When Girls’ Generation made their debut back in 2007 with “Into the New World,” most members were under 18 and the K-pop industry was not nearly as prolific with group acts as it is now.
Taeyeon, Sunny, Tiffany, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sooyoung, Yoona, and Seohyun reached mainstream success with the release of “Gee” in 2009, which made Girls’ Generation a household name in South Korea. The group continued to grow in popularity in Asia and in 2011, they began working with Interscope Records to promote in the U.S. The next big shift came in 2017, the group’s tenth year, when members Tiffany, Sooyoung, and Seohyun left SM Entertainment — their longtime label, and now also home to Aespa and NCT — on the condition that the group would not officially disband.
Over the past five years, there haven’t been many opportunities for fans to see Girls’ Generation all together, aside from social gatherings since the members maintain strong relationships with each other. But that’s over now: To mark their 15th anniversary in 2022, Girls’ Generation has come back together to release a new album, Forever 1.
Rolling Stone spoke with Girls’ Generation to reflect on the past 15 years and how the group continues to live on.
It’s been five years since we’ve seen Girls’ Generation all together. It seems like a reunion is always talked about and something you all think about often. Was there a deciding factor that made you decide to get together this year? Was anyone specifically excited to make this happen?
Taeyeon: To be honest, we were planning on releasing an album last year for our 14th anniversary, but we were all very busy, and it was also hard to find a song that really matched us, so it ended up getting pushed to this year in time for our 15th.
Yuri: Forever 1 is an album that our members and our fans have been longing for. As much as it’s our 15th anniversary, it’s an album that all our members have been waiting for and planning for quite some time. I might’ve been the most excited internally!
Sunny: There was a lot of anticipation and passion for this project, so we worked hard to find a good balance between what’s ideal and what’s possible.
How do you think you’ve changed since your last group comeback?
Yuri: I’ve learned a lot about myself and grown as a person. I’ve released a solo album and taken part in activities like theater, which I’ve always wanted to try, and also historical dramas too. I guess you could say I’ve been building up my own portfolio.
Tiffany: We’ve all grown, matured, and found ways to flow even better. The production and scheduling were not easy, but everyone’s emotional flexibility was really what pulled this whole album through.
Taeyeon: I think before, I really approached everything as a job, thinking “I have to work.” But this time, it’s just fun to get together. Since it’s been a while since we’ve all been together, we talk so much. That itself is just so fun. I’m really enjoying it. The days we’re able to all get together are limited. Because it’s such a tight schedule, every day we get together ends up being memorable.
I got goosebumps watching each member’s entrance in Soshi TamTam, your new variety show, with the old stage outfits. Looking back at your discography, do you have a favorite era? Any specific choreography, outfits, looks, or songs that you really cherish?
Yuri: One of my favorite eras would be “Genie” from 2009. That was the first time we shifted away from doing cutesy looks and tried a more matured one instead. I liked how the track’s message is about a goddess of fortune saying, “If you tell me your wishes, I’ll make them come true.” It’s a track I still enjoy listening to in the summer, and I love how classy the uniform outfits looked.
Tiffany: “Into The New World” will forever be my favorite — not only because it was our debut song, but because of the message it can still convey and be relatable to today’s younger generation. However, looking back at each era, I learned so much, especially after stepping away, producing, and writing songs. I especially cherish the “Party” to Phantasia tour era, as there was so much creative input poured into every step. That whole year was about being true to what we feel, and that we are stronger together and get better over time, which really showed up in our performances. I am honored when the fans say that it was also one of their favorite eras.
On Soshi TamTam, Sooyoung mentioned that she was surprised to hear about the “member focus” cams, which are now a norm at shows. What else seems new to you, or has changed since the last time you came out as a group?
Yuri: I’m surprised that taking pictures and videos on the way to broadcasting shows has become a thing. Isn’t everyone just busy trying to get to work or school? [Laughs.]
Sooyoung: I think the situation might have gotten better now, but I was surprised to hear that teams that debuted during the pandemic didn’t have a chance to perform with an audience. It was heartbreaking to hear because it’s actually the fans that you get so much energy from when performing.
Although I got a preview of the album, I didn’t get the full credits yet and was pleasantly surprised to see Sooyoung and Tiffany share via Instagram story that they wrote and composed for this album.
Sooyoung: I participated in writing lyrics for two of our tracks. Initially, there were around five that I was working on, but not all of them made it through. [Laughs.] Amongst these tracks I worked on, “Seventeen” is one that Tiffany and I co-wrote together. It was my first time writing with her, and we worked while hanging out, chatting and making notes, and the lyrics came out pretty quickly. We had great chemistry. I think it’s because we spend a lot of time together, so we understand what the other is thinking with one glance.
Are there any special anecdotes you can share from prepping this album?
Sunny: When recording for Tiffany’s self-composed track “Villain,” she was in charge of directing and it was definitely something I hadn’t experienced before. It was quite new and exciting to have a member working from the outside of the recording booth.
Taeyeon: The song went through a lot of edits, and the members all provided feedback, along with SM. We thought about how we’d like to appear on stage and really tried to perfect the song.
Other members also participated in creating the album, but SM’s standard is very high [laughs]. It’s very hard. Tiffany and Sooyoung’s results managed to end up passing.
I remember the first time we all got together to practice choreography this time around. There were members who were dancing for the first time in years. Hyoyeon and I recently did music programs, so for us it was like “Here we go again…” But it was fun to see some of the members get re-adjusted.
What were some challenges you’ve faced since embarking on your solo careers? Whether it’s something you were unfamiliar with, or something that you’ve never experienced before.
Yoona: I get quiet when working alone, especially after being with my members. Together, it’s always cheerful and we’re pretty talkative, so I feel like the excitement gets high and we play around a bit more.
Hyoyeon: It’s been a while since I started my solo career, so it’s gotten better, but there are times where I’ll feel bored when alone in the green room. Of course, it’s fun to be with staff, but after being together with the members for this album, I realized that’s the moment I enjoy the most.
Taeyeon: The biggest difference is… that we’re so loud [laughs]. We’re so loud. Working as a group gives me mixed emotions, since there is a mental burden, but also something to depend and lean on. For example, I wouldn’t want the choreography to look off just because of me. But also since I have the members, I can lean on them and know that there are people next to me who have the same thoughts as I do.
What was it like seeing your members, who you spent so much time with, embarking on solo projects, whether it’s seeing Seohyun on TV or Tiffany starring in a stage musical, for example. Are you surprised at any of your members’ career trajectories? Or does it seem like they’re all doing what they had wanted to do?
Sooyoung: I saw Tiffany through the whole process from when she auditioned for Chicago to the time she became Roxie on stage. I was really proud to see her gradually create her own unique Roxie, and I was motivated by it since I had been off stage for a while. I’m very proud of her, because she’s someone who accomplishes whatever she sets her mind to, and she did just that!
Yoona: I’ve always viewed our members’ individual activities with such amazement. Each and every one of them has been succeeding in their own areas and being recognized for their talent. It’s truly wonderful getting to see this, and also something I feel very grateful for.
Taeyeon: Although we’ve been in the industry for 15 years, in those specific areas, they are newbies, and I can see them approach those works with a beginner’s attitude, so I felt proud. And seeing them work hard makes me really proud.
I could have never predicted this. Seeing Seohyun as an actress is something I would have never imagined, and never thought I’d be seeing Tiffany in a musical.. Chicago, as Roxie Hart? We’re all going on paths I couldn’t have expected. It makes me more excited to see where this all takes us going forward, and I’m looking forward to it.
You are known for your strong relationship with each other, and a relationship like that surely takes a lot of work to build. What are some tips or advice you have for newer groups who are not yet as close as you are?
Sunny: It’s important to remember that your members are the ones going through the same experiences with you, and can therefore understand you the best. It’s also important to respect and accept each other for who they are.
Tiffany: I personally read a lot of Brené Brown and sent her Korean-subtitled TED talks to the members through our group chat so that we would all lead with vulnerability and know the importance of clear communication. It was so important to create a new system within ourselves so that we would find safety and trust in one another. We had a lot of meetings and made sure everyone had an opinion and thought on every decision. Patience and gentleness for one another is also an important factor in building a lasting relationship both personally and professionally.
Who do you think has changed or grown the most since the earlier days of Girls’ Generation?
Taeyeon: I think vocally, Yoona and Sooyoung really improved. I thought to myself, “Did they get separate lessons?” [Laughs.] They’ve really developed their own colors, and I was pleasantly surprised.
Yoona: Compared to our early Girls’ Generation days, I’d say our youngest member, Seohyun, has changed the most. She’s definitely grown a lot!
Seohyun: I also think I’ve changed the most. When I first debuted, I was very young. Back then, I was focused on doing my best at what was right in front of me. Since then, I’ve learned to be more open and relaxed, and I think gaining more experience has helped make that possible. With time, I was able to find my true self that I didn’t know I had.
Are there any new groups that you’ve been keeping up with regularly? Or are there any instances where you see someone who is newer to the industry that reminds you of how you were?
Sunny: Whenever I see younger girl groups, I feel very proud of them, yet at the same time I wonder if there’s anything that I can do for them. I don’t want to be too nosy, so I try not to approach them first, but I hope they know that I’m always watching from afar with open arms, so if you ever need something, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Hyoyeon: I got to work with Karina and Winter of Aespa as part of GOT the beat, so I’ve been keeping an eye on them. It’s great to see them promoting overseas as well.
Tiffany: I’ve also been keeping my eye on Aespa! It’s been a joy to watch and learn their productions visually and musically.
Taeyeon: I also really truly do like Aespa. I’m watching their promotions closely. Also, when I see new groups, the freshness they have is so similar to how we were when Girls’ Generation first debuted. The no-makeup looks with the plain hair, it makes me think of Girls’ Generation.
Looking back on the 15 years, what would you want to say to yourself during the “Into The New World” era?
Yoona: If I were to say something to the Yoona of “Into The New World,” I’d like to say, continue enjoying every moment and do your best just like you’ve been doing. Also, make sure to take care of your health!
Taeyeon: I think no matter what I say to myself at that time, I wouldn’t have been able to understand. Everything just came with learning from experience… I guess.. exercise! Take care of your health.