Every generation gets the teen idols it deserves. In recent years, we’ve seen the boy band craze rise and fall and rise again. From boys-to-men bands ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys, to Disney heartthrobs like the Jonas Brothers, to more recent imports One Direction and The Wanted, anytime pop culture pundits count them out, boy bands come back stronger and, strangely enough, better.
While every batch has its filler (side-eyeing you, A1 and 5ive), those Swedish pop tunesmiths seem to be doing their work, coming up with tunes that take the “guilty” out of “guilty pleasure.”
When my editor told me that local retail giant Bench was bringing over Super Junior, one of the K-Pop craze’s biggest acts, and that I was to cover it, at first I was indifferent. At 24, I haven’t really been keeping tabs on the recent teen sensations, Taylor Swift aside. Plus, I’ve never really grasped the appeal of teen acts singing in a language you don’t understand. But the Olympics tends to kill the cynic in you.
Closing out the 2012 ceremony, the Spice Girls, those ‘90s ambassadors of “Girl Power,” came back from the “What ever happened to?” pile and delivered a one-two punch of their hits Wannabe and Spice Up Your Life. While age tends to make the weaknesses more apparent (Posh barely knowing the choreography, the realization that most of those girls can’t really sing, etc.), it also puts the K-Pop craze into perspective. 2NE1 is their Spice Girls. Super Junior is their Backstreet Boys.
With that understanding in mind, I made my way through the lobby of the Peninsula Manila, where the interviews with Super Junior members Siwon Choi and Donghae Lee were to be conducted, only to be stopped by rapid Super Junior fans. “Are you their manager? Please let us in,” a young girl pleaded with me. This is what I get for looking vaguely Korean. As I tried to peel her off me and explain to her that I have about as much access as her (uh, except with a one-on-one), I ran into Jojo Liamzon from Bench.
“It’s crazy,” Jojo said. “There are some who’ve been lining up in TriNoma since 4 a.m. For the fans, just the idea of the boys going to TriNoma is enough to move them to tears. They’re already crying and the boys aren’t even there yet.”
Siwon, who has over two million followers on Twitter, has, according to VMAN magazine, “emerged as an icon without parallel in the ever-expanding culture of K-Pop.” Donghae, for his part, has explored acting to much success.
The conversation I had with the boys was admittedly stilted. They needed a translator to converse and with just 10 minutes per interview, that doesn’t really leave you with much. But every so often, a bit of spontaneity would break out—like when they stole a glance at their cheat codes of Filipino terms and smiled, caught red-handed, or when they couldn’t figure out where to sit. The grind of life on the road might not leave much for the boys to do but with trademark aplomb, they seem to have learned to find the fun anyway.
YOUNG STAR: Your fans have been clamoring for you to work with Bench for a while now. How has the reception been so far?
SIWON CHOI: I was so happy to hear because I was sitting on a bench at that exact moment we found out. (Laughs)
DONGHAE LEE: I was so happy because we haven’t had a lot of chances to come to the Philippines and now because of Bench, we’re here in the Philippines. On the way to the hotel, we saw the big billboard and we were very honored to be with Bench.
You’ve shot two collections with Bench already. How was the shoot you just did?
Siwon: The photographer yesterday was from the States, very famous from L.A. (the same guy who shot Bruno Mars for Bench). And because it’s the second time we’re shooting, the photographer knew exactly what they wanted and what Bench wanted. It was very easy to shoot for the new collections yesterday.
You guys have modeled a lot of different types of clothes, in the many shoots you’ve done. What made you guys sign with Bench? How do you find the clothes?
Donghae: We like the styles because they were very free and comfortable. The Bench style is very comfortable but stylish. Most of the clothes yesterday are really things we would wear.
You guys have a crazy schedule. I can only imagine how bad the grind must get.
Donghae: We’re very busy these days. When we have time, we just sleep. We’d love to go watch movies and travel but these days, we just sleep. But we’re very thankful. It’s fun.
What did you know of the Philippines before your concert here last year?
Siwon: Before we came, we knew the Philippines as a very polite country. A long time ago, when Korea was having a hard time, the Philippines came to Korea and helped the Korean people. We’re very thankful, as a country.
There are a lot of fans hiding in the lobby. Just desperate to see you guys.
Siwon: First of all, we’re so sorry to our Filipino fans that we can’t come here more often. But we hope for their continued love and support so we can come here more often, so we can bring all the members of Super Junior next time.
DONGHAE: And next time we have a concert here, we can wear the Bench clothes! (Laughs)