K-pop has become a dominant genre in mainstream music thanks to acts such as BTS and BLACKPINK. The music industry has expanded its range of diverse artists and perspectives. Yet, many music lovers don’t truly know its origins, nor do they clearly understand how the genre will continue to impact the future of music. Look no further; here is a history of K-pop music:
First, K-pop, or Korean pop, originates from South Korea, drawing influences from other genres such as pop, experimental, rock, hip-hop, R&B, electronic and dance. Many songs are also inspired by traditional Korean music, usually containing Korean lyrics mixed with English lyrics throughout.
The genre grew relevant in the 1950s with the Korean-born pop trio The Kim Sisters. They performed soulful renditions of American pop songs of the time, gaining more of a following during the Korean War. The trio also appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” 22 times and were the first Korean singers to have a song appear on the U.S. Billboard chart.
Laying the groundwork for future artists, more K-pop artists emerged in the 1970s, and many artists began utilizing political activism in their music. These themes came to fruition through Kim Min-Ki, a folk-rock singer and composer. In 1970, he wrote “Morning Dew,” a song about the pro-democracy movement during major U.S. events such as the Vietnam War, allowing Korean music to be taken more seriously by the public.
20 years later, the K-pop group Seo Taiji and Boys appeared on the scene. With its hip-hop choreography, the group gained a massive following. Many critics consider them the first major K-pop group in music history. Soon, the 1990s became a place for more Korean acts to thrive.
Acts such as H.O.T., SECHSKIES and S.E.S., made up of trained K-pop stars and dancers, were also considered some of the first K-pop groups. H.O.T. released their song “CANDY” in 1997, becoming a massive hit in North and South Korea. This group became known as the “First Generation” in K-pop from the 1990s into the early 2000s.
The “Second Generation” followed, lasting from the early 2000s into the 2010s. One group, G.o.d., or Groove Over Dose, debuted in 1999, starting the transition into the next generation of K-pop stars. Following the same blueprint as their predecessors, G.o.d. became one of the most popular boy bands of the early 2000s in South Korea. Next came pop duo TVXQ!, who released their first hits in 2003. Other groups such as SUPER JUNIOR and BIGBANG arrived in 2005 and 2006, while FTISLAND made their mark in K-pop in 2007.
The changing face of K-pop: foreign artists introduce their own K-pop music
K-pop groups composed entirely of non-Koreans created by Korean labels are expanding the K-pop spectrum.
XG, a K-pop girl group consisting only of Japanese nationals formed by a Korean label XGALX, and Horizon, a K-pop boy group made up of Philippine members by MLD Entertainment, are successful examples of foreign artists garnering popularity in Korea and abroad through K-pop music.
XG is a seven-member group that debuted in Korea in March last year with the single “Tippy Toes.”
The members underwent five years of training under the K-pop training system led by the chief producer Jakops.
The group made a name for itself with its K-pop single “GRL GVNG” topping Billboard’s Hot Trending Songs powered by Twitter chart, and iTunes’ chart in 13 different regions.
Recently, it has been promoting its first EP “New DNA” on local TV music programs and also took part in KCON LA 2023 as performers.
Horizon also consists of seven members who were brought together through the Filipino TV audition program “Dream Maker,” jointly launched by MLD and Filipino TV broadcaster ABS-CBN.
The band then went through some 100 days of K-pop training before setting foot on the K-pop scene with its first LP “Friend-Ship.”
Horizon is promoting its music in Korea and the Philippines, where K-pop is popular.
Not only are K-pop groups created with foreign members by Korean labels contributing to the expansion of K-pop’s reach but also overseas groups that are coming to Korea to learn K-pop to introduce their own K-pop music.
Popular Indonesian girl group StarBe released the Korean-language single “Bang” early this month, following a month of K-pop idol training in Seoul.
“We enjoy listening, dancing, singing and rapping to K-pop, just as many young people in our country. We wanted this opportunity to learn K-pop in Korea, as we hoped to present music that combines the characteristics of K-pop and Indonesian pop music,” said Kezia of StarBe during the group’s press conference in Seoul last month.
Experts say K-pop is no longer about nationality as it has now become a genre itself.
Podcaster brings rich context in documenting the rise of K-pop
SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
When Vivian Yoon was growing up in LA’s Koreatown during the 1990s and 2000s, she was kind of ashamed of the fact that she was such a huge K-pop fan.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “DREAMS COME TRUE”)
SES: (Singing) Funny how all dreams come true. (Singing in Korean).
DETROW: At the time, K-pop was not the global music sensation and multibillion dollar industry that it is today. And even though Yoon knew all of the words to her favorite songs, she wanted to appear more interested in American culture.
VIVIAN YOON: My dad was very – I mean, he was very American, right? Like, he grew up in the States. He waved lighters at Pink Floyd concerts and played college football and was in the U.S. Army. And so I think that’s sort of where a lot of this stemmed from – right? – my desire to really be seen as American as opposed to Korean or Korean American.
DETROW: Since then, Vivian Yoon has embraced her love of Korean popular music, and she’s out with a new podcast from LAist Studios called “K-Pop Dreaming.” The podcast traces the music’s rise to the international stage and also how Yoon’s own family history and identity weave into that. Vivian Yoon spoke to my co-host Ailsa Chang, and they began by talking about a song from 25 years ago, one that Yoon cannot stop singing even today.