The Wonder Girls are regarded as leaders of the Hallyu wave, queens of retro, and K-pop royalty. Debuting back in 2007, from then to 2008, they rocked the music scene with colorful, retro-infused songs such as “So Hot,” “Tell Me,” and “Nobody,” starting dance crazes with said songs and distinguishing themselves as the girl group to beat. However, in 2009, their company, JYP Entertainment, decided to ship them off to the U.S. with dreams of success. Those dreams were, simply said, not met, and for that time, the Wonder Girls virtually disappeared.
Unfortunately for the Wonder Girls, 2009 turned out to be a pivotal year for girl groups, as now major groups such as 2NE1, T-ara, and 4Minute (featuring former member Hyuna) debuted at the time, and rival girl groups SNSD and KARAgained immense popularity with mega-hits “Gee” and “Mister” igniting dance crazes themselves. And we all know what happened from there. Needless to say, the Wonder Girls lost a bit of their grip on K-pop, losing their title as Korea’s resident girl group. The Wonder Girls had a chance to reclaim their title with song “2 Different Tears” in 2010, but ultimately wasn’t able to due to a short promotion period before going back to the States. “2 Different Tears” was basically made to remind netizens the Wonder Girls were still alive. And then one and a half years passed and one could say that the limelight ultimately faded for the Wonder Girls.
But that was until they made their comeback with album Wonder World. And what a comeback it was. Despite featuring a mediocre lead track, the album as a whole was phenomenal, and it finally seemed like the Wonder Girls were finally back to take back their lost popularity. Their comeback was really one of the few that could really be considered a comeback and was met with high expectation, expectation definitely met. Their music was better than ever, and given the proper promotions (instead of the rushed and meager time that they were actually given), the Wonder Girls finally could have caught up with their rivals.
The girls’ assets sure were all ready. They definitely didn’t waste their time just sitting there while they were in the U.S. They matured as artists and got the connections they needed, foreign influences improving their music. As performers, the Wonder Girls were at their peak. But popularity-wise, were the Wonder Girls at the same point? Or were they destined to be forever known as the girls who started the “Tell Me Virus?”
If the announcements for the Wonder Girls’ 2012 activities are to be considered, it looks like JYP considers “Nobody” to be the Wonder Girls’ prime as that is the track JYP wants the girls to debut with in Japan. JYP choosing the 4 year old song over all of the girls’ more current material to use for the girls’ debut has its implications. It gives the impression that this song is the one JYP wants the Wonder Girls to be synonymous with, that this song would define what the Wonder Girls are in their five years of idoldom. Sure, JYP could have chosen the song as it was the one that was used for the Wonder Girls’ U.S. debut and it would be somewhat meaningful to use it again for their latent adventure in Japan, but in choosing the song, it traps the girls. It traps the girls in the way that they will forever be under the song’s shadow, will forever be considered the “girls who sang “Nobody.”
Sure, SNSD will also probably be considered as the girls who did “Gee” and KARA as the girls who did “Mister” and that itself gives the said groups their own limitations, but it’s much easier and a lot more restricting to call the Wonder Girls the girls who did “Nobody” due to a lack of follow-up tracks to counter that argument. If only the girls waited a bit longer before moving out overseas, making more singles post-”Nobody”, waiting for K-pop to be a more established genre as it is now, the girls wouldn’t have had to suffer as much irrelevancy. And honestly, this is a bit unfair for the girls. They grew so much over the past few years in both sound and style and for them to regress to using a song they used four years ago is degrading.
And to be perfectly honest, the Wonder Girls will probably be forever remembered as the girls who did “Nobody” due the lack of opportunities to overcome that song. No song they would promote would reach the same level of success as their past songs, despite the increase of quality, due to lack of promotion time. If the girls were just to promote longer, to stay in one place longer, then they would gain more relevance. Usually, JYP is a very savvy businessman. But what he is doing to the Wonder Girls — virtually shipping them back and forth from Korea, the U.S. and now seemingly Japan — is unwise as he isn’t allowing the girls to properly take the time to promote the song, to allow the song to get popularity.
In that way, the girls are just using their name, a very prestigious name back home, to gain hype and expecting to gain success — simply due to that name. And that move is justified in Korea as the Wonder Girls already made a name for themselves; they have the full right to use it for more success. However, this mindset was also one of the causes the Wonder Girls failed overseas; the general public really didn’t care that they were amazingly popular back home. But all that does is further support the argument that the Wonder Girls are past their prime as they depend on that prime to further their success.
Honestly, the Wonder Girls would never be considered irrelevant. They would forever be remembered as legends in the K-pop community and one of the leaders of the Hallyu wave. But their overseas promotions have hindered the potential success the Wonder Girls could have faced, and despite so much growth, when it comes to popularity and notoriety, the Wonder Girls are past their prime, a peak that should have been much longer. But who knows? Along with the announcement for Japanese promotions, JYP also announced a Korean comeback in June along with the continuation of promotions in the U.S. (though there is still no official date of that promised English album). Maybe with all their persistence and ambition, the Wonder Girls may be able to achieve worldwide success, achieving a new prime in success. Or maybe the Wonder Girls would be allowed to stay in one place longer and fully promote a song that could overcome “Nobody.” But for now, I just wish the wonderful girls of the Wonder Girls luck in this years’ foray.
What do you think Seoulmates? Are the Wonder Girls past their prime? Or with their evident improvements, is their prime still coming?