Last year, nine-piece Korean pop girlband Girls' Generation trounced the likes of Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus to win Video of the Year at the Youtube awards, evoking a meltdown on Twitter with the general consensus being “who the hell are Girls' Generation?!”.
Though debuting in 2007 as the "female Super Junior” it wasn't until the sugary electro-pop of 2009's "Gee" that Girls' Generation catapulted into superstar status. Forget PSY being the first K-pop star to wow the Americans, GG inked a contract with Universal in 2011 and went Stateside to perform on The David Letterman Show and at Madison Square Garden to critical acclaim.
Many have pointed at GG's "pure" image as a main draw alongside their infectious, big beat pop, but it can't be overlooked that the members' personalities, which could've melded into one glutinous, nine-headed mass, have been singularly directed outwards and uniquely solidified the GG experience into an intimate family affair. For their fans, who call themselves Sones, Girls’ Generation are more than a K-pop girl group. They see Tiffany, Taeyeon, Jessica, Sunny, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sooyoung, Yoona and Seohyun as sisters, role models and icons.
Between the cross-genre colossus of "I Got A Boy", which went onto redefine almost a year of K-pop songwriting, and new mini-album, "Mr. Mr.", nearly 14 months elapsed. But, as expected, it raced up their homeland's numerous charts to achieve what's commonly known as an "all kill" – a clean sweep of number ones. During the band's promotions of the track on South Korea's music shows, we speak to Tiffany (sixth from left in the above picture), one of GG's two Korean-Americans. She's enthusing about their new look for the performances, complete with male dancers, a GG first. “There's a lot of cool performances,” she says, “the fans should look forward to them.” Did GG get to pick them out personally – line them up, tap their shoulder like a blessing and bring them forth? There's a pause followed by a tinkling laugh. “I wish! I'm having fun just looking at them.”
Dazed Digital: "Mr.Mr." took over South Korea's charts but also topped a number of iTunes charts. How closely do you watch what's happening, and do you still get excited about a number one?
Tiffany: I usually keep up with what's going on but this year the whole production process took so long that I kind of wanted to roll with it. I enjoyed it so I thought the fans might enjoy it and luckily they did! As the years pass the frequently asked question is “you guys get first place all the time so I'm sure you expect this” but it feels amazing each time. It's not about being first place, it's about being recognised for the hard work we put in.
DD: The full choreography for "Mr.Mr." is rather subtle in places, like simply playing with part of your costume.
Tiffany: The choreography was difficult, it was a lot different from our other routines. They were like, 'boom boom boom! go go go!' Our choreographer Jillian (Meyers) is an absolute genius and we realised we can express something with just flicking our cuffs or ties. Compared to other (songs) there's visually less movement but it takes just as much strength and concentration, especially for me!
DD: "Mr.Mr." came with more narrative than other GG MV's but it did seem, in the end, a little disjointed. What was your impression?
Tiffany: It was a big swirl of black and white and pink! Personally, I did expect something a little smoother in terms of a storyline, but it was nice to try something different and see the results, learn from those and make something bigger and better for the next time.
DD: From the six tracks on this mini-album is there one you really connect with?
Tiffany: My favourite would have to be 'Goodbye' because it's realising that breakups can be good. Goodbyes are seen as painful and miserable but this track is like, 'Hey, I'm going to be ok and it's a good thing you did there.' Honestly, I've felt that we've been sending out a more girl power representation and this song brings that right to the forefront.
DD: Whenever Girls' Generation do a TV appearance there's a sense that everyone is still legitimately having a great time. How do you maintain that?
Tiffany: I'd have to say by this time it's just like family. You know what they like and what they don't like and if someone made a mistake you'd try to understand why they made those decisions. Everyone has been sacrificing themselves in a really good way. We're learning how to be selfless not because it's mandatory but because we want this team to keep going, we still want the same things.
"We're serious, and we want to be serious about our work and our private lives as well"
DD: You know what they say about family – they love hard and fight hard.
Tiffany: Oh yeah, definitely. We fight hard and that's the definition of loving hard as well. You know you won't say anything unless you mean it or care for these people. We may be really tight but we still get our ground rules down and still keep boundaries and respect each other, and that's the reason we can keep going. I think we're all really good listeners.
DD: Is it like having eight wives?
Tiffany: No, it's like having eight sisters and best friends. We've realised and learned to lean on each other, whether it's for work or family problems or fashion crisis. We don't keep secrets from each other. Even saying this out loud makes me feel good and proud of our team.
DD: You're now one of the most recognisable women in K-pop. How does that affect you outside of work?
Tiffany: In the past year with the break from 'I Got A Boy', we did get to spend quality time with friends and family. We went on trips with each other and got to experience being lazy at home, that was amazing. We got to watch movies and musicals, and listen to music we love – I have to say we kept it pretty ordinary. We've realised how important it is to have a parent or a strong (family) backbone. Feeling that makes us want to express that love more through our music, it keeps a fire burning inside us.
DD: You went back to America on your time off. Do you still have many friends there?
Tiffany: Of course, because I grew up there until I was 15 and they've been my friends since I was like 6 or 7. I've always dreamt of this and luckily I've achieved part of that dream. It's nice to know to I have friends that truly support and believe in me, and to go back home and see those that knew me before all this happened.
DD: Do they ever tease or say, “Tiffany, what were you wearing in that video?”
Tiffany: Oh, my sister does that, it's hilarious. She's the most encouraging yet harsh critic! She's my older sister so I realise I should take her word for it, it's all for my own sake. I totally agree with her fashion and moral values!
DD: Before auditioning for your label S.M. Entertainment, were you listening to Korean music?
Tiffany: A year before I auditioned I came across my company's singer, BoA, and immediately became absolutely obsessed. I knew that was what I wanted to do and that was the music I wanted to sing. She's been such a role model and influence on me and what my goals and dreams were as a teenager.
DD: What was the draw to her voice and style that overtook other artists?
Tiffany: At the time it was the decade of amazing female artists – Britney, Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, Mariah Carey – and I listened to all those but I was so young and BoA is actually only three years older than me, and that gave me hope that young people still can be taken seriously as an artist.
DD: Was going into training – and perhaps with no guarantee of a debut – ever a doubt about going to South Korea, rather than trying for a record deal in America?
Tiffany: The whole experience has made me who I am, and the way I think now is that there's a time for everything, and everything happens for a reason. Whether you think you deserve it now or deserve it later, wanting to see that moment is what kept me going through all the times of not knowing what was going to happen. I doubted myself because I felt I had to sing more, dance more, act more, look a certain way, but in the end it was about the music and practice makes perfect. I think that's the story to our group as well.
DD: You mention looking a certain way and there's always been a physical scrutiny on you and the rest of Girls' Generation. Your face, your hair and clothes are consistently commented on. How do you deal with that?
Tiffany: At first it always bothers you even though you say it doesn't. But I think if you want to exceed limits, you have to suck that all in and be happy with what you have. At first it was painful to watch all those things but now I take it as constructive criticism or I don't bother to look at it.
DD: Your 2014 tour schedules aren't finalised, but if you could play anywhere where would that be?
Tiffany: LA and New York. I do hope that I'll be able to perform back home with our tour. I think it'll feel good because I have family fly over to watch (in Asia) but it's not the same as performing to them where I was raised. I have a house in LA now, so all the members could stay with me instead of a hotel. A home away from home.
DD: The average age in Girls' Generation is around 24. Your personal priorities must have changed greatly in the past few years. What do you want in the near future?
Tiffany: GG will continually do what we do but there'll be a time where all the girls can do what they want. I'd like to pursue music back home because I still tend to express myself better through my mother language – English – and it's something I've been dreaming about and would like to achieve. I think it's about being happy. I am happy now, I get to go out on stage and show something new. That's the joy of doing what you love to do.
DD: Can you see music taking a backseat to a personal life one day?
Tiffany: Oh, when the time is ready, absolutely. I don't know when but I do want to get married and have kids. I am a hopeless romantic. I find love is the most vital part of life, of my art. And I hope that everyone will sincerely be happy about what my members are being happy about. People who truly love us will love the decisions we make. In the long term, me and the other girls will have families and that's the joy of life and we need to experience that as well.
DD: When the news about two members being in relationships hit were you nervous for them?
Tiffany: I think it's because we kept our personal lives and work lives so organised (that) it became a shock. I'm very happy (for them) but I was concerned about the girls because it's nothing to feel bad for or worried about. It's a beautiful thing to happen. When it does happen and to whoever it happens to, we hope that the decisions are supported. Going public, it wasn't actually their choice. It was through the press and sometimes I do wish the press would respect when we'd want to release this news. We're serious, and we want to be serious about our work and our private lives as well.
DD: So say in ten years it will be a lot of GG husbands and GG babies all backstage...
Tiffany: I look up to the Spice Girls, I love the fact they're still close, they went after what they wanted but still support each other. I think we'll be able to be that kind of group. Members' dating has been such big news but our focus is on the band, and we love the fans no matter what. I feel they'll be happy in the same way that we are happy for the girls.
Follow Taylor Glasby on Twitter here @_xtgx