A semi-weekly or biannual reco, straight from the playlists of yours truly…
This day, our K-Pop Pick of the Day is a little different. Not a song, no. In fact, lately, I’ve been weighing which Girls’ Generation song to talk about here, and as a very newcomer, I’ve only got three favorites so far: “Girls’ Generation,” “Gee,” and “Hoot.” My number one is actually “Girls’ Generation,” which I can’t get out of my head. But as you may tell, that song is from the beginning of the group, and they are very much babies in the video (which looks like it was indeed filmed the year of their births, or perhaps on a videotape?). Half, or more than half, of my experience with K-pop so far is videos like this, glimpses into the idols’ non-stage personas (I hesitate, firmly, to say “the idols’ personalities,” because I’m trying very hard to not fall into parasocial traps).
With Red Velvet, these videos are V-Lives or Instagram Lives, or special documentary videos taking us behind the scenes of a tour. They’re often chaotic, always entertaining, but I understand that they’re promotional in nature. The key difference between Red Velvet and Girls’ Generation in 2019, when The Sootory #3 was published, is obvious but profound: Red Velvet still exists. Not only are they still active and jetsetting, multiple contracts in Girls’ Generation lapsed in 2017, and before that, the group suffered one of the most notorious departures in a K-pop group ever.
In 2014, Jessica left the group and the label on bad terms. Although eternally tempting to speculate, I’ve never gotten a full and substantiated picture of what happened — from what I read, she wanted to start a luxury fashion line, Blanc & Eclare (still ongoing today), and this somehow conflicted with membership, so she was let go. To say the least, it’s an unfortunate wrinkle in the saga of Korea’s breakthrough girl group, but Jessica’s career thankfully didn’t stop right then. And you can keep up with her now through a lifestyle vlog, Jessicaland.
I’m aware of two other members who have YouTube accounts — and see, now we’re winding our way to the point — that being Taeyeon the leader and Sooyoung, class clown. Tiffany has a channel as well, though it’s mostly music videos and behind-the-scenes material. The reason I mention Red Velvet (I’m gonna run out of reasons very soon) is that, for one thing, Red Velvet is positioned as the successor to Girls’ Generation. Same label, and there are all sorts of cute interactions the two groups have. Yeri is a GG superfan (technically the abbreviated form of Girls’ Generation is SNSD, so we’ll go with that instead of something that sounds hateful) and people seem to think Irene is a dead ringer for Taeyeon. I saw it at first, but now I’m too familiar with their faces.
Regardless, Jessica and Taeyeon’s vlogs represent, to me, life after K-pop, and it’s heartening — no, it’s essential — that these people don’t burn out or worse. They’re free, and it’s a freedom not without its price, as we saw. But if Girls’ Generation’s present is an indicator of Red Velvet’s future, I can actually let myself enjoy Red Velvet’s present while dealing with all the other baggage that comes with fandom. Sooyoung’s vlog offers me similar comfort, though it is a project sponsored by her new label, Saram, which means how much? I’m not sure. Because we’re still granted episodes like Tiffany’s 30th birthday party, a sequel to Sooyoung’s documentation of commissioning Tiffany’s gift, and it’s a precious gift in itself, clocking in at a too-brisk seven minutes.
I love that, in the group photo, Tiffany has to say, “Be cool,” as in, “for this photo, let’s do cool poses,” because as we’d just seen, Girls’ Generation’s apparent default is “not cool.” Indeed, Sooyoung seemed to be leading the “not cool” charge with a sustained exclamation. But it’s in this moment I begin to appreciate Tiffany as truly an American among Koreans. So much to say, and not to reduce her Koreanness, but I do know what it’s like to be surrounded by obverse wavelengths.
It sticks out to me, though I can’t parse it. It’s not exactly a playful befuddlement, Tiffany’s two reactions to Taeyeon, noting that a birthday wish for health is boring (“Dude, that’s boring!”), and questioning the purposeful racket of “Open it!” (“I saw it in a movie,” is a good cover for anything). Maybe it’s that she says both in English, and that Tiffany has just a touch of valley girl, I’m reading self-consciousness into it. Of course, she’s known these people for more than a decade, but some things never change.
The strangeness continues, and Taeyeon does this trot move before presenting Tiffany with her gift, heralded by an extraordinary “Heppy burtdee!” which I can’t really explain but find awe-striking. Usually when these idols speak in English, their voices advance an octave. But the best part is that moments later, Yoona does the exact same routine: trot, present gift, “Heppy burtdeeee!” It’s magical. I suppose it gets at one of the joys of K-pop, these reminders that people praised for their talent and beauty are extremely dorky.