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A Brief History of K-pop

The Korean Wave that started in the ‘80s finally crested over the United States. It’s been four years since BTS performed at the AMAs and burst into the American mainstream. But it would be a disservice to the genre to say that K-pop started when BTS burst on the scene.

Tuesday, September 13th

Musical acts made up of attractive and talented young people have been a reliable recipe for success for decades. One Direction reigned in 2010, the rivalries between Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera defined pop music in the ’90s, and New Kids On The Block was an ‘80s acid wash teen dream. But on November 19, 2017, the K-pop band BTS took to the AMA stage for their first-ever U.S. performance and shook the American music industry.

The Korean Wave that started in the ‘80s finally crested over the United States. It’s been four years since BTS performed at the AMAs and burst into the American mainstream. But it would be a disservice to the genre to say that K-pop started when BTS burst on the scene.

The 1950s

Korean pop and idol culture may seem like a recent emergence, but it’s nothing new. The genre started with The Kim Sisters in the 1950s. The Kim Sisters were a Korean-born pop music trio who spoke no English but achieved fame in the U.S. by performing soulful renditions of  American pop songs entirely phonetically. Like the K-pop stars of today, the Kim Sisters were extraordinarily talented and impeccably styled. 

The 1970s

Political activism is an essential throughline in K-pop. Most recently, BTS spoke out against the rise in Anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S., And it’s become commonplace for Kpop fans in America to hijack and completely derail racist trending topics.

In addition to the music’s poppiness, the lyrics’ themes range from anti-bullying to social consciousness. A lot of this focus on activism can be attributed to folk-rock singer and composer Kim Min-ki. In 1970, he wrote the brief but sorrowful song Morning Dew.

The song would become the anthem of the youth pro-democracy movement during a time of political strife.

The 1990s

Seo Taiji and Boys is the first band that resembles the K-pop music and mega fandom we have today. Seo Taiji revolutionized Korean Pop music by merging it with popular American music. They combined the new music brand with hip-hop choreography, and K-pop was born. Seo Taiji and Boys were the first-ever K-pop group. 

Third Generation (’10s-Present)

The K-pop groups who are dominating the charts today are the third Generation. BTS, EXO, Seventeen, and BLACKPINK have taken over the music world with no signs of stopping.

The third generation of K-pop was able to crack the American mainstream mainly due to social media. The social media boom has made it so niche culture can be shared globally. TikTok and Instagram are more than sharing sites; they’re different avenues to entry, instead of just TV and Radio. They’re platforms that, when used correctly, can launch someone into stardom.

The music industry loves a group of young people that can sing, dance, and appeal to consumers between the ages of 13-18. K-pop is the British Invasion for Gen Z but dialed up past 11. Not only are K-pop Idols covering magazines and selling merch, but they are extraordinarily talented, perfectly styled, socially conscious, and capable of generating enormous engagement on social media.


This article is a re-post, with minor modifications, of “A BRIEF HISTORY OF K-POP” published on www.lafilm.edu

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