XXII. August of 2008: Big Bang & the Wonder Girls
Here, we reminisce about the time when Big Bang and the Wonder Girls teamed up to dominate the kpop scene. It was during the promotions of “Haru Haru” and “So Hot.” Back in August of 2008.
2008 was by far the best year for music when I was in college. I’m not just talking about when it comes to the foreign music I was listening to. But also, here in the states. As you’ll recall, the tastes had taken a turn from the krumping sounds of the early 2000s where we had the sounds of Lil Jon, Nelly, and Outkast. By 2007-2008, Timbaland, Ne-Yo, and the Black Eye Peas had taken the reigns with their electronica-driven brand of hip hop. Back when Step-Up 2 was all the craze and we saw the cast compete against Miley Cyrus’s dance crew in some of the best dance videos ever.
To be honest…aside from the nostalgia of the 1990s, 2008 was perhaps the only year that I could tip my hat off to American music. It was the only year where I didn’t mind going to the gym and listening to the mainstream music that blasted over the speakers.
But when I did put on my headphones…in August of 2008, the music coming out of Korea took me far, far away. I weighed 340lbs at the time. But I had hope. I had a dream that one day I could look in the mirror and not see a disgusting behemoth that no one would ever want to be close to. When you’re in the progress of making that happen, it can be a bit depressing because such change doesn’t happen overnight.
It took 4 years to get down to 220lbs. But it was the music of S. Korea…it was the beauty of women that kept the hope alive, that motivated me to keep going despite the lack of discernable change. I believed in myself. Not sure I could have done it without the type of music Korea was producing at the time. Allow me to explain…
In the summer of 2008, while I was dining on Maximum the Hormone and Novasonic to get me through my film school projects, in Korea…the Wonder Girls slayed the scene, staying at number one with their hit track, “So Hot.”
Now, I’ve mentioned the Wonder Girls earlier in my memoirs. I believe it was in Chapter 13, where I discussed how they exploded as a phenomenon with their breakout hit, “Tell Me.” Back in 2007 when that song came out, the Wonder Girls were all the rage. Everyone was doing their dance. Even with the emergence of competition coming from SM Entertainment’s group, Girl’s Generation, the Wonder Girls definitely claimed the throne as the top girl group of S. Korea.
But honestly, I wasn’t feelin’ them. “Tell Me,” had a retro sound that I wasn’t down with. Even, their number one hit “So Hot” wasn’t a track that got me hooked… not while I was jamming out and utterly impressed with Taeyang’s first mini-album.
But something happened that got me intrigued with the Wonder Girls. It was in the summer of 2008 that I started seeing fan-made clips, like the one seen above, a tribute video of the member So Hee. I definitely had a crush on her for a brief point in time. While I was looking into clips like that, I came across this one. It’s a choreography video of the Wonder Girls performing “Irony” for a video game.
In the above video, you’ll see the original line-up of the Wonder Girls when they first debuted in February of 2007. When I saw that video…it’s strange, but that had a greater appeal to me than the “Tell Me” music video that had everyone else fawning over them. I did some more digging and found this track:
“This Fool” by the Wonder Girls would be, by far, my favorite song from a female group in years. I loved everything about the song. The sound, the tone, the feeling it conveyed. I wrote to this song, worked out to this song, and finished closing shifts at my job to this song. It was perfect. I’m glad I discovered it in 2008 rather than when it came out in 2007, because it goes perfectly with the fire Big Bang was about to release. But before I get to that…let me tell you more about the Wonder Girls.
In the above picture, the second to the right in the bob-cut and white blouse is a rapper named Hyuna. I heard that she left the group due to health concerns, and was replaced by a beauty named Yubin.
Yubin got a lot of attention because she was indeed beautiful. It was the first time I heard the term “honey thighs” to refer to a sexy woman with a good pair of legs. However, with Hyuna…if you think that’s the last you’ll see of her, you’re sadly mistaken. Hyuna will eventually join an up-and-coming entertainment company called Cube Entertainment. And in 2009, they’ll definitely make their presence known. Also, spoiler alert. If you know about Psy’s “Gangnam Style…” Hyuna is that sexy lady Psy’s trying to woo.
And since we’re on a chapter focusing on Big Bang and Wonder Girls, I thought I’d mention another remarkable coincidence. Hyuna was an original member of Wonder Girls who had to leave…and with Big Bang, a guy named Hyunseung was one of the original six members who auditioned for the group and trained with all five members.
Hyunseung didn’t make the cut, but he’d eventually debut in 2009 and would go on to work with Hyuna in a number of collaborations. Like this racy number they’d perform in 2013:
Nevertheless, Wonder Girls definitely burned up the charts in South Korea from June to July. But like I said, I wasn’t really feeling that “So Hot” track. Thankfully, Japan kept me pre-occupied with bands like Back-On and Maximum the Hormone. As well as some comebacks from Japanese groups like KAT-TUN and Uverworld.
On June 4th 2008, KAT-TUN released their “Queen of Pirates” album. But I didn’t start listening to this album until August. Uverworld released their album “Proglution” on January 16th 2008, but I didn’t start listening to this album until August. You have to remember, this was back in 2008, back before I had even heard of websites like Allkpop that provided the latest news and album releases on your favorite groups. Back then, for someone here in the states, I had to rely on the Youtube users to see what was new.
If you’ve read my chapter about KAT-TUN, you’ll know that I’m not exactly the biggest fan of this group. I think they’re horrible performers with the cringiest choreography you’ve ever seen. I credit their popularity to their looks, which I don’t respect at all. However, that “Queen of Pirates” album…it was something special alright. I was already into their predecessor Arashi for their vocal ability. But when KAT-TUN dropped “Queen of Pirates” I heard tracks that blew me away. Why? Because they didn’t shy away from the guitar. I fuckin’ love pop songs with a rock vibe. Queen of Pirates had some rockin’ tracks that were borderline metal in their bass-heavy sound.
Then Uverworld came through with their “Proglution” album. Proglution, in particular their title track “Roots,” honestly it’s like it coincided with my triumphant spirit at the time. In college, I was entering my final stretch. Just nine more months before I was set to graduate with my Bachelors with all the hardest courses over and done with.
I won’t go so far as to say I was coasting from here on out, but it was more like, by August of 2008, I was very confident and secure in who I was as an individual and what I wanted to do. The years of angst and hatred towards others was over because I had finally learned to love and accept myself. And by accepting myself, I’m not talking about sitting back and thinking to myself, “Whelp, this is the way I am.” Instead, the thing I love the most about myself was/is my ability to improve. There’s no such thing as perfection and I love that. It’s like…life is like a video game in which you’re a character that’s always leveling up and there’s no end to the game except by death.
As much as I hated being so fat, ugly, and overweight. I knew. I had faith that I’d get better as long as I don’t stop. That alone was enough to make me smile in triumph even though I had years to go before I reach my peak. And if you listen to Uverworld’s “Roots” from start to finish…it really is an inspirational song that leaves you with the feeling that you’ve just completed a journey and crossed the finish line. There’s no other way to explain it.
And then…just as I was feeling on cloud nine, listening to the uplifting sounds of “Roots,” the exhilarating songs from KAT-TUN, while receiving inspiration in the beauty of the Wonder Girls…Big Bang returned to the scene and dude…It’s like their transformation was complete. Allow me to explain.
In August of 2007, Big Bang hit mainstream success with their breakout hit, “Lies.” They followed it up with wildly popular dance tracks like “Last Farewell,” however, DBSK was still the undisputed kings of Kpop at the time. Not to mention, DBSK had labelmates like Super Junior and Girls Generation backing their play.
While “Lies” was amazing and earned Big Bang a number of awards…there was still a lingering feeling of whether or not this was a fluke. How long could they sustain their popularity? DBSK had debuted in 2004 and has been going strong ever since. Not only that, DBSK was just now beginning to gain a foothold in Japan. And this was important for a number of reasons. Japan has a better economy. They have more money to pour on album sales and greater venues for sold-out stadium performances.
Big Bang released their first Japanese album “For the World” in January of 2008, but it barely made a splash. Not to mention the songs were mostly in English. The title track was “How Gee,” which was good…but not great. The main verses were rapped by G-Dragon and TOP…in English. I don’t think Japan’s audience was receptive to that, not while they could listen to any other American rapper spitting better English verses.
When Taeyang released his first solo mini-album “Hot” in May of 2008, I saw a glimpse of greatness. As I mentioned in that chapter, Taeyang exploded onto the scene and showed the world that he was far from the corn-roll wearing youth of his debut. Now, he was a 20-year-old grown ass man ready to throw down with whoever wants it. He could dance better and more importantly, to say that his vocals had improved was an enormous understatement. It was as if, since the beginning, Taeyang had a number of sounds his voice could produce, and he finally discovered the best one. (thank God).
On August 8th, 2008, Big Bang released their mini-album, “Stand Up.” It was like all five infinity stones assembled on the closed gauntlet, unleashing their full potential at last.
“Haru Haru” (Day by Day) by Big Bang is one of the most memorable songs I’ve ever heard. It’s everything I love about kpop. The musical composition. The emotions conveyed in the vocals. Everything just worked. Looking back, it almost makes me sad. How far K-pop has gone from producing music like this.
There was so much inspiration in these sounds. While G-Dragon was credited with writing the lyrics, the beautiful orchestral sound of “Haru Haru” and “Heaven” comes from a Japanese composer named Daishi Dance. And it was a classic YG move. In typical hater fashion, anti-fans started accusing Big Bang of plagiarism in 2007, claiming that G-Dragon’s hit song, “Lies” was sampled from a song already produced by Daishi Dance. YG denied those accusations and went a step further by enlisting Daishi Dance to compose Big Bang’s next hits. It was a slap in the face to their haters. Because what were they going to say after this? If they were right and YG did in fact plagiarized, why would Daishi Dance agree to produce their next tracks?
This move to discredit the artists…it’ll rear its ugly head again. It was mainly by DBSK’s fan group, Casseiopeia, and it gave me another reason to resent them. Thus, you’ll understand the satisfaction I get in coming chapters when DBSK releases “Mirotic.”
But until then…Big Bang as per usual, took over the month of August with their amazing songs and performances. “Haru Haru” is one of their bestselling and award-winning hits and it would go on to be credited as one of Korea’s most influential songs of all time, inspiring the next generation of kpop groups.
Thus…it was only natural that Big Bang and the Wonder Girls would team up for some of the most dazzling collaborations anyone’s ever seen. It makes sense in so many ways. Big Bang and the Wonder Girls might be representing two different genders, from two different labels, but they debuted around the same time and came up almost the same way.
They didn’t hit mainstream success with their debut songs, but exploded around the same time with their follow up tracks, “Lies” (released August 16th 2007) and the Wonder Girls’s “Tell Me” (released September 13 2007).
They were always competing, but it was a friendly competition in which I think they each had their own separate rivals to contend with. Big Bang vs DBSK. Wonder Girls vs Girls Generation. Thus, when Big Bang and the Wonder Girls joined forces, the fans went crazy.
Fans coined the term, “Wonder Bang” when Big Bang and the Wonder Girls took the stage. Their chemistry and charisma was adorable. There were rumors of G-Dragon going out with So Hee, but I think those were just rumors designed to create strife. And thankfully, fans of Wonder Girls and Big Bang didn’t take it to heart. They just simply sat back and enjoyed the show. As did I.
Also have to give a notable mention to the group Smash. I downloaded their first mini-album on my 22nd birthday, August 18th, 2008. This was Tony An’s project group. Tony, as you’ll recall, hailed from the legendary k-pop group, H.O.T. And even when he went solo, he proved his skill as a producer, writing and composing his own tracks that took the music industry by surprise. So when he debuted Smash, I definitely had high hopes.
Sadly, they never really acquired mainstream success. The title track they went with didn’t sound anything special and I was quite disappointed. It was one of those situations where I feel, if that had chosen the right song, they might have made a better impact. Because on their first single release that had three tracks, it was this one that I’d put up there in my top five Korean songs of all time.