If you ask someone who listens to K-pop in 2019 who their favorite group is, you will most likely hear names like BTS, EXO, or BLACKPINK. For many, these groups are their firsts but for others who have been listening since the early 2000s these groups come from a long line of greatness. While BTS and BLACKPINK have come to build global fan bases and continuously break music records if it were not for these six groups they would not exist today.
Before BTS became the #1 k-pop group in the world, H.O.T was the first k-pop group ever. Tony An, Moon-Hee Jun, Jang Woo-Hyuk, Lee Jae-won, and Kangta, debuted in 1996 under SM Entertainments as H.O.T (Hive Five of Teenagers) and made music that represented South Korean teenagers. Their first single “Descentants of Warriors” was a hardcore critique on bullying while their second single “Candy” touched on the ups and downs of young love. H.O.T became popular among young girls for showing both their cutesy and hardcore sides. As a symbol of the first generation of K-pop, their pushed the creation and sucess of groups like Super Junior and SHINEE.
TVXQ(동방신기) debuted in 2003 as a five member group that later became popular in Japan. Their name which translates to “rising gods of the east” symbolize their success as they became one of the most popular k-pop groups of the early 2000s. Their popularity in Japan allowed them to break many sales and tour records. TVXQ have been called the “kings of K-pop” by the Korea Times and “K-pop royalty” by Billboard before BTS. TVXQ’s popularity in Japan, taught many K-pop companies and groups like BTS and BLACKPINK the benefit of a Japanese fan base.
Girl’s Generation(소녀시대) debuted in 2007 and was one of the first k-pop groups to gain global popularity. With its catchy hook and unique dance moves their 2009 single “Gee” became popular overseas with the help of YouTube. The nine-woman group moved on to be successful in other Asian countries like Japan and Indonesia and later on in the United States. Over their career, the members have become icons of fashion with appearances in magazines and New York fashion week. Along with other groups under SM Entertainment, Girls Generation participated in SM Town Live which allowed them to perform in the United States in 2010.
JYP also contributed to the global popularity of K-pop with groups like 2PM and the Wonder Girls. The Wonder Girls debuted in 2007 and took on rival groups with their hit song ‘Nobody’. The catchy melody pushed populairty overseas and quickly an English version of the hit was released. Over their ten year career, the group has collaborated with foreign artists like Akon and have toured with the Jonas Brothers. Unlike other groups their concept and music included a retro style. Despite the group disbanding in 2017 the influence they have had in their career still remains. The Wonder Girls and their global success gave hope for K-pop groups like BTS and BLACKPINK to be successful all over the world.
Hip-Hop in K-Pop
Big Bang’s inclusion of rap and hip-hop into k-pop brought something new to the genre. The group debuted in 2006 under YG Entertainment and over their career have become major icons of K-pop. From ballads to club songs, Big Bang has made music for every occasion and mood. They have received various music awards in Korea and have also been recognized abroad. In 2011 the group won the Best Worldwide Act award at the MTV Europe Music Awards. Their 2012 EP Alive was also the first Korean album to chart the Billboard Top 200. Their global success has produced groups like WINNER and iKON who have made their own moves to grow in the K-hip-hop genre as well.
Like Big Bang, the four-woman group, 2NE1, carved a path for female artists in hip-hop and K-pop. 2NE1 debuted under YG Entertainment in 2009 with a different concept than the ‘soft girl’ image that existed in many girl groups. Their image was much more hardcore and rough but never fearing of their softer female side. Their 2011 single ‘I am the Best‘ is the one of the most known songs in K-pop and shows their mix of genres and fashion styles. The members are fashion icons and are present at many fashion shows during fashion week. Their popularity also transcended South Korea as they continuously toured Asia and the United States in 2012. Despite disbanding in 2016, 2NE1 created a path for current female groups with tough attitudes like BLACKPINK and (G)-Idle.
K-pop Then and Now
These six groups made the mold from which the groups of today benefit from. From the late 90s to now, K-pop has grown and changed yet are still bringing people together. Each with their own styles and concepts, k-pop groups all have something different about them that fans come to love. When thinking about your favorite K-pop group, what is it that makes them one of a kind?