In early 2012, Girls’ Generation-TTS made Billboard chart history when their Twinkle EP became the highest-charting K-pop album ever. The splinter trio of K-pop phenoms Girls’ Generation held that record for nearly two years and today returns with their new EP Holler.
Holding their first interview about the project with Billboard, the girls say the stakes for this album are higher not only from their successful chart run, but because, this time, it’s personal. In a hotel cafe in New York’s meatpacking district the day after hitting the Polo Ralph Lauren show for Fashion Week, Taeyeon, Tiffany and Seohyun speak excitedly, and candidly, about their new effort focusing on how they made a “vocally entertaining” record that showcases “a much more raw side of our music.”
One listen to the EP’s title track certainly encompasses the former aspect, a brassy, sassy track centered around a chorus of high notes that most mortals can’t hit. “It’s a more mature version of [2012 single] “Twinkle,” says Los Angeles-native Tiffany, who also translated for her bandmates. But as the EP moves on, it’s clear the entire record is the result of a group maturation, most notably in the sensual, synthy R&B jam “Whisper,” Taeyeon’s favorite track (but more on that later).
Get deep with the TTS gals below in Billboard‘s exclusive Q&A.
BILLBOARD: How does Holler differ from your past albums?
TIFFANY: This album was really fun to put together because the songs were handpicked by all the members. So, we have the A&R sit down, give us a bunch songs and we go, ‘No…no…we want this one! We want this!’ From the video to the styling to the tracks, this album was really personal for us and it was fun for us to put out a much more raw side of our music. Rather than saying something, everything sounds cooler in a song, so it’s finally time to say, “Hey, we’ve done that. We’ve been there.” We hope that we can kind of express that.
All the other Girls’ Generation songs were more, I think, cutesy and more energetic….Whereas the music we put together has so much more layers, so much more depth to it in terms of sound, choruses or harmonizing together.
Can you tell us more about some of the tracks? Which are your favorites?
SEOHYUN: [“Only U”] is a ballad piece with a lot of piano [that I wrote]. The lyrics are about the sincerity of love, about a true love. That you fall in love many times, but there’s always going to be that special someone you won’t forget. And that I want to find that special someone, out of all those people you have to meet through, and keep them in my life forever.
TIFFANY: Personally, I found “Only U” to be very romantic, very hopeful and very inspirational song. The cool part about the lyrics is about that she went on a trip to the Swiss Alps and was writing on the Alps. She told me, “It was so inspiring and the scenery was so beautiful and I was so relaxed.” It’s weird that she gets to go on trips alone.
SEOHYUN: I was listening to the music as I was going up on the lift and I thought, “I know what I’m going to write.”
TAEYEON: My favorite song is ‘Whisper’ because it’s a type of song we’ve never done before. It’s really laid-back, but it still has that strong beat. It’s a lot more sensual than our original music. That is the new side of Girls’ Generation/TTS. It can actually be a trademark track to the TTS album. It’s a lot more mature, it’s very sexy. The first time we heard it, we were like, “Ooh, this one’s going on!”
TIFFANY: I get a lot of Rihanna, Ciara-type of vibes from the song. We were careful [in song selection]. Literally, we said, “If it sounds too cutesy, we don’t want it.”
What can you tell us about your music videos? Is more than one planned?
TIFFANY: One for now, hopefully we’ll get the chance to put new song material together too. We’ve been prepping this song together, especially “Holler,” since late March/early April. We had so many different inspirations and seasonal looks to this song — we have the spring version, the summer version — and then it finally got decided for the fall season. So, we went for the S/W colors. There were a lot of ups and downs throughout the project, but we got it perfectly done. We’re very satisfied.
The video has 10 different outfits — we wanted to beat “Twinkle,” that was two-and-a-half years ago, so we wanted it to be a lot more sophisticated. It was very J.Lo-inspired.
And I finally have my name on an album: I was visual director. I’m proud to say that it wasn’t about me, or any specific member, being happy with the looks. It was like, ‘So, do you like it?’ and they’d go, “Eh…” or “Yeah!” So it was really exciting. And the girls got to choose what kind of patterns and what kind of cutouts they wanted to use in their outfits. I threw out the theme, but it was pretty much all them too.
Twinkle held the Billboard 200 record for nearly two years. Do you feel pressure to follow up with something bigger?
SEOHYUN: I just got goose bumps…of course there’s a kind of worry. All those high expectations are kind of what motivated me and grounded me to making better music. Instead of being perfectly dolled up, I was happy I could choose the music wisely. I’ll be thankful for people wanting to listen instead of just watching.
What’s the ultimate takeaway you’d like fans and listeners to leave with?
TIFFANY: I think Girls’ Generation was so much more visually entertaining. It had a lot of theatrical themes to it, we had a lot of conceptual outfits and the songs were very seasonal. This will be for all the seasons, for all the looks. Our main goal was to not be visually entertaining, but be vocally entertaining. You can listen to it and still be so entertained, so energized and so inspired. With Girls’ Generation, you need to see the costumes, the shoes, everything put together. Whereas you can just listen to the [Holler] material and go ‘Wow, this is so fun.’ So, a vocally-entertaining, vocally-empowering album.
Compared to Girls’ Generation, is there a different mindset between the three of you?
TIFFANY: We’re the perfectionists towards music and practicing, I’d have to say….we want to get it down perfectly. With putting the album together, planning out the promotions like what magazines, what interviews, what performances we want to stage together, I’d have to say the focus level is way higher. Girls’ Generation together, there’s the whole teamwork and energy going on.
TAEYEON: Throughout the seven to eight years, we’ve been doing Girls’ Generation and that type of performance visual and sound. It’s finally time for us to the let the fans to trust us with what we’ve decided to put out in terms of music or looks. It doesn’t have to be super-staged, I’m happy that it can be very raw. We can finally say, “Hey, this is what we want to show you. We know you’ll like it, so trust us, have a listen and look at what we’ve brought for you.”
And are you having fun filming your reality show, The TaeTiSeo?
SEOHYUN: Throughout the years, everybody’s only seen the perfectly staged Girls’ Generation performances. This time we get to show you step-by-step how we put a recording, choreography, album art or music video together. We get to show our professorial side, but we get to show our silly, normal side; the normal Taeyeon, what she would do at a candy store. When she gets tired, she can say that. The fact that we can be so free in terms of expressing ourselves is what I’m looking forward to our fans seeing most.
TIFFANY: We’re actually putting together a behind-the-scenes video for this comeback. We were luckily partnered up with [Korean beauty and lifestyle] channel OnStyle [for the show] and I wanted it to kind of make this into an MTV Diary throwback and that’s exactly what this is going to be: the MTV Diary throwback, plus the Korean fashion and beauty introduction and everyday life.
Any last words about this album or to your fans?
TAEYEON: Even though fans are around the world and we don’t necessarily see or hear them because they come from different languages or cultures, I want to be able to reach you with music. I want you to share the feeling we get from making the music and share that experience.
SEOHYUN: It’s been over two and a half years since the last album, we’ve experienced not only a lot of growth musically, but personally. We want to convey that maturation and experience to fans and give them that story.
TIFFANY: This album is just the mind, body and soul of all three of us. Not that I haven’t been proud of past albums, but this album is something we are so proud of and so satisfied with. It’s so right now. The fashion is very now, the music is very now. But it also captured [our ages] 25 and 23. I’m excited to be able to leave this down as kind of like a memoir or yearbook. I just hope the fans will be just as excited and open towards us growing up.
Stay tuned to Billboard’s K-Town column all week for more exclusive goodies from the TTS girls.