Lyrics taken from “DIVINE“.

One of the first things mentioned when it comes to Taeyeon will always be “leader”. It’s a concept she can’t escape, whether it’s in nostalgic reference to her group position upon debut, a nod to Girls’ Generation’s position as one of the biggest groups to ever hit the K-Pop industry, or an acknowledgement of how much she’s become a household name not only as a girl group member, but as a solo artist. It goes without saying that Taeyeon has reached the pinnacle not only in her career, but in achieving the dreams she’s been aiming for since more than a decade ago.

People will deal with this sort of unimaginable fame and success in different ways. Some let it get to their heads, egos so terribly inflated that the entire world waits eagerly for the inevitable fall. Others shatter under the pressure, the ever-rising expectations that everyone — including themselves — set with each step higher on the precariously balanced ladder to even loftier goals. But Taeyeon shows us that another subset of these icons does exist: the ones who remain, doggedly, just as they were before all the glitz and glamour, in spite of the new heights they reach.

Taeyeon leading from behind is not a new concept, especially to those who have been in the fandom since the early years. A review of the stories that Girls’ Generation members have revealed throughout the years paints a clear picture of a girl who took on the official title only because it was handed to her, and she struggled with its weight and the perception that she didn’t deserve to hold it. Even at the constant assurances from her members, Taeyeon no doubt breathed a gradual sigh of relief as the group matured enough for everyone to boldly begin forging their own paths, and the concept of a leader no longer needed to manifest much further — at least, in the traditional sense.

Because at the end of the day, you can’t be a leader if there is no one to lead. Taeyeon embraced this philosophy in the best way possible, choosing to guide as needed instead of constantly pull, to not bother carving out a space between her and the others. Because she’s no more a part of the group than any of the members: breathing the same air, pushing relentlessly towards the same dream, and clinging to the same hopes as their only meager fuel. Even though her solo career potential was recognized early on, Taeyeon expressed time and time again the loneliness of a stage too wide for a single person; and the fact that she never wanted to stand by herself possibly makes her the best leader Girls’ Generation could have ever asked for.

Of course, as Girls’ Generation members traveled further and further along their individual journeys, Taeyeon did end up pursuing her own passion to sing — always, to sing. But even now as she tours the world, filling entire stadiums on her name alone, she treasures those around her even more preciously than before: the members who have carried her as much as she’s carried them, her friends and family who have had to share burdens they perhaps didn’t always understand, and the fans — old and new — who want nothing more than for her to be happy.

Even as her schedules continue to pile up, Taeyeon has made constant efforts to leave a window open for those cheering her on, even from halfway around the world. It can be something as simple as keeping an Instagram account for her dogs, or vlogging about her day and posting it as an episode of Taengoo TV; through these glimpses that Taeyeon gives us, we know that the teenager wishing for a stage among the stars is still there, regardless of the dangerously double-edged sword she’s had to face since debut.

A journey taken is taken together; even equipped with infinite strength and skill, not a single person can lay their claim to fame and fortune without at least one helping hand. Taeyeon knew this from the beginning, and has never tried to forget it. And this, perhaps, is why she’s been able to come this far, and why she can still go much farther.

It’s your birthday, Taeyeon, and we hope you enjoy it. And please, be happy: today, tomorrow, and especially forever.

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Written by: moonrise31@soshified