SES on TV! It was an old episode from years back, with all three of them – Shoo, Eugene, Bada (Sea). There were the usual conversations about the hottest girl band of the late 90’s and some video clips of their old performances, but what caught my eye was the friendship they have kept on going.
Although I knew SES, I knew little about each individual. I somehow assumed that when teen pop groups disbanded, each went his/her own way and kind of lost connection all together. SES did part but the three still seemed to be well invested in each other’s life. It could have been a deliberate move to edit out the nasty, bitter details, but nevertheless, it was nice to hear them recount the good times when there seems to be mountains of unfortunate ex-idols. From what I saw, they were girls who could talk about their heyday with cool and affection. They weren’t locked into the glory of the past but were working hard in their new domain and continuing the friendship.
In 1997 they debuted with “I’m Your Girl” under SM, an entertainment industry giant in South Korea that had also produced H.O.T. The guy who named these teenage sensations must’ve been crazy about acronyms. The song was a huge success and established the group as the next pop star. “Oh My Love,” also from their debut album solidified their position even more. (The song interestingly is a remake of Lee Jang-woo’s (이장우) “Since I’ve Met You (널 만난 이후).”
These pretty tunes coupled with their innocent, cute, mystical yet approachable character were enough to melt us. One of the three’s got to match your ideal girlfriend. “I Love You (너를 사랑해)” followed by “Dreams Come True” on their second album was another hit, with SES now setting trends in fashion, making more appearances in all kinds of media. They drove enough guys crazy. I don’t think they were offensive to parent/older generations either, even though some moms might have been bothered by their offspring’s enthusiasm that allegedly prevented them from focusing on real, pertinent matters.
SES was also popular among girls who would dress like them, imitate their hair styles, and learn their dance moves. The pastel colored leg-warmers they wore became popular. A friend of mine, a fan of Shoo and DIY, had whipped out a pencil pouch using a magazine spread of Shoo. It was sometime before or during their third album that I moved that I didn’t get to witness their subsequent successes or the break up, but the occasional letters from friends and the colorful newspapers from Korean grocery stores informed that SES continued to maintain their popularity as they experimented with various genres and released albums in Japan.
(This is going to sound sappy.) I grew up listening to the K-pop of SES and other girl/boy bands, and it is comforting to know that the stars whose songs I used to sing along have grown up to cherish their youth together and remain friends whose purpose of retaining that relationship isn’t monetary. I lament that I’d been deprived of access to a wider range of music as a kid, but to say that the songs to which I had access didn’t mean much would not be just, how profit-driven and disposable they might have been. SES is one of those names that evokes the post-hagwon evenings spent in front of my great grandmother’s TV or next to the radio, and the mindless, endless conversations about who was greater: SES or Finkl. SES, a significant name for some, is now often dubbed as national goddesses/genies (국민요정), and their songs and performances are steadily re-lived by younger people on various occasions.