Special Features, Original Features
Posted by Patrick_Magee Wednesday, August 30, 2017

HyunA in Hindsight: A 10-Year Retrospective

Since her debut as a member of the Wonder Girls in 2007, HyunA has been a performer to watch in K-pop, standing out from the crowd with her charisma and always carving out her own lane musically. She can boast the titles of singer-songwriter, model, dancer, and performer, proving that she has what it takes to maintain relevance for a long time in a notoriously fast-paced industry. Indeed, HyunA has achieved the rare feat of being a star for a decade now, and it seems that with her latest release "Babe" in the books that she's only just warming up.

HyunA got her start under JYP Entertainment as a member of the Wonder Girls, a group that had quite a lot riding on their success. During a major transitional period for K-pop, she was at the forefront of a new generation, tasked with representing herself and her group as a contender for the "next big thing." Unfortunately, shortly after the release of Wonder Girls' second single (and right on time for their monster success with "Tell Me"), HyunA departed the group after health issues. Though it initially seemed like she had met an early demise in the K-pop industry, it's what HyunA would do with her work in the following years that truly made her career count.

After a hiatus that left some hardcore fans wondering what would come next, HyunA made her triumphant return to K-pop as a member of Cube Entertainment group 4minute in 2009. The group was touted as 2NE1's competition, a serious and energetic troupe that would shake things up with heavy electronic beats. Their buildup was huge, although it would still be a little while after their "Hot Issue" debut until the group truly caught on. Cube was a new label at the time, and 4minute was essentially their first major attempt at breaking a group. As time passed and they had more chances to experiment with sound and visuals, the group came into their own, with HyunA, in particular, receiving a lot of attention for her performances.

Following a string of successful appearances as a guest feature on various K-pop artists' songs, as well as several endorsement deals, HyunA made her official solo debut with "Change" in January of 2010. For a fresh face, the song was massively successful, selling over 2 million copies by the year's end. This was all in spite of the controversy surrounding the track's video, which was given 19+ and 15+ ratings by various television stations (thus rendering it harder to promote). It was this kind of tiptoeing the line of controversy and good taste that would go on to inform the best moments of HyunA's career, and eventually become a provocative strength she used to her advantage.

If there was ever a true breakout year for HyunA (and K-pop in general, according to many), it was 2011. Relatively early into that summer, HyunA made a solo return with the single "Bubble Pop," and immediately cemented her place in history by breaking records with its MV release and digital sales. K-pop was having a marquee moment, with songs like this one and 2NE1's "I Am The Best" receiving global attention from all sorts of media outlets and fans. By marketing herself as a sexy and provocative modern answer to stars like Lee Hyori (and perhaps even Britney Spears), HyunA became a megastar.

After a year that saw "Bubble Pop" become the subject of everything from documentary-style YouTube videos to countless parodies (truly a mark of K-pop success), she did a victory lap in the form of her fall release of "Troublemaker," a duet with BEAST member Hyunseung. After a spicy performance of the track that involved HyunA kissing her fellow group member, she went on to achieve a solo-group balance in the following years that saw 4minute benefit greatly from her solo success and notoriety.

2012 saw more successes for HyunA, including being in the most viewed K-pop music video of all time (of course, "Gangnam Style" by PSY). After gaining a massive amount of attention for her appearance and subsequent answer song "Oppa's Just My Style," HyunA had all eyes on her in time for her fall 2012 comeback with "Ice Cream." 

Lightning had been caught in a bottle, and the song quickly started a reign at #1 and became one of the best digital sellers of the year. Its controversial and highly sexual MV were the topic of discussion among K-pop fans for some time, with many arguing that it was too blatant, but it was this kind of discussion that only served to promote her further. At the time, the video became the fastest K-pop video to reach 20 million views, and HyunA received international press coverage for her work.

Over the next several years, HyunA continued to find success and cement her place in K-pop as a force to be reckoned with. Her follow-up single with Troublemaker, "Now," was a certified all-kill. She continued to gain songwriting credits, showing that she was more than just a pretty face. Not long after, by the following summer (a time that proved to be consistently good for HyunA), she released nursery-rhyme jacking "Red" to massive fanfare. The track continued to show fans a carefree image, declaring that HyunA was red (or "red hot," as it were) just like...a monkey's backside. The silliness didn't hurt the song, though, with its music video landing on major publication Rolling Stone's list of the 10 best music videos of 2014.

2015 rolled around and saw HyunA continue to release music with 4minute, although it was quickly becoming clear by this point that her solo releases were receiving more attention (through no fault of her own). Summer single "Because I'm The Best (Roll Deep)" was another smash, with its Miley Cyrus-lite imagery and heavy beats making it an arguably badass stand out of HyunA's discography. Unfortunately, by the following summer, 4minute had officially disbanded since only HyunA had decided to renew her contract with Cube Entertainment. At this point, it was clear that she could stand on her own, but things would be different moving forward.

In August of 2016, HyunA made her first solo comeback since 4minute's disbandment with the somewhat unusual (and harsh-noise inspired) "How's This." Its chorus, which heavily revolved around the use of a synthesizer that sounded like water traveling through a copper pipe, saw her asking "do you like this? How's this?" in a somewhat sexually provocative way. The song took direct aim at her haters and detractors, declaring they're "no fun" directly in the lyrics. The fun only continued further once HyunA joined another project group by the following spring, with Triple H (no, not the wrestler!) finding success through the release of funk inspired single "365 Fresh."

It is with all of this history in mind that we are able to contextualize the release of HyunA's latest landmark single and MV, "Babe." By this point, fans knew a little bit of what to expect from her solo work, and she no longer had to keep up the appearance of being a girl group member first and foremost. Freed from previous expectations and essentially given the keys to conquer the K-pop world on her own, HyunA managed to produce one of her most interesting and challenging tracks and videos yet in the form of "Babe." Although there was no harsh noise this time (thankfully), the track threw various curveballs at fans including an interesting "fourth wall break" during the MV that saw HyunA simply walk out of a scene mid-production. Perhaps this was HyunA's way of showing that even when she's essentially working with a script (in this case, that of the solo breakout star), she can make the material she's given her own.

Simply put, HyunA is a remarkable solo success during a time that has seen the K-pop industry heavily favor acts that worked as a group. She has gone against the grain throughout her career, challenging ideas of how to present sexuality and agency within the K-pop world. It is her willingness to try anything and her confidence in herself that allowed HyunA to take on an international solo tour during the previous year, something that some of her contemporaries still haven't quite pulled off. Her successful career is the result of a hard-fought battle and unwavering belief in one's self, as well as the power of pop music and performance. To many, the reason that we're still talking about HyunA in 2017 (long after many K-pop stars from her debut period have fallen out of favor) is simple: it's "Because She's The Best."

SEE ALSO: HyunA's letter to Cube Entertainment belatedly revealed

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