I’m really reluctant to start any sentence with “imagine” but you know…
IMAGINE being in school and convincing your parents that you’re going to drop out to join a meat grinder of a business where a minuscule part of aspiring individuals actually go on to any success. A business built and thriving on a never ending stream of incredibly dedicated and talented hopefuls that will put their regular lives on pause for many years, missing out on the regular teen and young adult stuff like normal relations and an education, just to be able to endlessly train singing and dancing with the goal to maybe, just maybe, be able to debut as idols in some vague future. And not only have you convinced your parents, you’ve convinced your asian parents which, generalising heavily, means you’ve subjected yourself to quite a lot of skepticism and derision just based on the normal Confucianistic non-encouraging coaching style employed by Asian Parents. (Hey, I’m part Japanese, I intimately know the wonders of depressed self worth and impossible expectations). Also imagine that you’re making this decision in South Korea, a nation known for a rough job market for young people, meaning you, for all you know, have put yourself in a pretty non envious position of “up or out”, succeed or fail, and with rough consequences attached to failure…
I wont ask you to imagine a fourth time buuuuuut bear with me… Now IMAGINE having spent a good chunk of your youth on an unlikely endeavour to succeed as a Kpop girl group and you’ve been pushing hard, hopefully trying out different concepts gaining some traction once or twice but in general not making much impact, not so much because you’re not good, there’s just so many others who are also good taking up airtime, most of them newer, younger, some of them better connected and financed.
And you’re now coming up at your sixth year since debuting. Despite your blood, sweat and tears success hasn’t materialised.
When you discuss the future with your members the talk isn’t about the next promotion or song anymore.
It’s about evaluating when being hopeful simply becomes stupid and naive. It’s talking about what jobs you can get outside of the idol business with a lagging academic record and not much experience outside of the idol world. Some of you even decide that there is no longer any reason to dorm together as a group. Promotions, training and mutual activities is just so few and far between now so there doesn’t seem to be a reason to anymore. At last you’re just trying to come to terms with, that despite all your dreams and desires, there’s just no rationale for doing this anymore. The phone call from management saying that your four year old song, for some unknown reason suddenly seems to top a music chart, just seems like a cruel distraction and at this point you’re not in the mood of having your hopes lifted and crushed again.
However this is where the story suddenly takes an unexpected turn…
high hopes, debut & Limbo
Originally a five member group garnering initial interest through one member being related to a pretty well known actor and another for being a former Miss Korea participant. This together with being backed by the demon producer of the time made for pretty good prospects for a fledgling girl group even though from a smaller agency. The mid 2011 debut was quite successful with the first single charting high and the group getting a lot of attention and followed by a second mini album in 2012. Then a followup single was released in 2013 followed by producer Brave Brothers stating that this would be followed by a full length album produced by himself. This is when things start going bad for the group as Brave Brothers gets an offer to write and produce for AOA, a girl group having started to get a lot of popularity (and dominating the girl group genre the following few years – recently though AOA are mostly known for a decidedly nasty bullying scandal). Brave Brothers were now fully dedicated to the AOA cause leaving Brave Girls stuck in limbo for two years. On hiatus and with no releases in sight Brave Girls are now adrift with an uncertain future.
LINEUP CHANGES, DEEPENED & HIGH HEELS
2016 the group undergoes lineup changes with the five member group losing three original members and gaining five new taking the group to seven members and releasing single Deepened.
This song together with “High heels” was part of Brave Entertainment 2016 attempt to break the market with the new seven member lineup trying two different concepts in the process. The style of the video with the group decked out in athletic gear and dancing in a city street environment is well done and suits the new line up perfectly. Curiously scaffolds also make an ill advised return from the 80s in this video. Besides the scaffolds, the video is really cool with lots of quads and a real showcase of each of the members and giving the new members a good context to present themselves in. In total “Deepened” is a tight performance by the Brave Girls and you get a sense of what a wrecking ball of a group they could be…
Deepened and the follow up release of “High heels” sadly flopped with little to no interest from the general public and not broadening the fanbase in any significant way – in fact selling less than early stuff. While style wise “Deepened” was ahead of it’s time, the song is pretty damn awesome with a whispered falsetto pre-chorus, some great rapping (scorching performance by former member Hyeran who, rumour has it, dropped out of the group to have a life) and a haunting chorus over a tight beat. How this song wasn’t a hit actually confuses me. The song, styling and sex appeal just seems like the exact zone that Brave Entertainment must have been aiming to occupy with the Brave Girls. Musically it also announces the powerhouse vocals of Minyoung having arrived on the scene. The production hasn’t aged badly at all and would sit nicely beside similar tracks on any playlist. “Deepened” is the slick bastard child of the Mean Girls of the gym, the Pussycat dolls (if they’d been any good) and a Nike advert. It’s also quite possibly my favourite Brave Girls track with it’s airy piano chords, reverb and driving beat accompanied by a great video and concept only slightly marred by scaffolds.
More lineup changes & Rollin’
I would speculate the long hiatus and bad prospects had made remaining original members hesitant as to the future of the group and it wouldn’t take long until the last two original members had also left the group, leaving the line up completely changed and the group again a five member outfit,
now consisting of completely new members. In 2017 things start to get interesting: the Brave Girls release a great pop song and what will be at the core of this story: Rollin’, Brave Girls most successful release to date becomes very popular with the existing fanbase and is also re-arranged and re-released during the same year adding a tropical vibe and sax solos.
Participation in “The unit”
At this point in time three of the members (Yujeong, Eunji and Yuna) audition for “The Unit”, a docu/survival show who’s concept is rebooting stalled Kpop careers. The Unit is a pretty sad affair gathering members from various failed groups giving them a chance to promote and maybe get a second career if things goes well – however both Yujeong and Eunji, pass auditions but are then eliminated fairly early in the show. Again our brave protagonists seem stuck with a bleak future.
In the high performance unforgiving world of Kpop there are numerous groups launched each year with a relative minority going on to make a mark in the Kpop world. And the Brave Girls having never had a really huge hit and not being backed by any of the big companies are in a not too unusual place: They’ve officially been active for quite a long time, there is nothing new or fresh to their brand anymore. While they do have a small die hard fanbase – it doesn’t seem to expand at any significant rate.
The Military, “We ride” and possible disbandment
If bound by the not too uncommon rookie/slave contracts of the Kpop business, the members of the group might economically be net neutral or still in debt. And it seems fair to speculate it’s during this fairly dismal period the touring of army bases starts in earnest. Performing to the military is not unusual for girl groups and the money, while probably slim, is most likely needed and other gigs are few and far between. Now the South Korean military fill a very real purpose in the regional geo-political arena with the close neighbour of North Korea (and China) meaning that most adult men in South Korea at some time serve as conscripts and doing a year or more of military service. Morale boosting entertainment in the form of pretty girl groups is par for the course and for the Brave Girls this becomes particularly significant.
And let’s just expand a bit on the Rollin’ performance: it’s energetic, parts are performed on small stools (yes there has been falling incidents), the choreography, even though containing a hard to explain part that looks like core stretching, also has body rolls a plenty. And frankly, the song is a great pop gem and still has rotation on my personal playlists ever since I started enjoying Kpop.
And make no mistake, the Brave Girls are charming performers. With a powerhouse of a main vocalist, a happy pill of a visual, a chic and cute maknae with precise dance moves and the statuesque rapper, Brave Girls make quite an impression on stage. Not hard to see the appeal for the conscripted men of the military slogging through a year or more of inevitable military service.
Having listened to a few “post going viral” interviews the whole journey up until now must have been quite discouraging. Comments from the members state that starting to perform at army bases was a confidence booster with the support and adoration of the servicemen being a huge contrast to their standard performances where their fanbase and support would be comparatively small. When and if you watch some of the army performances and compare the relative enthusiasm and energy from their music show appearances I do think there is a notable difference: huge smiles, great energy and relaxed performances representing the former.
Becoming interested in the story of the Brave Girls and doing some digging it seems like prior to going viral the girls had even moved out of their dorm. For anyone not familiar with the ins and outs of Kpop this is a pretty telling sign that a group isn’t operating as a group any more. Members of groups dorm together to be able to effectively do promotions and train together – this stopping being a significant sign that there was no longer a reason for the members to live together. And interviews disclose that at least two members had already started living at home as their official careers as Brave Girls, though having released a new single in 2020, seemed all but ended with the latest single marking a kind of bittersweet closure for the group.
GOING VIRAL – What happened to the Brave Girls?
Things going nuclear online like Rollin’ has, will almost never be attributed to just the one thing. In the case of Brave Girls a few things seem certain: massive engagement based on a few Youtube clips, in combination with the beyond fanbase appeal and support created by the Brave Girls unprecedented touring of South Korean army facilities and the resulting popularity with service members and formers, have all contributed to the perfect viral storm. A Youtube edit with multiple footage from Rollin’s performances for the military with the sometimes hilarious, sometimes moving Youtube commentary from various appreciative service members superimposed over the performance has gained over 10 million views and 32 k comments over less than 3 weeks.
The resulting streams on various medias affecting Korean pop charts resulted in a 4 year old song rocketing from history to #1 placements on some of the most influential charts and networks and gaining #1 on the Inkigayo chart twice (at the time this was written sweeping 5 different music charts – basically dominating all except one with a requirement of competing songs to be no more than two months old). Also take into consideration that the general public in Korea have a real appreciation for the members (and former members) of the military, who are guarding the nation against some very real threats. The story of the Brave Girls consistent touring and performances for military service personnel (some say in excess of 100 performances over the later years) also seems to have struck a chord with the general public. And let’s not downplay the song or performers – “Rollin” is a brilliant pop song and performed incredibly enthusiastically and charmingly by the Brave Girls.
In a matter of a few weeks Brave Girls have gone from obscure girl group to an internet sensation and becoming the darlings of Kpop media. A group that have had no luck generating media interest for the past 10 years are now the talk of the town with appearances scheduled on the most popular variety shows like Knowing Brothers and Running Man (the latter something the group have mentioned previously multiple times as something they haven’t dared hoping for but something they’ve really wished for).
The end (and new beginnings?)
With a couple of rough years past I realise I just might project and relate to this story more than I should, but much like bingeing on romantic comedies or aspirational sports drama, sometimes you need something that lifts your spirit no matter how stoic you need to be in your everyday life. And I just want to take some heart in a rare, relatable and charming underdog story. Because we all want to be hopeful about life and find some evidence that things could turn out good in the end right?
I guess I could dissect the story even further and go into the gladiatorial, predatory structure of the Kpop business but I think just enjoying the anomaly and phenomena of the Brave Girls and things just turning around and working out – regardless of permanence (what is?) or how monetizable it is or what really comes next. And yes, Kpop is superficial and eminently manufactured, but it’s also so much easier to feel empathy with efforts that you know are so disciplined and gruelling as in Kpop. Kpop group training is the music equivalent to special operations training in the military and that fact just makes it so much easier to appreciate and celebrate when someone reaps the rewards after having toughed it out for several years.
You might think an extension of the Brave Girls upward trajectory is unlikely and, sure, they might by now be older than your regular Kpop protagonists. But Hey, who would have anticipated what just happened? For the sake of your soul in the age of C19 I would recommend taking happiness in seeing change being brought on for four young women, who for long thought the experience of success would escape them, as they are now dominating Kpop charts and enjoying being fully booked and having some of the success they must have dreamt about as they started out in the Kpop business some 6 years ago. And hopefully you can see and enjoy the genuine joy that shines through in their performances in contrast to the otherwise hyper planned and styled world of Kpop! I hope your spirits, having read this, have been as boosted as mine were when I realised what was happening to the Brave Girls.
And tune in for further developments and leave any thoughts in the comments.
Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’!
Go Brave Girls!
Need more brave girls? Expand for a list of the videos mentioned in this article - Enjoy!
Rollin’ (new version)
More Brave Girls content? Expand for an Amazing video about the brave girls made by excellent youtuber "Asian theory". Recommended!
Asian Theory is obviously a fan and has made this amazing video about the Rise of the Brave Girls. Highly recommended and very lovingly done.
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The Strange K-pop series is all about the weird and wonderful of K-pop. Always with amazement, never without love.
Read it all for instant gratification.