Unless you've been living under a rock for the last 5 years, you'll know that KPOP has blown up bigger than it ever has before. So, like me, you might be wondering where did KPOP come from and how long has it has been building to this point?
It's worth saying before we go into the timeline, that this post will be focusing on modern KPOP. However, traditional Korean music has been around for centuries, and there are other forms of Korean music that directly influenced the rise of KPOP.
The main predecessor to KPOP is 'trot'. 'Trot', which originated in the 1920s during the Japanese rule over Korea, has a very specific style of rhythm and repeating lyrics
that has gone on to heavily influence modern KPOP.
Early 1990s - Seo Taiji and Boys
KPOP in the form we know it now can pretty much be led back to one single band with one single song.
In 1992, Seo Taiji and Boys released their song I Know which took Korea by storm.
The band took influence from hip-hop, which wasn’t really done at the time the song was released, and therefore opened up a brand new market and genre within South Korea.
Although the band didn't do well on the show they debuted for, I Know went to number one for 17 weeks in Korea, showing that the country had a taste for this new form of KPOP.
The big three entertainment companies
Soon after the success of Seo Taiji and Boys, three major labels came and began pushing these kinds of KPOP artists: SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment.
These labels began to ‘train’ idols up, often for years, to be big KPOP stars. This followed the format that a lot of JPOP idols had been launched with.
This led to the creation of bands like H.O.T., Baby Vox, and g.o.d, which is when the genre really started becoming the massive industry that it is now.
1998 - BoA
However, it wasn't just bands being cultivated at this point, and in fact one of the most successful KPOP artists is solo female act BoA (Kwon Bo-ah).
She was discovered back in 1998 and went through training before making her debut.
Since then she’s released 20 albums and is often referred to as the ‘KPOP queen’.
She didn’t just stick to KPOP though, and actually found herself a huge hit in Japan too.
2009 - Girls Generation
Obviously, between the 90s and 2009 KPOP was steadily growing and had become a major industry in Korea and surrounding countries - however it wasn't until 2009 that it really hit the west.
Girls Generation stand out as one of the first KPOP girl groups to have success internationally after the viral hit Gee in 2009. Going viral in 2009 wasn't an easy feat, so this was incredibly significant not just for Girls Generation but for the KPOP industry.
PS: It was also at this point that incredibly successful SHINee were starting out.
2012 - PSY and Gangnam Style
Although KPOP was obviously becoming more and more popular by the second, it was one specific song by one specific artist that really introduced the entire world to KPOP - PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’.
If you were on the internet then you will know this song. It was the first ever YouTube video to reach over one billion views and introduced a huge audience to the world of KPOP, and certainly opened the doors for more artists to be introduced to the mainstream.
2013 - The debut of BTS
All of these previous things put together have fed into the success of the biggest band on the planet right now: BTS.
BTS debuted in 2013, but their fame didn't reach the heights it is now until about 2016-2017, (which coincidentally was when there was a huge One-Direction-shaped boyband hole in the western music industry).
BTS were the first KPOP band to be a fully-fledged commercial success in America. The band have, and continue to, broken an insane amount of records and have probably the biggest fanbase in the world.
The rise of KPOP as a genre in the west
BTS opened a lot of doors for KPOP artists into the western music industry.
There are now several KPOP bands which are easily recognisable by name and reputation.
BLACKPINK, for example, regularly break Youtube records and even performed at Coachella back in 2019, and Jennie from the group in particular has become a well known face in the fashion world.
Other bands include TWICE, SEVENTEEN, MONSTA X and many, many, more.
The future of KPOP
Although KPOP is very commercially successful, and of course is all over the internet now, it has yet to receive many significant accolades in the west.
Although this would be a huge thing for a non-western band to win awards of high prestige in the west, it almost doesn’t feel necessary.
Do the bands deserve the recognition? Absolutely, but they definitely don’t need them. When bands are as successful as they are, with die hard fans and so much accolade in your own region of the world, it would not be doing justice to that success to say that they haven't 'really made it' until they win one.
BTS, for example, deserves an award for their impact on music culture as a whole, and the concept of that, is far bigger than any single album or song award.