“Out of my way, I am a Legend and I am here to stay… I paved the way for everyone that is paving the way” – Epik High- Rosario (ft.CL and Zico)
The recent comebacks by Rain, JYP, Epik High have proven that “the older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune”.
K-POP has definitely established its ground all over the world like never before which is evident in the data provided by social media giants like Twitter, Spotify, Instagram, YouTube and so on. The big names in the current industry such as BTS, EXO, Blackpink, Twice, Seventeen, NCT, GOT7 and many more have become a global phenomenon with staunch fans and has garnered massive number of fans all over the world.
However, taking a look back to the initial years of how this wave came about, perhaps there is a need to delve into the torch bearers and understand how K-POP rose to where it is now. Regardless of the much loved Korean music industry today, songs by the 1st & 2nd generation groups tend to hit home the way Lucky Ali did few months back when he got hold of his guitar and uploaded his evergreen “O Sanam” on Instagram.
The massive achievements of the current big names have led to one of the most trending topic on which fans discuss, that is “Who paved the way for K-Pop?”. Although this is a debatable topic with mixed opinions, we definitely cannot overlook the contributions of the 1st & 2nd generation artists such as H.O.T, Sechs Kies, Shinhwa, G.O.D, Jinusean, BoA, Wonder Girls, SS501, FT Island, 2PM, SHINee, B2ST, Rain, Se7en, BIGBANG, Epik High, Super Junior, 2NE1, Infinite, IU, Girls Generation, KARA, f(X) and many more.
As the saying goes “Every success story has a start“. The finance, expansion and longevity of the current Korean companies have definitely depended on the success of the 1st & 2nd generation groups. Before the technology boom, contents created by these groups were not as accessible as it is today. It was a difficult task and a big achievement to be able to break through to the international market. The Western entertainment industry was dominant and K-POP was an alternative newbie to the market testing the waters amidst other language specific industries. The limitations of access to electronic gadgets and internet made exposure even more minuscule in comparison to today’s industry. Commercialisation and expansion to the larger market started making a bigger impact during the second generation.
Though the question of who paved the way continues to remain debatable, the contributions and achievements of the 1st & 2nd generation K-POP groups have definitely opened doors for its successors. BoA who debuted at 13 is titled the “Queen of K-Pop” after amassing success amidst the rigid music industry in Japan and becoming one of the first to break through to USA. She also had collaborations with Westlife, one of the biggest boybands at the time. TVXQ, one of the most iconic groups rose to international fame setting new records for a K-POP group. TVXQ and BoA are still known to this day as pioneers for K-POP in the Japanese market. Se7en was one of the most famous male solo act outside Korea and along with him was Rain who is not a new name in Hollywood. Rain was also one of the first K-Pop artists to perform at the Madison Square Garden in New York.
When the world was hit by the Boys Over Flowers wave, SS501‘s iconic OSTs for the drama gained a lot of attention internationally especially in Japan. Wonder Girls were the first K-Pop group to break through to the Billboard charts (Hot 100) in 2009 with their song ‘Nobody‘ at #76. FT Island broke through to the international scene as a rock band which was fairly new at the time. They hit big in the home country of anime and have contributed to multiple anime OSTs. The 2nd generation stars Big Bang with sold out acts and massive records worldwide were the first to be nominated in big international music awards and won the ‘MTV Europe Music Awards‘ for Best Asia Act and ‘Best International Act‘ in 2011. Member G-Dragon has been well known as a trendsetter for his experimental, artistic and unique talents not only in music but also in the international fashion industry. He was one of the first K-POP artists to partner up with big names such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and more.
The legendary girl group 2NE1 are famous for being the trendsetters among girl groups garnering love and attention for their songs not just from fans but also celebrities all over the world such as Emma Stone, Kat Graham, Nina Dobrev and many more. They have also made an impact on the fashion industry globally and worked with famous international such as Will.i.am. Another girl group we cannot miss out on with their long list of achievements and iconic impact at both the domestic and international level is Girls Generation. Their song ‘Gee‘ became a big hit especially in the Asian market and left a big mark internationally with all their releases.
Super Junior, the singers of the viral dance craze hit ‘Sorry Sorry‘ broke multiple records and were also the first group to include a foreign member. It might not be wrong to say that they opened the path for a mixed group which is very common as we see today. We all enjoy watching our favourite groups being mentioned by Billboard, but did you know that Infinite were the first K-Pop group that were invited by Billboard to perform and be interviewed at the NYC Billboard studio?
Whether one was a fan of the song or not, PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style‘ stormed through all media platforms back in 2012 breaking YouTube records and sweeping everyone off the charts. The popularity was so immense that even if someone had not heard of K-Pop, they would have definitely played or danced to ‘Gangnam Style‘. He was even called to give a speech at the prestigious Harvard University! Epik High who are known as lyrical genius was also the first Korean artist to have performed in Coachella. Highlight, previously known as B2ST rose to fame and etched their name to represent K-Pop winning the hearts of many in countries such as Japan, Singapore etc. The list goes on and there are many other groups that haven’t been mentioned and were pioneers in their own way making a big impact for its successors. They laid the foundation for companies to thrive, succeed and invest more in the music industry.
The next generation of artists saw an even bigger exposure, expansion, and achievements worldwide with a rise in the number of groups, album releases, collaborations between artists and other professionals from different fields globally. Despite singing in Korean, they proved to the world that music breaks barriers and is revered everywhere. By breaking gender norms in music, beauty and fashion, they have conveyed the message that ‘everyone shines in their own way‘ inspiring many in the process.
Though the next generation K-Pop groups have made K-Pop even bigger, there is no doubt that even today, the creativity, popularity and talent of the first two generations still remain intact and their promotions becomes the buzz of the town. BoA made a comeback in December 2020 with her 10th Korean album celebrating her 20th anniversary in the industry and still proved her status as the ‘Queen of K-Pop‘. MFBTY has worked with RM from BTS and has been an iconic collaboration between the 1st and 3rd generation artists. Who hasn’t been a big fan of someone and dreamt of working with the person? Yes, RM did that. It is not new in the entertainment industry and we have seen several instances like how Ed Sheeran grew up listening to Eminem and ended up working with him. Rain and JYP‘s recent release took us back to those days reminiscing the times when K-Pop was still in its formative years. Epik High recently dropped an epic comeback featuring superstars like CL, Zico, Changmo, G.Soul, Woo Won Jae, Nucksal, Miso, Heize, Sawol and Hanbin. The K-Pop world has also received a banger from SHINee after member Choi Minho returned from the military and the group came back with, ‘Don’t Call Me’. As a group that debuted in 2008, their comeback is nothing short of today’s K-Pop with the old glow.
The 1st & 2nd generation stars have also garnered attention and collaborated with professionals from different fields all over the world. Who knew that Bailey Sok, a 16 year old girl from the USA would choreograph SHINee‘s new MV? Recently, Rain also partnered up with Chungha for ‘Why Don’t We‘ and we wouldn’t be lying when we say Rain has once again become a hot topic globally.
If we were to analyse K-Pop and its global phenomenon, it is a fact that each generation has produced artists that have contributed to what it is today. The contributions made by each group has been significant in breaking the walls of the international market. The existence and impact of the current groups might have turned out differently if the 1st & 2nd generation groups did not push through the global market, open paths and survive beyond the domestic industry in Korea. However this is not to discredit or dismiss the current big names that have made K-Pop a viral sensation all over the world. What we have now is the legacy of the 1st & 2nd generation groups and the major achievements of the successors who are creating history everyday. And so, instead of pitting groups against each other and having the same debate all over again, wouldn’t it be right to acknowledge the contributions of all the generations?
Let us know what you think.