After 9 months, fitting for their name, gugudan made their return last week with their new mini album “Act 5: New Action.” Title track “Not That Type” sees the group try a different style once again, this time with a little girl crush flair. The girls adapt to it well and it’s no surprise. Since debut, gugudan have constantly changed concepts with every new release and evolved as they’ve done so. From cute “Wonderland” to classy “The Boots“, they’ve covered a lot in the few short years since their debut.
Coming from Jellyfish Entertainment, home of concept kings VIXX, and previously power vocal Park Hyoshin and actor/singer Seo Inguk, it’s no secret that despite their promising origins the group have had a rocky start. With members Sejeong, Nayoung and Mina all having a head start in popularity from Produce 101, many thought that gugudan would get a lot of attention. And they did. For the wrong reasons.
The name gugudan translates literally to times table. It’s synonymous with maths multiplication in Korea, which made it a dubious choice for a name to start with. Jellyfish had offered up some unique names for their boy group in the past so perhaps this should have been expected. Whilst people have generally gotten used to the name by now, it has condemned the group to a lifetime of playing gugudan on every variety show they visit! The second problem was the timing of their debut. In summer of 2016, Sejeong and Mina, in the midst of their I.O.I promotions, were given time off in order to make their debut with gugudan with the Nayoung and the remaining members – leader Hana, Mimi, Haebin, Soyee, Sally and Hyeyeon. Understandably, this riled up some of their fans. Though they were not the only I.O.I members to do this at the time, the support that gugudan’s company had been relying on dwindled. Then came the debut song. “Wonderland” was not received well. It can be praised for the catchy chorus, the creative concept and the girls singing. But many chose to overlook these positives in favour of pointing out the shiny costumes, sometimes awkward choreography, and the cute style overall. It felt like a fish out of water.
So when gugudan made their first comeback with “A Girl Like Me“, many were impressed by the concept change. The song retained some of the cute theming that had been present in the girls’ debut but was much catchier. I.O.I had disbanded by this point, thus the backlash began to decrease. And most importantly, gone were the shiny dresses!
By this point in time, their concept should have been clearer. As introduced in their first trailer, gugudan strive to be ‘theatre-dols.’ They take themes and stories from literature, art, or films, to create their own interpretation – their Acts. Each act has a different inspiration. For “Wonderland”, it was The Little Mermaid. For “A Girl Like Me”, it was the tale of Narcissus. With their third act, “Chococo“, they presented a wonderfully zany version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
“The Boots”, inspired by the French story of Puss in Boots, came with another concept change, only this time with a lot more maturity. gugudan took this in their stride, giving one of their strongest performances yet, and have continued this through with “Not That Type.” However, this hasn’t been without some losses too. The number nine was very significant for the group. As well as the theatre concept, gugudan consistently used the phrase “nine girls with nine charms” to show how different and talented they all were. Some of this emphasis now has to be lost with the departure of original maknae Hyeyeon. When their official name is even stylised as gu9udan, this is a huge blow. But the group has continued on strong, now claiming the ninth member to be their fans, named danjjak, or “Dear Friend.”
Though they are yet to win first on a music show or chart high with a release, gugudan have proven to be more than capable of showing off their skills in the two years they’ve been around. They have built a small fan base and a great repertoire of songs and acapella’s, and both will no doubt grow with time. If anything, they have managed to create their own place amidst the many new girl groups in the industry, a feat that is hard to achieve. With this, the only way left for them to go is up.
If you want to get to know gugudan, check out their acapella covers, their variety show ‘gugudan School Trip’, or their regular ‘What are gugudan doing?” series on their official YouTube channel!