PSY’s Gangnam Style may have been the song that caused a K-Pop craze all over America, but he was not the first Korean pop star to make it on America’s Billboard Hot 100 chart. That honor belongs to the Wonder Girls. This Korean girl group opened for the Jonas Brothers, performed with Akon, and even had their own self-titled movie on Teen Nick. Before capturing America’s attention, the Wonder Girls had won the hearts of South Korea as the “Nation’s Little Sisters.” However, their leader Sun Ye, a devoted Christian, would soon find out that God had even bigger plans for her.
Sun Ye’s life certainly wasn’t one of privilege. She was raised by her grandparents after her mother passed away and her father’s health condition left him bedridden.
At the young age of 13 she auditioned for 99% Challenge, a Korean talent competition show, and was discovered by JYP Entertainment. For the next 6 years she trained under JYP, learning to sing and dance, until she was finally selected to debut with JYP’s very first girl group, the Wonder Girls. Their introductory reality television series, MTV Wonder Girls, documented their debut and showed exactly how hard the girls had to train. Dancing for hours in heels until their feet had blisters, being made to stand against a wall to “punish” slouched shoulders, and sometimes neglecting adequate sleep to complete schoolwork was the price of success.
Fortunately, success is exactly what they got. The Wonder Girl’s 80’s style song Tell Me was number 1 on KBS’s music chart for seven weeks and started a dance craze across Korea that was referred to as the “Tell Me Virus.” The live performance video of their 1960’s style song Nobody was the first K-pop video to reach 50 million views on YouTube. The song itself was recorded in four different languages (English, Korean, Mandarin, and Japanese). And in 2011, Beyonce’s Single Ladies backup dancer, Jonte’ Moaning, became the choreographer for their 90’s pop song Be My Baby. Thus, the “Retro Queens” were born!
With several TV shows being made about them, many product endorsement deals, and winning numerous awards, you would expect them all to be “living the dream”. However, despite all the accolades, Sun Ye felt there was something missing. She explained to the press, “I believed in God ever since I was young when I went to Church with my grandmother, but I hadn’t truly met Jesus on a deep personal level.”
That all changed, however, when the Wonder Girls came to America to promote their song Nobody and to tour with the Jonas Brother. “When I came to U.S.A. I had time to myself for the first time since our debut,” she said, “and I went to Church every morning for early morning prayer to fill the emptiness in me. This is when I realized that the words in the Bible were alive. Even when I reached the top as a singer, I couldn’t fill the emptiness in me, but after I met Christ, my life changed. I realized the ‘Original Sin’ is in living my life for myself and not for Jesus.”
This discovery led her to make a bold decision. She decided to go on hiatus from the Wonder Girls to do missionary work in Haiti for 5 years. Sun Ye helped many people during her time in Haiti, but she never guessed that God was also helping her. Sun Ye explained, “I went to find and feel God on a deeper level. When I was trying to find the reason God sent me to Haiti, I saw my husband volunteering. He was praying for everyone there one by one and when it was my turn I got the feeling that this was a ‘preview of our future’. I didn’t know him personally at all but I felt as if he were my husband.”
Sun Ye did marry that man, James Park. Eventually, she did announce that she was officially leaving the Wonder Girls to marry him. He is a minister and they now have two children together and are living in Canada.
Although she has given up the entertainment industry to pursue motherhood and missionary work, Sun Ye’s music is her continued gift to us. One of my favorite videos is her rendition of the song When You Believe. It is a duet with fellow Christian and Wonder Girls member, Ye Eun. The harmonies and impressive high notes at end are perfection. It can be seen by clicking (HERE).