- The History of K-Pop starts with Seo Taiji and the Boys
- SM Entertainment Hits it Big with H.O.T.
- K-pop Entertainment Companies Target the Chinese Market
- Social Media Played Major Role in the History of K-pop
- Girls Generation (SNSD) Signs with Interscope Records
- The Psy Explosion
- BTS and BLACKPINK – The Kings and Queens of K-pop
For those that have been living under a rock, K-pop stands for Korean pop. K-pop has captured a legion of fans not just in South Korea but all around the world. K-pop has become more than just music; K-pop also represents fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. This is because it is driven by its beautiful stars and their passionate fans. So how did K-pop get to this point? What is the history of K-pop? We at SEOULSPACE will dive deep into how K-pop became a global phenomenon and what the future holds for this industry.
The History of K-Pop starts with Seo Taiji and the Boys
When you think about the history of Kpop you have to first start with Seo Taiji and the Boys or mainly Seo Tae Ji. In 1992 Seo Taiji and the Boys released their first album. Seo Taiji is famous for having dropped out of high school to pursue his dream. He teamed up with two b-boy dancers, Lee Juno and Yang Hyun-suk, and formed what could be known as Korea’s first hip-hop group. Their hit “Nan Arayo” means “I Know,” spent most of the year on the top of the charts in Korea, which started a music revolution. Yang Hyun-suk later started YG Entertainment in 1996.
Seo Taiji and the Boys are considered by many to be the first K-pop group. Their music was different than what was already out there. They brought rap to Korean music. They were not afraid to mix genres and ended up creating their hybrid music style heavily influenced by rock and rap. The group ended up selling over 1.5 million copies in under a month of it being released.
Their fashion was different as well. The group wore sported Western street fashion, oversized clothes, and bucket hats. Their lyrics also criticized the government and Korea’s education system for being too strict and oppressive.
Park Jin-young launched his solo career in 1994, then started his music label called JYP Entertainment in 1997; maybe you have heard of it.
SM Entertainment Hits it Big with H.O.T.
SM Entertainment was founded in 1995 by Lee Soo Man. It is considered the first K-pop entertainment company to provide training, casting, producing, and a professional management system to discover new talent. Through this, they were able to establish their formula for creating talent as well as music. They found talent right away after their first year with H.O.T.
H.O.T. came on the scene in 1996 from SM Entertainment. Their #1 hit single, “Candy,” was a huge hit in South Korea. They sold over 6.4 million records in South Korea during their career. They were also commercially successful in China and Japan and were among the first stars of the Korean Wave in Asia.
SM was not done creating talent. Later came female groups like S.E.S. and FinKL. As more and more Kpop groups started to form, their popularity rose all across Asia. Individual artists were also hitting it big. For example, BOA became a huge star in Japan and Rain became a superstar all across Asia.
K-pop Entertainment Companies Target the Chinese Market
China’s music market was rapidly growing, and Korean entertainment companies were paying close attention. China is where the term Hallyu came from. Chinese journalists wrote it to describe the popularity of Korean artists there. It is called “hanliu” in Chinese and “hanryu” in Japanese. Hallyu means “Korean Wave,” and soon Korean music washed over Asia.
South Korea and China already established diplomatic relations during the 90s. Therefore it was easy for Korean artists to break into the Chinese market. Korean pop music and dramas were introduced via a radio program called Seoul Music Room, broadcast from Beijing. By 1997, over 150 million Chinese were listening to K-pop music through this program alone.
In 2000, H.O.T. held a concert in Beijing, a huge hit in China. Since then, Hallyu has started to explode in China and across Asia.
Social Media Played Major Role in the History of K-pop
The internet allows people from all around the world to access content on K-pop. However, social media was key in helping K-pop break into Western markets such as the United States. With social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, it is now easier than ever for K-pop groups to reach a wider audience in the west. In addition, fans could find anything they wanted and spread the word faster than ever.
Soon Kpop concerts were not just being held across Asia, but soon started to go global to Europe and the United States. In 2011, for example, SM Entertainment held Kpop concerts in Paris. JYJ also held concerts in Barcelona, Spain, and Frankfurt, Germany. K-pop groups like 2NE1, Super Junior, and SHINee held concerts in the United States and Europe. All tickets were sold out within the hour. Fans used Facebook and Twitter to organize to push for more concerts in the West.
Girls Generation (SNSD) Signs with Interscope Records
Girls Generation was the first K-pop group to sign with a major U.S. record label. When Girl’s Generation announced they signed with Interscope Records to release the group’s latest album, it was a major deal for K-pop. It showed that there was a demand for K-pop in the West. They even appeared on David Letterman.
Soon major K-pop boy groups such as Big Bang and Super Junior started to hold concerts in Europe, the United States, and South America. The number of Kpop groups started to grow. For example, in 2009, around 50 Kpop groups made their debuts. Then in 2010, there were over 70, and then in 2012, there were over 100. Not all made it, but those that did became bigger than expected.
However, most could not enter the U.S. Market in any meaningful way, like Girl’s Generation, Big Bang, and Super Junior. While Kpop was creating great music, it was all in Korean. However, one group succeeded in Korea for many years before deciding to launch an English-language career in the United States in 2009. That group is the famous K-pop girl group Wonder Girls. They created English versions of their existing singles, such as “Nobody” and “Tell Me.” They even accompanied The Jonas Brothers on the North American segment of their 2009 world tour. While Girl’s Generation, Big Bang, Super Junior, and Wonder Girls had success in South Korea, nothing can compare to what happened next.
The Psy Explosion
Gangnam Style was released in 2012 and immediately reached the top of South Korea’s music charts. However, no one expected it would go viral globally. The song and music video took the United States by storm and the world. It was at one point the most viewed music video on YouTube. Leading websites and celebrities started to use social media to spread Gangnam Style.
Interestingly, the music and video were nothing like the other K-pop styles. It had a big EDM chorus and made fun of the super-rich class area of Seoul called Gangnam. Even now, Gangnam Style can be heard at sporting events in America. It is one of the most influential songs of all time and single-handedly altered the pop landscape of Asia, Europe, and the United States.
BTS and BLACKPINK – The Kings and Queens of K-pop
It is now common to see K-pop music videos hit 100 million views on YouTube. Now Kpop songs get played on music radio stations, and groups are represented at music shows such as MTV Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, and Grammys. The two biggest K-pop groups at the moment are BTS and BLACKPINK. BTS became the first South Korean group to score a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single and even performed on SNL, making them the first K-pop group to do so. They are now a household name.
BLACKPINK is the biggest K-pop girl group in the world. In 2019, they became the first-ever idol group to play at Coachella. In addition, they were the first K-pop group to get over 1 billion views on YouTube with their music video “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du.” Their latest English-language collaboration with Selena Gomez called “Ice Cream” became a Top 20 radio hit. Each has a successful solo career and is a major player in fashion/beauty.
What is the future of K-pop going forward? The K-pop industry is in good hands with up-and-coming groups such as TXT, Aespa, Itzy, and ATEEZ, and more people wanting to become Kpop stars.