A few years ago, none of the Wonder Girls spoke English; today they are all nearly fluent. Formed in 2007, the five woman K-pop group was on the forefront of the cultural crossover phenomenon with a string of hits. All in their early twenties, the Girls -- Sun, Lim, Sohee, Yenny and Yubin -- have opened for the Jonas Brothers and Justin Bieber and were the first South Korean group to have a song on the Billboard chart, with their '50s girl group-influenced "Nobody" reaching #76 in 2009.
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The group formed via an audition process and have led the highly-structured lifestyle of K-pop stars ever since, including rigorous training in singing, dancing, style and language. They're managed by Korea's JYP Entertainment, one of the largest management firms in the K-Pop arena, and are the company's most successful female act.
But behind the sequins, makeup and slick music videos, there was turmoil in Wonder Girl world. In late November, JYP issued this statement:
"Sun, who debuted in 2007 and led the Wonder Girls as their leader for six years, recently informed the agency as well has the Wonder Girls' members about her intentions, and understanding that her decision has come after much thought, we have decided to respect her decision. Sun will be focusing on her marriage and family life for the time being, and the other members of Wonder Girls will be concentrating on individual activities such as acting, producing, solo albums, and broadcast activities. We hope for many messages of congratulations and encouragement. Thank you."
None of this was spoken of when the Wonder Girls assembled at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills a few weeks before their hiatus announcement. Instead, with the preternaturally polite demeanors of well-trained pop stars, they talked to us about life as K-pop idols.
What is a typical day like for The Wonder Girls?
Yubin: For example, today we woke up at 5 am to get our makeup and hair done.
Sun: That takes three or four hours because there are five of us. We have one stylist, one hair artist and one makeup artist. After that we'll have some interviews, like TV or magazine, and maybe one show. If we have enough time, we'll go practice.
What's your travel schedule like?
Yenny: On this trip, we came to New York first and performed "What the World Needs" at the U.N. with Stevie Wonder. Then we went to Orlando, then Houston and then L.A. It happened all in the last ten days, and we're leaving back to Korea tonight.
How do you keep up that pace?
Yubin: We've been doing this for six years now so we're kind of used to it. So if we get a chance to have free time to go out, we're a little bit shocked.
Yenny: We try to enjoy every moment traveling and learning new cultures. We try to be excited all the time.
What was the process like to get into the Wonder Girls?
Sun: We all auditioned. Some of us were trained in an academy. We went to a regular school and after school we trained in vocal and dance lessons. We learned singing, dancing, acting and language. Once a month there would be a test, like a talent show.