What’s better than one K-pop icon?
According to SM Entertainment Group, the hallyu giant responsible for some of the biggest musical acts in the last few decades, the answer is seven K-pop icons.
Their newest group, called GOT (short for “Girls on Top”) features a rotating cast of the top female artists from among the company’s star-studded ranks. Announced in last month’s annual SMTOWN LIVE event, the first unit is called GOT the Beat, and features BoA, Seulgi and Wendy from Red Velvet, Taeyeon and Hyoyeon from Girl’s Generation, and Karina and Winter from æspa.
The move comes a couple of years after the company announced a similar concept for a boy band made of members from established K-pop acts. Debuting in 2019, SuperM is composed of Taemin from SHINee, Baekhyun and Kai from EXO, and Taeyong, Ten, Mark, and Lucas from NCT.
Fondly referred to as “the Avengers of K-pop,” SuperM broke into the scene with built-in fan bases across these different groups. And though SM Entertainment is no stranger to collaborations — its digital project, SM Station, is all about showcasing their artists recording with each other and artists outside of the label — SuperM represented a big step in a new direction.
But if girl groups are a bit more of your thing, then GOT the Beat is definitely for you.
Who’s in the Group?
The seven performers that make up GOT the Beat are a bit more than just K-pop stars — they’re icons in their own right. Having been at the forefront of K-pop’s rise across the globe at different points in time, the group has a combined experience of some four decades among them, anchored on BoA’s impressive 21 years in the industry.
BoA, or Kwon Bo-ah, is one of the biggest and most accomplished singer-songwriters in Asia — earning her the well-deserved title of “Queen of K-pop.” After debuting in 2000 at the age of 13, BoA has steadily built her success in Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, the US, and of course, South Korea.
Her fluency in Korean, Japanese, and English has helped her break some long-standing cultural barriers in the region, opening the door for succeeding K-pop acts trying to expand outside of Korea. She even serves as a creative director at SM Entertainment.
At 35 years old, she is the oldest member of GOT, which is named after her 2005 single and album.
For many fans, Girls on Top was one of the first K-pop songs they ever heard. It’s also served as an inspiration for a whole generation of K-pop artists, including Red Velvet’s Irene and now-bandmate Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon.
A decade and a half after the song’s release (and 21 years since she broke into the scene as a solo act), BoA’s new girl group is something of a wish come true. In a 2018 interview, she had talked about how being a solo artist in an entertainment landscape dominated by group acts can be a little lonely. “When we do SMTOWN concerts, the others are all having fun together in the waiting rooms while I’m alone, or just with the staff,” she said.
When asked which artists she’d love to be in a group with, she picked out TVXQ’s Yunho, SHINee’s Taemin, and now-bandmate Red Velvet’s Seulgi.
Girls’ Generation: Taeyeon and Hyoyeon
After the rise of BoA, SM Entertainment then gifted the world with its first girl group in Girls’ Generation, also known as So-nyuh Shi-dae or SNSD, in 2007. Originally a nine-woman act, the group’s eight current members are Taeyeon, Hyoyeon, Sunny, Tiffany, Yuri, Sooyoung, Yoona, and Seohyun. Their debut song, 2007’s Into the New World, has had a lasting impact as a protest anthem, sung in rallies for democracy and LGBT rights.
With viral hits like 2009’s Genie and 2010’s Run Devil Run, they were quick to follow BoA’s footsteps — achieving success both in South Korea and Japan.
Their electro pop sound often incorporates hip hop, R&B, and EDM, and has won them over a hundred accolades over the years from the likes of the Seoul Music Awards and the Golden Disc Awards. Their 2009 breakout hit Gee went on to become Melon’s Song of the Decade, and the infectious bubblegum pop track is credited to have shaped K-pop.
Dubbed “The Nation’s Girl Group,” Girls’ Generation went on to be hailed by Billboard as the Top K-pop Girl Group of the Past Decade in 2017. Fifteen years since their debut, two of their members are now part of GOT the Beat: Taeyeon and Hyoyeon.
Known for her uniquely soulful vocals, Taeyeon or Kim Tae-yeon began her solo career in 2014 with her debut EP I, and went on to be one of Korea’s best-selling artists. Her voice has been described as resembling “a woman who has been divorced seven times.” The 32-year-old is also a key inspiration for BTS and their 2014 single Boy In Luv, as well as Mamamoo’s Moonbyul and Cosmic Girls’ Luda.
Meanwhile, Kim Hyo-yeon, known as Hyoyeon or DJ Hyo, began her entertainment career as a dancer, training in jazz, ballet, hip hop, and even belly dancing. Like Taeyeon, she pursued a solo career in 2016 with a single called Mystery. From then on, the 32-year-old began to focus on a career as a DJ in clubs and EDM festivals, and as a guest in TV shows.
Red Velvet: Seulgi and Wendy
Seven years after the debut of Girls’ Generation, the K-pop girl group Red Velvet, which was composed of Irene, Seulgi, Wendy, and Joy, debuted with the 2014 single Happiness. They were later joined by Yeri in March 2015.
Musically and visually, the group’s concept employs a certain duality that the K-pop world hadn’t seen before, and it’s something embedded in their name. Their “red” side is predominantly pop but also borrows from electronic, funk, and hip hop genres, and involves fashion one would usually associate with Korea’s girl groups — colorful, traditionally girly clothing like SNSD’s. The “velvet” side, on the other hand, plays more with ‘90s R&B and jazz, and sees the girls in suits and less traditional outfits.
More recent releases, like 2019’s Psycho, have become more of a blend between the “red” and “velvet” sides. The release of the groovy R&B track Psycho led them to be the only girl group to top the US iTunes chart three times in one year (beating out Destiny’s Child and The Pussycat Dolls), and is a great follow-up to 2018’s Bad Boy. Both, I think, should be required listening — and not only because I’m biased!
Lauded for combining sweet and sexy in a media culture that tends to categorize women and women-led groups as one or the other, Red Velvet is one of the standout K-pop groups today, and is particularly popular among queer women. Two of their members, best friends Seulgi and Wendy, are now part of GOT the Beat.
Kang Seul-gi, more commonly known as Seulgi, is something of an all-rounder: She sings and dances exceptionally well, and is recognized for her fashion and art. In 2018, the 27-year-old also shared that she’s the first SM Entertainment female artist to not have a monolid. (In Korea and many parts of Asia, double eyelid surgery is a common practice.)
Meanwhile, Shon Seung-wan, known as Wendy, knew she wanted to be a singer very early on. Raised by a family of music lovers, the 27-year-old also knows how to play the piano, guitar, saxophone, and flute.
Her vocal chops have led many to liken her to Taeyeon over the years, and so it’s pretty cool that they’re both now in the same group. Taeyeon is also known to be protective of the younger Red Velvet singers.
æspa: Karina and Winter
Last but not least on the roster are æspa singers Winter and Karina. The youngest of them all, their girl group æspa debuted with four members — the aforementioned Winter and Karina alongside Giselle and Ningning — just last 2020 with the single Black Mamba. They’re the first all-woman musical act from SM Entertainment since Red Velvet.
The group’s music is a bit more on the experimental side compared to the others mentioned here, and represents SM’s effort to reinvent K-pop girl groups. Futuristic and on a level of their own, æspa is based on an “avatar x experience” concept.
There’s also a bit more to their lore than your usual K-pop group in terms of world-building (they’ve built a multiverse). But if you’re here purely for the music, then it’s worth noting that SM’s newest girl group recently achieved something of a grand slam for rookie groups at the 2022 Golden Disc Awards: They won Rookie of the Year, Artist of the Year, Cosmopolitan Artist Award, and Digital Song Bonsang for Next Level.
For Winter and Karina, two æspa members who are part of the GOT the Beat lineup, the past couple of years have been a dream come true.
Yu Ji Min, known professionally as Karina, has been a fan of K-pop acts for a long time. The 21-year-old is a dedicated BoA fan, having written down “performing on the same stage of BoA” as a dream of hers over a decade ago. She had also said in several interviews that she became a singer because of Girls’ Generation.
Winter, born Kim Min Jeong, turned heads because of her resemblance to Taeyeon and K-drama actresses, but it’s safe to say that she’s come into her own in the few months since her group’s debut. The youngest among GOT the Beat members, Winter sings and dances with a confidence and charisma that’s won her plenty of fans in the short time she’s been in the public eye.
Together, these seven K-pop idols opened the year by debuting as hallyu’s latest supergroup, GOT the Beat, with their song Step Back.
With the level of talent on the table, it’s no surprise that everything about the performance is technical perfection. The singing is immaculate, the dancing is precise, and the energy is unmatched. Plus, it’s nice to see BoA take to group performing so gracefully.
The one critique that it’s gotten from the community is on the song’s lyrics. It’s hard to tell for those of us who don’t know Korean, but the person the song is ordering to “step back” is apparently a “silly girl.” The narrative? A woman is telling another woman to stay away from a man she likes. Yikes.
Described as “a literal step back,” the lyrics are particularly disappointing given the BoA anthem the group is named after. In 2005, BoA was singing about women’s empowerment and breaking away from stereotypes. In 2022, GOT the Beat is singing, “Don’t delude yourself,” “there’s a lot more girls like you than you think,” and “this isn’t the place for you.” What a shame.
I don’t mean to say that they should only be singing about women’s empowerment. They can sing about whatever they want. But if they’re going to be releasing another track any time soon, I do hope it’s not about insulting a woman over some dude.
Until then, I will still be blasting Bad Boy.