There’s no denying that Girls’ Generation’s popularity has exploded over the past several years. They have set records in Korea, conducted a large-scale and incredibly successful concert tour in Japan, and made recent advances into the American market. They have reached a level of global popularity that is rare for a K-pop artist. But along with that enormous popularity comes certain challenges. As they become more popular and well-known around the world, should they stick close to their established image in order to hold on to people who are already their fans? How should they change their image or approach in order appeal to new fans and new markets? Questions like these have brought me to what is ultimately the focus of this editorial: Has Girls’ Generation become too mainstream, and how can one define the word “mainstream”?

The question of whether or not Girls’ Generation has become too mainstream and popular was brought to my attention recently. I was shopping at a convenience store near my house, and one of the workers at the store stopped me when she saw that I was wearing a Girls’ Generation hoodie. She revealed to me that she is a fan of the girls and that she listens to their music. I was extremely excited to have a chance encounter with a fellow SONE, especially since I live in the United States, where K-pop is not popular or even known amongst the general public. After talking together for several minutes, the convenience store worker said, “I feel like they’ve only become popular lately. I don’t like it when things become too mainstream and popular. I liked it better when people didn’t know about them”. As soon as she said that, my excitement about having a random and unexpected encounter with a SONE evaporated. I walked away feeling disappointed that she ended up sounding like a hipster proudly proclaiming that she liked them before they were cool.



But that particular incident got me thinking. It’s definitely true that the girls are more popular now than they’ve ever been, but is it even possible that they could be too popular and too mainstream? Also, how can the word “mainstream” even be defined? There are several different perspectives, and different people could potentially view this in wildly different ways. Is their “mainstream” status just a reflection that they’re becoming so popular that they’re well-known all over the world? Or is it an increasing need for the girls to fit within some sort of socially accepted musical standard in order to become true global superstars?

One of the ways that this dilemma can be viewed is that the girls are simply becoming so popular everywhere that soon enough they’ll be mentioned in the same breath as Lady Gaga or Katy Perry as artists who are well-known all around the world. I consider myself a SONE, and the thought of Girls’ Generation reaching that level of worldwide recognition is unbelievably exciting to me. I couldn’t possibly think of that as a bad thing. I don’t care that I didn’t enter the fandom at the very beginning. I don’t care that I can’t say, “I liked them before they were cool and well-known”. If they truly became one of the world’s top musical stars, I would feel nothing but pride. If the definition of “mainstream” is simply being popular and well-known, then in my mind there is no such thing as “Girls’ Generation is too mainstream”.



The other possible definition of “mainstream” that I thought of is a bit trickier to analyze. It’s no secret that Girls’ Generation has constantly reinvented their image over the years, but do they need to conform to some socially acceptable Western standards in order to have a broader appeal? Some would argue that the girls have already done just that by having their newest promoted song produced by Teddy Riley, a well-known American music producer. Is it a bad thing if the girls have to change into something different in order to appeal to the global market on a greater level?

To answer that question, I look back upon the girls’ history. They have remained the same fresh, hard-working, and humble girls that they were when they debuted, but their musical concepts have been constantly changing. They went from the cute image of “Kissing You” and “Gee” to the sexy style of “Genie”. The girls energized oppas as cheerleaders in “Oh!” but then immediately followed that up with the dark and powerful “Run Devil Run”. With every reinvention, they grew more popular. Rather than improving themselves by sticking to the same formula and refining it to the point where every change is minimal, Girls’ Generation has improved themselves by constantly challenging themselves and not sticking to the norm. Almost every time we see them, the concept is new and different. I see this characteristic as an asset in their quest to conquer America and the Western musical scene, where a common complaint is that pop music all sounds the same nowadays.

The ability to stand out as something new and different is something that the girls can take advantage of. The girls have proven that their popularity can continuously increase despite not sticking to any particular musical standard. I see this as an indication that going against the grain and avoiding the common mainstream image that the West is accustomed to would actually work in Girls’ Generation’s favor. If the girls are able to catch the attention of people by showing an image that is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before in the West, their popularity could truly take hold once those people dig deeper. One of the girls’ greatest strengths is the fact that they’ve always remained true to themselves. Their true personalities always shine through whether they are on stage, on a television show, or interacting with fans. As time has passed, they have remained the same hard-working and humble girls. SONEs can’t stop loving the girls because they truly are people with beautiful hearts, strong ambitions, and an unrivaled work ethic. In short, Girls’ Generation global popularity could grow because their music is so different and so far outside the norm of what Western audiences are used to, but it could be cemented because the girls themselves are always the same.



There are many differing perspectives on what a label like “mainstream” could possibly mean, and even more so when it is used to describe what Girls’ Generation is and where they are going. It’s a strange contradiction, but I see Girls’ Generation as both mainstream and not, and that they should continue to become more mainstream, and yet not. When you define the “mainstream” label as simply being popular, it’s clear to see that their popularity is at an all-time high, and I hope that it continues to grow. But in order for that popularity to increase, I hope that they avoid falling into a conventional way of doing things. If Girls’ Generation continues to follow their own unique formula of not having a formula at all and not conforming to any particular standard, I think that their success has only just begun.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are solely those of the author and are not representative of the Soshified community as a whole.


Written by: michaelroni@soshified
Edited by: residentbenchwarmer@soshified

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