Charting the course of the K-Pop boom

If you’re not used to keeping your finger on the pulse or prefer to stay in your own lane when it comes to your musical pursuits, you may not have noticed that a new Asian music scene. from the East has taken the world by storm. We are of course referring here to K-pop, which is the abbreviation for Korean Pop. While Korea has had its fair share of international musical successes in the past, with quirks like Psy’s groundbreaking 2013 hit “Gangnam Style” making its mark on airwaves and dance floors across the world, the K -pop proper refers to a specific sound and aesthetic.

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From the 2020s, the scene definitely erupted outside the confines of his homeland. In 2021, as many as 26 Korean loanwords entered the annals of the Oxford English Dictionary, a strong sign of increased cultural currency in the English-speaking world. Along with K-pop, the term Hallyu has gained ground. This word broadly translates to ‘movement’ and has become an abbreviation for the wider Korean cultural wave that encompasses, in addition to K-Pop, Korean TV hits such as Squid Game and movies, as pictured. . by the 2019 wonder, Parasite of Bong Joon-ho. The K-pop phenomenon has had an unprecedented impact on global culture, with everything from BTS x McDonalds Happy Meal collaborations to the growing popularity of colored contact lenses in the UK, signaling the ascendancy and growing influence of the Hallyu craze in the west.

But where does all this come from? The history of K-pop is generally considered to include three waves of development. We’ll take a look:

Origins (1990 – 1996)

Ask anyone how and where K-pop started, and you’ll see the same band mentioned every time: Seo Taiji and the Boys. This group, and their hit “I Know”, are widely regarded as the definitive canonical starting point of the K-pop industry. Their groundbreaking track achieved unprecedented success and marked a change in South Korea’s popular music industry that was, at the time, dominated by slower ballads. Seo Taiji and the Boys took elements of Western music ranging from rave culture to mainstream pop and new jack swing and mixed them together to create a high-energy sound that resonated with the times of a newly rich and technologically ascending nation. The group has amassed a loyal fan base and resulted in many similar acts seeking to explore the new sounds introduced in their wake.

Boom of the late 90s (1996 – 2000)

While the sound of Seo Taiji and the Boys provided the raw material for a local pop music industry, Korea needed to learn from its neighbor Japan on how to take the next step on the road to stardom. The phenomenon of music idols first became commonplace on the Japanese J-pop scene in the 1990s before spreading to Korea. Idols are multitalented performers who go through big boot camps and gathered in groups, or grown solo, under the supervision of industry specialists and talent scouts. The goal behind creating idols is to encourage fandom and identification with individuals in a group. Groups like HOT, aPink and Baby Vox were among the first of these “pop bootcamp” artists.

International success (2000 – Today)

As we moved forward into the 2000s, the size of K-pop groups continued to grow, with the average group size reaching around 10 members. Each member usually has a specific style and skill set that sets them apart from the rest, with particular performers specializing in dance, rap, or lead vocals. The biggest K-pop group today is NCT (Neo Culture Technology). This group has 23 members and can be broken down into several smaller groups, each with their own sub-genre and style. Groups such as Big Bang began to gain international acclaim, which led to the growth of the genre’s popularity outside of Korea. Then, in 2010, K-pop found its first true ambassadors in the form of boy band BTS. BTS were the first K-pop group to top US billboards and download charts with their 2020 single “Dynamite”.

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