For the past decade and more, K-pop – what with its catchy tunes, hyper-slick choreography and glossy, often colour-saturated music videos – has been the perfect case study of how a country’s music industry has been carefully and successfully calibrated to achieve global domination.
The record-breaking releases and tours. The ability of its stars to move products and sway social opinion. And let’s not get started on the power of its fans (and stans).
That it hails from a largely non-English- speaking Asian country to top charts and sell out arenas in the West further attests to its impact.
Joy fronts the cover of FEMALE’s Crazy Cool Asia for Nov 2020.
With that evolution has come its latest generation of idols who are challenging the personality-less, cookie-cutter K-pop stereotype all while maintaining the commercial-friendly wholesomeness that’s allowed them to charm millions (or – in the case of some – billions).
Joy – born Park Soo-young and one- fifth of the super girl group Red Velvet started by SM Entertainment, South Korea’s largest entertainment agency – is among the forefront of this legion.
The proof is in the pudding (or should we say cake?). Since bursting onto the scene in 2014, the band – which also comprises Irene (Bae Joo-hyun), Seulgi (Kang Seul-gi), Wendy (Son Seung-wan) and Yeri (Kim Ye-rim) – has garnered more than one billion streams on Spotify and 1.6 billion views on Youtube with its infectious earworms that meld high-octane pop with luscious ’90s-inflected R&B.
“I’ve found that showing emotions through facial expressions, speech and actions for the screen to be much more difficult than I had thought it would be.”
Musical cred aside, the quintet has become one of the best ambassadors for the modern face of K-pop, lauded for its versatility and not falling into the cute or sexy cliches that many of its female celebrities get saddled with. The chameleonic, fashion-adventurous Joy can be said to be exhibit A.
Pulling off Hedi Slimane’s effortlessly chic, French-cool-girl-on-a-holiday staples for Celine Spring 2021 (see our cover) with as much ease as she does Marine Serre’s much-hyped-about printed bodysuits, she sees fashion as an expression of creativity and the self.
“A person’s individual style is an art form that expresses the individual’s life,” she tells Female. “And fashion has always been one of the ways through which we present our music.
“As you know, Red Velvet has been trying out a lot of different music genres and this is also reflected in our wardrobe choices. We will continuously challenge ourselves to present unique concepts and styles.”
Adding another dimension to the charismatic 24-year-old, who both raps and sings in the group, is a steady series of solo projects. She’s lent her angelic yet powerful vocals to the soundtracks of several Korean dramas, for example; the latest of which being Hospital Playlist, released earlier this year and reportedly the ninth highest-rated K-drama in cable TV history.
Celine by Hedi Slimane wool vest, silk crepe blouse, denim jeans, pearl earrings, leather belt and platform pumps, Celine
The tune – a breezy, stripped-back rendition of Introduce Me a Good Person, a 1996 classic by the Korean group Basis – won her critical acclaim.
She’s also taken on multiple hosting and acting projects, and while she clinched the newcomer prize at the 2017 Osen Cable TV Awards with her debut role – the female lead in the series, The Liar and His Lover (PS. it’s on Netflix) – she considers herself a fledgling in the field.
“I’ve found that showing emotions through facial expressions, speech and actions for the screen to be much more difficult than I had thought it would be,” she says. “So I definitely need to study acting more. I see it as a homework assignment that I’ll keep working at.”
For all the time that she’s spent in the spotlight, one gets the sense that there’s much more of, well, Joy to behold. “When Red Velvet debuted, it was important for us to first harmonise as a team,” she says.
“Now with more experience, I’m learning, reflecting and trying to discover what really suits me and what I like as I try to develop my own style.”
“I thought that happiness meant being successful in my career, but now I’ve realised that spending time with my family and friends, and enjoying the little things in life are my biggest sources of happiness.”
Six years after the release of Red Velvet’s jaunty debut single Happiness on which the girls pipe and cheer about being different and not caring for power and money, has her own definition of bliss changed?
“Before that, I thought that happiness meant being successful in my career, but now I’ve realised that spending time with my family and friends, and enjoying the little things in life are my biggest sources of happiness,” she says.
Even if that sounds a tad predictable, who better to teach us about the joy of missing out?