Should Have Been Bigger: Girls’ Generation’s “The Boys”
In this franchise, we look back on songs that deserved a little more love and attention.
Long before Fifth Harmony and Little Mix became the most visible girl groups in the mainstream since the Pussycat Dolls, the K-Pop queens Girls’ Generation reigned supreme as the biggest female team in the world. By 2011, SNSD (acronym for “Sonyeo Sidae”) was “The Nation’s Girl Group” back at home in South Korea — dropping hit after hit. So, at a time when it seemed like they were unstoppable, SM Entertainment attempted to break Girls’ Generation in the west.
The girls, all in their early 20s at the time, had built a career on their innocent, feminine images, as well as their infectious bubblegum pop sound. To resonate outside of Asia though, they would have to pull a more mature concept. Produced by the creator of new jack swing, Teddy Riley, “The Boys” was an electropop dance track that made the girls dip their toes into elements of R&B and hip-hop for the first time. In order to reach a wider audience — and thus break them into the west— the song was recorded in both Korean and English, plus an EDM remix featuring Snoop Dogg.
The lyrics deviated from their innocent image of past releases and instead presented them as daring and confident sexually-woken young women. The harmonies on “The Boys” puts the listener under a spell; one that makes you stomp and strut your way confidently through life. The music video, though it featured fiercer choreographies, paraded them around and highlighted their looks. It was an instant hit in Korea. On this side of the globe, however, it was a different story.
As part of their short-lived promotional campaign, Girls’ Generation performed on the Late Show with David Letterman and Live! with Kelly and Michael in February 2012, two months after the English version of “The Boys” officially dropped. And that was it! Viewers and critics overall received the group and the track positively, but there was confusion around them being a nine member girl group and obvious lip-synching. “The Boys” was too western for K-Pop at the time, but too tame for Top 40. The song peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot Dance Singles Sales chart and that was it.
The English album that Cali-born Tiffany once hinted at and the dream of breaking into this music market fizzled. “The Boys” might not be Girls’ Generation’s best single, but as far as sassy bops that aren’t that deep nor passionate go, this one deserved a moment. Revisit it below.