[Feature] Pandora’s Box – Detailed Look into Kara’s Past Part 1

I’m sure many of you are aware of this by now but KARA is changing. With Nicole officially confirmed to be leaving once her contract ends on Jan 16, then followed closely behind by Kang Ji Young, KARA as an entity will be going through it’s 3rd major change since their debut in early 2007. 

We could probably spend all day arguing backwards and forwards about the causes of this scenario, what it means for the group, the members, DSP Media, the K-Pop market in Japan, so on and so forth. 

Instead, in the first of this two part article, I will be looking back at some of the key moments in KARA’s history, both the highs and lows. Most of the moments I pick out for this article will be moments that I have personally recollections of, and so they are bound to be missing certain elements that more enthusiastic Kamilia members might be aware of. Think of this gallery as a casual fan’s nostalgic recollections of a group that once had a special place in their hearts. Hope you enjoy it.

The writer’s opinions certainly do not reflect the opinion of Soompi’s news team or Soompi as a whole.


The Beginning and the Triple Combo of Despair

I will be honest here, the period between KARA’s debut in 2007 to their first member change in 2008 is pretty much a blank to me. I didn’t follow the group back then and a lot of what I’m about to say is pieced together from items I’ve read, after the fact. Suffice to say, I’m at the mercy of the people that have transcribed the early history of KARA so that future generation of fans like me may know of their plights.

Lets get the facts out of the way first, KARA was first revealed in March 21, 2007. The initial members were Han Seung Yeon, Park Gyuri, Jung Nicole and lead singer Kim Sung Hee. Their first album “The first bloooooming” (Yes, with all those extra O, because…I don’t know) was released in March 29. Their title song at the time was “Break It,” which was then followed up by “If U Wanna,” then “Secret World.”

How well did their debut go? Han Seung Yeon explained it best a while back on a talk show. She says that the fans call the three songs the triple combo of despair. “Break It” is “Despair,” “If U Wanna” is “Death” and “Secret World’ is Extinction.” Suffice to say, it wasn’t very successful. 

Han Seung Yeon, The Lone Warrior

Now we are going to jump around a few years, in particular from late 2007 to around 2009. This is the time period when KARA was still relatively unknown and trying to make a new start after a change in members (We’ll discuss this a bit later). This also happens to be the time period where I first discovered KARA, more specifically it’s the time period when I first found out about Han Seung Yeon

Some might get annoyed by the title of this section, but I think it’s reasonably justified given her activities during these early days. One of her first permanent activities was host of the regular Starcraft league news program, “MSL Break.” This was in late 2007 and she was on that program for more than 8 months. In the grand scheme of things, it was a minor role, but one that provided her with a steady flow of income along with the opportunity to get her face out in the public every week. 

Han Seung Yeon, The Lone Warrior Cont.

This was then followed up by permanent fixtures on “Boys and Girls Music Guide,” “I Need A Family Season 2,Section TV” and “Quiz Show Sixth Sense.” She definitely kept herself busy during this lull period in group activities, but unfortunately I doubt a lot of people remember her from during this time. Most of these shows were relatively minor shows and never really got a lot of attention. In some ways it was a lot of work for not much reward, especially when you consider the large amount of publicity Goo Hara got from just appearing on “Invincible Youth.”

She’s expressed her feelings about these early days a few time already. I still remember a rather sad tale she once mentioned on “Strong Heart” about how she had to watch the end of year ceremonies in tears because KARA weren’t invited to any events and then having to record “MSL Break” the day after with swollen eyes. At the very least I hope that this segment at highlights some of her achievements in these early dark years.

Changing of the Guard

In early 2008, lead singer Kim Sung Hee left the group due to personal reasons. After this point she focused on her studies and eventually went on to get married in 2011. Replacing her in KARA were two new members, Goo Hara and Kang Ji Young. Their first song with these new members was “Rock U,” released in July 31, 2008. The group slowly started to gain some recognition at this time and KARA began to make a name for themselves.

On a personal note, the first song I paid attention to was KARA’s next song. In December 4 of the same year, KARA released their second song, “Pretty Girl.” The song was the most popular of all their songs at this time and it was received fairly well.

The interesting thing to note is that these two songs took a rather different approach compared to their debut year. Their debut songs took a much more serious approach and was essentially a continuation of Fin.K.L’s later concepts. Makes sense given that they were from the same agency, and Kim Sung Hee was more than capable of singing these sorts of songs.

Changing of the Guard Cont.

However with the change in members, DSP Media decided on a completely shift in tactic, going for a much more cutesy, kid-friendly image. The songs were simple but catchy, the choreography lacked complexity but made up for it with simple yet memorable gestures, and the members all dressed up in these pretty little costumes with these cute little hair bands.

History will show that this concept turned out to be a decent success, and I suspect it might have worked better than expected thanks to the lack of awareness of the group. I think if the group had taken off in 2007 then this sort of concept might not have been attempted at all. Even if it had been attempted, I suspect the sudden shift in concept might have seemed more jarring than bold. Whatever the case, KARA was now finally starting to get their name out and about in the world of K-Pop but the best was yet to come.

The First Is Always the Most Memorable. 

As I mentioned before, “Pretty Girl” was received quite favourably but it unfortunately never quite made it to 1st place on any of the music show charts. I believe the highest it got was 2nd place. A commendable achievement given the group’s history. However the best was yet to come.

 After successfully completing their “Pretty Girl” activities in February 2009, the group soon prepared to release their next song. Actually the song was released fairly quickly afterwards, being released just 8 days after the official end of “Pretty Girl” activities. I suspect that DSP wanted to keep up the momentum and had enough confidence in their new song. So in February 18 2009, KARA released their special album “Honey.” The concept once again kept to the same more youthful appearance on “Pretty Girl” but toned down some of the more childish qualities. 

The First Is Always the Most Memorable Cont.

Initial response was great and it ranked very highly in the music charts. However, it was up against the elephant in the room. Girls’ Generation had released “Gee” in January the same year and the song was, for all intents and purposes, a social phenomenon. It was the next big hit in the girl group genre following the massive success of Wonder Girl‘s “Tell Me” in 2007 to 2008. It was always going to be tough sailing but going up against a juggernaut of this size is a completely different ball game.

Yet, KARA somehow managed to pull it off, and in March 5, 2009, KARA took to the Mnet M Countdown Stage as one of the nominees for that week’s chart. The other nominee was Girls’ Generation’s “Gee.” If you have seen the video here then you know what the outcome was. March 5, 2009 would be the day that KARA took their first ever 1st place victory in the music show charts. It was a momentum occasion and surely a memory to remember. 

A Happy Twist of Fate 

You know how people usually say “It’s a cruel twist of fate.” The commonality of that phrase points to the general belief that when things don’t go the way you expect them to then they usually turn out for the worst. In the case of KARA, the road not taken at first ended up being the path that changed the group forever.

After the success of “Honey,” KARA took a break from the music scene for around 4 months, a long period of time for a group that was releasing songs in almost bi-monthly intervals. Their title song “Wanna” was an ambitious title, one that was trying to break the group’s cutesy image of previous songs in an effort to continually evolve the group, both conceptually and musically. You could tell DSP had invested a lot into it, the music video was the most elaborate so far, marketing was in overdrive and general hype for the album was high.

A Happy Twist of Fate Cont.

In July 31, KARA made their comeback with two songs. I’m sure a lot of you are aware of this already, but it’s a general rule that these more well known groups stage their comeback with two songs as part of the whole “Comeback Special” arrangements. The first song would be another song from their album to either supplement or contrast with their title song. Then that would be followed up by the title song. Usually the first song would be pretty much a second thought, something they just do for the first week and never touch again. Not in this case thou.

Mister” was a revelation. You could almost say that KARA’s history can be split as “Before Mister” and “After Mister.” The song catapulted the group into the upper echelons of the industry and also gave them a massive foothold in the Japanese market, a market that they have pretty much dominated ’till this day. The song changed the group forever, for better or for worse.

As for “Wanna,” it actually performed surprisingly well. It won a few 1st places in the music charts and the group continued to promote it for the most part. However, something interesting to note is that DSP’s official Youtube channels have no reference to the song at all. At this point I think even DSP is rather indifferent to the song that was once going to be the group’s turning point. 


To Be Continued…

And we’ll end part one of our KARA history lesson here. It’s already getting pretty long as is. Come back next time when we finish off this two part article to talk about KARA’s more recent history. We will be taking a look at the variety show that gave Goo Hara a significant rise in popularity. We will also be looking at “Step” and why that song has such personal importance to me before finishing by talking about KARA’s more troubled past. Hope to see you there.

Lordbordem is the writer that cures his boredom by occasionally writing long and snarky articles on Soompi. He also once went head to head with a Koala. He lost.

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