It’s no surprise that as the Korean Hallyu wave has crashed over onto international shores, it’s audience has grown. New generation groups such as BTS and TWICE are introducing Korean pop music to a whole new audience. From establishing Kpop legends to the unexpected breaking of records, these are some of the defining moments in Korea’s pop history. Alongside these great successes, there have also been disheartening ones. Some of them you may know already, others not.
The founding of SM Entertainment
Arguably the most influential, successful and well known of the big three labels in Korea, SM Entertainment had it’s beginnings in 1989. When Lee Sooman, a moderately successful musician himself, returned from studying abroad in the US, he saw a gap in the music market. Taking influences from the American acts of the time, he founded his own company. It’s from his ideas that the culture of training idols in everything from performance to image began to develop. Many of the most popular idol groups came from SM: H.O.T, Super Junior, Girls Generation and DBSK to name just a legendary handful.
Seo Taiji and the Boys Make Their Mark
The early 1990’s saw the beginnings of the Kpop that we know today – mainly through SM’s group Seo Taiji and the Boys. Here many of your favourite idols mentioning them as influential on their careers? That’s because Seo Taiji and the Boys was one of the first groups to experiment with merging western and Korean music. Some of these included the styling, the easy to follow melodies and dance routines, and even the personalities of the members. They were the group to look up to for many of today’s idols.
Another sign of their influence? Yang Hyunsuk was one of the three members. He went on to found YG Entertainment, another of the big three companies housing Psy, Big Bang and 2NE1. Whilst this isn’t a singular moment, it’s founding sparked the success of all groups to come, making it one of the most crucial moments in Kpop history.
Girls’ Generation’s Black Ocean
Back in 2008, the now legendary “Nation’s Girl Group” Girls Generation found themselves at the centre of fan wars. They experienced a ten-minute long black ocean during promotions for their debut single Into the New World. The then new girl group performed at Dream Concert, one of South Korea biggest Kpop concert events. When it came to Girls Generation’s performance, the crowd filled with lightstick waving fans suddenly went dark. What was apparent from the views of the audience that day was that nearly all the fandom groups turned off the lightsticks to protest against Girls Generation. The reason still isn’t clear to this day.
Nothing like it of this scale has scale has occurred since thankfully. Most fandoms today hold their lightsticks with pride to support their own artists and respect other performers when on stage. But this moment was a lesson to all fandoms that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Members come, members go
The member personalities that earlier groups began to establish meant that Kpop is as dependent upon each group’s dynamics as it is music. Each member always has their distinct role and place within the group, an invaluable part of their choreographies and vocal lineups. Which means when this lineup is shaken up, it’s a big event.
The most startling of these cases came in 2009, when members Jaejoong, Junsu and Yoochun filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment, who managed their group DBSK. Whilst they left the group and formed JYJ, the remaining to members – Changmin and Yunho – stayed with SM to perform as TVXQ. It wasn’t until 2012 that the lawsuit was finally settled, with JYJ finally free of their former company and have gone on to make a successful career for themselves. They also still maintain that they support TVXQ, and since they have been spotted together since the incident, this seems to be true.
Whilst one of the most famous case, it hasn’t been alone. Hangeng from Super Junior filed a similar lawsuit prior to this; the entirety of BAP years later; and members Kris, Luhan and Tao of EXO still have ongoing lawsuits with SM.
Gangnam Goes Global
How can it not be mentioned? With one of the most iconic dances and as of writing just under three billion views, it cannot be overlooked. Psy’s now infamous track hit the international charts in 2012. Gangnam Style’s level of success was astounding. With an amusing take on the high-class lifestyles of those in the Gangnam area of Seoul, some of the cultural references were perhaps lost on foreigners. But if anything, this lack of understanding may have been part of the appeal. Whatever the case, it was a mark of the now global influence of Hallyu.
Psy toured the world with the song, performing on plenty of western TV shows. It was more than just a song by the end; it became a cultural phenomenon all over the world. The attention it brought to the South Korean music scene has arguably helped many new artists build their places in the industry.
These moments are all significant to the history of Kpop. Good or bad, their impacts have changed the way the genre works and interacts with fans. As Kpop continues to grow, hopefully the lasting effects will keep improving the music. And even more exciting is the good events that will be the history of the future!
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