They say fans have started to assess group members on talent rather than physical appearance, which had long been the determining factor of their popularity.
This change has called for a revolution in casting and managing new artists, forcing many would-be singers to undertake tough training courses even if they have passed through selective rounds of auditions.
2NE1, for example, a group of four members named CL, Bom, Dara and Minzy, are widely respected for their singing and dancing abilities, according to executive directors at YG Entertainment. Fans say they are attracted to the group not because of their good looks, but because of their professionalism.
“I like them because they don’t try to just gain boys’ attention,” said Julie Yoon, a high school senior and a fan of 2NE1. “They seem like real experts in their field and I think that is why so many people support them.”
Their popularity is not restricted to just girls.
“[2NE1] are not actually my ideal girl group because, you know, they are not really that girlish but I think they are cool,” said Teddy Kim, who is in his early 20s. “They sing well and I like their hip-hop-based music style,”
While 2NE1 now ranks at the top of Internet music sites such as Melon and Bugs Music and recently won first prize on the show “Music Bank” for their new song, “I Don’t Care,” there are voices saying 2NE1 would not have been so successful if they had debuted a few years ago. In the past, girl groups like Fin.K.L, S.E.S. Wonder Girls and Girls’ Generation made it on looks. The entertainment circle predicted back then that the best way to sell records was to lure men by promoting beauty.
“Traditionally, celebrities were all about beauty, about how they looked. Sometimes that surpassed their ability as singers or actors.” said Lee Bang-won, a lecturer on the history of Korean culture at Ewha Womans University. “But things are now changing for the better. People have realized that expertise in a certain field, in this case singing or acting, is apparently more crucial.”
Yang Hyun-suk, the president of YG Entertainment who recruited 2NE1 members, echoed these thoughts in a recent interview with the local press.
“To me, 2NE1 is the most beautiful group in the world,” he said. “Also, in the future, no matter what kind of song they work on, they will focus on perfection and this will not only be the case of 2NE1 but also many other groups that YG hopes to nurture.”
Since looking pretty might not be enough nowadays to make it in the entertainment world, new girl groups that cannot prove they are talented professionals are bound to attract criticism.
For example, some music fans were not impressed when the new group T-ara made its debut on the talk show “Radio Star” last month.
“I don’t see anything different from thousands of girl groups of the past,” said music fan Kim Hae-mi, 23. “They really are pretty but I doubt whether they have good singing skills since they haven’t even made their debut on stage yet,” she said.
Despite the changing trend, the reality is that judging people by their looks is not going to disappear overnight.
“Although it is now common for women to be rated according to their abilities in the entertainment world, the tendency of rating people by their appearances still prevails in the real world,” said Lee from Ewha Womans University.
“But if this change spreads across the entire society, the number of people who are worrying about their physical aspects is likely to decrease.”