XIII. 2007: Wonder Girls, Wheesung, and the Rise of Modern KPOP
As much as I was completely floored by Big Bang’s breakthrough release “Lies,” they weren’t the only musical acts throwing down in the latter half of 2007. There was an explosion of new artists stepping to the stage, artists like Younha, Supernova (Choshinsung), K. Will, Battle and F.T. Island.
But as well as some breakthroughs that completely caught the world by surprise.
At the time…sad to say, I was too wrapped up in the sound of Big Bang to fully appreciate the significance of the Wonder Girls. With this memoir, I really want to go in chronological order when it comes to how I discovered them and what my impressions were at the time…however, I’d be remised if I didn’t mention the impact of the Wonder Girl’s smash hit, “Tell Me.”
The Wonder Girls released “Tell Me” in September of 2007 and stayed number one on the charts for seven weeks. Almost every time I clicked on a broadcast of a music program, I’d see some Korean celebrity singing or dancing to snippets of that song. Everyone was into it! Even Big Bang when they made appearances on variety programs. If you heard the song, it’d be stuck in your head all day long. There’s no avoiding it. Sorry.
I have nothing against the Wonder Girls…but I just wasn’t a fan of that sound. In upcoming chapters, you’ll see that I’d eventually come to respect their artistry and their story. Because they definitely had some adversity, losing a member, gaining another. Not to mention, they had competition when Girls Generation stepped out onto the scene and it’s not like the Wonder Girls were about to back down.
Nevertheless, in late 2007, the Wonder Girls took the throne when it came to female musical acts. I got into Kpop due to DBSK. But I know a whole generation of ladies who credit the Wonder Girls for bringing them into the fold.
Hailing from the same label as megastar Rain, the Wonder Girls were instrumental in building JYP as one of the top three entertainment agencies, surpassing DSP in my opinion, to put them right up there with SM Entertainment and YG. Without the Wonder Girls, JYP wouldn’t have achieved this feat with Rain alone. And without the Wonder Girls, another up and coming group wouldn’t have stood a chance on the congested battlefield of rising boybands. A group by the name of 2pm, but I’ll save that for later.
The reason why I credit late 2007 as the beginning of modern k-pop as we know it was due to its diversity and a stepping away from the early 2000 sounds reminiscent of Nsync’s “Celebrity” album, the imitations of poppy dance hip hop songs that relied on an overpowering beat like Usher’s “Yeah”.
In late 2007, you saw greater creativity from the artists. It seemed like people were looking for the more toned down, chilled rhythm and beat that still got you up and moving. It was the introduction of electronica. More songs like Ne-Yo’s “Because of You”.
In particular…two musicians struck my fancy, and in so many ways made life more bearable for me. One of those artists is probably the most underrated singer in all of Kpop history. His name is Wheesung, also goes by the name of Real Slow.
Wheesung is one of the most gifted vocalists in all of S. Korea. I’d put him up there, probably even better than DBSK’s Xiah Junsu.
If you know the history of YG, then you know Wheesung. He didn’t exactly debut with YG, but his career took flight with the agency. Often partnered with the likes of labelmates Se7en and 1TYM’s Taebin, Wheesung was more like the Ne-Yo or Ashanti of the agency in that he wrote songs for other artists in addition to his own albums. If you watched Big Bang’s documentary about their trainee days, you’ll also catch him mentoring members like Seungri and Daesung.
Before 2007, I first heard of Wheesung when I started listening to Rain and Se7en in mid-2006 (Chapter VI) Wheesung was another solo artists vying for that top spot and while I thought “Incurable Disease” was good…in honesty, it didn’t exactly compare to the energetic performances of Rain and Se7en.
“Incurable Disease” was the only song I liked from Wheesung’s four albums released under YG from 2002-2005. These albums had that classic R&B sound reminiscent of R.Kelly in the U.S. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds amazing. His vocal ability is undeniable. But if I wanted to hear that sound, I’d just stick with the artists here in the US. Goes without saying, I think black artists have pretty much mastered the genre.
But then…in September of 2007, Wheesung released this gem.
Call me weird. Call me a geek. Call me a wanna-be white boy or whatever…But when I heard that song and saw the music video…I was utterly impressed. I absolutely loved that song. It’s called “Love is Delicious” off of his “Eternal Essence of Music” album. It was one of the few albums I physically bought. It was also one of the few albums that my American friends and family could tolerate listening to even though they don’t know the language.
“Eternal Essence of Music” was a full album of 14 tracks. All of them…ALL OF THEM were golden. And the music wasn’t like Big Bang or the Wonder Girls or Girls Generation. It wasn’t even like Se7en or Rain. It’s entirely Wheesung in a style and genre that I wouldn’t see imitated or surpassed for another couple of years.
And aside from that. It was his first album since leaving YG Entertainment in 2006. As a man who left the nest one month after graduating high school, coming to city where I have no friends of family, I can’t help but respect Wheesung for what he accomplished. And perhaps if he was with YG he would’ve received more recognition for this ground-breaking album. It was nominated for the Best R&B Performance at the 2007 MAMA awards.
One of my favorite songs off the album is this gem featuring Younha where he shows off some surprising rap skills. When I listened to it, I used to imagine performing on stage at some chill urban club, as the audience bobbed their heads, appreciating the passion by which I spit my lyrics. It’s the song below.
This next one features, Verbal Jint where he showcases fluid English and a “burning desire.” It’s the perfect night song. On nights where I’d be sweating, hustling delivering pizzas…this song turned my job into a bearable mission where I felt like I was handling business in my own style and fashion.
He does an awesome English Rendition of Phil Collins’s “Against All Odds.”
And the last one I’ll give you is this laid back relax-and-go song that’s been included on a number of my playlists for vacation, or after some tough ordeal where I’m now in the clear. It’s an uplifting song reminiscent of Bruno Mar’s “The Lazy Song,” but released three years earlier. It’s called “My Way”.