As 2019 begins, the idea of K-pop songs and videos going viral is almost commonplace. But back in 2009, only a few years after the start of YouTube, only a handful of acts coming out of South Korea had hits that ran their way around the globe, spread through their music videos. Then Girls’ Generation released “Gee” on Jan. 5 and changed everything.
Ten years later, the impact of “Gee” is still being felt throughout the K-pop world. Not only did the the success of the song lead to the then-nonet’s ascension to become one of the top girl groups of this generation (pun intended), it also fronted a new era of K-pop, kicking off one of the industry’s most pivotal years.
At 10 years old, “Gee” is still as bright and infectious as ever, and it’s set the bar high for bubblegum pop perfection. Spurred along by its hook of “gee, gee, gee, gee, baby, baby, baby” and other repeated phrases, the Girls’ Generation classic, written by K-pop hitmakers E-TRIBE, started out sweetly with an English-language intro: “Listen boy, my first love story/ My angels, my girls, my sunshine.” It went on to become a dance track built around the nine members’ bubbly vocals and techno-inspired synths blended with scattered electro-pop beats. Throughout, each woman got her own time to shine in the verses as they switched off between expressing their girlish love as other members harmonized, and a pre-finale bridge slowed things down temporarily for a bit of sentimentality before picking up and exploding during the last moments of the song.
At its very essence, “Gee” is charming in its approach to a pure sort of love, and it’s addicting. That’s all it took for it to become one of that year’s biggest hits in South Korea, and going on to hit record after record in the country while simultaneously gaining widespread attention throughout much of Asia and among global K-pop audiences. The song is still impacting the industry, and last year saw Grimes introduce Loona yyxy’s “Love4eva” with a nod to the hit.
The Music Video
Based on the K-pop world’s flare for experimentalism and over-the-top production values, it’s a bit surprising in retrospect that the music video for one of K-pop’s biggest songs is also relatively simple. There’s no showy CGI or flamboyant costuming going on during the Korean music video for “Gee,” just a modern day take on the story of Pygmalion. Instead of statues, the nine members appear as storefront mannequins come to life because of their love. They eventually decide to leave their shop, and him, to go do their own thing, and… That’s it. For a song that became known because of its music video, writing that down seems so much less exciting. But “Gee” was so much less about the plot and more about the women.
Throughout the video, Girls’ Generation charmingly crab danced their way into the hearts of millions while wearing skinny jeans, colorful terry cloth shorts and overalls, and making “G” shapes with their fingers. The way the camera panned between group choreography sets and took moments with each individual Girl sharing her feelings, “Gee” felt like a scene from a teenage slumber party as friends tell one another about their crushes. It’s straightforward, it’s fun, and it was exactly the way to start off 2009 on the right, very exuberant, foot.
They would later remake the video in 2010 for the song’s Japanese release, keeping the same store-based setting, but this time the Girls’ were clothing designers.
“Gee” came out fresh off of 2008, when YouTube had truly become a key player in perpetuating K-pop’s spread around the world and hits from Wonder Girls, BIGBANG, SHINee and more gained widespread attention around Asia and beyond because of their music videos. “Gee” was the first song of what would go on to become a year full of viral hits for the K-pop scene, and it set the tone for what it means to be a hit in the age of virality.
At the time, Girls’ Generation was one of SM Entertainment’s rising acts and had seen relative success with singles previously, but “Gee” changed everything. Almost overnight, Girls’ Generation became the “nation’s girl group” of South Korea. Not only did the single become one of the year’s best-selling songs, but the dance moves associated with it, most notably the aforementioned “crab dance,” went viral, and their outfits, especially the skinny jeans, set trends. This began Girls’ Generation’s run as one of the biggest girl groups of all time with hit after hit and immense concert tours after one another. They’ve since seen some changes, and only five members still remain active under SM Entertainment as unit team Oh!GG, but “Gee” undeniably changed the state of the K-pop world forever as the launching pad of the rest of Girls’ Generation’s career, setting an example of what it takes to become a generation’s girl group.
“Gee” has been remade and covered time and time again, both in and outside of the K-pop world. Here are some of its most popular renditions, including a few from Girls’ Generation themselves.