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30 years of K-pop history: From the very first song to BTS and BLACKPINK domination

In April 1992, Seo Taiji & Boys made their first appearance with the song “I know”, completely changing the course of Korean music and setting the foundation for what we now call Kpop. 

The birth of Kpop

Three decades ago, there was no such thing as the Kpop we know today. This changed on April 11, 1992, when Seo Taiji & Boys released the first Kpop track in history, “I Know” (or “Nan Arayo” in Korean).

Seo Taiji and Boys
In 1992, Seo Taiji & Boys first performed “I Know” on public television, completely changing the Korean music industry. Photo: SCMP

The song made its first appearance on an MBC competition, and here received plenty of love from the public, judges, and critics alike. It had a permanent and groundbreaking influence on the entire Korean entertainment industry, especially in music. 

With inspiring lyrics and elements from various musical genres, including dance, jack swing, rap and hip hop, “I Know” was a breath of fresh air to the public. At the time, hip hop and rap were big in the US, but barely had any presence in Korea. The two genres became a hit among people in their 20s, and slowly established the Kpop we know today. 

“I Know” was not well-received by the older audience, but was a social phenomenon among young listeners, and its hype was undeniable. 

“Almost every classmate of mine talked about them and their music! Soon we came together to support them, and it was a very interesting moment. We felt we were connected to them, Seo Taiji & Boys, and to each other,” Gyu Tag Lee, associate professor of cultural research at Hankuk University, said. 

Seo Taiji & Boys had an enormous impact on Korean showbiz. Photo: SCMP

Promoting as a group, Seo Taiji & Boys were basically the tastemakers of modern Korean pop music. 

Seo Taiji & Boys made an impact by combining hip-hop and Western pop trends with Korean sensibilities and lyrics about social issues in South Korea. They also created the template for how celebrities in South Korea, especially pop idols, would be treated moving forward. Their music and style had a major impact on the rest of the industry.

Before them, popular music musicians were considered not really important, or even lowbrow. But after Seo Taiji & Boy hit the show, people came to know the influence and power of pop artists. 

The way the trio promoted their albums and how they engaged with fans, creating intense bonds between artists and the audience, laid the groundwork to launch today’s K-pop stars

The rise of Kpop

Right after Seo Taiji & Boys’ disbandment in 1996, there was a rise in the number of musical agencies, including today’s “Big 3” – SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, and YG Entertainment. Among those, YG was formed by Yang Hyun Suk – a member of Seo Taiji & Boys himself. 

At the time, the founder of SM, businessman and producer Lee Soo Man, was the first to scout and train idols and dancers, eventually forming the first Kpop group. 

In 1996, the idol group H.O.T (short for Highfive of Teenagers) debuted under SM Entertainment, with various similarities to today’s idols 

H.O.T used to perform with Michael Jackson. 

1998, H.O.T was invited to perform in the same concert with “the king of pop” Michael Jackson, thus bringing Kpop to public recognition. 

Slowly but surely, all of the “Big 3” debuted their own idol groups, who quickly earned the love of domestic as well as foreign fans. 

Groups like H.O.T, Shinhwa, Sechs Kies, g.o.d, S.E.S, Fin.K.L, Baby V.O.X, etc… together formed the first generation of Kpop. Following them is the 2nd generation, which is dubbed as “Kpop’s golden era”.

2nd generation Kpop groups are mostly familiar names to people born in the 90s. DBSK, Big Bang, Super Junior, SNSD, 2NE1, Wonder Girlsall have made a deep impression, pushing the rise of Kpop to its climax. 

World domination with BTS and BLACKPINK

Initially, the 3rd generation of Kpop was not highly regarded, despite having some noticeable groups like EXO, Winner, GFriend, Miss A, and more. At the time, EXO was the irrefutable leader, while BTS was basically unknown to viewers. 

Things started to change after the debut of TWICE, Red Velvet, BLACKPINK, as well as other notable names, who brought their own musical colors. 

BTS
BLACKPINK
At the moment, BTS and BLACKPINK are the most influential Kpop idols. Photo: allkpop

Meanwhile, BTS and BLACKPINK were also making a name for themselves, attracting more and more international audiences through every comeback. Their releases never fail to hit it big, and people all over the world tune into their concerts and performances, sealing them as the most well-recognized Kpop groups. 

Now, we are entering the 4th generation of Kpop, with numerous notable names like Aespa, IVE, Stray Kids, G-IDLE, and so on. This is a generation of record-breaking achievements and history-makers.

It has been 30 years since the first Kpop song, and thanks to groups like BTS and BLACKPINK, Kpop is now bigger than ever before. The Kpop industry contributes greatly to Korea’s economy and brings the country’s name to a global level. 

Source: SCMP

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