K-pop has begun to sweep the world as the “Hallyu wave” or “Korean wave” (the idea that South Korean pop culture has grown in prominence to become a major driver of global pop culture) has finally cemented its place in the west. After almost two decades of k-pop, the world has finally started to pay attention to the astounding accomplishments being made by k-pop idols and groups. Everyone is aware of who BTS are, but not many people know how astounding their accomplishments really are. In their recent years as a group, BTS has broken world records, been nominated for a Grammy, gotten Teen Choice, MTV, VMAs, Daesangs, Bonsangs, iHeart Radio Music Awards, American Music Awards and much much more. With BTS being the number one k-pop artists in the world, having just become the first asian act to win Artist of the Year at the AMA’s, it is finally time for people to begin to recognize these global powerhouses and pay attention to how incredible these groups really are.
(Seo Taiji and The Boys left to right: Yang Hyun-suk, Seo Taiji, and Lee Juno)
K-pop can be broken down into “generations”. Each generations designates a certain time period a group has debuted and attempts to define the genre and culture as k-pop evolves over time. The first generation took place from the 1990s to the early 2000s with notable acts like Seo Taiji and the Boys, H.O.T., and Sechs Kies. This first generation designated the official start of k-pop and acted as a stepping stool for many other groups to follow. Not long after came one of the most globally influential generations, the second generation of k-pop.
(Girl’s Generation left to right: Yoona, Sooyoung, Tiffany, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Taeyeon, Sunny and Seohyun)
The second generation took place from 2003 to approximately 2010. In this generation we saw groups like SHINee, Big Bang, Girl’s Generation, 2NE1, Super Junior, and so many other talented groups make their mark and help the spread of the ‘Hallyu wave”` with world tours and the introduction of “fanservice”, these idols began to drop the mysterious untouchable celebrity act and introduced the friendly approachable idol image.
(Seventeen left to right: Wonwoo, Jun, S. Coups, Seungkwan, Dino, Joshua, Hoshi, Jeonghan, Woozi, Vernon, DK, The 8, Mingyu)
Groups that began the generational transition shift in the early 2012’s became known as the third generation. Some groups from this notable era are Twice, Seventeen, BTS, Red Velvet, EXO, BLACKPINK, and NCT and tons more. Third generation had a very heavy emphasis on a global audience. Before the third generation many international fans had to rely on other fans to add subtitles to clips of their favorite groups, but the third generation introduced more content for the international fan through social media platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, along with streaming platforms, like YouTube. K-pop also began to expand and add more of a story telling element through the introduction of “universes” or the group’s “concepts”. The end of the third generation is a bit less conclusive, but many agree it ended sometime in 2018.
(Stray Kids left to right: I.N., Changbin, Lee Know, Felix, HAN, BangChan, Hyunjin, Seungmin)
Any group who made their debut in 2018 or 2019 was considered to be a part of the current fourth generation. The fourth generation shows k-pop at an unprecedented scale that we have never seen before. Groups are debuting and immediately gaining millions of views on music videos and going on showcase tours around the world. Groups like TXT, Aespa, Stray Kids, ITZY, Enhypen, ATEEZ, LOONA, P1Harmony, STAYC are among many other powerhouse groups debuting almost weekly. This new generation are showcasing their individual talents through k-pop to the world while showing there are no barriers and their possibilities of success are endless.
With the influx of new groups and the lack of “boy bands” and “girl groups” in the west since notable acts like One Direction and Fifth Harmony, k-pop has been able to take over and found a new sense of popularity throughout the global pandemic. Something that differentiates k-pop from the typical “teenage pop group” is the amount of time and production that goes into it. Some idol groups like Stray Kids and Seventeen are also labelled as self producing because they take part in writing, producing, mixing, choreographing, and doing many other things. These all rounder groups are insuring that they cement a place for themselves globally and need to be recognized for their hard work and legitimate artistry instead of just a “teenage craze”.
Needless to say there are many more layers to the K-pop universe and learning about what differentiates it or makes it appealing is only the beginning. Until then, here’s some of our favorites that you should definitely add to your playlists.