It’s the first Saturday of March, which means that it’s time for another episode of Timeless Thoughts.
This linkup is hosted by Tara and Georgie. In a nutshell, once a month, you can blog about the things in your past life that you truly miss. It can be one, two, or more. The linkup is open for only two weeks, starting on the first Saturday of the month. Tara is hosting this month’s linkup, so be sure to come and visit her and join up!
I gave a little hint to other linkup participants on what timeless thought that I want to share for this month. We’ve got my past favorite J-Pop girl group, SPEED, back in February. Today, I present to you my past favorite K-Pop girl group, Fin K.L. (pronounced “finkle,” “pinkul”… or “pinkuru”?) The ’90s still rocks, that’s all I could say.
Not too long ago, one of my friends in the Philippines shared something on Facebook where they were asking for votes (Likes?) to see which one of the listed/pictured K-Pop idol girls is the hottest or something like that. I just happen to run across it and stared at the pictures of these girls. The hell, I thought. They all look identical to me.1 I commented on that and told them my honest feelings about those girls, and you know what my friend said? “That’s racist.” How is saying “they all look alike” being racist?
I asked them about the old ’90s K-Pop and, not surprisingly, none of them even heard of the groups I mentioned. Heck, I mentioned their top groups back then: H.O.T., S.E.S., Shinhwa, Fin K.L., you know. When one of them said “Lee Hyori, Queen of K-Pop,” I said, “if you all know Lee Hyori, you should (at least) know Fin K.L.”! Jeebus, “fans” who only know about the “trendy” ones and don’t know anything about the genre’s history annoy me, I’m sorry.
Oh, and another thing I’d like to remind those so-called “real” K-Pop fans who don’t know a thing or two about the ’90s of that genre. Fin K.L.’s songs are some of the most popular songs that current K-Pop groups just love to cover everywhere, whether if it’s in a concert, a variety show guesting, even a part of their upcoming albums too. I know this because people who commented on many of the videos I’ve seen on YouTube have some current K-Pop group brought them to these original videos.
You see, Fin K.L. is one of K-Pop’s first female groups whom anyone can tell who is who among the members.2 If many of today’s K-Pop fans are familiar with Lee Hyori, or K-drama actresses Sung Yuri and Lee Jin, and the phenomenal award-winning Korean stage musical actress Ock Juhyun, they should at least be familiar with Fin K.L… *okay, rant ended*
When SPEED debuted back in 1996, and the fact that my Korean classmates in Japanese class introduced me to them, I often wondered (or joked) with them if they have any recommended Korean pop artists that they feel that I would truly enjoy. They got me into H.O.T. first,3 but then everything just went J-Pop after H.O.T.
Then, two years after SPEED’s rising popularity in Japan and its neighbors, Korea gave their reply when Fin K.L. (Fin Killing Liberty – the fin is French for “the end/finish”) was first introduced to the world. Most “veteran” (?) K-Pop fans knew Fin K.L. as DSP Media’s answer to current top female group S.E.S. and is one of the main rivals (I think the other one was Baby V.O.X., another group that I liked back then). For me and my Korean friends/classmates though, we always thought of Fin K.L. as Korea’s version of SPEED due to a few similarities: four girls, same genre of music (dance, R&B/Hip-hop), two lead singers while the other two are the “eye candy” (not necessarily ^^), well, you get the picture. But aside from their nationalities and languages, both groups have their own differences with each other.
Back in those days, it was a little harder to get some Fin K.L. stuff imported here from Korea compared to getting some SPEED stuff imported here from Japan,4 until our local Asian channel here, KTSF 26, began showing some Korean TV shows, mostly Korean musical variety shows. That’s when I took a better glimpse of Fin K.L.
There was one old documentary short that I saw on TV that talked about Fin K.L.’s early (and humble) beginnings. From what I can remember (I had my Korean friends with me watching this) briefly, DSP Media (the peeps who discovered and managed the group) was looking out for young and talented girls who would be willing to be part of a brand-new girl group to join in the early K-Pop scene. A local radio station in Seoul had an open radio singing contest and a young and confident Ock Joohyun called in to belt out her vocals to Mariah Carey’s hit “Hero.” Her insanely powerful voice for a young Asian teen caught DSP Media’s attention and sought her out to be their first recruit. With that, Joohyun went her way to introduce her buddy, Lee Jin, and had her audition along. Next came Sung Yuri, who was discovered at a school field trip with her friends. The future queen of K-Pop, Lee Hyori, was the last to be recruited when she was discovered taking purikura pictures.5
When I first heard of their song, Blue Rain, first thing that came to my mind was “Korean SPEED,” but when I finally got the chance to see the video, I thought “I think these girls are a little older than the girls in SPEED.” I saw them again singing live at one of those Korean musical variety shows that I no longer remember the name of.
Without further ado, my favorite songs from the girls of Fin Killing Liberty!
I guess sometimes, music videos really does change your perspective of a particular song. Blue Rain was a pleasant ballad and in a way, I was surprised that they would debut with a ballad. Most girl groups that I know of back in the ’90s would start off with something laid back but at the same time, upbeat. Still, I fell in love with the song more that I got to know of the girls just by watching the video. Their outfits were, as always, typical ’90s, and as a ’90s college student at that time, I was not ashamed that I wore those same long shirts and baggy pants. In fact, I had Joohyun’s hair around the time I saw this video (1998-ish). It was then that I called out Joohyun and Hyori as my biases of the group.6
I know it’s a little early to say this in this post, but when Fin K.L. went their separate ways, so did I with K-Pop. I couldn’t find anything appealing with today’s K-Pop compared to the times when Fin K.L. was in their prime.
Today’s K-Pop girl groups Spica, Apink, and Girl’s Day covered this song, but I think Spica gave justice to it.
The Youtube video says “I Can’t Cry,” but really, the correct name of the song is Another Fin K.L. single that many Korean youth (and adults 30+ today) can never, ever forget: Ruby.
This song is definitely one of my top favorites. I was a bit upset that I couldn’t really catch some Korean just from listening to the lyrics. Around this time, I started taking Taekwondo classes too.7 One of my sabumnim ((Taekwondo teacher.)) knew some Korean and I was tempted to ask him for some translations on some K-Pop song, but being a serious practitioner that I am, decided not to. But moving along, just with the first chorus words of I can’t cry, I can’t cry, this song is somewhat melancholic, but at the same time, sounding thankful.
The last time I’ve heard this song again some several years later was on YouTube, when Joohyun sang the chorus on the piano for her friend and leader Hyori as her gift for her wedding. In fact, we’ve got Joohyun going solo with this song. I’ve always felt that Ruby has always been Joohyun’s song, and hers alone.8
To My Boyfriend
I was browsing YouTube at one point where there was one person who made a video comparing today’s J-pop girl groups to today’s K-pop girl groups, and I have to admit, I was rather upset and disgusted. Obviously, the person who made the video didn’t do enough research and was primarily biased towards K-Pop. He showed all the “bubblegum” girl groups like Morning Musume, AKB48, Denpagumi Inc., and similar girl groups singing the kawaii cutesy-type songs comparing to Girls Generation, 2NE1, (f)x, and others who had more variety. Some of the idiots who commented were saying that K-Pop is primarily edgy/mainstream Western pop-influenced. I disagree. J-Pop, if you go further, has the same influences (*coughSPEEDcough*), and in fact, even K-Pop can be influenced by J-Pop, or rather, those memorable anime theme songs you’d normally hear on many shoujo-type anime.9
To My Boyfriend is a good example. Although it’s a very summery (is there such a word?) song with a lot of “bubblegum pop” written here and there, this is one type of K-Pop song that you may likely hear in a Korean-dubbed anime. (Just my imagination now ^^) Even so, this song is one of Korea’s memorable songs that many K-Pop artists and groups just love to do covers on. Girls Generation/SNSD, Gfriend, I heard SS501 has their version too. In fact, if they were to accompany a dance routine to this song, it would be the same dance as Fin K.L.’s dance on the video.
It’s a fun and catchy song, and… very… very… girly. ^^
Call me, call me, call call, give a call…
Here’s Girls Generation/SNSD and their live version of the song, or the first verse anyway. ^^
(*Sooyoung singing Joohyun’s part… ooh the high notes!*)
From the videos I’ve watched of random K-Pop artists, it seems that the Fin K.L. song that’s most covered by today’s K-Pop artists and groups would be this one, Forever Love. Girls, guys, mixed, this song is, I believe, immortalized Fin K.L. and forever became a household name throughout (South) Korea and K-Pop enthusiasts around. Kara, APRIL, A Pink, I think even Girls Generation/SNSD even covered the song at one point (maybe?). It’s not just the song that almost every Korean in that generation became familiar with, but also the dance (with the swirling arms). ^^
Although I listened to it more and more, somehow this song sounded almost the same as that one very old song from the ’70s that I couldn’t get the title of…
To My Prince
I have to. Ever since Blue Rain I haven’t heard much ballads from them at that time, and I was happy they released another ballad. It’s a sweet ballad that, if I knew Korean and actually understood the lyrics, would sing it as a lullaby to my guy… or something like that. ^^ There isn’t a music video available on YouTube, but their live performances are always enjoyable. I remember my Korean friends in Japanese class were debating to see which one of the members is the “true root” of Fin K.L. A few of them said Hyori because she’s the most noticeable (and non-arguably the prettiest) and has a lot more spunk, the others say Joohyun because her vocal presence and her musicality defines the group. Ah, to each their own. ^^
The same year that this song was released, I read bad news of SPEED’s (temporary) breakup. My J-Pop girl group scene just broke down, and I couldn’t really get into the other girl groups that were either new or in the same contemporary as SPEED, and tried getting in to the J-Pop male groups (and succeeded). My new Japanese friend I met online who’s a die-hard Johnny’s fan was, to my surprise, a Fin K.L. fan, and even sent me the mp3 of this song to cheer me up. I remembered her telling me “They’re no SPEED, and they’re not Japanese, but I love them the same.”10 I thanked her for that, and while the Johnny’s worldwide fandom back then was in its roots, she and I continued on being “underground” Fin K.L. fans.
The beginning of 2000s seemed to be the beginning of maturity, if that makes any sense. SPEED showed their maturity in 1999 and 2000, so did Fin K.L. with this song. It’s definitely a lot edgier than their usual tunes in the ’90s, but somehow their maturity made Fin K.L. a whole lot cooler.
You Wouldn’t Know
From what I read, this is a cover of an old ’80s Korean song of the same title, and Fin K.L. just made it on an R&B tip. I really love how smooth they made with this version (though I never heard of the original ’80s song ^^), and it became one of my favorites. That same Japanese friend of mine was able to upload its music video she ripped off from their MTV Japan (?) channel that had Japanese subtitles in them. (Fin K.L. became popular in Japan too, according to her) She interpreted the video, and said that each of the members were portraying a scene from four movies that became popular in Korea at that time. Two Korean movies I’ve forgotten the titles of (Hyori and Joohyun), Pretty Woman (Jin), and a Japanese movie, Love Letter (Yuri). Thanks to her, I hunted down Love Letter in Japantown and found a VHS tape of it. After watching the movie, I have to say that Yuri’s scene in the MV (where she was shouting towards the mountains) was quite powerful. I recommend watching it when you can. ^_^
This was the last song (and music video) that I’ve seen before Fin K.L. split to pursue their solo projects. The song sounded really heartfelt, in a way depressing, and the video itself is depressing. In a way, it kind of gave me a sign that this may be one of their final singles before they end the same way as SPEED did two years ago (from the release of this song). I guess in a way, this song reminds us that nothing really lasts forever, and eventually, we all reach our end one day. At least, that was the impression that I got judging from the first and the last scenes (with those four little girls in black & white scene). In a way, it’s somewhat chilling.
Since then, here’s what I gathered post-Fin K.L.:
- Hyori, of course, became Korea’s ideal beauty, a sex symbol if I may add, you know, the Queen of K-Pop. She got married eventually and currently, is on hiatus from showbiz.
- Yuri became one of Korea’s top actresses of today, more known for her K-dramas.
- Jin followed Yuri, but she was more known to make guest appearances on variety shows and eventually, acting on K-dramas as well. Both she and Yuri are as active as ever.11
- Joohyun did a complete, total makeover.12 She lost a lot of weight, which made her a lot unrecognizable from the Joohyun I was familiar with before, and that she also became an advocate of Yoga in Korea. Some years later, she got back in music full-swing, from releasing her own solo albums in becoming today’s hottest musical stage stars in Korea.
Some years later, like in 2006 even, I learned that Fin K.L. released another single, and I believe they never released anything after that. This song is like a re-establishment of the group, but then nothing much else came afterwards. The song is called Fin Killing Liberty.
You know, if SPEED was able to come back together as a group in 2008 officially, then I have high hopes that Fin K.L. may do the same. I’m still waiting for that day. Let’s just say, I refuse to listen to K-Pop again until I see Fin K.L. again. Maybe that’s a little selfish.
My countdown begins…
- You know… the whole plastic surgery trend going on in Korea that many Koreans (especially women) started to follow the “ideal beauty standard” that many of them just end up looking like each other… it’s scary… [↩]
- in short, during the days where there was no plastic surgery among the early K-Pop stars… save Ock Juhyun many years later… [↩]
- more about H.O.T. in Tara’s Timeless Thoughts for February. [↩]
- we have Japantown in both San Francisco and San Jose, so it’s a little easier, not so much with stuff from Korea then… [↩]
- I’m pretty sure there’s a Korean word for those photo booths, but… purikura… XD [↩]
- well… leaning more towards Joohyun just because she’s the *real* musician of the group… can sing, can play the piano, what else she can’t do? But Hyori does know how to hype and entertain the audience with her “in-your-face” personality. I remembered back in those days where almost every Korean girl wanted to be like Hyori, or even look like Hyori. I wonder if there’s a trend going on here… [↩]
- ooh I almost forgot that bit. [↩]
- I know, bias… [↩]
- and nowadays, probably the other way around. Nothing wrong with that. [↩]
- Then later, I realized that Koreans are the second (?) largest minority group in Japan, I shouldn’t be surprised that K-Pop has some recognition in Japan at that time, at least, not as big as it is now. [↩]
- A lot of K-drama fans were shocked to lkearn that both of them were in a K-Pop girl group before, and not just that, with K-Pop Queen Hyori too… according to the YouTube comments. [↩]
- which includes some plastic surgery, which she is open about it. It’s not her fault though, but I blame the Korean media and society for the whole plastic surgery trend… [↩]