Is it a catchy song? A pretty face? A killer choreography? Maybe a great vocal? How about a variety star? The problem with that question is, well, the answer could be anything. Girls’ Generation slayed with a cute tune and some skinny jeans, while EXID became relevant with a fancam, of all things. Considering these facts, we should probably revise our question — what sustains a Kpop girl group? What builds a fan base, and keeps them interesting comeback after comeback? And there’s only one answer to this question: everything.
That’s right — dynamic is the true key to a girl group’s success. Every member brings something, whether it be talent, personality, or visuals, to make the group well-rounded and likeable across the board. Without it, the group will undoubtedly flop after that one catchy song falls off the charts. The importance of group dynamic seems to be a constant over the years, from legends like Girls’ Generation to new trends like TWICE. Let’s take a look at how dynamics have affected groups, both in success and failure, over the years.
Girls’ Generation making their debut with “Into the New World” (Image Credit: AllKpop)
From August 5th, 2007, it was clear that Kpop had a dynamic rookie monster in its hands — 9-member Girls’ Generation, who would, a few years later, become Kpop’s most powerful group, transcending music and permeating into Asian culture itself. But it wasn’t just good looks or “Gee” that made them the girl group they’ve become. The group was designed to succeed, with four strong vocalists (Taeyeon, Jessica, Seohyun, Tiffany) all with varying ranges, specialties and tonalities, four talented dancers (Yuri, Sooyoung, Hyoyeon, Yoona), an in-between who specializes in aegyo (Sunny), variety talents (Hyoyeon, Sooyoung, Sunny), and mind-blowing visuals (Yoona, Taeyeon).
The group could handle almost any song, from using lollipops on stage in “Kissing You” to rocking caps and ripped jeans in “I Got a Boy,” because of the wide display of talent and ability. Members of the public were bound to be interested in one way or another — if you didn’t like their song, you might have liked the intense choreography, Yoona’s latest CF or Sooyoung’s recent variety appearance. The group had a monopoly on what Kpop was all about: charm. Not just talent, but charm — the ability to captivate an audience through whatever means available. And that charm didn’t leave with Jessica in 2014. The group was not only so established, but also strong enough with the mix of personalities, vocals, and dance that it could carry on without one of its central members just as successfully as it had before. SNSD is the poster child of group dynamics, gathering both public recognition and a gigantic fan base in the 8.5 years since that fateful August.
2NE1 reintroduce themselves at the 2015 MAMA Awards
You also have f(x), which is another dynamic masterpiece and consequential success, with vocals (Krystal, Luna), visuals (Krystal, Victoria, Sulli), and rap (Amber, occasionally Sulli). The group has repeatedly received heat, however, for Krystal’s seemingly cold personality, and Sulli’s alleged lack of professionalism. Seven years in, f(x) has seen some loss in popularity as a result, losing “trend” status to newer groups like Girl's Day and AOA. It ultimately demonstrates that showing weakness in one of the many components of a girl group’s charm can significantly affect success. Following the same line of logic to 2010, Miss A can push Suzy’s charms all they want, but she alone can’t make 4-member Miss A one of Kpop’s legendary girl groups — a claim proven by their repeated hit-or-miss comebacks over the years. Despite the other member’s talents, they don’t make a dynamically full girl group in the public’s eyes, which hurts their album sales and chart rankings time after time.
If we keep going forward in Kpop history, the trend is continuously prevalent. Yeah, Hyeri can act herself to fame on Reply 1988, but Sojin’s vocals, combined with visuals from Minah and Yura and a newfound sexy concept, maintained interest in the group for years to come, ultimately making them one of Kpop’s biggest success stories. SPICA’s vocal-heavy lineup works well for the ear, but doesn’t do much for the rest of their appeal, which shows in their long hiatuses and lack of top 10 hits. Hani can “wi arae, wi wi arae” to her heart’s content for the fan camera, but it was ultimately great music, Solji’s vocals and the group’s unique variety color that gave them notoriety instead of disbandment.
TWICE: the ultimate package of Kpop charm (Image Credit: wowkeren.com)
As we dive head-first into a new year of Kpop, the same pattern unfolds before us, but even more noticeably than before. TWICE was designed almost exactly like Girls’ Generation (arguably better, depending on who you ask). You have one power vocal at the center (Jihyo, like Taeyeon) with two other strong singers (Jeongyeon and Nayeon, like Tiffany, Seohyun and Jessica), great dancers (Momo and Mina, like Hyoyeon, Sooyoung and Yuri), an in-between that knows how to put on a show (Sana, like Sunny), and a beautiful visual (Tzuyu, like Yoona). The slight differences actually make TWICE even stronger as a dynamic group, with versatile rappers (Dahyun and Chaeyoung) and multi-national members from both Taiwan (Tzuyu) and Japan (Momo, Sana, Mina). And the incredible dynamic in this group is bringing them incredible success — their debut song “Like OOH-AHH” lurks at the edges of real-time top 10 on Korean charts 5 months after release, and their mini-album, The Story Begins, has sold 55,000 copies, more than albums from more established groups like Red Velvet have ever sold.
GFriend in recent hit release, "Rough"
GFriend is another new girl group finding success, becoming the year’s first act to hit a perfect all-kill with their song “Rough.” But the difference between GFriend and TWICE is clear — TWICE is getting known for its wide variety of members, building a large fan base and public popularity in the process, while GFriend is getting popular off of a few slips on stage and a good song to follow. GFriend’s success is nothing to laugh at right now, considering that even Taeyeon came nowhere near climbing over them on the charts this past week, but their continued relevance is questionable. Without members being known to the public, will the world get bored of their musical color (which notably takes after Girls’ Generation’s iconic debut song) and look for a group with a more exciting dynamic (a group possibly like TWICE)? A seeming lack of dynamic endangers GFriend’s popularity in the same way that a strong dynamic ensures TWICE’s success.
So, if you ever had a slight inclination to, oh, I don’t know, build a Kpop girl group from scratch, be careful. Don’t pick just anybody — make a group that catches your attention with not just one gimmick set to expire in a comeback or two, but everything. In the world of Kpop, a girl group that defines a Generation, one that makes you think about them Twice, can sing into a microphone, dance under the lights, pose for a camera, laugh on screen, and much, much more.
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.