The widely accepted rationale for SNSD’s latest comeback with “I Got a Boy,” can be neatly summed up in a binary opposition of old and new. Old SNSD, is everything before, their comeback, represented by the 2008 song, “Dancing Queen,” which was released shortly before the official release of their album. The new is represented by “I Got a Boy,” which represents a dramatic break, both in image and sound, from any of their previous releases.
Situating SNSD’s latest comeback within this framework is certainly useful for helping fans to understand how SNSD can go from releases like the, “The Boys” or “Oh!” to “I Got a Boy” and it is not technically incorrect. SNSD, regardless of how successful or unsuccessful fans think it is, are doing something new, both in terms of their past releases, and also for k-pop. The problem with this assessment of SNSD’s comeback though, is that it was never a question of correctness, but rather how fans ideas about this comeback diverge from how SNSD has described how they saw the comeback in interviews. Fans may see SNSD’s comeback as a completely new direction for SNSD, Seohyun offered an alternate take in an interview on “Shinsadong’s SM Everything,”
What we were seeking was doing music that we mature and grow into. When we debuted, wearing sneakers, not yet in our 20s, doing music that suited us at that time, and in our early 20s, we wore white t-shirts and jeans for that freshness. (source)
Seohyun effectively bridges the past and present here, characterizing this new change not as a transformative in the sense that it has or will happen all at once, but rather it is part of a slow, ongoing process that SNSD is growing with, both literally and figuratively.
Tiffany in the same interview puts a fine point on Seohyun’s remark, speaking about how this is a more organic rather than drastic change,
This may seem like semantic nitpicking, especially since whether or not a comeback is successful or effective is not always contingent on fans expectations and ideas about a comeback aligning with that of the group. But in the case of SNSD, given both the magnitude of this comeback and the point SNSD is at in their career, there are potentially larger ramifications that may result from leaving this disconnect unresolved.
If there is a cautionary tale to be found that illustrates takes these abstract problems and makes them concrete, it can be found in the IU/Eunhyuk scandal of 2011. Now, the short version of this scandal is that IU accidentally posted a selca of herself, in her pajamas, with a shirtless Eunhyuk. Consequently, fans began to speculate about the image, pointing to it as evidence that IU and Eunhyuk were doing everything, from having casual sex to simply being in a relationship.
Most of the outcry caused by the scandal was directed at IU and predicated on the belief that she had somehow betrayed her ‘innocent image’. But the problem with this reason, as covered in the post, “The Myth of IU’s Innocent Image,” was that IU had shed her innocent image long before the scandal and adopted one more befitting of her age. And fans, due to either a refusal confront the uncomfortableness of the fact that the nation’s little sister was growing up, a matter of miscommunication, or both, the change in IU’s image was ignored, and IU suffered the consequences.
SNSD is facing the same issue that IU was facing pre-scandal, although unlike IU they are afforded the opportunity to learn from her mistake before it becomes a real problem. Then again, it could also be argued that the only reason IU’s image ever became an issue was because of the scandal, and barring anything like that ever happening with a member of SNSD, it may never come up. That is a poor excuse though to not address different interpretations of SNSD’s comeback especially since to ignore this matter is to overlook an emerging trend among established female idols as they get older.
Unlike male idols, female idols do not have the specter of military enlistment lurking in the shadows, are hence are not halting their promotions or leaving their groups, but rather are pushing past their five and six year anniversaries. As a result, these same idols who debuted with a cuter or more innocent images, are also outgrowing them, and like SNSD, may want to try something different, outside the current prescribed concepts for girl groups.*
If fans actually do to recognize this trend, recognizing the possibility that some female idols can actually be ‘mature’, it has the potential to have a positive trickle down effect in the industry. They may even alter attitudes, including those that concern how fans perceive idols who choose to disclose their relationships.
On the most basic level though, SNSD’s comeback with “I Got a Boy,” thumbs its nose at every Western media outlet who ever derided k-pop as factory produced, inferring unoriginality, or derivative. Instead it shows that k-pop groups are not simply one-dimensional cookie cutter groups, but actually do change.
*Mature is not necessarily synonymous with progressive, and these new images may not necessarily be better, although that is an issue for another post