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> How would you describe the generations of K-pop?
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Golden Maknae
post May 9 2019, 07:40 AM
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This has been a debate that has been going on for ages, and with some members of EXO and BTS nearing enlistment dates (Xiumin of the former has already enlisted), fans are saying that the 4th generation of K-pop has started. I wanna tail it off to you guys: having seen flitters of K-pop throughout the decade (and even before), how would you describe the generations?
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Golden Maknae
post May 9 2019, 04:14 PM
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Here’s my take:

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1ST GENERATION (1993-2002):
Phase 1 - The early 90’s saw a trend crossing from the usual trot style to a more modern/western feel. Early 90’s K-pop was such a shock to the population that most people don’t know what to think about it. The production was more electronic based, and seeing a group or guys flail around on stage was such a deviation from the style back then that it garnered curiosity. Singers who would later go on to found some of the biggest music companies in Korea led the charge, and it was clear that the genre would only get bigger.

Phase 2 - Those big companies have now solidified their place and began churning out their own exports, H.O.T and S.E.S, both representing SM Entertainment, being the first notable groups to take flight. It wouldn’t be long until other companies began to follow suit. YG gave birth to Sechskies, Fin.K.L emerged from DSP Media, and g.o.d was adopted by JYP after their first company fell to the wayside. Those groups and many more debuted and would soon be known as the “true legends of k-pop”.
It was also this time that we got to see the fundamentals on the metamorphosis of a K-pop idol, with a trainee system that aimed at appealing to audiences everywhere, which meant they had to look like the part and act like it too. During its conception period, a lot of its practices would probably be considered problematic today, but the system has adapted over time and continues to thrive today. There was some international crossover but none that was groundbreaking to say the least.

Phase 3 - At the turn of the century, most of the groups who ruled the late 90’s started to fade away and splinter off into their own individual careers. Trends changed, people changed, and as a result, K-pop ended up taking a bit of a slump. But not before Korea unveiled a secret weapon - BoA. She had a decent first run in Korea, but it was clear that SM had other thoughts - the company had their sights set on Japan, and she was going to be their first export there, with her training used to become a Japanese idol. Of course being both is nothing new now, but back then there were still some underlying tensions between the two countries so prominent that this move was a risk. And boy did it pay off. She flourished there, solidifying her as a powerhouse solo artist and giving her this huge breakthrough.

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2ND GENERATION (2003-2014):
Phase 1 - With most of the first generation splintering off into doing their own thing, it was clear that the demand wasn’t as prominent as it was during the beginning of the generation. Then TVXQ came into the picture. Their meteoric rise to fame showed that the genre was breathing anew and the magic was back. Super Junior followed suit as the next huge boy group, along with SS501. Phase 1 ends with the emergence of Girls’ Generation - Into The New World became such a legendary moment that it ushered in a new age, a digital one, and they became the new juggernauts of the generation.



Phase 2 - While SNSD assumed the throne as the new queens of K-pop, several groups who debuted around the same time (Bigbang/Wonder Girls/KARA) began garnering their own breakthroughs. It was also that time when they found a new continent to play with and a new audience to entrance. The US saw their first assortment of Korean crossovers, with BoA releasing a couple English singles (sidenote: I Did It For Love is a BANGER) and Rain trying out his chops in a different field - acting. Then Nobody happened and the reactions to Wonder Girls gaining traction in the US were amusing. Of course that was an English translation but still... brownie points.
The next few years saw a spike in general activity. A lot of companies diversified concepts to make the playing field a bit more interesting. SHINee were more cookie-cutter and boy-next-door as were Infinite, 4Minute delivered certified club bangers, miss A served the “we’re grown ass women” concept to a tee, T-ARA found inspiration in Britney, 2PM and BEAST did whatever Bigbang did but were less grungy, and f(x) was a gateway into the future. K-pop continued to mercilessly knock on America’s door, with Gee and Sorry Sorry going viral and 2NE1 taking the world by storm. The appeal of 2NE1 came from how different they were to their more polished counterparts. They were the “ugly ducklings” in that their concept was unconventional to the Korean public and if you played them next to Gee you would possibly get whiplash. And thus the Big 3 girl groups (GG, Wonder Girls, 2NE1) set their sights on conquering the west... and none of them succeeded.

Phase 3 - Back at home base K-pop was still alive and kicking, but elsewhere a new virus had taken over. Gangnam Style brought a newfound curiosity from America, and the latter brought the rest of the world with them. I mean come on, K-pop was actually getting radio airplay. It remains the most viewed K-pop music video to this day. Meanwhile a splinter generation called 2.5 started to develop, including AOA, EXID, and of course, EXO. They were the next super boy group for SM following in Super Junior’s footsteps. It was with this that the market was beginning to become oversaturated. A ton of groups debuted within 2012-2013, and none of them really made it big.
2014 is what most K-pop fans would consider to be the worst year for the genre, with scandals popping up left and right, the biggest groups seeing the harshest blows (Park Bom’s prescription drug scandal and Jessica leaving SNSD), and the culture going too far to destroy people’s careers. And to wrap it up, Ladies’ Code lost two members due to a horrific car accident, putting all aspects of life into perspective. For most fans it was just one thing after another, and this became the darkest timeline for K-pop.

But then, out of the darkness, came light...

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3RD GENERATION (late 2014-2020?):
Phase 1 - Generation 2.5 groups began to rule the charts. For most of the 2nd Gen groups, their time was slowly coming to an end, and that’s something long standing fans can relate to. At the same time 3rd generation groups had already been simmering while the heat from the iamspamspamamiwas burning the genre alive. Red Velvet debuted and BTS & GOT7 began to take off. Mamamoo used miss A’s general feel with different genres. The rise of what I would call the “aegyo wave” also took wing, with GFriend and Lovelyz taking charge. This was a pretty short phase, as it was merely the genre and its massive fandom getting back on its feet after the storm that happened the year before.

Phase 2 - The rise of survival shows. JYP held their survival show SIXTEEN in the hopes of finding a group who would rule the charts in the same way SNSD did. From that show come TWICE, and years later it’s evident that JYP succeeded in its mission. Monsta X emerged from their own survival show. YG’s latest survival show projects, iKON and WINNER, are now picking up steam.
And then came the Produce series. For once, it was the Korean public’s turn to decide who will become the superstar idols of tomorrow. Its first product, IOI, shot towards the top at breakneck speed, something that could have only been done with a temporary group. Wanna One and IZ*ONE (queens) also experience this huge boost. Elsewhere, we saw the conception of BLACKPINK and the full transition of K-pop into the streaming era with BP and TWICE becoming digital monsters.
But that’s not to say that the genre hadn’t met their own Infinity War-styled darkness dive. Several groups announced their disbandment, others left the agency but it’s unclear whether they will come back. Phase 2 ends with Jonghyun’s death, one that visibly shook the world. It was with this that discussions about idols’ mental health surfaced and it seemed like the social sphere was going to change.

Phase 3 - Such as with the past generation, 3.5 Gen groups have started to evolve and new methods of promotion developed. KARD exploded through the ranks despite being a co-Ed group, all thanks to their label’s “pre-debut 2-3 tracks and then debut them” strategy. Stray Kids also followed this strategy (while being formed on their own survival show). Public voted idol group shows started to multiply but with a permanent group. SM recreates AKB48’s style of promotion with NCT, the first “unlimited member K-pop band”. LOONA’s label decided to give each member a solo song before debuting them as a group.
Across the Pacific, K-pop started to prove that it wasn’t just a novelty, with BTS gaining more and more global recognition with each passing comeback. Collabs with Western artists became more common. Latin America became a market of choice. This past year saw more records being broken both domestically and globally, and the first comeback stage for a K-pop song to be held on Western soil. People are starting to realize that this isn’t something that’s novelty or exclusive to Asia anymore.
In the midst of that came the Burning Sun scandal, an investigation that has been tearing the fandom to pieces. Bigbang’s Seungri, along with other 2nd Gen members engaged in some illegal activity, and this particular incident has started to become an international crisis. Could this be the black hole that ends the generation?

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4TH GENERATION (2020?-???)
Either way now we’re here. YouTube records and Spotify records are being surpassed. Groups that have just debuted have been keeping up with the oldies. Thus to answer myself. I don’t think the fourth generation has started yet; while some 4th Generation groups have already popped up, it’s going to be a while before we get some event that really triggers the need for the new generation to start. Produce is aiming for global domination. The 3rd generation groups are nearing enlistment dates. There may be a shift in style that groups will latch on to. Europe could be a new focus audience-wise. That event will come, and that’s when the fourth generation will start kicking.

Otherwise, for the 3rd generation, we’re in the Endgame now.
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