KARA has been in the K-pop game for nine long years now. But as its three most senior members have decided to call it a day, KARA, sadly, is no more.
So join us now as we look back at some of the sparkling highlights of the KARA story.
In order to understand exactly what the initial concept behind KARA was, you need to journey back to 2005, two years before the group even made its debut.
In October that year, DSP Media’s all-conquering girl group Fin.K.L released “Fine Killing Liberty,” the act’s final album. An era had come to an end.
Older K-pop fans will tell you that Fin.K.L was less a mere group, and more a musical phenomenon. Despite the fact that the act hailed a from smaller agency in DSP (rival act S.E.S was represented by SM Entertainment, already a juggernaut even back then), Fin.K.L’s Lee Hyori et al won the hearts and minds of fans both at home and abroad.
Hopeful that they would get lightning to strike twice, in the mid-2000s, the DSP honchos decided to put together a group that would effectively become Fin.K.L’s successors.
KARA’s debut album – released the same year JYP’s Wonder Girls and SM’s Girls’ Generation made their K-pop bows – had a distinctive Fin.K.L feel to it. Steeped in RnB stylings, it was a world away from the kind of uplifting dance-pop KARA would one day become known for. “Break It,” in particular, sounds like a “first generation” K-pop hit. You could almost imagine Fin.K.L performing it, in fact.
However, also included on the same album was “If You Wanna,” a song quite different in terms of both tempo and structure, and a musical hint of what was to come.
“The First Bloooooming” (what’s the deal with all those “o”s, by the way?) was also notable for being the only album to feature founding member Sunghee.
Sunghee’s departure, just shortly after KARA had debuted, was something of a blow for this then-fledgling act, but the K-pop world would quickly learn to love her replacement. Or, rather, “replacements.” In came two new members: Ji Young and Hara. And with the duo came a totally new look and audio approach.
“Rock U” saw the girls adopt a sweeter sound – literally. This was the first KARA collaboration with Sweetune, the Midas-touched production team that has since gone on to become one of the biggest hitmakers in K-pop.
Losing the harder RnB edge worked wonders for the group, both in terms of sound and vision. And the addition of Hara (for many the group’s standout member) was already looking like a major coup, even back in 2008.
Aware that they had hit on a winning formula with the cuter, softer image of the sophomore release, KARA and DSP followed this up with cuteness overload in the shape of “Honey” the following year.
For some, this honey was too sickly sweet. But for most, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. The track raced up the charts to the No. 1 spot. KARA had officially arrived.
For many, “Mister” was KARA’s defining moment. The year 2010 was notable for hip-swivelling, butt-shaking girl groups – Brown Eyed Girls and SISTAR were also at it with “Abracadabra” and “How Dare You?”
The girls have spoken in length about the dance, saying that when they first saw the proposed choreography, they could not believe their eyes. Member Nicole even noted she thought the routine was “embarrassing.”
Regardless, “Mister” became a megahit in Korea and featured the “it” dance routine of the year. Like it or not, there is no altering the fact that the track, and its choreography, will be remembered for as long as there are K-pop fans.
Even if you have no time whatsoever for KARA, you will probably make a concession for this track. Not only did “Step” take 2011 by storm, it remains one of the finest moments in female K-pop history.
A vital beat, glorious 80s synths, that delectable middle eight (seriously has there ever been a better K-pop middle eight than this?), lush vocals, plus some understatedly sexy outfits to boot, this song truly has it all.
The golden era of DSP Media girl groups’ collaborations with Sweetune also spawned this:
If only we could go back to days like these.
The turn of the decade saw KARA expand its horizons. The second Japanese single “Jumping” went platinum for mobile downloads, but “Jet Coaster Love” was the track that really sold KARA in the Land of the Rising Sun.
The track bagged a coveted double whammy of Oricon chart No. 1s, clinching both the weekly and daily singles charts, and placing at No. 26 on the yearly singles chart for 2011.
The girls also donated the proceeds of sales to aid efforts for the victims of the 2011 tsunami disaster, a gesture that went down very well with Japanese fans.
2013’s “Full Bloom” album was KARA’s last Korean release as a five-piece. In early 2014, Nicole and Ji Young shocked the K-pop world when they decided to call it a day, turning down their offers of new contracts with DSP.
In the ensuing fall-out, confusion reigned. Would they continue as a threepiece? Could Nicole and Ji Young be replaced? Fans demanded answers…
Late spring 2014, they had their answers. Baby Kara and the “Kara Project” reality show, screened on MBC Music, introduced a range of hopefuls who would compete for the right to become KARA’s newest member.
Fans, at least initially, were livid. And they let DSP know their displeasure at the idea in the form of banners plastered in major cities all over Korea that read: “DSP Media, we say no to adding new KARA members.”
After much apparent humming and hawing about how many of Baby Kara would join the main group, a college of public votes and votes from the three KARA members themselves resulted in the addition of Young Ji. The latter battled to victory despite a leg injury that kept her out of two live performances.
An almost-instant variety TV star, she would go on to become one of the highlights of SBS’s “Roommate Season 2.”
The four-piece KARA made an explosive start to life with Young Ji aboard with the “Day & Night” album. The highlight of the EP was undoubtedly the lead track, “Mamma Mia.” Pre-release, the act had dropped lots of teasers showing the girls in wispy lace outfits looking angelic, so some may have feared a ballad was on its way.
But “Mamma Mia” was anything but. A relentless three-and-a-half minutes of synth-heavy, high tempo dance, it ensured people started talking about KARA for the right reasons again.
Hara and Gyuri would both go on to note that Young Ji had invested the act with a “youthful energy,” and nowhere was this more apparent than on this track.
The girls, it seemed for a short moment at least, had undergone a powerful renaissance.
KARA followed up with “In Love,” featuring the track “Cupid,” but the song underperformed on the charts (a pity, as I rather liked it).
Whispers started doing the rounds in the Korean media early in January. The word on the grapevine was that Gyuri, Hara, and Seungyeon’s time at DSP would be over when their contracts expired, effectively putting an end to KARA as we know it.
There had even been media talk of a potential solo debut from Young Ji in the pipelines, initially dismissed by beleaguered DSP representatives as a “baseless rumor,” but now looking increasingly likely.
Pessimists will say that the writing was already on the wall even back in 2014. It turns out they may have been right.
The first K-pop group disbandment of 2016 has turned out to be one of the biggest in recent history.
Well, now you’ve read my thoughts, it’s over to you, Soompiers! What was your favorite KARA moment? How do you feel about the breakup? Let us know in the comments below.
timmydee is a music geek with a penchant for pop, an enthusiasm for electronica, and a hankering for hip hop.
*The views expressed in this article solely reflect those of the author and do not necessarily represent Soompi as a whole.