After debuting with the single “Into the New World” in 2007, Girls’ Generation was soon propelled to stardom and went on to become one of the biggest acts in the K-pop industry.
Written by SM Entertainment’s in-house songwriter Kenzie and her husband and lyrist Kim Jung-bae, the cheerful song’s joyful melody is accompanied by resolute lyrics.
“With the unknowable future and obstacles, I won’t change, I can’t give up,” the then nine-member group sings. “I leave behind this world’s unending sadness. Walking the many and unknowable paths, I follow a dim light.”
Nearly 15 years after its release, the feel-good song has taken a new life as a protest anthem.
The tune was heard at a feminist rally by groups including the Korea Cyber Sexual Violence Response Center and the Korean Women Workers Association in February. Protesters marched on the streets of central Seoul as loudspeakers blasted the song while holding banners that read, “Equality, not hatred” and “Feminists will change the world.”
“Over the years, ‘Into the New World’ has become an iconic song associated with South Korean protest culture, particularly among young liberal-minded Koreans calling for change,” said Raphael Rashid, a Seoul-based journalist.
“It was used during the candlelight vigils seeking to impeach former President Park Geun-hye. It was used at Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. The song has come to convey the idea that ‘we are all in this together, no matter what adversity we face.’”
K-pop columnist Choi Ha-rim, otherwise known as “Squib” for online K-pop magazine Idology, echoed that observation, noting that “Into the New World” appears to be more of an anthem that represents solidarity than a protest song.
“When ‘Into the New World’ was first used at a protest, it was known to help calm fears rather than to fight against something,” Choi told The Korea Herald. “The song has been sung at multiple protests and rallies, and I understand that the focus has been on confirming solidarity with each other. The Seoul Queer Culture Festival is a prime example.”
It is unclear exactly how an apolitical girl group’s song came to find popularity among protesters. But it is believed that a 2016 video of a student protest at Ewha Womans University in Seoul played a part.
In the viral video, students sing along to the song in unison as they protest the school’s decision to open a government-sponsored degree-bestowing program for working women without prior experience of higher education, saying the school was trying to “sell diplomas.”
The move was later withdrawn and the then-president of the university stepped down.
During a 2017 interview with W Korea, Girls’ Generation member Yuri said she became emotional and cried after watching the video. She said that it was a proud moment for her as a singer.
K-pop columnist Choi said the song’s powerful lyrics were what resonated with many. The lyrics tell people to move forward despite obstacles and toward a new world.
“There is a part in the last chorus which goes, ‘I get stronger just thinking about you. Help me so I won’t cry.’ It shows everyone motivating each other,” Choi said. “And this message is being delivered by a group singing powerfully in unison.”
In the LGBTQ community, the song holds a special place.
Heezy Yang, an activist and a drag queen known as Hurricane Kimchi, performed the song during a remembrance event earlier this year for late Staff Sgt. Byun Hee-soo -- a transgender soldier who was forced to be discharged from the military after undergoing a sex reassignment surgery. Byun took her own life last year.
“The song has become an anthem for the LGBTQ community, getting loved by the community and being used at events such as the Seoul Queer Culture Festival,” Yang said.
The song symbolizes close communication between people, and has the power to unite them, Yang noted.
“I think it’s a song that shows we are capable of working together and creating meaning and change in society.”
In 2021, Tiffany from Girls’ Generation appeared in a video with members of the LGBTQ community, lip-syncing and dancing to the song, which Yang said was a memorable moment for the community.