4th generation girl groups seem to have switched their main target to a female-dominated fandom.
“Our pretty God+babies…You guys are making this granny fan’s heart flutter,” “It feels like seeing the daughter you have never given birth to~ Auntie cherishes you a lot.” There has long been a stereotype that girl groups cannot have good sales because they can’t secure a female fandom with strong “firepower.” From first-generation girl groups SES and Fin.K.L. to Girls’ Generation, their ratio of male and female fans was about 7 to 3. However, the trends have changed recently. Girl groups are attracting female-dominated fandom with their different charms. Now, it is time for female fandoms to “grow” girl groups.
◇ aepa attracts female fans with the girl crush concept
aespa‘s second mini-album “Girls,” released on July 8th, sold 1,645,255 copies, setting a new record for K-pop girl group album sales. Earlier, aespa recorded 1.61 million copies on pre-order alone and became the first K-pop girl group to become a million seller through initial sales only with 1.42 million copies sold. The term “initial” means the first week after the album release, and the initial sales volume means the sales of the album during this period. This is an indicator of how strong the fandom’s firepower is.
The firepower of aespa’s fandom is so great, and the main factor comes mainly from the group’s popularity in China and other overseas markets, along with their strong female fandom. aespa has secured a stable female fandom with strong lyrics and female warrior concepts. From their debut song “Black Mamba” to “Next Level” and “Savage,” aespa maintains their unique girl crush concept.
In addition, aespa is the group that has the most stable application of their agency SM Entertainment’s “worldview.” aespa, a “metaverse girl group,” has real-world members and respective virtual world members in the Metaverse, and it is the story of aespa, which has been revealed so far that real-world members and their respective virtual members go to “Kwangya” together to defeat the villain “Black Mamba.” Sharing such a worldview gives fans a sense of bond and unity that they are connected to their favorite artist. Female fans are especially sympathetic and immersed in the story and even have fun with that worldview.
◇IVE is loved as “MZ Generation’s Wannabe Icon” and “Babies”
IVE is a little different from aespa. IVE drew attention even before its debut as a team that includes Jang Won-young and Ahn Yu-jin from IZ*ONE, but the performance of their debut song “Eleven” and “Love Dive” is better than just pure curiosity. In particular, “Love Dive” has been at the top of YouTube’s domestic popular song chart for 19 consecutive weeks even after its official promoting activities ended on May 1st, and has also been ranking 4th on the Melon Chart (as of August 8th-14th). IVE’s popularity is especially strong among female fans. According to an analysis on the pre-sale ratio of their third single album “After LIKE,” which will be released on August 22nd, by gender on the Aladdin record website, 68.7% comes from women and 31.3% from men. Women in their 40s are the highest at 25.4%, followed by teenage girls (22.4%), which is similar to the fandom distribution of IVE.
For women in their teens and 20s, IVE is a “Wannabe Icon”. This is especially true of Jang Won-young, who is known as the “Princess” to her fans, and Ahn Yu-jin, who recently showed off her active appearance in entertainment shows. Starship Entertainment, their agency, also promotes IVE as the “Wannabe Icon of MZ generation.“
For female fans in their 30s and 40s, IVE are their “princesses” in another sense. As the youngest member Leeseo was born in 2007, while Jang Won-young and Ahn Yu-jin were born in 2004 and 2003, respectively, female fans in their 20s and 30s support the young IVE members as if they were raising a much younger little sister or daughter by calling them “babVE” (baby + IVE) and “Godby” (God + baby).
Choi Ha-yoon (35), a fan of IVE, said, “If we have the dating-like feeling for male idols, we also have a feeling of something similar to parenting for female idols,” adding, “I’m proud and want to brag about my favorite singers when they perform well and do well.”
◇ A newtro concept that reminds fans of S.E.S, New Jeans
In the case of New Jeans, which has been making a sensation every day since their release on August 1st, they are different. New Jeans is a girl group that is ambitiously introduced by the famous creative director Min Hee-jin, who planned concepts for groups such as SHINee and Girls’ Generation at SM Entertainment. She has reportedly led the entire process from casting to training and debut planning.
The official music video of “Attention,” which is their debut song and is currently at the top of the Melon chart, reminds many of the comeback stage of the first-generation girl groups when they were young. It is a song that has the atmosphere of K-pop in the 1990s but exquisitely combined with a trendy vibe, which strengthens a fandom centered on women in their 30s who liked S.E.S, M.I.L.K, and Fin.K.L. Unlike other girl groups, the members show off their long straight hair and makeup that other idols do not do much. Aside from showing their confidence in facing new challenges, it also seems effective to deal with the story of a teenage girl’s fresh love.
Jung Deok-hyun, a pop culture critic, commented, “The difference between the 4th generation girl groups and the 1st to 3rd generation girl groups is that they maintain the color of their group and continue building their fandom, unlike before when they tried to make appropriate changes. It’s already a long time ago that girl groups tried to appeal to male fans, and now they are focusing more on concepts and performances that target female fandom’s tastes,” he said.
■ The agency’s strategy to convince the public: SM’s “leading planning power,” Starship’s “clear concept” and ADOR’s “differentiation and honesty”
We asked SM Entertainment, Starship Entertainment, and ADOR (label under HYBE), which are the agencies of aespa, IVE, and New Jeans about how they target the public.
◇SM’s “Planning power that leads the flow”
SM said, “It is important to plan ahead of the flow.” SM is the first agency to introduce the concept of “worldview,” where the members of the boy group EXO came from the EXO Planet of the solar system and debuted with the setting that they each have a particular superpowers such as teleportation, flight, and healing.
SM has been introducing new idol models such as TVXQ, the first group with more than 10 members, Super Junior, and Girls’ Generation, which have opened a new horizon for girl groups.
aespa is also the first “metaverse girl group” with both real and virtual members.
SM said, “The most basic thing is how perfect and complete the content is, but in addition, we think it is important to move ahead of the times and lead the trends.”
◇STARSHIP’s “Clear concept”
IVE is short for “I have,” which means “We will proudly show you everything we have.” Starship explained, “We wanted to show their girlishness with confident charm, not just a cute high-teen concept.”
Therefore, Starship analyzed that the group’s keyword was “Narcissism,” which means self-love, and the lyrics containing confident attitudes and subjective messages that can easily be sympathized for the MZ generation.
Starship also added “dance challenges” such as “Eleven Challenge” and “Love Dive Challenge,” which became a hot topic and make up a big factor in IVE’s popularity. In fact, there are thousands of videos covering IVE’s choreography on TikTok and Instagram.
“When planning New Jeans, different music, healthy idols, universal charm, and honesty were our main keywords,” ADOR said. In fact, New Jeans’s music, which has been introduced so far is different from the music shown by recent girl groups and is laced with the sentiment of the 1990s.
In addition, ADOR emphasizes the girls’ “natural and healthy charm” with long straight hair and sporty costumes, while keeping the members’ makeup light to differentiate New Jeans from other girl groups who are mostly pursuing sexy and strong concepts.
“New Jeans has always been a team that focuses on music and content itself since its first planning steos,” ADOR said. “We have the idea that good content can move people’s minds regardless of their age.”