K-pop is a global phenomenon with diehard fans all over the world. In the last two decades, the K-pop industry has become a cultural institution and continues to grow with sensations like BTS and Blackpink. In this post, we explore the origins of K-pop by looking at its brief history.
It began in the 1950s
Korean pop did not only emerge in the 20th to 21st century. It actually has its beginnings in the 1950s with The Kim Sisters. The Kim Sisters spoke no English but they achieved fame in the U.S. with soulful renditions of American pop songs by learning the words phonetically.
During the Korean War, they captured the hearts of the American GIs with their performances. They even appeared on the Ed Sullivan show 22 times. The Kim Sisters were the first Korean act to have their songs appear on the Billboard chart and are considered the first Korean group to have achieved success. They laid the groundwork for the future K-pop superstars.
The 70s to 90s
One of the key features of K-pop is its political activism. The most recent activism is BTS speaking out against Anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. It has become commonplace for K-pop fans in America to hijack and completely derail racist trending topics. Themes in lyrics of K-pop range from anti-bullying to social consciousness. In 1970, folk singer and composer Kim Min-ki wrote the song “Morning Dew” and it was used as the anthem of the youth pro-democracy movement in Korea. He often used his music for activism and was eventually banned.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that K-pop grabbed attention with Seo Taiji and the Boys. Their music and style resemble the K-pop mega fandom we have today. They revolutionised K-pop music by fusing it with American music with hip-hop choreography. They were the first-ever K-pop group.
From the 1990s onwards
K-pop is made up of a combination of ingredients from genre-bending music, attractive performers, flawless appearances to intricate choreography. Once this ingredient has been found and perfected, the first generation of K-pop stars was born.
H.O.T is considered the first true K-pop idol group because they were highly manufactured and trained to be K-pop superstars. Their hit song “Candy” in 1997 became a bubblegum pop hit in Korea and other first-generation bands soon followed such as boy band Sechs Kies and S.E.S., a girl group formed in 1997.
The second generation of K-pop groups followed in the 21st century. The most memorable being Super Junior from 2005 and Big Band who arrived on the scene in 2006.
Today’s K-pop groups dominating the airwaves and charts belong to the third generation and they include BTS, EXO, Seventeen, and Blackpink. It is hard to break into the American music scene because American export culture has been reluctant to import music from other cultures as the industry is dominated by a white-centric monoculture. Thanks to social media, K-pop managed to crack into the American mainstream.
K-pop has become the British invasion for Gen Z and appeals to consumers between the ages 13 to 11. K-pop idols dominate magazine covers, are talented and impeccably styled. They are capable of generating enormous engagement on social media and their invasion in the West as well as the East is not yet complete.