What is K-pop? Beginners Guide

What is kpop guide tutorial for beginners image with blackpink's lisa and bts jungkook thinking confused with question marks

What is K-Pop? Quick guide!

Hello and welcome to the world of K-pop!

If you’ve clicked this link, you’re probably interested in or curious about the music that has taken the world by storm. You’ve probably heard of ‘k-pop’ from time to time. So, don’t worry, we’ll satisfy your curiosity and teach you everything you need to know about K-pop in this article. So take a seat and keep reading. 

Korean Pop, also known as K-pop (케이팝), is a South Korean mainstream music genre that has begun to dominate the music industry. It originated in South Korea and was primarily popular in the eastern hemisphere, including Japan, China, and Thailand. However, in recent years, it has begun to leave its mark on the western music industry as well. Pop, R&B, jazz, rock, hip-hop, gospel, electronic, and other musical genres can be heard in K-pop songs. K-pop songs are usually performed by a group of two or more members, or by a solo artist. 

Before they can make their debut, aspiring K-pop singers must go through a rigorous training period. The trainees participate in classes ranging from singing, rapping, and dancing to language learning, grooming, and many other activities. K-pop is a subset of the Korean wave, also known as Hallyu, which refers to the popularity of Korean culture and entertainment in Asia and other parts of the world.

K-pop has every genre you could ever want. If you like hard rock, head banging jams, check out Stray Kids, or if you prefer sensual, slow songs, check out some GOT7. RED VELVET, a K-pop girl group, has dark songs as well as girl crush songs. It should be noted, however, that Korean songs are heavily influenced by traditional Korean sounds, and the lyrics are in Korean with a few English words drizzled here and there.

History and Origin of K-pop: 

History and Origin of K-pop

The infamous Kim Sisters laid the groundwork for the K-pop genre in the 1950s. They were the first Korean singers to have a Korean song chart on Billboard and are widely regarded as the first South Korean group to achieve success in the United States. The Kim Sisters were born in Korea but appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show 20 times. Sue, Aija, and Mia were the three members of the girl group. Their cover song of ‘The Coasters’ peaked at #7 on the Billboard Singles Chart in 1962. They became the first commercially successful Korean music artist to achieve success in the United States as a result of this.

On April 12, 1992, a boy group known as ‘Seo Taiji and Boys’ performed contemporary K-pop for the first time on television. The group was known throughout K-pop for experimenting with various musical styles. The group’s three members will later be known as the CEOs of the Big Three Agencies in the k-pop music industry: JYP Entertainment (1997), SM Entertainment (1995), and YG Entertainment (1998). 

“The Big Three” CEO’s of Founders of K-pop Industry. From left to right:  Park Jin-young, (JYP Entertainment), Yang Hyun-suk (YG Entertainment), Lee Sung-soo (SM Entertainment)

H.O.T. is praised as the first k-pop group and is credited with establishing the Korean pop culture that is still followed today. H.O.T., a k-pop group, debuted in 1996 after a period of rigorous training. Their song ‘Candy’ had a softer and gentler side to it, with upbeat melodies. The group became so popular that audiences began imitating their hairstyles and fashion.  In 2003, BoA and TVXQ followed in their footsteps, and popularity of k-pop skyrocketed.

Four Generations of K-pop: 

Four Generations of K-pop

The entire era of K-pop is mainly divided into four generations keeping in mind their popularity, concepts, styles and production quality. They are:

  • First Generation (1990s to 2000s)
  • Second Generation (2000s to 2010s)
  • Third Generation (2010s to 2016)
  • Fourth Generation  (2016 to Present)

Let’s discuss the mentioned generations in details. 

First generation:

The first generation began with the group H.O.T, who specialized in highly manufactured production and publicity. In 1997, they released their song ‘Candy,’ which was based on the bubblegum pop concept. Other popular first generation groups include Sechs Kies, which debuted in 1997, S.E.S, which debuted in 1997, and Fin. K. L., which debuted in 1998.

Second generation:

When G.O.D (Groove Over Dose) debuted in 1999, it ushered in the second generation. G.O.D followed the same groundwork that was laid by the previous groups. By the early 2000s they became one of the well-known boy groups of South Korea. The other big groups followed by G.O.D in the second generation are; TVXQ (2003), Super Junior (2005), BIG BANG (2006) and FT ISLAND (2007). 

Third generation: 

The groups that have had a global impact on the music industry and that you have most likely heard of are all third generation. BTS, EXO, Seventeen, BLACKPINK, and other third generation groups have amassed a large fan base all over the world. The third generation of k-pop finally cracked the code to breaking into the American mainstream music industry.

The groups have accomplished this by fully utilizing social media platforms to their advantage. TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube are some of the social platforms where the bands interact with their fans and promote their comebacks and merchandise. 

Fourth generation:

The fourth generation of k-pop has arrived. Netizens, on the other hand, have been debating the concept of fourth generation. They argue that because the third generation groups are still active, a fourth generation cannot begin. It could be the 3.5th generation. However, some argue that the groups that are making their debuts now have more international exposure and opportunities. The fame is at an all-time high, and k-pop has already entered its fourth generation. ITZY, STRAY KIDS, TXT, ATEEZ, EVERGLOW, and many more are examples of fourth generation groups.

A K-Pop column called ‘Idology’ recently published a comprehensive timeline of K-generations, beginning with the founder of the first-generation H.O.T and ending with the latest wave of 4th generation idols.

‘Idology’ categorizes the generations of K-Pop in this timeline by creating sub-generations – the 1.5 generation, the 2.5 generation, and the 3.5 generation.

The full generation timeline analysis by ‘Idology can be found here. (This list is subject to change with time)

Characteristics of K-pop: 

Despite the fact that K-pop incorporates a wide range of styles and genres, there are some distinguishing characteristics of K-pop that help its listeners distinguish it from other forms of pop music. These are their names:

  • Hybrid Sound: As previously stated in this article, K-pop has incorporated several genres and styles such as jazz, rock, and hip-hop. They have, however, consistently adhered to the traditional Korean style. Their music has not been fully Westernized.
  • Concepts for comebacks: From debut to comeback, every group and solo K-pop artist follows a concept. Sometimes the groups and artists stick with the same concepts, while other times the groups change the concepts based on audience retention and reactions. This is a good marketing strategy as it keeps the fans intrigued and curious. Some bands have elaborate storylines that are told through music videos and lyrics.
  • Hardcore Choreographies: K-pop groups have drawn attention with their extensive performances and hardcore choreographies. Fans have recreated and covered iconic dance steps from songs such as BTS’s “Fake Love,” Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” Super Junior’s “Sorry Sorry,” and Blackpink’s “DDU DU DDU DU.”
  • Systematic training period: Aspiring K-pop idols go through training in order to excel at their craft. The length of training varies according to the trainee. For example, some K-pop idols were able to make their debut after only a few months of training, whereas others were unable to make their debut even after years of training. The training is rigorous and strict. It will be covered in greater detail later in this article.  
  • Fashion: K-pop is particularly well-known for its distinct and trendy style. The outfits and hairstyles worn by a k-pop artist play an important role in their music videos and publicity. Fans from all over the world emulate and copy their favourite idol’s style. 
  • Publicity: Publicity is perhaps the most important step in increasing an artist’s exposure. The Korean music industry has done exceptionally well. Specialized merchandise, different versions of an album, concerts and fan interactions with each comeback, and the general lives of artists all help to increase an artist’s exposure.

Dark Side of K-pop:

what is kpop darkside children starting at 11 years old training as trainees
DEF DANCE SKOOL giving young teens an opportunity to train to become an K-pop Idol

Although we see K-pop idols being glorified on a daily basis their lives for sure are not full of sunshine and rainbows. There are many hardships and challenges they must go through before being able to debut, which is just the beginning of another chapter for them. 

From a young age K-pop idols leave their families and childhood behind to start training. Sometimes children of age 10 leave their families behind to pursue their dream of being an idol. They are put on a strict diet and schedule. Some forms of dieting have been known to be so harsh that some trainees end up in the hospital and quit. 

The trainees are forbidden to use any kind of social media and keep everything confidential to prevent distractions. They have to be monitored every day by their mentors. The international trainees have to learn Korean. The trainees go to school to complete their basic education. Every day they have to stay up till midnight to practice and enhance their skills. Some trainees stay up all night to reach their goal.

It was revealed that BTS’s Jimin had severe anxiety regarding his body image and went on to starve himself. There are several other cases similar to this where idols starve themselves to meet certain standards imposed by Kpop industry. 

Impact of K-pop in the U.S: 

BTS winning awards In he AMA

In the 2010s, the western music industry was ruled by the boy band One Direction. Apart from a few artists, White musicians dominated the majority of Western music. However, on November 19, 2017, a new era began when BTS, a k-pop boy band, performed at the AMAs and wowed the audience with thir performance and music. In fact, BTS would go on to set new records and shatter old ones. They’ve even graced the covers of Rolling Stone magazines, collaborated with several western artists such asNicki Minaj, Steve Aoki, Halsey, and others, and released three full length English songs for the entire world to listen to.

Even though American masses were not open to new artists and new styles, k-pop agencies kept on trying their luck. Finally in 2003, the Korean Music Festival sold out its first multi-artist concert at the Hollywood Bowl. K-pop’s recognition in the western world had been unpredictable with various obstacles in the way. In mid 2000s it was not the k-pop groups that penetrated the western music. Rather it was K-pop solo artists such as BoA, Rain who entered the US Music industry with their full Korean songs. 

In 2011 groups like Girls Generation had a U.S release supported by TV performances but they failed to top in the Billboards. This stopped SM Entertainment from trying out US waters. Their groups like EXO and Red Velvet solely focused on Asia and South Korea. Things took a turn in 2012 when k-pop started growing on people. Songs of Girls Generation started peaking up in the Billboards Hot Charts. 

Currently US is under the BTS and BLACKPINK Effect. BTS redefined the history of k-pop with their thought provoking lyrics, intricate storylines, heartfelt songs and amazing fan service. In 2017, BTS won the Top Social Artist Award for the first time at Billboard Music Awards. In October 2017, BTS fifth EP called ‘Love Yourself: Her’ reached no. 7 on the Billboard 200. Few years later on BTS will be the only Korean group to have dominated and ruled the No. 1 spot on Billboards chart for 13 weeks with their song Butter. 

VMA awards black pink winner "how you like that" song of summer bts best group

However, the entire journey for BTS and other K-pop idols in the western music industry has not been just merry. Issues like Asian Xenophobia and Press Defamation are common. K-pop idols are breaking through the stereotypes with their skills and performances. 

5 Popular Groups of K-pop:

  • BTS: BTS debuted in 2013. Their fandom’s name is Army and their fandom’s colour is purple. BTS is short for Bangtan Sonyeodan.
  • BLACKPINK: Blackpink debuted in 2016. Their fandom’s name is Blinks and their official colours are Black and Pink that signifies their two sides. 
  • Stray Kids: Stray kids is a fourth generation group that has been rising to the top with their international fame. They debuted in 2017.
  • NCT: NCT is another fourth generation group with the most unique structure. NCT has several sub units with members from different k-pop groups such as EXO, SuperM, WayV, Shinee.
  • Twice: Another third generation girl group that debuted in 2015 under JYP Entertainment. They are specifically famous for their girl crush image and upbeat melodies. 

We hope that you’ve found this quick beginners guide to “What Is Kpop” insightful, so if you would like to show your appreciation please help spread the love and share the article to people that may be unaware of Kpop’s history and beauty. 

Also if you feel like we could have added more to the article please leave us a comment down below 🙂 to share with others.

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Written by Kris Li

Kpop and Kdrama is my passion.

Content AuthorList MakerStory MakerYears Of Membership



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