Korean media discusses the K-pop world that is currently led by girl groups.
“Girl group battle” is definitely one of the hottest keywords in the recent K-pop industry. According to Melon Chart on May 28th, 8 out of the Top 10 are songs by girl groups, such as IVE, (G)I-DLE, aespa, LE SSERAFIM, etc. These girl groups have been competing fiercely on charts by releasing new songs every 2-3 weeks since April. That’s why K-pop fans are calling it a “battle”.
Why did such a situation happen? Some say it is partly due to the hiatus of BTS and boy groups’ focus on overseas activities but many experts believe that K-pop is greatly influenced by the new girl group NewJeans that debuted last year. NewJeans is the first girl group created by Min Hee Jin, the former creative director at SM Entertainment who previously contributed to the success of Girls’ Generation, SHINee, f(x), EXO, and Red Velvet.
Before the emergence of NewJeans, the so-called “girl crush” concept with girl group members showing their strong and charismatic images was dominating K-pop. After achieving great success with the ‘girl crush’ concept through 2NE1, YG continued the momentum with its third-generation girl group BLACKPINK, which has grown into a global group. SM Entertainment expanded the ‘girl crush’ concept beyond the real world and introduced it in the form of a virtual world. In 2020, they unveiled the fourth-generation girl group aespa with a worldview set in an unrealistic land called ‘KWANGYA’ where the members are warriors who fight against the enemy called ‘Black Mamba’. aespa’s debut marked the beginning of the fourth-generation girl group era. However, K-pop soon faced a crisis of “too much” girl crush.
Amid the ‘girl crush’ overload situation, NewJeans appeared with a different color. With a retro high teen concept without a specific worldview, the girl group quickly rose to the top of the music charts thanks to their catchy melodies and simple dance moves that resonated with listeners and became one of the leading girl groups. The girls even attracted middle-aged fans, expanding the target of K-pop listeners. On the Melon Chart, NewJeans’s songs “OMG”, “Ditto”, and “Hype Boy” set an unprecedented record of dominating the top three spots for three consecutive months (from January to March). The girl group also stayed on Billboard’s Main Chart “Hot 100” for six weeks, and achieved 1 billion streams in the shortest period on Spotify among all K-pop groups. As such, NewJeans was named in the ranking of “2023 Next Generation Leaders” by Time magazine.
The NewJeans craze stimulated the competitiveness of other entertainment agencies. aespa, who made a late comeback after overcoming the confusion in their company due to the departure of former executive producer Lee Soo Man and the acquisition of SM shares, abandoned their existing worldview and turned to the high teen concept in their new song “Spicy”. This strategy was an accurate move. aespa successfully proved their position as a fourth-generation representative, surpassed the comeback of HYBE’s group LE SSERAFIM and topped various broadcasting rankings and music charts. Aespa’s transformation and success serve as a symbolic scene that demonstrates the importance of competitiveness and quick responses to the market changes in the K-pop industry.
However, we must also look at the downside of this infinite competition. Nowadays, girl group activities are so overwhelming that it can be suffocating. They appear on all major music shows continuously from Thursday to Sunday and do prerecordings that start in the early morning. Girl groups also appear on various radio shows, entertainment programs, and YouTube channels. After live broadcasts of music shows, they immediately move on to perform at university festivals. In the midst of all these busy schedules, they even have to film challenge content to post on short-form video platforms. In this regard, fans are wondering, “How many schedules do they have to complete a day?”. Idols’ harsh schedule is not a new problem, but it is something that needs to be discussed, especially considering the problem of long working hours and the nature of girl groups with many underage members. No wonder a girl group member once said, “‘Sleep when you die’ is the slogan of my life”.
At this moment, the amendment to the “Act on the Development of Popular Culture and Arts Industries”, also known as the “Lee Seung Gi Law”, passed through the National Assembly’s Standing Committee last month. The amendment sets a maximum working time limit for artists under the age of 12 at 25 hours per week (6 hours per day), for those aged 12 to 15 at 30 hours per week (7 hours per day), and for those aged 15 and above at 35 hours per week (7 hours per day).
Some music associations, including the Korean Producers Association, are currently opposing the amendment, claiming that it does not seem to be realistic and would weaken competitiveness in this industry. However, if this fierce competition continues, idols will eventually become exhausted one day.