment for 4 years. He biases 2NE1, Girls' Generation, f(x), MAMAMOO and EXID.