S.E.S: Here's how the ‘Nation’s Fairies’ took over the K Pop industry from the late 90s to early 2000s
A deep dive into the world of one of the most famous 1st generation K-Pop groups: S.E.S.
S.E.S. which stands for Sea, Eugene, Shoo was a South Korean girl group formed in 1997 by SM Entertainment, featuring three members: Bada, Eugene, and Shoo. Their debut album ‘I'm Your Girl’ sold 650,000 copies, becoming the second best-selling album by a female group in South Korea. Their follow-up albums, ‘Sea & Eugene & Shoo’ in 1998, ‘Love’ in 1999 and ‘A Letter from Greenland’ in 2000 also became best-sellers. Early in their career, they were dubbed as the female counterparts of H.O.T., who were also their labelmates.
S.E.S. were challenged by groups like Fin.K.L, Jewelry and Baby V.O.X, which debuted around the same time and were also largely successful. The group officially disbanded in December 2002, after unsuccessful contract renewal negotiations with Bada and Eugene while Shoo maintained her career with SM until 2006. They released the compilation album ‘Beautiful Songs’ in mid-2003 as their final release.
In October 2016, the group's members were confirmed to form a reunion in order to celebrate their debut's 20th anniversary. SM later confirmed that the group would return with an album and a concert. In November 2016, the group released the buzz single ‘Love [story]’ under SM's music project SM Station as a part of their 20th anniversary project, which would later include a concert, an album and a reality program. Their 20th anniversary special album 'Remember' was released on January 2, 2017, with double title tracks ‘Remember’ and ‘Paradise’
The three members had very different selection processes. Bada was the first one to be discovered, when Lee Soo Man saw her singing at her performing arts school in 1996. Moved by her voice, he quickly drew up a contract and signed her on as a trainee on the label. Eugene, on the other hand, was living in Guam, the westernmost point and territory of the United States and sent in an audition tape to the label itself. It reached SM executives, who agreed that she could be a star. The last member to be cast was Shoo, who was the only one to go through a "real" audition process. They quickly began training, going through voice, dance, and interview lessons.
They released their first album, ‘I'm Your Girl’ and had their public debut on November 28, 1997. Their image at the time was very innocent, with their sound consisting mostly of cute love songs. Eventually, the singles ‘I'm Your Girl’ (which had future Shinhwa members Eric Mun and Andy Lee rapping in the introduction) and ‘Oh, My Love!’ became huge hits for S.E.S., and they quickly became one of the top-selling groups in K-Pop.
Their second album, ‘Sea & Eugene & Shoo’, was released in 1998. Although their sound didn't change much from that of their debut, the music video for the single ‘Dreams Come True’, a cover of Finnish group Nylon Beat's ‘Rakastuin mä looseriin’ (‘Like a Fool’) from 1996, drew attention from their space-themed looks, with funky hair and shiny outfits.
At the end of 1999, their third album 'Love' was released. It eventually became their best-selling album, with over 762,000 copies sold. This album also saw a marked change in their image, away from cutesy girls into edgy singers. All of them dyed their hair and had unusual leather outfits for their promotional activities. The changes were well received by fans, and the title song from the album, ‘Love’, a mid-tempo pop song, also became a success for the trio.
December 2000 saw the release of S.E.S.'s fourth album, ‘A Letter From Greenland’. This again was accompanied by a change in image. This album saw them move away from the cute image entirely, having instead a ‘mature’ concept. All the members wore suits for their performances, and their look was significantly more sophisticated. This album strayed away from their usual music genres- pop and R&B- and became jazzy.
In the summer of 2001, a special album was released called ‘Surprise’. The first single, ‘Just In Love’, brought S.E.S. back to a happy, poppy theme, although they avoided the cutesy images from their debut. The summery feel went well with the light pop track. Their major comeback album, ‘Choose My Life-U’ was released in early spring of 2002. This was a continuation of their sophisticated theme, with the album booklet full of suggestive pictures of the girls. Their first single ‘U’ was quite different, being very dance-intensive; the video showed the girls in dominant roles and positions.
Their comeback album ‘Friend’ (their "5.5"th), was released at the end of the same year. The main single was titled ‘Soul II Soul (S.II.S.)’, which was a play on words (as the number 2 can be pronounced as ‘E’ in Korean). In the dark-themed music video, Bada is seen writing letters while crying, Eugene is cutting up bunnies in a room (suggesting mental instability), and Shoo is seen caressing a large ball of light on her bed. The song was never performed on television.
After releasing the compilation album ‘Beautiful Songs’, members followed solo careers in music and acting. In 2016-2017, they worked on multiple projects to celebrate their 20 years in the industry, including remaking their hit debut songs. They released a ten episode reality show called ‘Remember I’m Your S.E.S’. They also released a new album called ‘Remember’ in December of 2017 along with the music videos for ‘Remember’ and ‘Paradise’.
Since then, each of them have been busy in their own work like Bada released a single as a soloist in 2019 called ‘Off The Record’ and Eugene has had a long solo career until her breakout role in the immensely popular drama ‘The Penthouse: War in Life’. Shoo, on the other hand, was handed a six-month prison sentence and suspension for two years, by a court in Seoul in 2019 for the crime of ‘gambling habitually in foreign countries’.
While there were many ups and downs for the group, they still have a great presence in the industry for creating groundbreaking music that most girl groups follow suit today. They were and will always be the most memorable K-Pop girl group of the 1st generation.
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A BMM graduate, Anoushka has been writing professionally for over 2 years. K-Pop and K-Dramas consume her day and she...Read more