We all know Psy. You’ve probably heard G-Dragon and CL before—on a Diplo or Skrillex beat at the least—and some hundred thousand Lady GaGa fans are about to meet Crayon Pop in stadiums across Middle America and Canada this summer. But there’s no K-pop phenomenon bigger than Girls’ Generation. They remain Korea’s all-time best-selling girl group, their YouTube prowess has trouncedthat of even some of the brightest Western stars, and their tour attendance is astounding. If Korean music is something that’s been brought to your attention sometime in the past half decade, there’s a good chance that had something to do with “Gee,” the undisputed classic of K-pop (watch it above).
After an uncharacteristically long break since their last release—all of two months—and almost a straight year of Japanese records and tours, Girls’ Generation returned late last month with the Mr.Mr. mini-album. We broke bread with all nine (very polite) girls to talk new music, bolstering the flagging confidence of insecure boys, and Korea’s super intense trainee pop regime. Apparently of the 10,000 K-Pop wannabes, only one becomes a star. Steep odds for sure.
Noisey: Mr.Mr. is your eleventh major release since Girls’ Generation debuted in 2007. What do you think sets this one apart from the rest?
Seohyun:Every time we release a new title, we try doing something different, something more challenging and fun. Mr.Mr. has exciting R&B sounds with cool, simple melodies that people can easily remember, dance, and sing along to. We tried to send a supportive message to all the misters out there!
Describe your new concept for the “Mr.Mr.” video, and what it was like to perform and film?
Sunny: Our new music video is about reviving the confidence of men that have lost courage and encouraging them to let go of their apprehensions. One interesting experience is that while filming our dance choreography, one of the lighting adapters overheated and burned. There was fire crackling and smoke coming out of it! It could’ve turned into a dangerous situation, but it actually created a cool campfire-like atmosphere.
Being “the Nation’s Girl Group” in Korea, do you feel a constant pressure to set and break records? Or do you feel like you’ve accomplished enough not to have to worry about that anymore?
Sunny: We don’t always work to set or break records, but we also cannot stay comfortable and satisfied where we are right now. We want to work hard and bring something new and better with each release.
The intensive “trainee” system used in Korea to refine talent and form pop groups is virtually unique. Tell me a bit about what it was like to come up through such a demanding regimen.
Hyoyeon: I remember how we had to stay up the whole night together rehearsing over and over before our debut [with] “Into the New World.” We even had to practice each other’s step distance to create the perfect choreography.
In 2009, you helped start what many people consider the golden age of K-pop with “Gee.” How do you feel about Korean music today? How has the industry and music changed?
Sooyoung: Thank you for the compliment! K-Pop is definitely the mainstream music in Korea. We’re excited to see the level of interest in K-Pop spreading all over the world. And as K-Pop is growing, we are starting to see a growth in sub-genres as well. So we hope that K-Pop fans will support not only mainstream K-Pop groups, but indie bands, R&B, and other genres coming out of Korea.
Being a star anywhere is hard work, but Korean promotional schedules are famously demanding. How do you keep from getting exhausted or overwhelmed?
Yuri: There aren’t any special ways, and it varies from member to member and the situation too. Sometimes we listen to R&B or ballads and read books to relax. I also like to exercise and watch movies.
K-Pop has had a big interest in the American market for years now. You did a media tour here in early 2012 yourselves, including a performance on Letterman. Looking back, how do you feel about that time promoting in America?
Tiffany: I was extremely excited since I grew up in the States and knew how popular the Letterman Show is. We thought this was a really good opportunity and felt honored to be able to perform on such a respected show. We were really excited and overwhelmed at the same time. Looking back, there were so many grateful moments and fun memories.
Nine members still seems pretty big for a girl group. What’s that like?
Taeyeon: We definitely feel more assured and confident when we are performing together. All the girls are cheerful and outgoing, so there’s never a dull moment!
K-Pop or not, what are some things you personally enjoy listening to these days?
Taeyeon: We enjoy all different types of music!
Sunny: I’ve been listening to Lorde—particularly “Royals” and “The Love Club.”
Where do you imagine each of you would be if Girls’ Generation had never happened?
Yoona: Even if we were not members of Girls’ Generation, we would probably be using our talents and be in the entertainment industry. But since we are all about students’ age, we could be studying and living ordinary lives too.
What are your plans for the rest of 2014 so far? Anything you're looking forward to?
Seohyun: After quite a long hiatus, we’re back with Mr.Mr. and we are definitely having a lot of fun. As of now, we are planning to do a concert tour in Japan from April till June. Till the end of this year, we are planning to perform as a group, as well as show our individual talents in various fields of entertainment. We are always thinking of how to delight our fans. Please continue to show your love and support!
Jakob Dorof knows a shit-ton about K-Pop and he’s on Twitter — @soyrev.