Girls’ Generation (Hangul: 소녀시대; RR: Sonyeo Sidae), also known as SNSD, is a South Korean girl group formed by SM Entertainment. The group is composed of eight members: Taeyeon, Sunny, Tiffany, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sooyoung, Yoona, and Seohyun. Originally a nine-piece group, Jessica later departed from the group in September 2014. Girls’ Generation debuted in 2007 with their Korean eponymous debut album. Though the album gained some attention, it was not until 2009 that the group rose to fame with the single “Gee”, which claimed the top spot on KBS’s Music Bank for a record-breaking nine consecutive weeks and was named the most popular song of the 2000s in South Korea by Melon. Girls’ Generation further consolidated their popularity on the South Korean music scene with follow-up singles “Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)”, “Oh!”, and “Run Devil Run”, which were released in mid-2009 and early 2010.
In mid-2010, Girls’ Generation signed with Nayutawave Records (present-day EMI Records Japan) to venture into the Japanese music scene. Their 2011 eponymous Japanese debut album peaked atop the Japanese Oricon Albums Chart and became the first album by a non-Japanese girl group to be certified “Million” by the Recording Industry Association of Japan. The group’s third Korean studio album The Boys was released in October 2011 and became the best-selling album of 2011 in South Korea with sales of over 380,000 copies. An English version of the single “The Boys” was released by Interscope Records in an attempt to expand the group’s endeavor to the global music scene. The group’s 2013 fourth Korean studio album I Got a Boy was supported by the single “I Got a Boy”, which was subjected to major attention from Western media following its winning the Video of the Year award at the inaugural YouTube Music Awards. Their fifth Korean studio album, Lion Heart, was released in 2015. In 2017, Girls’ Generation released their sixth Korean studio album, Holiday Night, to commemorate the group’s tenth debut anniversary.
Girls’ Generation’s signature musical styles are characterized as electropop and bubblegum pop, though their sounds have varied widely, incorporating various genres including hip hop, R&B, and EDM. They have sold over 4.4 million albums and 30 million digital singles as of 2012. The group’s immense popularity in their native country South Korea has earned them numerous accolades and the titles “The Nation’s Singers” and “The Nation’s Girl Group”. Girls’ Generation is also deemed one of the prominent figures of the Korean Wave and one of the most popular K-pop acts internationally. They are the first Asian girl group to achieve five music videos with over 100 million views on YouTube: “Gee”, “I Got a Boy”, “The Boys”, “Mr. Taxi”, and “Oh!”. In Japan, they became the first non-Japanese girl group to have three number-one albums on the Japanese Oricon Albums Chart, and their three Japanese concert tours attracted a record-breaking 550,000 spectators, more than any other Korean girl group.
The group’s Korean name is So-nyuh Shi-dae (Korean: 소녀시대, RR: Sonyeo Sidae), from the Sino-Korean root meaning “Generation of Girls”; they are also known as SoShi (Korean: 소시) or SNSD, both of which are abbreviated forms of the group’s Korean-language name. Because their name consists of Chinese roots, the group’s name is similar in Chinese and Japanese: in Japan the group’s name is pronounced as Shōjo Jidai (Japanese: 少女時代), and in Mandarin Chinese as Shàonǚ Shídài (Chinese: 少女時代/少女时代).
Prior to the group’s debut, some of the members were already involved in the entertainment industry. Yoona had gone through about 200 auditions for music videos, dramas, and movies before becoming a singer for Girls’ Generation. Sooyoung was exposed to the Japanese music scene as a member of a pop duo named Route θ, which disbanded one year after its debut in 2002.
The first member of the group to join SM Entertainment’s training system was Jessica in 2000, after she and her sister, Krystal Jung, were scouted in a mall in South Korea during a family vacation. That same year, members Sooyoung and Hyoyeon were cast into S.M.’s training system through the 2000 S.M. Open Audition, in which Hyoyeon danced for her audition. Yuri was the next Girls’ Generation member to become an S.M. trainee after coming second in the 2001 S.M. Youth Best Dancer competition. Yoona was cast the following year through the 2002 S.M. Saturday Open Casting Audition, where she sang and danced to her favorite singers, BoA and Britney Spears. Seohyun, the group’s youngest member, was scouted in the subway by an S.M. scout; she then auditioned in 2003, singing children’s songs.
The group’s leader, Taeyeon, was cast in 2004 after winning first place in the S.M. Youth Singing Competition. That same year, member Tiffany auditioned at S.M.’s Starlight Casting System in Los Angeles, and joined the company in October 2004. The final member of the group to be added was Sunny, who had become an S.M. trainee in 1998 and trained for five years before moving to another company, Starworld. At Starworld, she trained to debut in a duo named Sugar, which never debuted. In 2007, on the recommendation of Korean-Japanese singer IconiQ, Sunny moved back to S.M. Entertainment and became a member of Girls’ Generation.
In July 2007, Girls’ Generation had their first stage performance on Mnet’s School of Rock, where the group performed their first single, “Into the New World” (다시 만난 세계; Dasi mannan segye). On August 5, 2007, the group officially made their debut on SBS’s Inkigayo, where they performed the same song. Girls’ Generation subsequently released their self-titled debut studio album in November 2007, which was preceded by the singles “Girls’ Generation” (소녀시대; Sonyeo sidae)—a remake of Lee Seung-cheol’s 1989 song, and “Kissing You”. Girls’ Generation became the twelfth best-selling album of 2007 in South Korea, selling 56,804 copies. The album has sold over 120,000 copies in the country as of 2009. In March 2008, the album was re-released under the title Baby Baby. The album was preceded by a single with the same name, which was released on digital music sites on March 17, 2008.
Though Girls’ Generation had gained some attention with their 2007 debut album, it was not until 2009 that the group rose to stardom. On January 7, the group released their debut extended play (EP) Gee, which has sold over 100,000 copies in South Korea. Its title track occupied the number-one position on KBS’s Music Bank after a week of release and remained on the top spot for a record-breaking nine consecutive weeks, becoming the longest running number-one song on Music Bank until 2012, when Psy’s “Gangnam Style” claimed the top spot for ten consecutive weeks. It also became the best-selling single of 2009 in South Korea. The group’s second EP Tell Me Your Wish (Genie) (소원을 말해봐; Sowoneul malhaebwa) and its titular lead single were released in June 2009. The EP sold a record-breaking 50,000 copies in South Korea within its first week of release and charted at number eight on the Taiwanese G-Music chart. In November 2009, S.M. Entertainment announced the group’s first concert tour, Into The New World, whose tickets for the South Korean shows were sold out in three minutes. The tour visited Seoul (South Korea) in December 2009, Shanghai (China) in April 2010, and Taipei (Taiwan) in October 2010.
Girls’ Generation’s second studio album Oh! was released in January 2010; it peaked atop the Gaon Album Chart on the chart issue dated January 24–30, 2010 and has sold over 234,500 copies in South Korea as of 2014. The album was preceded by the lead single of the same name, which claimed to top spot of the Gaon Digital Chart and became the second best-selling digital single of 2010 in South Korea, selling over 3.3 million copies. Oh! was re-released under the title Run Devil Run in March 2010, which subsequently charted on the top of the Gaon Album Chart. Its titular single reached the top spot on the Gaon Digital Chart. Oh! and Run Devil Run were commercial successes in South Korea, becoming the second and fourth best-selling albums of 2010, respectively.
In mid-2010, Girls’ Generation signed with Nayutawave Records (present-day EMI Records Japan), which is a division of Universal Music Japan, to venture out to the Japanese music scene. Their debut release in Japan was a DVD titled New Beginning of Girls’ Generation, released in August 2011, which features seven of the group’s music videos and a special bonus footage. The DVD debuted at number four on the Japanese Oricon DVD Chart on August 23, 2010; in doing so, Girls’ Generation became the first Korean girl group to earn a top-five DVD on the Oricon chart. It has sold 60,000 copies in Japan and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ). In September 2010, Girls’ Generation released the Japanese version of “Genie” as their debut single in Japan. It peaked at number four on the Japanese Oricon Singles Chart and was certified platinum for digital sales exceeding 250,000 units by the RIAJ. The following month, the group released their second Japanese single, “Gee”, which reached number two on the Oricon Singles Chart. “Gee” became the first single by a non-Japanese girl group to enter the top three of the Oricon chart since 1980. It is the group’s most successful single in Japan, selling 207,000 copies and achieving a million certification for sales figures standing at one million units by the RIAJ. Amidst their Japanese activities, they also participated in the SMTown Live ’10 World Tour alongside their labelmates, which started on August 21 at Seoul Jamsil Olympic Stadium.
Girls’ Generation’s third Korean EP Hoot (훗; Hut) was released in October 2010. It charted atop the Gaon Album Chart and at number two on the Oricon Album Chart, and became the third best-selling album of 2010 in South Korea. The title track debuted atop the Gaon Digital Chart on the week commencing October 24, 2010. At both the 2010 and 2011 Seoul Music Awards, the group won two awards for Artist of the Year, becoming the fourth South Korean act and the first girl group to win the category in two consecutive years.
Girls’ Generation continued their success in Japan with the single “Mr. Taxi / Run Devil Run”, released in April 2011. The single peaked at number two on the Oricon Singles Chart and as of April 2017, was certified Million by the RIAJ. After releasing three singles in Japan, their debut eponymous Japanese studio album was released in June 2011. To promote the album, Girls’ Generation embarked on The 1st Japan Arena Tour, which started in Osaka on May 31, 2011. The album was met with tremendous success in Japan, peaking atop the Japanese Oricon Albums Chart and becoming the first album by a foreign girl group to top the Oricon chart. Within its first month of release, Girls’ Generation sold 500,000 copies and earned a double platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of Japan. The album became the fifth and fifteenth best-selling album in Japan in 2011 in 2012 respectively, with total sales figures of 871,097 copies. A repackaged version titled The Boys was released in December 2011 and peaked at number five on the Oricon Albums Chart. In May 2012, Girls’ Generation was certified million by the RIAJ, denoting shipments of one million copies in the country—it became the first album by a South Korean girl group and the second by a South Korean act to earn such achievement. The album won the award for Album of the Year at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards Japan. Following their successful Japanese debut, the group was regarded as the most popular K-pop girl group in Japan alongside Kara, which also earned several top five Japanese singles around the time.
Girls’ Generation’s third Korean studio album, The Boys, was released in October 2011. The album was released in the United States by Interscope Records, marking Girls’ Generation’s debut album in the country. To help The Boys connect with audiences worldwide, the group made their debut on US television upon performing on Late Show with David Letterman on January 31 and Live! with Kelly on February 1. They also performed on French television show Le Grand Journal on February 9. While the release was commercially successful in their home country, it flopped in the United States. Compared to the 460,900 copies in South Korea – peaking atop the Gaon Album Chart, becoming the highest-selling album of 2011 in South Korea, the best-selling album by a girl group and the second overall in Gaon Chart’s history since its launch in 2010 – it only moved 21,000 digital downloads in the US. The lead single, “The Boys”, peaked atop the Gaon Digital Chart and sold over 3.03 million copies in 2011.
In June 2012, Girls’ Generation released their fourth Japanese single, “Paparazzi”, which reached number two on the Japanese Oricon Singles Chart and was certified Gold by the RIAJ. According to SoundScan Japan, the single sold 103,000 copies within its first month of release. Three months later, the group released their fifth Japanese single “Oh!”, which was their first number-one single on the Oricon Singles Chart, and achieved a gold certification by the RIAJ. Girls’ Generation released their second Japanese album, Girls & Peace, in November, which sold 116,963 copies within its first week of release and peaked at number two on the Oricon Albums Chart. It was subsequently certified platinum by the RIAJ and became the forty-first best-selling album of 2012 in Japan with 141,259 copies sold. The album was further preceded by a single titled “Flower Power”.
In December 2012, Girls’ Generation released “Dancing Queen”—a remake of British singer Duffy’s “Mercy” (2008)—as the lead single from their then-upcoming 2013 Korean studio album. On New Year’s Day of 2013, the group released their fourth Korean studio album titled I Got a Boy. On the same day, the group held an MBC special television program, Girls’ Generation’s Romantic Fantasy. The album was a commercial success in South Korea, peaking atop the Gaon Album Chart; it also claimed the top spot of Billboard’s World Albums Chart. The title track, “I Got a Boy”, claimed the number-one position on Billboard’s Korea K-Pop Hot 100 and the Gaon Digital Chart. It was the eleventh best-selling digital single of 2013 in South Korea with total sales of 1,354,672 units. Its music video won the award for Video of the Year at the inaugural YouTube Music Awards in 2013, beating other popular nominees including Psy and Justin Bieber, which was subjected to major attention from Western media outlets as the group was considered lesser-known compared to other candidates at the time.
In February 2013, Girls’ Generation embarked on the Girls & Peace: 2nd Japan Tour, which started in Kobe on February 9. The accompanying DVD was released in September 2013 and topped the Oricon DVD Chart, selling 53,256 copies within its first week of release. The group’s first world tour, Girls’ Generation World Tour Girls & Peace, spanned from June 2013 to February 2014 and consisted of ten concerts in seven Asian countries.
Girls’ Generation released their first remix album, Best Selection Non Stop Mix, in March, and a live album titled 2011 Girls’ Generation Tour in April 2013. The former charted at number six on the Oricon Albums Chart, while the latter peaked at number one on the Gaon Album Chart. Girls’ Generation’s third Japanese studio album, Love & Peace, was released in December 2013. The album debuted at number one on the Oricon Albums Chart, selling more than 129,000 copies in its first week, and was certified gold by the RIAJ. The album spawned two singles: “Love & Girls” and “Galaxy Supernova”, charting at numbers four and three on the Oricon Singles Chart, respectively.
Girls’ Generation’s fourth Korean EP, Mr.Mr, was released in February 2014; it subsequently debuted at number one on the Gaon Album Chart upon its release. The EP was the 5th highest-selling album of 2014 in South Korea, with 163,209 copies sold by the end of the year. In the United States, the EP debuted at number 110 on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 3,000 copies. The title track, “Mr.Mr.”, charted atop the Gaon Digital Chart and sold 906,962 in 2014, becoming the year’s 46th best-selling digital single in South Korea.
In July 2014, the group released their first Japanese greatest hits album, The Best, which is composed of the group’s previous singles and four new tracks: “Indestructible”, “Divine”, “Show Girls”, and “Chain Reaction”. It topped the Oricon Albums Chart for two consecutive weeks and has sold over 175,000 copies in Japan. With The Best claiming the top spot of the Oricon Albums Chart, Girls’ Generation became the first non-Japanese female group in Asia to have three number-one albums on the chart. They also completed their third concert tour in Japan, Love & Peace, within that month. Commencing in Fukuoka in April 2014, the group performed 17 times in seven Japanese cities including Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo. With three Japanese concert tours since 2011, Girls’ Generation attracted a cumulative total of 550,000 spectators, setting the record for a K-pop girl group.
On September 29, 2014, member Jessica announced that she had been dismissed from the group. SM Entertainment confirmed this and stated that Jessica was no longer a member of Girls’ Generation due to conflicts between her and the group’s schedules. Girls’ Generation continued to promote as an eight-member group thereafter. The remaining eight members proceeded with the group’s activities, holding The Best Live concert at Tokyo Dome on December 9, 2014. The concert was a sellout and attracted 50,000 spectators. The recorded show was released as a DVD in April 2015, which topped both Oricon’s DVD and Blu-ray charts simultaneously.
Girls’ Generation announced the single “Catch Me If You Can”, their first release as an eight-member group, in March 2015. It was recorded in both Korean and Japanese; the Korean version was released worldwide on April 10, while the Japanese version was released on April 22, 2015. It peaked at number nineteen on the Gaon Digital Chart and number eight on the Oricon Singles Chart.
Girls’ Generation revealed the cover artwork of their fifth Korean studio album Lion Heart on August 12, 2015. It was subsequently released by S.M. Entertainment on August 19, 2015. The album peaked atop the Gaon Album Chart, and at number eleven on the Oricon Albums Chart. Lion Heart was the thirteenth best-selling album of 2015 in South Korea, with sales figures standing at 145,044 units.
Lion Heart produced three singles—the first being “Party”, which was released in July 2015. It peaked atop the Gaon Digital Chart, at number ten on the Japan Hot 100, and number four on Billboard’s World Digital Songs. Following the release of “Party”, Girls’ Generation appeared on the Billboard Social 50 at number forty-four on August 1, 2015. The following week, the group’s position on the chart rose to number twenty-two. The follow-up singles “Lion Heart” and “You Think” were made available in conjunction with the release of the album. They charted at numbers four and thirty on the Gaon Digital Chart, respectively.
To promote the album, the group starred in a South Korean reality television program titled Channel Girls’ Generation. They further embarked on their fourth concert tour, Girls’ Generation’s Phantasia, which started on November 21, 2015 in Seoul. With this achievement, Girls’ Generation became the first South Korean girl group to hold a fourth concert tour. The group also concurrently embarked on their 4th Japan Tour, which commenced on December 12, 2015 at Nagoya. By year-end, the Gaon Music Chart announced that Girls’ Generation was the most successful girl group of South Korea for 2015. With the release of their Lion Heart album along with two other albums, by subgroup TTS and member Taeyeon, they together sold over 398,000 physical copies.
The group was on a hiatus for the most part of 2016. However, to commemorate the group’s ninth debut anniversary, in August 2016, a single titled “Sailing (0805)” was released. The lyrics were written by member Sooyoung, highlighting the relationship between the group and their fans.
In July 2017, Girls’ Generation announced the release of their sixth Korean-language studio album to commemorate the group’s tenth anniversary. The album, titled Holiday Night, was released on August 7, 2017. It debuted atop the Billboard World Albums chart, and peaked at number 2 on the South Korean Gaon Album Chart. The album surpassed The Boys as Girls’ Generation’s fastest-selling Korean-language album in the first week, and sold 167,638 physical copies by end of year.
In October 2017, SM Entertainment announced that members Tiffany, Sooyoung and Seohyun decided not to renew their contracts with the company to focus on their acting career. With the change of music labels, the group was said to not be disbanded and future activities of the eight-member group remains to be discussed.
In April 2012, SM Entertainment formed a subgroup of Girls’ Generation named TTS (also known as TaeTiSeo), which is composed of three members: Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun. TTS has released three extended plays: Twinkle (May 2012), Holler (September 2014), and Dear Santa (December 2015).
In August 2018, SM Entertainment formed the second subgroup of Girls’ Generation named Oh!GG, which is composed of five members: Sunny, Taeyeon, Yoona, Yuri and Hyoyeon. They released their debut single album, Lil’ Touch, on September 5.
In mid-2015, SM Entertainment announced that member Taeyeon would be the first to embark on her solo career and revealed that her debut album was scheduled to be released later that year. Taeyeon’s debut EP I was released on October 7, and produced the lead single “I”, which features South Korean rapper Verbal Jint. The EP peaked at number two on the Gaon Album Chart and was the sixteenth best-selling album of 2015 in South Korea, with sales of over 119,500 copies. Taeyeon’s second EP Why was released in June 2016 to commercial success, peaking atop the Gaon Album Chart. Taeyeon’s first studio album, My Voice, was released in February 2017, and she released her first Christmas and overall third EP, This Christmas: Winter Is Coming on December. On June 2018, she released her fourth EP, Something New.
Following Taeyeon’s successful solo debut, member Tiffany was announced to be the second member following Taeyeon to embark on her solo career in May 2016. Tiffany’s debut EP I Just Wanna Dance was released on May 11. After leaving SM Entertainment, Tiffany released her second EP, Lips on Lips, on February 22, 2019.
In January 2017, member Seohyun became the third member to debut as a solo artist, releasing her first EP Don’t Say No on January 17. Yuri released her first EP The First Scene on October 4, 2018.
Since 2016, members Hyoyeon and Yoona have also made several solo singles, with the former releasing songs under her given name and her DJ Hyo moniker. On December 2018, Sooyoung released “Winter Breath”, her first solo single since departing from SM Entertainment.
–Member Sooyoung discussing the group’s music styles
Girls’ Generation’s music is predominantly bubblegum pop and electropop. The group’s early singles such as “Gee”, “Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)” (2009), and “Oh!” (2010) are described as “cutesy” bubblegum pop; “Gee” also features elements of techno and hip hop, as noted by Abigail Covington from The A.V. Club. Nevertheless, the group’s musical styles have varied widely ever since; Anzhe Zhang from the New York University wrote that despite the fact that Girls’ Generation’s styles are deemed “mainstream” in South Korea, the group “has grown sonically more experimental.”
Their 2011 single “The Boys” departs for a more “mature” style from the group’s previous emphasis on “cutesy” themes; it incorporates elements from hip hop, a genre that Girls’ Generation had never ventured into. The titular studio album, according to AllMusic’s reviewer Tim Sendra, includes uptempo dance tracks “with a straight pop radio feel.” Girls’ Generation’s 2012 single “Dancing Queen”—a remake of British singer Duffy’s “Mercy” (2008)—features a “funky pop” production, as opposed to the group’s signature electropop sound. Their 2013 single “I Got a Boy” was noted for its eclectic musical style, utilizing various genres ranging from bubblegum pop, electropop and drum and bass to pop-rap, EDM, and dubstep. Jeff Benjamin from Billboard lauded the song as “one of the most-forward thinking lead pop singles heard in any country.” Both aforementioned singles’ parent album, I Got a Boy (2013), combines elements from a wide range of genres such as 1980s new wave, EDM, and classic and contemporary R&B.
Girls’ Generation’s 2014 EP, Mr.Mr., features “exciting” R&B sounds with “cool, simple” melodies. AllMusic’s Heather Phares also noted inspirations of EDM, hip hop, traditional K-pop sound, and late-1980s europop on the EP, which she labelled “a set of songs that offers something for every kind of Girls’ Generation and expands their musical reach.” The group’s 2015 album Lion Heart brings back their signature bubblegum pop sound; its third single “You Think”, however, is a hip hop song that incorporates trap beats in its instrumentation.
Although most Girls’ Generation’s releases are written by songwriters for S.M. Entertainment, some members occasionally participated in songwriting. Member Yuri wrote the lyrics for “Mistake” from their 2010 EP Hoot. Sooyoung penned the lyrics to “How Great Is Your Love” on the group’s 2011 studio album The Boys. Members Sooyoung, Yuri, and Seohyun wrote the lyrics for “Baby Maybe” and “XYZ” on the group’s 2013 studio album I Got a Boy.
The group’s main lyrical themes as characterized by Chris True from AllMusic are “dance party” and “girls night out.” Girls’ Generation’s songs have been criticized by Western media outlets for not portraying female empowerment but promoting the opposite. Ceejay Lee from feminist magazine Fem criticized the “generic” themes of Korean girl groups like Wonder Girls or Girls’ Generation as “sexist”: “[They] infantilize themselves to emasculate males by pandering childlike, puritanical innocence It only reinforces that females are weak beings that serve to gratify males and that males need to be ‘man’ enough to ‘protect’ them.” Stephen Epstein from the Victoria University of Wellington and James Turnbull from Dongseo University expressed concern that the lyrics of K-pop girl groups may raise considerable questions about the empowering nature of “Girl Group Fever”—particularly with singles “Gee” and “Oh!”
Writing for The Harvard Crimson, Soyoung Kim wrote that “the representation of females in K-pop has been problematic” and singled out Girls’ Generation’s “Gee” as an embodiment; its repetitive lyrics “What should I do?” (어떻게?), “fool” (바보), or “I don’t know” (몰라) suggest that the girls are “utterly clueless children” who “dumb [themselves] down” just to attract a partner. He further cited the single “I Got a Boy” as an epitome of the group’s non-empowering lyrics, with lines such as “I got a boy, he’s awesome / I got a boy, he’s kind / I got a boy, handsome boy, my heart’s been taken away My prince! / When will you rescue me?” Kim came to the conclusion that “female K-pop artists orient themselves around men in order to gain attention.” Despite the criticism, several of Girls’ Generation’s songs, such as “Run Devil Run”, “Hoot”, and “Bad Girl” (from their 2011 eponymous Japanese album) are noted for portraying “confident young women with their own opinion”, which is a departure from their early singles. The group’s 2011 single “The Boys” was noted for conveying a feminist theme and was compared to Beyoncé’s 2011 single “Run the World (Girls)” for the same “women-powered” content; Eun-Young Jun in the book The Korean Wave: Korean Media Go Global (2013) noted its lyrics for depicting “sexually daring women” who are confident in their sexuality.
Girls’ Generation is known for reinventing their fashion styles and stage performances throughout their career. In their early years, the group performed in uniforms; with the debut single “Into the New World”, they introduced themselves as high school students. In 2009, the group set the “colorful skinny jeans” fashion trend with “Gee”, and later opted for a marine-inspired image on wearing uniforms and shorts that highlighted their legs with “Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)”. In 2010, the group’s image became more diverse: they used a cheerleader concept for “Oh!”, while the performances of their 2010 single “Run Devil Run” was noted for conveying a darker theme, which was billed “Black SoShi”. Later that year, the group transformed themselves to Bond Girls-inspired singers for the visual of “Hoot”. In 2011, the group established a “heroine” image, with members choosing their own outfits, emphasizing each of the members’ own tastes rather than performing in uniforms. For the performances of “I Got a Boy” (2013), the members opted for flat shoes instead of their signature high heels in order to perform the choreography correctly. Girls’ Generation’s visuals for their 2015 singles “Catch Me If You Can” and “You Think” were noted for intricate choreography moves with a more “powerful” and “sexy” image.
Girls’ Generation’s image has often been regarded as “innocent”, and their performances onstage are described as “youthful” and “colorful;” Ceejay Lee from Fem commented that Girls’ Generation’s outfits often reveal legs rather than “cleavages or derrières.” Eun-Young Jung in the book The Korean Wave opined that the group’s concepts fall into two main categories—”innocent, cutesy, happy” (early singles “Gee”, “Genie”, “Oh!”) and “more mature, yet not overly sexy, feminine” (later singles “Run Devil Run” and “Hoot”). A writer for the Korean Culture and Information Service deemed the group’s image as “sexy” and “girly” “goddesses that are hard to approach.” John Seabrook from The New Yorker described Girls’ Generation as “a group of preppy-looking young women in skinny trousers. When they wear hot pants, it’s to display the gams, not the glutes.” New York Magazine stated: “according to label executives and fans, [Girls’ Generation’s] appeal is not their music, which is catchy but derivative. Instead, the [group projects] a humility that gives their fans the illusion that ‘when you see them on stage it’s like they’ve come to see you.’ ” Taylor Glasby from Dazed remarked that not only the group’s early “pure” image and music were appealing, but the members’ personalities as a whole “uniquely solidified the GG experience into an intimate family affair,” noting that their supporters look up to all the members as “sisters, role models and icons.” Discussing the public’s scrutiny on the group’s physical image, member Tiffany remarked:
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.
–Member Sunny discussing the group’s view on their popularity
Girls’ Generation has been regarded as a prominent figure in South Korean culture and the Korean Wave. In South Korea, they are credited as the lead female group that shifted the public’s focus back to female idols after the Korean music industry experienced an influx of male idol groups from 2002 to 2007. ABC’s news program Nightline referred to Girls’ Generation as the “hottest act” of K-pop. Caroline Sullivan of The Guardian emphasized the group’s claim of being “Asia’s No 1 girl group” on their Twitter page and said that “anything more would be superfluous.” CNN noted the group as a “national phenomenon” in South Korea and labelled them the “Asian version” of British girl group Spice Girls, while fashion expert David Yi of Mashable described the group as the sole contributor who turned K-pop into a “huge phenomenon.” Tyler Brûlé of the Financial Times selected the group as the seventh most recognizable figure of Korean culture, the only musical act to make the list. Japanese magazine Nikkei Business suggested the group’s international expansion and success was the musical equivalent to Samsung’s global trend. Hoai-Tran Bui from USA Today also wrote: “Girls Generation remains the popular girl group in Korea, and their continued success as one of the main purveyors of classic, saccharine retro pop showcases the lasting strength of K-pop.”
Their immense popularity in South Korea has earned the group the titles “The Nation’s Singers” (국민가수; Gukmin gasu) and “The Nation’s Girl Group” (국민걸그룹; gukmin geolgeurup). Their image and long-running success for nearly ten years have influenced many K-pop girl groups of the new generation, including GFriend, Melody Day, and Apink. The New York Daily News selected them as one of the prominent girl groups of the 2010s along with Fifth Harmony and Little Mix. They were named among the most powerful and influential people in their native country: the Sisa Journal named the group as the most influential entertainers of 2011 and 2012, while Asia Today placed the group at number forty on their 50 Korean Power Leaders list in 2011. Since 2007, Girls’ Generation has consistently ranked in the top five of Gallup Korea’s “Artist of the Year” and topped the list from 2009 to 2011. The group also consistently appeared on the top ten of Forbes Korea Power Celebrity from 2010 to 2016, topping the list in 2011, 2012, and 2014, and placing second in 2010 and 2013. In 2011, the Korean Institute for Industrial Policy Studies named the group as one of South Korea’s “super brands.” In 2012, Girls’ Generation became the first Korean celebrity to have official postage stamps distributed by the Korea Post. The group was among the five South Korean acts that best represent K-pop during the past two decades according to a 2015 poll by Korea Creative Content Agency.
The successful 2009 single “Gee” was a breakthrough point in the group’s career. It was named “Song of the Decade” by Melon and regarded as one of the first K-Pop songs to gain international attention—students at Yale School of Art and Harvard Law School in the United States highlighted the song as part of their study on Korean culture. The song was also deemed as the factor that increased online search for K-pop from 2009, according to Google’s Statistics. The group’s foray into the Japanese market was another landmark in their career—their debut Japanese album marked the highest sales of a non-Japanese artist’s first album. Ian Martin of The Japan Times noted that the group’s popularity was still strong even after the Korean Wave appeal has died down in Japan in 2011–12. The group became the main feature in the K-pop section of Japanese textbooks. During 2009–2011, the group generated ₩68.8 billion ($62 million), raking in $20 million in profits and becoming the highest profit earner for their label SM Entertainment. During the first half of 2014, they raked in ₩30.3 billion ($28 million) in profit. In Japan, the group consistently ranked among K-pop’s highest-grossing acts, generating ₩12, ₩71 and ₩55 billion ($11, $65.5 and $48 million) in revenue in 2010, 2011, and 2012 respectively.
Girls’ Generation has amassed numerous achievements and awards. As of 2012, they have sold over 30 million digital singles and 4.4 million albums, making them one of the best-selling artists in South Korea. Their songs have been widely recognized as the signature songs of K-pop: Pitchfork Media listed “I Got a Boy” and “Gee” as part of their list of 20 essential K-pop songs, crediting them as the “magnum opera” of modern Korean music. Spin labelled “Run Devil Run” and “Gee” the 11th and 5th greatest K-pop songs, respectively, while WatchMojo.com ranked “Gee” second on their list of Top 10 Iconic K-Pop Songs. Billboard also named “I Got a Boy” the 21st greatest song by a girl group, describing it as “proof to why girl-group music is in a league of its own in terms of excitement and boundary pushing.” In April 2015, Girls’ Generation became the first girl group globally to achieve four music videos with over 100 million views on YouTube with “Gee”, “I Got a Boy”, “The Boys”, and “Mr. Taxi”. With another music video of “Oh!” surpassing 100 million views in December 2016, they became the first Asian girl group to have five music videos achieving such a feat. According to Billboard’s statistics, Girls’ Generation is the top touring K-pop girl group–they held 65 shows between 2013 and 2016. Their second Japan tour Girls & Peace (2013) was the most attended concert tour by a K-pop girl group while their third Japan tour Love & Peace (2014), which grossed $31.6 million, became the world’s 4th highest-grossing tour by a girl group of all time. Girls’ Generation’s four other concert tours also made the top ten of the highest-grossing tours by girl groups—Girls’ Generation’s Phantasia (2015; $22.3 million), Girls & Peace: 2nd Japan Tour (2013; $21.5 million), The First Japan Arena Tour (2011; $14.98 million), and Girls & Peace World Tour (2013; $14.97 million); in doing so, Girls’ Generation became the only Asian girl group to appear on the list.
The group won two Digital Daesang awards and one Disk Daesang award at the Golden Disk Awards, making them the first girl group to win a Grand Prize three times in a row in the award show’s history. They also won two Daesang at the Seoul Music Awards and were crowned both Artist of the Year and Best Female Group at the 2011 Mnet Asian Music Awards. The Guinness World Records recognized Girls’ Generation in its 2018 edition as the artist that earned the most awards, 13, at the Melon Music Awards.
Girls’ Generation are regarded as one of the most sought-out advertisers in South Korea. Marketers named the group as the models with the most influence over consumers, attributing the group’s positive attention from the public to their vocals, looks, and fashion sense. In 2009, the popularity of “Gee” helped the group generate ₩1.5 billion ($1.2 million) in endorsement revenue. In 2011 and 2012, the members of Girls’ Generation combined were the South Korean celebrities who shot the most number of commercials. The group has appeared in over forty endorsement deals—major ones included LG, Intel, Korean chicken chain Goobne Chicken, Casio, Samantha Thavasa, Domino’s Pizza and Lotte. They also collaborated with Korean shopping mall 10 Corso Como Seoul to create their own perfume brand “Girl”.