Formed back in 2007, KARA have become veterans of K-Pop, standing out for their disco-heavy sound and penchant towards a more classic mature female image, as opposed the overt quirkiness of their contemporaries. Originally a four piece outfit, consisting of Park Gyuri, Han Seung-Yeon, Kim Sung-Hee and Nicole Jung, they made their debut in March of that year, with the single ‘Breaking It’ to promote their debut album ‘The First Blooming’, which was released at the end of the month.
The album was not a ground breaking first impression, nor did its aftermath suggest anything in the way of a bright future, when Sung-Hee left their ranks exactly twelve months afterwards, leading to a postponement in their scheduled comeback. However, the shaky start came to an end and KARA were soon back on track, revamping their image and bringing in Goo Ha-Ra and Kang Ji-Young for the July EP ‘Rock U’.
‘Rock U’ was classed by critics as a modest success. It opened the initial floodgates to popularity that would later burst off their hinges with November’s follow-up mini-album ‘Pretty Girl’, indicating that KARA were not simply pulling in the crowds this time around, but becoming one of the most prolific idol groups in Korea. The mere fact that they required hospitalisation for exhaustion by the years end, while not exactly great news, was an indication that they were dedicated to solidifying an identity, which many felt was absent in their first incarnation.
Furthermore, the immense popularity of ‘Pretty Girl’ led to its earning a repackaged version entitled ‘Honey’ in March of 2009, which became their first major victory as it reached number one in the Gaon charts. However, not content with resting complacently, they began to prepare for another comeback in July in order to release their second album ‘Revolution’.
‘Revolution’ was an apt title, as it brought them their biggest hit in the shape of ‘Mister’, not merely making waves on the homefront, but also overseas. Journalist Mark James Russell credited the release of ‘Mister’ with bringing about the rise of K-Pop in Japan, and stamping KARA’s name in the soil in a country, which has lavished them in awards almost annually since its appearance.
As they became the faces of various products, featured in a plethora of reality shows and continued to receive greater international success off the back of ‘Revolutions’, the group began to prepare for their next mini-album, February 2010’s ‘Lupin’, which saw them hit number one on various online charts with their single of the same name. One month later, they were performing in the iconic Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, with Nicole serving as a host for the evening and by November they were gearing up for their Japanese debut album, ‘Girls Talk’, which went double platinum, selling half-a-million records.
Yet, and if you thought two full length albums was all that KARA would produce in 2010, then you were mistaken, because guess what, in November, they brought out ‘Jumping’, earning themselves a fourth number one. The early months of 2011, however, were another sign of worrying times, as Nicole, Ji-Young, Ha-Ra and Seung-Yeon demanded the termination of their contracts with DSP, raising concerns, until the proceeding negotiations concluded with a positive resolution. KARA were still alive, with their third full length album, September’s ‘Step’ and second Japanese album, November’s ‘Super Girl’ confirming this fact.
What’s more, in August of the following year, their seventh mini-album ‘Pandora’ brought them global success, earning them critical and commercial success, before in October, they returned to Japan with the single ‘Electric Boy’ becoming certified as gold. Thereafter, re-releasing this single as part of their third Japanese album ‘Girls Forever’, KARA went on to make history by becoming the first K-Pop group to play the Tokyo Dome’ to celebrate the New Year. They continued to capitalise on this huge fanbase in Japan, first by putting out the track ‘Bye Bye Happy Days’ in March of 2013 and then, by bringing out a fourth Japanese album, ‘Girls Forever’ in August.
They returned to Korea then, for September, in order to release ‘Damaged Lady’, a strikingly gutsy feminist single to promote their album ‘Full Bloom’. Arguably the group’s finest musical achievement to date, this was also the swansong release for Nicole Jung and Ji-Young. The former parted ways with KARA at the start of 2014, in order to pursue an acting career in Japan, while also releasing a French folk influenced solo album ‘First Romance’ several months thereafter and the latter, left in April.
Still, determined to move forward, KARA saw another line-up change, reverting to their original format as a quartet and recruiting Heo Young-Ji, who joined after winning the ‘KARA Project’ reality show. The group subsequently brought out the album ‘Day and Night’ in August, led by the ferociously energetic single ‘Mamma Mia’.
By 2015, in keeping with their tradition of a March release, they issued a triple A-side Japanese single, ‘Summer-gic/Sunshine Miracle/Sunny Days’, which sold handsomely and gave them another number two in the Oricon charts. However, their latest mini-album, ‘In Love’ has become the first major victory for KARA’s latest incarnation, for reaching number two in the Korean charts, but more importantly, for ‘Cupid’, the wonderfully colourful lead single that it has spawned.
Still going full steam ahead, and with no sign of letting up in terms of their prolific studio recording output, the KARA of 2007 seems a dim and distant past, in the face of the creative industry that they have now become.
In 2016, after the termination of the original members’ contracts, KARA officially disbandend. The only member still under the label is Youngji who lately, in 2017, made her solo debut.
Michael Lanigan – July 2014