[TAEISM] The Best of the Best
She is the leader of the nine. What does it mean to be the leader? There are many styles of leadership. She could have been autocratic, dictatorial, a little sexy Napoleon, but she chose the hardest path in leadership, one might argue that it was the worst path to take. Taeyeon shouldered the heaviest of burdens and chose to remain their friend. She leads by example, with encouragement and constant communication. I think it was Tiffany that said since they’d been together for so long that they would all know if something were not right, that if someone was feeling out of sorts, it was instantly understood, just by looking. There is an important piece of understanding in this. These nine are exceptional people. The nine together are simply the best at what they do, which is to entertain and captivate us. To do that, they need to be in concert, in an orchestration of harmony, with one agenda. If one member is missing, or not with the program, if one member is feeling out of sorts, or ill, if one member is down, it affects us all.
And yet they do it, day after day, days that stretch 16 to 20 hours or more of constant struggle, individually, in pairs and sub-groups, or as all nine, these girls spend more time with each other than any family I know. They sleep together, eat together, share bathrooms, looks, makeup, thoughts, dreams, tears, encouragement, clothes and love. The only one who keeps herself separate, the only one who maintains a slight emotional detachment is Tengu. Why is that?
What makes a girl like her tick? First there is an enormous societal issue. How did she become the leader? Well, in Korea it’s all about experience. When two strangers meet, the first thing they do is establish commonality. You’re a man, I’m a man, you’re a white man, I’m a white man, you’re a man dressed nicely in a business suit, I’m a man dressed nicely in a business suit. And things can progress smoothly. It’s human nature.
The more similar a person is to you, the more you can infer, because you know yourself. It’s incongruous when that nice white man in a business suit starts throwing gang signs or whips out crocheting needles and starts making you a nice sweater. It just doesn’t happen.
In a heterogeneous society, like America, there are taller walls for people to climb in terms of communication and expectation. But in Korea, it goes like this. You’re Korean, I’m Korean. You’re older, I’m younger. You lead, I follow. Of course it isn’t quite as simplistic as that, there is social stratification, educational boundaries, the rural and urban divide, but still, at the bottom it’s all ageism. Leader, unnie, dongsaeng, maknae, sunbae, hoobae. How well you do your duty, as expected of you, as expected of yourself defines worth and self-worth socially. Respect is the name of the game, giving and receiving, according to your role.
But being the leader, to a good leader, is more burden than benefit. Burden, burdensome, it’s a word used much more in Korean society than America. Boodamsae, burdensome. Expectation is a burden. The expectation that you will do your duty, without shirking. Imagine throwing a party for your peers. It lies on you to be entertaining, to have the place looking wonderful, the food and drinks must be top-notch, the conversation has to flow naturally, the awkward wallflowers have to be engaged. Good parties are rarities because good hosts are rare.
So what did it mean to Tengu? Now imagine, you’re going to debut. You’ve been training for years, learning how to move, and sing, how to hold yourself, how to behave in front of a camera. You’ve been doing that with friends, colleagues, fellow students, some you’re close with, some you’ve competed with, some you’ve seen leave and not return. It’s been very much a journey of self-improvement. And then the word comes. You’re going to debut with these eight girls. Some are close friends, some acquaintances, one or two you don’t really know. Oh, by the way, you’re the leader.
What sort of nightmare has this just become?
Imagine the pressure on Taeyeon. The expectation. If the girls fight, it’s on her. If one of them is lazy or doesn’t improve enough, it’s on her. If the group fails, it’s on her. Boodamsae? Yeah.
Thankfully she was blessed to have these eight, just as hungry for success as she was, just as willing to sweat and spend their tears as she was. But making them one, leading them forward and keeping herself separate, what fire that took, what strength.
She struggles to not outshine any of the others. She’s a powerhouse vocalist, incredibly talented, wise beyond her years, and is without a doubt, because of her decisions, the very best leader that Soshi could have ended up with. Flat out, Soshi is so exceptional in large part because she is who she is.
She’s barely into her 2nd decade, when most of her contemporaries are having fun in college, she’s riding herd on a platoon and in a warzone to boot. 2009 was THE year of Soshi, and they were on top of their game, every day. They certainly have the awards to prove it, but they also have the bruises, tears and exhaustion spent to earn every accolade and more. I think if any normal person were to live their schedule for a week, we would throw in the towel, or shoot an SM manager depending on whether the gun or towel were closer to hand. Imagine that kind of pressure, on kids barely through their teens. The only thing that allows them to get through another day is their support structure of family, friends, and most importantly each other.
Ah, but there’s the rub. Simply put, the rest of the girls can lean on each other, but Taeyeon has no one to lean on. She simply CAN’T, because a leader doesn’t lean. Add to that, the fact that her family is so far from Seoul. On the odd holiday that SME doles out to the girls, she stays in the dorm, while most of them get to go back to their families.
Is it any wonder that she has moments of doubt? Moments when she doesn’t want the burden of telling her friends to do something that they have to do? When she herself wants nothing more than to curl up in a ball and cry? She hides most of that from them, just as she mostly hides her tears from the camera.
What’s the upside to being a leader? No, not the automatic respect and deference that small minded people would enjoy. Just pride, pride at leading these girls to success after success. She GOOD at it. Results don’t lie, Soshi is the best, not because they are the best singers or dancers, but because they are one. People have their favorite members, I think that’s just human nature, but for me, I love whichever one I’m looking at at that moment. Not because I’m somehow immune from picking favorites, but because they are best when they are together.
Does something like SNSD just happen? Of course not, SNSD is unnatural, their lack of jealousy is the antithesis of fame-seeking, me-first, ambitious behavior. I mean here we have 9 very talented and beautiful girls, each unique, each driven to succeed, and what do we end up with? A family. A family that believes and challenges and supports each other. And it’s Taeyeon and her style of leadership that deserves the credit. She’s a nurturer, a true mother. She’s always happy to let one of her girls have the spotlight and the mic.
She’s extremely self-deprecating, ridiculously oddly beautiful, and hilarious. In her solo stage during the Soshi concert, when she’s singing Hush Hush, we get to see a Taeyeon that she hides so well. She’s a superstar, with megawatt sex bomb appeal. Our dorkmunster supreme can work the stage with the best of the best, and not give anything away. Her soaring vocals are the best of any idol. And that is only part of who she is. A small part.
I think the closest we get to the real girl inside is her as Chinchin’s DJ. She’s unconsciously entertaining. She can make faces, eat, talk, laugh with abandon, twirl a pen, pose for stills or bora and people will just stare or listen. She’s 158ish centimeters of pure entertainer. It’s no accident that just her speaking voice is enough to capture anyone’s attention. She doesn’t need to show anything more than a funny face to hold her own with any of the other girls. On IY, Sunny and Yuri are the pros. Through their work they let the others shine. Think about that. The best of T-Ara, BEG, Kara, Secret, and it’s two Soshi’s that lead the groups. And yet, when the nine are together, who is the leader, the one that lets the others shine?
There’s one scene of her, on Inkigayo, the Beauty Girls Talk Talk corner, where she’s with the leaders of Kara and 2NE1 and 4Minute. Firstly, of the four, she simply carried the conversation, naturally, without ego, she led the other leaders. I think it was Gyuri that was talking, being positioned at the edge of the group, and JiHyun from 4Minute didn’t want to crowd Taeyeon, so she was standing at a normal distance between them, which made Gyuri almost fall outside of the camera’s view. Like the true professional, and the true leader she is, she pulled the 4Minute leader close, one, to break the boundaries that only a sunbae could initiate, and two so that Gyuri would have her time in the camera. Even for the closing shot, she took an end spot, letting the two rookie leaders, JiHyun and CL have the center. This is what being a leader is.
That’s her greatest quality. Her confidence in herself. She knows she can shine brighter than almost anyone else, so she doesn’t need to. She knows she can speak better than anyone else, so she doesn’t need to. It’s only when it’s for the group that she opens her mouth, like on the KJE Chocolate show, when everyone else is in tears, she chokes it back, and stays with the program.
Except for Taeyeon, each of the members can be her own person, knowing there’s eight others waiting to catch them if they fall. I think she’s relaxing more, as the others continue to grow. I just hope, if Taeyeon needs to, that she can let herself go, and realize that asking for help isn’t a weakness, but giving her sisters back some of the trust they have in her.
Happy birthday Taeyeon, Soshi’s leader and heart.