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  • Violet Laslie

The Generations of K-pop

1st: 1992-2004

A hybrid of hip-hop and Korean traditional music, K-pop began one day in 1992. Seo Taiji and Boys went on MBC’s talent show with their song “I Know”. They got horrible ratings from judges. But the general public adored them, with their debut selling 1.5m copies in a month. H.O.T. came afterward. They were less hip-hop and more dance pop, originating the factory-like training and debut formula the genre’s loved and hated for. No one outside of Korea had heard of K-pop yet.

Important Groups: H.O.T, Baby V.O.X, Seo Taiji and Boys, S.E.S

2nd: 2005-2011

My personal favorite! While concepts imitating the traditional idea of the Boy Band(ie *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys) dominated 1st gen, 2nd gen ignited a golden age of female artists and girl power themes. Artists marketed heavily to Japanese audiences after the success of BoA’s Japanese album Listen To My Heart. Ear worms like Ring Ding Dong and Abracadabra saw success alongside lovey-dovey bubblegum pop like Gee and Mr. Chu. The lightstick, a classic symbol of K-pop fandom, was introduced at this time.

Important Groups: SHINee, Girl’s Generation, 2NE1, BIGBANG

3rd: 2012-2017

All I have to say is Gangnam Style. Thanks to PSY and BTS, K-pop is international, more distinctly its own thing than before. Artists like BTS had enough reach for world tours and nominations from Korean and American award ceremonies. Survival shows, programs that broadcast trainees competing to debut, were an industry norm. What stars could and couldn’t do in the public eye became stricter, with a big emphasis on an “idol image”. Fancams, videos taken by fans of member’s performances, became a trend.

Important Groups: BTS, TWICE, Red Velvet, BLACKPINK, EXO

4th: 2018-???

Digital marketing is king. Internet virality is a top goal for groups like New Jeans and Fifty Fifty. COVID-19 had a big impact, with online concerts filmed in empty venues taking place. Instead of typical fan-meetings, where artists sign albums and sometimes do performances, the fan-call emerged. The industry is highly oversaturated and competitive now, because every business in Korea wants to catch on to the hype and popularity of K-pop music.

Important Groups: TXT, ITZY, Stray Kids, aespa.

People debate 5th Gen has begun. Others argue 4th gen is still going on. Only time will tell. Whether you’re a fan or a hater, I hope I taught you something new!

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