SM Entertainment has been known as the “star factory” in the Korean music industry, a moniker well deserved due to their impeccable track record of creating some of the biggest Kpop acts in the dawn of the Korean Wave, a company so influential that it has been steering the direction of the Kpop industry since the 90s. From H.O.T. to S.E.S., to Shinhwa, to BoA, to TVXQ and Super Junior, all former and current SMTown artists have left behind significant legacies with some having reached the highest level of success for any Asian artist. By 2007, SM was gearing up for their next big project, it would prove to be an audacious and risky undertaking – the goal was to push the envelope and create a truly novel and unique female group, with visions to dominate not only Korean music but the entire Asian music market.
Girls’ Generation (So Nyeo Shi Dae) was officially launched on August 5, 2007 after years of careful development and planning, with a considerable amount of faith. The idea of a nine-girl pop group was unprecedented at the time, many doubters wrote them off immediately and mocked SM’s decision to risk their reputation while blindly hoping this “experiment” will fill the big shoes of their predecessors like S.E.S. Even for a hit maker like SM, making SNSD successful would pose major challenges, with nine members, there is large number of variables, with a high potential for disaster to derail the entire group. But SM had other ideas, they used their experience and expertise to strategically place these nine specific girls together – a group, like Super Junior, had many colorful personalities with a variety of skill sets, but also a group, like TVXQ, possessed top-notch talent to be considered true artists instead of just idols. In essence, SM thought of SNSD as a team of all-stars, made up of the best ingredients with no compromise on appearance or artistic measures, every girl brought something valuable to the table and no one was seen as extra or unnecessary.
Three and a half years later, SNSD stand today as arguably the number one female pop group in Asia, they have eclipsed all Korean female groups that came before them, and they are the leading figures of the golden age of girl groups and a major driving force behind Korean Wave 2.0. SNSD has not only released multiple number one albums, won numerous major awards in Korea, but also advanced successfully to Japan and held concerts in five different countries. SM’s visions for the group have not only materialized, but the amount of success SNSD garnered surpassed even SM’s most optimistic projections, and there’s no sign of them slowing down any time soon, as they’ve become the most highly demanded Korean artists for endorsements, dramas, and concerts across Asia. Many things have happened during the three and a half years that saw SNSD rise from their humble beginnings to the top of the KPop world, with many internal and external forces influencing the evolution and ascension of the group. As we observe this KPop sensation approach its 4 year mark, a question beckons: who is the most responsible for shaping SNSD into who they are today? Or rather, the better question: what is the most important driving force behind the SNSD juggernaut?
Is it SM Entertainment? It’s a safe answer, and considerable credit should be given to the company that created the group. Planning and promoting a new artist is an arduous task many years in the making. A significant amount of human and capital resources were invested to scout, train, polish and produce the group into a presentable package and survive in a very competitive and fast-paced music industry. SM provided the best in-house training to give SNSD the skills they need to succeed as music artists, supported them by assigning their best producers and creative personnel to work with them, and aggressively promoted SNSD through television and internet platforms. SM chairman Lee Soo Man and the executives in charge of the group’s formation process undoubtedly also deserve credit for their selection of the members, as the nine girls would go on to prove that they fit each other like a glove. Though it is well-known that SM pushes their artists extremely hard, many would agree that SNSD would not be where they are without Korea’s premier music company. But is SM really the number one reason why SNSD is as successful as they are today? Not in my opinion. Even though SM is the industry leader, what they provided is not necessarily superior to the competition; the girls would have received similarly rigorous training, promotion, and quality production under a comparable rival company. As for the discovery and the formation of the members, and exactly how they managed to find the perfect mix of balance within the group, there was definitely more than just science behind it, there was a lot of luck too. It’s doubtful that even the brightest psychologists and behavioral experts would have predicted how well the nine members fit together. While SM was hugely responsible for SNSD’s winning formula, I believe there’s a bigger force behind SNSD’s success.
Is it SONE, the incredibly passionate and supportive fans, then? We in the SNSD fandom like to say: SNSD and SONE are one, they rise and fall together, they struggle and conquer together, and they would not exist without one another. And it’s all true. SNSD has worked tirelessly to become the best entertainers we just can’t get enough of, and the Pink Ocean has retuned the favor by rallying ourselves to form one of the strongest and most united fanbases in all of KPop. SONE is now a flourishing community modeled after the strong work ethic and friendly nature of the nine girls we adore, creating a warm and welcoming environment that is conducive to attracting new fans from all over the world. Devoted SONEs everywhere strive to make SNSD proud by tackling many meaningful projects that are making real differences in this world: donating for charity, food for the hungry, blood drive for those in need, are just a few examples from a long list of accomplishments. The SONEs have also earned a reputation for being sensible and civilized fans, always showing concern for the well-being of the nine girls, and constantly looking for creative ways to bring them joy and relief as a token of appreciation and support. The hard work has paid off, the SONE community has received high recognition from SNSD themselves as well as being consistently acknowledged by SM. As a fan, I have gained a deep admiration for their organization and dedication, I just want to say “kudos” to fellow SONEs around the world, you’ve earned your stripes as the most awesome fans. So can we stake a claim for being the most prominent force behind SNSD success? As much as I personally like to, unfortunately, the answer is no. As fans, we do everything within our ability to ensure SNSD’s success by purchasing their music, buying related merchandise, participating in SNSD events, and enthusiastically attend concerts and showcases to cheer them on and give them strength. But at the end of the day, our ability to have any real impact on SNSD’s lives and career is actually very limited, we have no direct input on their work load or schedule, no influence whatsoever over the creative process of their work, and no influence on their quality of life, their health or their overall well-being. So while SONEs all over the world is a force to be reckoned with, there’s something else far greater that sets the foundation for SNSD’s success.
What is this “force” then? In my opinion, there’s nothing more important than this force and how much it means to SNSD and SONE. The force that sets the SNSD apart from the rest, their life-line, their shield and source of strength, the force that dictates their survival and prosperity since their inception and until the end – is none other than the unbreakable bond that exists between the nine members. “Soshibond” as we like to call it, is an amazingly simple concept, yet difficult to fully comprehend. I hate for you read through the article and to reach this conclusion which we probably should know in the back of our heads, so please allow me to elaborate, because I believe it is very important to drive this point home once and for all for everyone out there who consider themselves true fans of SNSD. For the nine girls, SNSD can be characterized as a life-changing experience, their time together as a girl group will define their lives, they will be friends for life and their destiny will forever be intertwined. When I discovered SNSD, it was a time when they were not considered the number one girl group in Korea, but it did not take me long to realize these girls are truly special. Not only for the fact that they are extremely pretty, talented, artistically brilliant, endlessly entertaining and just generally awesome, those they totally are, but more so for the fact that they have very charming, genuine and humble personalities with an incorruptible bond between them that is a rare beauty to behold. In a group made up of extremely talented and ambitious girls who can each stand on their own as legitimate solo artists in different fields of entertainment, it’s a miracle how well they work together as a team, and their desire to be together as nine is organic and self-motivated, with no pretentiousness or compromise. Even though they didn’t come together as SNSD on their own, their perfect team chemistry suggests they might as well have, because it is not something that can be easily manufactured or replicated.
The Power of Nine is deeply ingrained in the consistently high quality music they released, the perfectly synchronized live performances they put on, and the knack for comedy and variety skills they exhibited. This type of extraordinary teamwork is unrivaled even by their most successful contemporaries today. It’s something you never see in pop acts in the Western world or anywhere else for that matter, and it opened my eyes and drastically changed the way I viewed entertainment and pop culture. SNSD, through all the ups and downs in their career, has never deviated from their basic principle of love, care, and believe in one another. In their darkest moments, even if everything was taken away from them, they know they can always fall on each other’s shoulders to find comfort in knowing that they’re still together as nine no matter how bad the situation became. In their most glorious moments, amidst falling confetti and standing ovations, they huddle and collectively enter a state of bliss, again falling on each other’s shoulders with tears of joy to find satisfaction in knowing that they did it together as nine. Genuine appreciation and desire to succeed as a single unit, not as a collection of individual pieces, is this not the very reason why we love them?
From the very beginning up until now, SNSD has always been one unit with nine members, and nine members with one common dream. The nine girls have openly and proudly proclaimed that they feel the happiest when they’re performing on stage together as nine, and who can question them? The nine is seriously in love with the nine, they mean everything to each other and it’s been as much of a blessing to witness as their talents in music and art. A quote from Jessica’s written message in SNSD’s first single album Into the New World says: “Life hands us many different things, good and bad. One of the greatest gifts we receive is the love of a good friend.” Well, not only do the girls each have the love of one good friend, they have eight. The bond and friendship they share is the reason they enjoy each other’s company, have fun performing together, persevere through brutal schedules, find moral support, resolve conflicts, and improve together as artists… it is what makes everything possible. In this day and age when it’s considered “normal” for KPop groups go through devastating controversies: run-ins with the law, off-the-stage antics, members being added/dropped for negative incidents or for no reason at all, lawsuits with their agencies, and even disbandment, the Soshibond is also what kept SNSD away from all of these problems. Where the road leads for SNSD next is unknown, they could plateau, they could continue to go up, or go down, or straight up hit a wall. But regardless of what’s next in store for SNSD, as long as they’re going through it together as nine, I have faith that everything will be just fine. Through a lot of hard work, genius, and some luck, a Girls’ Generation has been created, like a miracle, it is a perfect storm of all the good things falling into the right place at the right time. Let it be known that no one treasures this more than the nine girls themselves, and they have expressed their sincere commitment to stay together for as long as they can. For that to happen, we must hope that the girls will never give up what’s most precious to them – that the love between the nine will never falter in the face of any challenges, because the fate of the SONE and the continuation of this miracle depends on it.
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