Girls’ Generation reuniting for their 15th anniversary is a triumph for the K-pop icons, while working as the latest entry in a longevity playbook for pop groups worldwide.
Following the girl group’s 2017 album Holiday Night, the eight members set off on paths that typically signal a group’s end. Members Taeyeon, Sunny, Hyoyeon, Yuri, and Yoona decided to stay with the act’s longtime label, SM Entertainment. At the same time, Tiffany Young, Sooyoung, and Seohyun departed to separate new managements, though with the condition that Girls’ Generation would stay together under SM.
More from Billboard
From acting and radio hosting to solo albums and international tours, their eight different paths were sprinkled with reminders to fans that the group was still top of mind: birthdays meetups, occasional group appearances, and frequently mentioning their affection for the group — Tiffany emphasized “Girls’ Generation forever” with Billboard while starting her solo career in 2018.
Successfully recapturing the magic of the early days is something few K-pop acts — really few pop groups in general, regardless of where they are in the world — are able to manage. But Girls’ Generation’s new Forever 1 album feels like a love letter to all things GG. A sonic and conceptual extension of debut single “Into the New World” (a modern-day social justice anthem sung by South Korean protesters fighting for political justice, feminism and reproductive rights), the new title track brings the group’s famous harmonies for an undeniable message of perseverance. It’s a universal single acting as an encouragement anthem, a love song and a promise among and between Girls’ Generation and their fans.
In their initial years together, Girls’ Generation broke barriers in Korean music’s international expansion with an Interscope Records deal, experimenting with English singles, while becoming the first K-pop act to perform on late-night and morning TV spots in the U.S. (The group even recorded a congratulations message to Billboard when the site officially began expanding its K-pop coverage.) While the octet remains a beloved piece of worldwide K-pop history, Forever 1 now marks a new part of history — continuing as a competitive, superb global pop act that’s strong in its creative roots but consists of evolving artists. Even as they push through the pop-world impossible, GG doubles down on open communication, teamwork and individual growth opportunities.
Read on for reflections from all eight members on what the moment means to them, thoughts on past material, advice for acts who also want to spend 15-plus years together, and more.
It’s so great to have Girls’ Generation back! What’s the vibe in the group as you’re recording for the first time since 2017?
SEOHYUN: This is a moment we’ve all been waiting for, so I was really excited and happy. There was this sense of novelty, coming back together after having busy schedules individually. I’m thankful that we’re able to continue on happily for our 15th year together just like we’ve always been saying: “separately and together.” When we’re together, I feel like I’m back in the old days.
TAEYEON: Everyone is very eager and excited for the new comeback and to get together. And I think our love for the fans has increased, and has just gotten so much stronger than before. Despite their difficulty in coordinating the schedules with our personal solo activities and careers, we still worked really hard to get together and prepare for their new album. But even before this, whenever the members have a funny story or an account to share with the group, we always message our group chat and share with the entire team.
We’re always rowdy, fun and bubbly when we’re all together as a group. And in our reality show, Soshi Tamtam, that’s broadcasting at the moment, I believe that a lot of the chemistry within our members gets showcased and expressed well in the series. Maybe through that entertainment show, a lot of fans have found out how close to members are with each other.
YURI: It was great coming together again, and I was really proud and impressed to see how much our members grew individually in their own places throughout the past five years.
HYOYEON: It was great getting to see everyone back together after some time, and I like how loud and chatty we get when we gather!
TIFFANY: There was an electric energy being back in the studio to record a Girls’ Generation album for not only the members, but from management, A&R, engineers, to all the producers involved as well. Having that support created this incredible focus around each session. We are all super excited for the fans to have this album!
“FOREVER 1” feels like a real statement to what Girls’ Generation stands for. We’ve seen you say that “Girls’ Generation is forever” many times. What is the message to you?
YOONA: This album is very special as it’s in celebration of our 15th anniversary. In line with this, it carries a special message of “Girls’ Generation and SONE, our fans, being one.”
YURI: “FOREVER 1” is a powerful track that shouts “We are one!” along with being forever, so there is a part to it that feels like an extension of “Into the New World,” which is our debut track and also the starting foundation of Girls’ Generation.
SEOHYUN: As much as our seventh album celebrates our 15th anniversary, we wanted to deliver a meaningful message. Everyone actively shared their thoughts during meetings when preparing for this album. The title track “FOREVER 1” is a track that producer KENZIE customized for us upon our request. We wanted to work on our 15th anniversary title track with her because she knows us best. It’s a very special track with lyrics that reminds of one’s most beloved, which for us was our members and SONE.
TAEYEON: As the name suggests, the album represents that we are together and that we are one. The lyrics also speak to the people that we love, and it means, “Let’s remain with this eternal love together and stay forever as one.” And it’s a very fitting song for our group, which just has met its 15th anniversary. We also requested producer KENZIE to deliver this kind of message in the album process.
What are some of your favorite b-side tracks on the album beyond the single? Or any fun stories about other songs?
YURI: I like the track “Summer Night” because it’s a mid-tempo track where you can really hear the comforting vocals of the members and our great harmony.
SOOYOUNG: I have a soft spot for “Villain,” which TIFFANY worked on and I also wrote the lyrics for. While working with Tiffany, I was able to see how smart and detailed she is as a producer. She can be a bit strict, but it’s because she has a lot of love for the track and gives her everything. I hope we’ll be able to work more together in the future. While I was writing the lyrics, I also thought a lot about TIFFANY and our members.
TAEYEON: I think a lot of people may assume or try to come up with theories that “You Better Run” has a connection to the “Run Devil Run” song due to the similarity in the lyrics of the song and the title of the music. However, it’s actually [its own separate] song without a special connection. It has a rather unique, dark story and message. And you can see some of Girls’ Generation’s dark images and powerful sounds in this track as well.
I do have a particular track for this LP that I wish would come out as a music video — the track that TIFFANY wrote, called “Villain.” I imagine that it will be such an amazing music video, if the girls were to have their own different roles, as some kind of a powerful woman figure, and we express a dark but powerful story in the video. The lyrics are also very fitting to describe such kind of story.
In terms of creative or artistic feedback or control, it sounds like you have more in what you’re able to share and message. Can you talk about how that worked with this album?
TAEYEON: The members are very active and determined, almost too active and determined in their album process. [Laughs.] They definitely like to express their opinions and thoughts, even during this comeback. TIFFANY and SOOYOUNG actually wrote on their songs [“Seventeen” and “Villain”] as well, and I hope that the fans will really look forward to them, in addition to the other B-side tracks as well.
Many members have contributed to producing and writing of song lyrics [through the years], but unlike other recordings of other tracks, this song that TIFFANY and SOOYOUNG wrote for this album, “Villian” [produced by TIFFANY], felt different as the members were recording it together — because it was one of our true original songs.
I’ve always felt strong harmonies and melodies was one of Girls’ Generation’s most distinguishable musical points. In your opinion, what are Girls’ Generation’s most remarkable aspects as artists?
SOOYOUNG: What sets us apart from others is our ability to connect all aspects together from the harmony and melody of a track to the fashion and choreography so as to create a performance that’s one cohesive story. That’s what we’re best at and most confident in, and I also believe the reason why we have such strong synergy when we’re together is because each individual member has such great capacity and skill.
SUNNY: I think our charm factor is being a group of members that each have their own distinct charm that still goes well together. When we were preparing for this album, I remember we asked each other, “How did they end up bringing us together?” We’re all different, yet very similar, and I think it’s a great group combination because we complement each other to maximize our strengths.
TIFFANY: “Strong harmonies and melodies” is the most distinguishable musical point that sets us apart, and it’s something we all agreed on during this recording process. While directing “Villain,” it was amazing to hear each vocal cut be strong as a solo take, but still have a beautiful balance in between each member’s vocals. It’s so powerful when it comes together as an anthemic performance. The group vocals in “Lucky Like That” and “Paper Plane” gives this magical feeling that I can’t explain in words.
TAEYEON: When people think of Girls’ Generation, a lot of people don’t narrow it down to a single genre or sound, but rather the group, even in our LPs and EPs, consisting of tracks with various genres and sounds as well. We’ve given off very different concepts, sounds and looks so I believe that versatility, and our ability to adapt and pull off various concepts and images, would be our strength. And even without being restricted to a certain sound or genre, our strength also consists of being experimental and challenging ourselves with new concepts and genres.
TAEYEON, as the leader of Girls’ Generation, how has your role evolved through the years?
TAEYEON: To be honest, I have never really felt like someone who had to lead the group or push us into a certain direction, I instead thought that the members were just friends around my age range; just a bunch of girls and friends going together and heading towards the same direction. And even for this comeback, I felt like the members’ competence and skills have remained strong. Even as we were recording for the tracks, I was impressed, surprised and really proud of the girls of how far they’ve come in terms of their vocals, performances and their dancing skills. So I just don’t really feel like a leader that has control of the group, but rather just one of the members who is just happy to be by their side and be supportive of the group.
After reuniting, who have you noted as grown the most?
TAEYEON: TIFFANY and SOOYOUNG have been actively involved and participated in the album-making process. It was the first time TIFFANY had directed and produced one of the tracks, so it was really amazing to see her doing the delivery of the rules and the messaging. Her leadership skills are very, very professional. I noticed SOOYOUNG’s vocals, especially for this comeback, have been very impressive, and I’m very pleased with how much she’s improved and how much stronger she has gotten over the years.
YOONA: Everyone’s grown a lot, but I’d have to say especially TIFFANY has grown the most, because this album includes a track that she composed. This is actually the first time our album included a track by one of our members, so I’m very proud!
YURI: TIFFANY is the first amongst our members to debut as a composer in our album! She made a great track called “Villain” and I was moved when our members sang the song. As for myself personally, I was surprised over how much additional vocal color I’ve gained compared to before. It was great being able to explore that and sing more freely.
While it’s 15 years since you first debuted, it’s also 10 years since Girls’ Generation was the first K-pop act to perform on major late-night and morning TV shows in 2012. Do you see that as a barrier-breaking moment?
YOONA: I remember it quite vividly, because it was a very exciting and meaningful moment. I can’t believe that was already 10 years ago, and I’m very proud of all the amazing groups that have come after who increased the global presence of K-pop. It’s a moment of gratitude seeing so many more people around the world love K-pop.
TAEYEON: When I look back, I remember the unfamiliarity and the nerves from taking part and being the first group to perform and do their promotions abroad outside of Korea. But I think if I were to go back now, and if I have those opportunities again, I’m confident that I can do a better job than before. And also just feel more excitement from the process.
TIFFANY: We all felt that it was a special moment personally and professionally. I’m honored to be the first and proud to be amongst so many great artists that came after. I hope that all of these moments are starting conversations, creating more opportunities, and opening doors for future K-pop talent.
What are your personal feelings on how far K-pop has come since your 2007 debut?
TAEYEON: Many other past groups debuted before Girls’ Generation that had started as pioneers and made [inroads], so Girls’ Generation followed the footsteps of those senior artists; I’m grateful for them. And I’m really excited and happy to see a lot of younger groups coming out now following our footsteps as well and continuing to develop and expand the influence of K-pop and the global community.
YOONA: There’s been a lot of growth in the different genres of music, styles, and dances of K-pop, eventually leading to greater diversity in the teams and music that’s released as well. I believe K-pop was able to grow because of the continuous love and interest from global K-pop fans so I’d like to say thank you to all the K-pop fans out there!
SUNNY: K-pop has always been developing, and I believe we’ve also received from and played a positive part in that growth. I will continue to study and work hard to show a better version of myself.
Looking back on your wide discography, are there any songs that you wish they were title tracks or had gotten music videos?
TIFFANY: Absolutely! “Girls Are Back” from the sixth album Holiday Night. “Trick,” “Oscar,” “Top Secret” from the 3rd album The Boys, and “Villain” from this album! There were definitely conversations in putting this into a video or performance together.
SOOYOUNG: The track “Villain” started off from the movie Cruella, and one of the ideas TIFFANY had was to create a music video with a Sin City–like concept. It was exciting to think of Girls’ Generation driving around like Cruella in a black-and-white film.
TAEYEON: I actually don’t have any of the songs that I didn’t like, I mean, at the time, I did have mixed feelings, but looking back now, I think that they were all amazing tracks and a great part of Girls’ Generation’s discography. Even “Gee,” I believe it was the track the group needed at the time, and the group has definitely seen much success, love and support from that track. But I do remember at that time back in the day when they were doing “Gee,” that I personally wanted to do a more flashy, powerful, energetic performance and track. The girls were just so full of energy and passion back then.
It’s amazing that you’ve been able to put out new music. What is the factor that keeps Girls’ Generation together? What would be your advice for maybe groups who do go separate management routes, but want to stay together as groups?
TAEYEON: With the younger artists who wish to stay together as a group for a long time but also be successful in their careers, it’s really important for the group to have consistent communication and discussions about their direction, and their goals and purpose. That kind of cooperation and discussion amongst a group is very important in members staying strong together on and off stage, and in other future various comebacks and promotions. I think teamwork is the most important thing in terms of the strength of the group.
But as for Girls’ Generation’s longevity, and our group and solo careers, I believe that our heart is always in the same place. Even if we’re making solo music or pursuing our careers as actresses, we always miss each other, and we always think of each other. Also, because the fans are always waiting for the group to come back together, we constantly and consistently make various efforts to succeed [in making comebacks]. We always make an effort to make time and coordinate our schedules to spend time together as a group. And I always think it was possible for Girls’ Generation to be here at the moment because we prioritize coming together as a group, and because that’s significant and important for all of us.
What do you think the 20th anniversary of Girls’ Generation will look like?
SUNNY: It’s a bit difficult to imagine exactly what Girls’ Generation’s 20th anniversary would look like, but since all our members are active in various fields, I believe we’ll be spending it with fans in various different ways. If there’s something that I hope for, it’d be to meet our fans from all over the world on stage during our 20th anniversary.
HYOYEON: Even when we reach our 20th anniversary, I feel our members will still remain the same. We’ll all be doing well in our own fields, and when we come together then as well, we’ll still be just as loud!
Do you have additional messages you’d like to share with your international fans?
SUNNY: Just like our fans, we have the same heart and have been waiting for the day we’ll be able to meet. I hope that time will come soon so we can see each other and make new memories. Until then, stay strong and please wait for us!
YOONA: I’d like to be able to meet our fans and say hi to them in person. I’m very thankful for all those who have been waiting for us, and I hope we’ll be able to meet soon. We are “FOREVER 1!”