Cosmic Girls On The Charms Of Being a 13-Member K-Pop Act: 'You Can't Really Feel Depressed'

Courtesy of Lippin Group/KCON
Cosmic Girls attend KCON 2017 at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Aug. 20, 2017.

September’s just begun, but already the K-pop world has seen over 80 new acts debut this year. In an increasingly competitive industry, making a place for yourself is hard to do but with 13 members, Cosmic Girls stands out as one of the largest female acts around.

The youngest girl group in attendance -- they released their first EP Would You Like? in February 2016 -- Cosmic Girls, or WJSN, descended on Los Angeles for KCON 2017 LA looking like they came straight from a pep rally. Donning red and white ensembles with athletic numbers marking each one’s chest and blue ribbons as accents, the baker’s dozen of a K-pop act were in full cheerleader mode as they took the stage at the Staples Center, waving pompoms as they sang their latest single, “Happy” and some of their older songs.

“We heard that cheerleaders are really popular in LA,” Yeoreum told Billboard hours before the group went on to perform and lead the crowd in the poppish chant of the single. “For 'Happy,' we added more femininity to our image,” rapper Exy added. “Rather than being calm and cute [as in the past], we were more feminine, powerful and confident.”

While the most recent reiteration of Cosmic Girls had the women act as cheerleaders, the group’s gone through a lot of stylistic concepts already in their short career, and that’s what the members believe sets them apart from other acts. “For ‘Secret’ we did a ballerina concept, for ‘I Wish’ we wore school uniforms, and for 'Happy' which was a cheerleader concept, we tried out many different concepts and styles," said Yeonjung. "Through our various concepts, we are able to show many people different and unique images of our group.”

Though it’s most visible in their musical concepts, the girl group says that it’s their extraordinary scale that enables Cosmic Girls to try new things. “We have 13 different charms,” said Eunseo. “And so we have the ability to adapt to diverse, hundreds of concepts. In the future, we will work on many different concepts to show you our best.”

Having 13 members in a musical team isn’t unheard of in Korea, but it’s rare for girl groups and there are few other active female acts with double digits. But according to Cosmic Girls' members, the large size just makes things feel like they’re on a school trip or slumber party every day. “It’s always noisy and bright, so you can’t really feel depressed,” said Bona, with Dayoung adding, to the agreeable laughter of the other members, that every meal is like attending buffet since so many women need to eat at any given time.

Just beginning out, they’re still one of many girl groups competing for the limelight in Korea. But Cosmic Girls is slowly gaining international acclaim, and have seen several songs appear on the China V Chart. That success may rely on the group’s diversity: there are three Chinese members in the K-pop group, and the band is managed both by by Korea's Starship Entertainment and China's Yuehua Entertainment.

Sonically, the act’s sound is just varied as their performances and members are. Since their pair of debut singles "MoMoMo" and "Catch Me," the former saccharine synth-pop, the latter electronic hip hop, the group's presented itself differently at every turn, grounded firmly in electro-pop but switching up its tone with each release. Personally, the group members have diverse tastes: Exy expressed a fondness for J.Cole, or "J.Cole-sunbaenim," using a Korean term of respect before saying that his lyrics help inspire her when writing raps for Cosmic Girls’ songs, while Eunseo expressed a desire to learn from the successes of K-pop girl groups Sistar and Girls’ Generation.

Cosmic Girls generally veers towards sweet and girlish, but that’s not something they expect to always be. As the members age, Eunseo expressed a desire for more powerful sounds and performance concepts. “While we will work hard on our cute and girly concepts up till this year, starting next year we want to try more girl-crush styles or concepts that show our feminine side,” she said, referring to the group’s youngest members, Dayoung, Yeoreum, and Yeonjung, becoming of age in Korea in 2018.

Cosmic Girls gave a taste of what their future could look like during KCON. After their first set, the group returned to the center stage mid-concert to to perform BTS’ ‘I Need U’ and join SF9 to recreate Super Junior’s “Sorry Sorry,” showing off a more mature, darker image that was different from their original exuberant set. It was a complete volte-face, but it matched the girl group’s drive to push the boundaries of what they can do. “Whatever the situation would be, our goal is to always work hard,” said Exy.