How Girls’ Generation’s ‘Gee’ paved the way for K-pop in the US

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On Jan. 5, one of the century’s most influential pop songs quietly celebrated its 10th anniversary. Yet surprisingly, if you turn back the clock to 2009 and take a look at the U.S. Billboard charts, that song is nowhere to be found, not even in the depths of the low 90s. The so-called Hallyu wave, the term for the rapidly expanding popularity of South Korean cultural artifacts around the world, had been impacting nearby China and Japan for a decade, but it had not yet crashed upon Western shores. But in 2009, when the wave did come to North America and Europe, the sound it made as it swept across millions of teenage hearts was a chirrupy, Auto-tuned “gee!”

The Korean girl group behind the “Gee” heard round the world, the catchily named Girls’ Generation, wasn’t aiming for crossover success. The group had only debuted two years earlier to a lukewarm reception in its homeland, and its first…

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