Ashley Kumar, New Delhi
Injuries. Accidents. Contract. Leaving Members. Hiatus. Do these terms sound familiar? Yep, anyone who loves K-pop would definitely know what they mean. And if we were to talk about these terms specifically, one group, in particular, comes to mind that endured it all. They are none other than the Hallyu Kings, SUPER JUNIOR.
SUPER JUNIOR: THE LAST MAN STANDING is a documentary with two episodes that aired on Disney+ on 18 January 2023. In this documentary, the existing nine members of SUPER JUNIOR talk about their debut, their glorious achievements and their war-like battle scars which make them one of the most iconic and irreplaceable K-pop groups today. Hence, the documentary’s title, which is also a part of the lyrics of one of their songs called ‘Superman’, perfectly describes the kind of group they are.
SUPER JUNIOR debuted on 6 November 2005 and is still going strong in the K-pop industry. The documentary shows all 9 members talking about what they had to do to remove the uncertainty they faced initially. Leeteuk talks about how there was a group before SUPER JUNIOR called ‘SMILE’ where he and Donghae with three other trainees were set to debut. But due to unforeseen circumstances, their debut had to be cancelled making Leeteuk and Donghae face a very doubtful future. Gradually, SM Entertainment came up with the line-up for SUPER JUNIOR which initially had 12 members. Everyone in the company was against this huge number as no group before them had more than 5 people. And since they were told that they would have a “graduate” system where members would leave the group to do something else and new members would keep on adding, SUPER JUNIOR was always left balancing on a tightrope. I, personally, was gripping the edge of my seat while listening to them talk about their future. It just made me realize how brutal K-pop times were back then.
After introducing Ryeowook to the line-up, everyone suspected the termination of Yesung as he supposedly stood as a “threat” to him. Adding Kyuhyun after their debut also made Kyuhyun feel as if he was not welcome, which was not the case according to others. But everything turned out fine.
Finally, the group became a fixed group. So the final group had Leeteuk, Heechul, Hangeng, Yesung, Shindong, Sungmin, Kangin, Eunhyuk, Donghae, Kibum, Siwon, Ryeowook, and Kyuhyun. They released hit after hit but unfortunate situations always seemed to follow them around. The documentary then takes a dark turn when the members talk about Heechul’s car crash and the group’s car crash which physically left them unable to do anything as the worst loomed over them. Heechul’s leg was severely injured which still stops him from fully promoting his group. The other car crash involved Leeteuk, Eunhyuk, Shindong and Kyuhyun being severely injured, with Kyuhyun being on the verge of death. Luckily, doctors found a way to cure him, but because there were no phones that time, the members were always on edge for any news regarding their beloved member, being left in a constant state of anxiety.
‘SORRY, SORRY’, SUB-UNITS, ENLISTMENT
But the good news did follow and they were back at making awesome music. Then came 2009 with the release of their legendary song, ‘Sorry, Sorry’. While some members loved the song when it was presented to them, Ryeowook and Heechul were still doubtful if this would be a success or not. And what a success it was! It swept Asia like a vacuum cleaner and everyone had this song playing in their homes, restaurants, stores, streets and even in their heads!
Ryeowook: “If we hadn’t met ‘Sorry, Sorry’ in 2009, SUPER JUNIOR wouldn’t exist right now.”
SUPER JUNIOR also invented the concept of sub-units to show various genres which suited every member. There was SUPER JUNIOR K.R.Y., Chinese unit SUPER JUNIOR-M with Zhoumi and Henry, SUPER JUNIOR HAPPY, SUPER JUNIOR-T, D&E, etc. Because of SUPER JUNIOR-M, they officially went from 13 to 15 members.
But then, as I said before, uncertainty always followed them. Shortly after, ‘Sorry, Sorry’, Hangeng and Kibum left the group due to company disputes, leaving the group, especially Donghae, in a state of sadness. Fast-forward to Leeteuk’s military enlistment during which he found himself in unspeakable situations. Luckily, the members were there to take care of him and he returned to the group after serving. Since they are so many members, they decided not to enlist together so that the members who were left behind could carry on promoting SUPER JUNIOR. So after 2012, it was in 2019 that they became a full group again.
But good times do follow, and on their 10th anniversary, SUPER JUNIOR got their own record label named LABEL SJ under SM Entertainment. Their fame grew so much that they even gave a special lecture at Oxford University!
The documentary also shows the behind-the-scenes of their legendary MV’s like ‘Twins’, ‘Sorry, Sorry’, ‘U’, ‘Bonamana’, etc., which leave E.L.F.s in a state of bliss and nostalgia. Then we see the birth of their Super Shows, which are performed in so many countries, all the way to their 100th Super Show in 2014. The documentary ends showing their 15th anniversary and with the promise that SUPER JUNIOR will keep going strong, no matter what they face.
As far as my love for SUPER JUNIOR goes, when the release of this documentary was announced, I was ecstatic. I knew their story, but it was always told in a humorous way. This was the first time I got to hear of them in such a serious setting.
Eunhyuk: “I wanted to keep these members.”
These were Eunhyuk’s words when an expiration date was placed upon the group in the name of “graduating”. The strength that they received from each other in their hard times will never fail to inspire. Their longevity is something to treasure, and the fact that they were able to openly talk about their lives, made E.L.F.s feel the personal connection between them. Their hardships, their happiness, their success, their fame, they all endured it together.
SUPER JUNIOR might seem like a comical group, but their past is what truly makes them the last men standing.
우린 슈퍼주니 어! 예요
You can watch the documentary here: