How do you feel when your favorite boy band or girl group adds a new member? The answer is not always straightforward. Sometimes new additions are an instant hit, and sometimes they can leave you wishing the group’s agency had never tinkered with a lineup that you thought was just right. But there have been some great new additions to some of K-pop’s best acts over the years. Join us as we look back at ten of the best so far.
Red Velvet – Yeri, 2015
Last year was not a great one for SM Entertainment acts. But for many fans, there was a silver lining in the form of its debuting girl group, Red Velvet. Conspiracy theorists will speculate that Red Velvet’s prolific output thus far is a smokescreen thrown up to hide troubles at the agency’s flagship groups. But for Red Velvet fans, the relative lack of activity from other groups has allowed this new group plenty of time in the limelight. After a decent enough debut with “Happiness” and a good sophomore track in “Be Natural,” the girls have now got their 2015 off to a bang. Not only is the mini album “Ice Cream Cake” a bagful of audio win (“Automatic” and “Somethin Kinda Crazy” in particular stand out), but the agency’s new-member gambit looks like it is going to pay off.
Yeri can not only sing, but she can dance, too, and adds another dimension to the group. I’ll admit that I am not really a fan of SM’s girl groups in general, but Red Velvet are coming dangerously close to convincing me otherwise.
U-KISS – Kiseop, 2009
The road has not always been easy for U-KISS, a group which has seen a whole slew of member changes in its relatively long history. The group has been rocked by departures – notably Alexander and Kibum in 2011, as well as Dongho in 2013. It has also welcomed in a fair few new arrivals (including AJ and Hoon in 2011, and the most recent addition, Jun, who joined the group last year). But for me, the pick of the bunch is Kiseop, who joined U-KISS in 2009. He proved to be a great dancer, with a lively personality to boot.
Kiseop fitted into the group effortlessly, with minimal fuss, and few U-KISS fans can now imagine the act without him.
KARA – Young Ji, 2014
I have a theory that when it comes to girl groups, less is more. And this group is Exhibit A in the matter. KARA had an absolutely horrible start to 2014 when two of the group’s most popular members, Jiyoung and Nicole, walked away from the group. What followed was little short of unbridled chaos. Angry fans protested the idea of adding a new member, and were at first horrified by the notion that one of the Baby KARA rookies might join the group.
And then Young Ji happened. Like a force of nature, she swept into the group, onto television screens, and has almost effortlessly become one of the most in-demand female idol stars out there. Bandmate Goo Hara has spoken about how Young Ji has injected “youth” into the act, but I say she has added more than that in terms of energy.
KARA as a four-piece is a tighter and more dynamic act. Going from a five- to a four-piece has galvanized the group in the same way as it did for Girl’s Day. If KARA sticks with a high-tempo dance concept (along the lines of “Mamma Mia”) for the girls’ next comeback, maximizing the youthful energy that the four-member KARA has already exhibited, 2015 could be a vintage year for the group’s fans.
Super Junior – Kyuhyun, 2006
You have to wonder if SM Entertainment was quite aware of the impact that adding an extra member to its then-fledgling boy band Super Junior would have in 2006. But then, this was not any old new member, this was Kyuhyun. Although his impact might not have been felt immediately (possibly due to the sheer size of Super Junior at the time, in an era of K-pop when boy bands with 10 or so members was almost unthinkable), Kyuhyun soon won the hearts of fans, and has gone on to become one of the act’s most recognizable stars, shining in songs such as this:
Kyuhyun may well claim that he was taken aback by the success of his recent solo debut, but most K-pop fans were not surprised one little bit.
The Nine Muses Revolving Door, Since 2010
It really is not easy being a Nine Muses fan. Remember the likes of Jaekyung, Rana, or Bini? If you are relatively new to the K-pop scene, then probably not, but they were once integral members of the group. In fact, out of the current eight members, only three are founders (Euaerin, Hyemi, and Minha, if you’re curious). Member departures are a common thing for this group, and if you are a MINE, it is probably for your own good if you do not develop an attachment to any one member. Fortunately, recruitment is something of a forte for Star Empire Entertainment, the girls’ agency. In 2012, they drafted in Kyungri, an instant darling of magazine editors, who repeatedly call upon her to model in fashion photo shoots. Last year was an annus horribilis for the group, with all three of my own personal favorite members calling it a day when their contracts expired: rapper Eunji, the stunning Lee Sam, and the charismatic Sera, whom many felt was the glue (no pun intended) that held the group together.
With just six members left, it really looked like this was an act on the verge of a breakup. Somehow, though, Star Empire pulled off another minor recruitment miracle, drafting in Sojin (who had already proved her worth with the fabulously wicked NASTY NASTY project group) and rookie Keumjo.
The latter, in particular, is just as mesmerizing as any member Nine Muses have ever had.
F.Cuz – Daegun and Raehyun, 2012
When a four-piece loses one of its founding members, it is most certainly a big deal. F.Cuz’s agency decided to disregard my afore-mentioned less-is-more theory and replaced the departing LeeU with not one but two new stars – Daegun and Raehyun. The result was one of the group’s most energetic tracks to date, the fantastically addictive “No 1,” which came with a lush music video and replete with some nifty dance moves.
The winners? The fans, of course. LeeU supporters can still enjoy the star’s work with M.Pire, while the five-piece F.Cuz continues to sounds a lot more exiting.
After School – Raina and Nana, 2009
Today’s After School is an act quite literally unrecognizable from the group that debuted in 2009. Of the five members who founded the group, only (current) leader Jungah remains. My personal favorite lineup was the original five: Kahi, Jungah, Jooyeon, Soyoung and Bekah, and “Ah” is still one of the best female-vocal K-pop dance songs of all time.
But if there is one thing Pledis Entertainment, the girls’ agency, has unfailingly gotten right over the years, it has been recruitment. The first After School member change was the addition of Uee, scooped up after the dissolution of Five Girls (the best girl group that never was). Uee instantly rocketed to fame, becoming a favorite for advertising executives, appearing in commercials for everything from soju to sunglasses.
Over the years, more successful additions would come, including E-Young, Kaeun, and Lizzy, the latter in particular. But perhaps nothing in K-pop will ever eclipse the incredible foresight that in December 2009 saw the group add Nana, now a firm favorite of both Korean and Chinese TV producers, and Raina, one of the most talented idol group singers out there.
FTISLAND – Song Seung Hyun, 2009
The general rule of thumb for K-pop groups is: stay active. FTISLAND made quite a stir when they debuted in 2007 – there are relatively few acts who play their own instruments on the K-pop scene (with the notable exception of CNBLUE and FTISLAND’s labelmates AOA) – so FTISLAND made quite an impact with “Love Sick” and the “Cheerful Sensibility” debut album.
FNC then sent the group to Japan, and nothing was heard of them in Korea for some two years. Great news for Japanese fans, maybe, but a strategy that ran the risk of allowing Korean fans to forget about the group. When they finally came back in Korea in 2009, something had changed: namely, one of the guitarists. Out went Oh Won Bin, and in came a then-unknown rookie, Song Seung Hyun.
Now, as anyone who has ever been in a rock band will tell you, changing your guitarist is no small thing, especially as FTISLAND’s sound is so prominently guitar-led. But Song Seung Hyun (who, he claims, was once offered a contract by SM Entertainment) become a vital member of the group, and within the space of a year was already co-writing songs. And as the soaring guitar sounds on the pre-release track for the group’s latest effort go to show, recruiting Song Seung Hyun was nothing short of a masterstroke.
EXID – Solji and Hyerin, 2012
I recall being distinctly unimpressed when EXID released the debut track “Whoz That Girl.”
It wasn’t that the song – or the group, for that matter – was bad, per se. It was just that EXID was a bit too generic for my tastes. Another six-member girl group. If there was one thing the K-pop world did not particularly need in January 2012 was yet another six-member girl group – especially a fairly unremarkable one.
Not long after the debut, 50 percent of the group left. Instead of drafting three new members, however, the group added two: Hyerin and Solji. All of a sudden, generic was no longer an adjective that could be easily applied to this act. Visually they were a totally different proposition, and musically, the difference was astounding. Before the end of the year, the group had released “Every Night,” a radically different sound and look for the girls.
At one mature, sexy and a good vehicle for the girls’ voices, this was a statement of intent, a clear sign that things were about to take a turn for the better.
It took about two years for the girls to make their next move, but it resulted in “Up and Down,” a track that went on to dominate the charts for much of the latter part of 2014 and January of 2015. Don’t believe Solji, Hyerin and the rest have talent? Then watch this and prepare to eat your words.
No backing vocal track? No problem. If you happen to be EXID, that is.
SPEED ? and ?, 2015
Unlike girl groups, K-pop boy bands tend to be very conservative with member changes. That rule (which I just invented) goes straight out of the window in the case of SPEED, however. Almost from the outset, there have been member additions and departures, and this has become a trend that SPEED fans have had to learn to live with. The group has continued to tinker with lineups through the years, and keep up isn’t easy. Even though the group was rocked by the departure of Taewoon last year, we are currently at this stage:
..but all of that is set to change very soon.
Switching members around is a dangerous game in K-pop, where a single member alone can be the sole reason for a given fan to support a group. When an agency changes a member, for whatever reason, it represents a roll of the dice. A rookie who performs well at an audition or in a practice room does not always represent a hit with the group’s fans, who tend to be against any kind of change. Yet despite the fact that only four of the founding SPEED members remain, recruitment has been a strong suit.
However, I have a hunch that the group’s best is yet to come. MBK, the boys’ agency, has recently stated that the group went to the United States with two new members, and will work with Joombas, producers of music for the likes of Justin Bieber, Cher, Paul Oakenfold, SHINee, VIXX, and EXO ahead of a spring comeback. Expect fireworks.
You’ve read our list and now it’s time to have your say, Soompiers! Who do you think has been the best member addition to a girl group or boy band? Let us know in the comments below.
timmydee is a music geek with a penchant for pop, an enthusiasm for electonica and a hankering for hip-hop. When he isn’t writing for Soompi, he is remixing your favorite K-pop tracks – with sometimes astounding (but often catastrophic) results.
*The views expressed in this article solely reflect those of the author and do not represent Soompi as a whole.