Over the last 12 months, k-pop has seen the disbandment of many iconic groups that younger k-pop fans grew up with. Most recently, Sistar and T-ara both announced that they were disbanding as their contracts were expiring and they would not be signing a new one as a group. With only a few of the notable senior groups remaining and names like TWICE, BLACKPINK, BTS, GOT7, Seventeen becoming widely popular, one could say that the torch has been passed to a new generation… But what are these “generations”? What do they mean? How are they decided?
K-pop has always been divided into “generations”, usually denoting changes in the overall sound/style but it can also be based off when large numbers of groups debut/disband. Groups and singers are put into these generations based on their date of debut. The start and end of each generation are not defined by any one organisation but by common agreement by fans and as such, don’t have a hard divide between one and the next. Also, the nature of these decisions means that the end of a generation is only finalised years after it passed, since they can only be done in hindsight. Over time though, fans have come to have a general area of agreement. Right now, we’re up to either 4th or 5th gen, depending on who you ask. Here’s what is agreed upon:
1st generation (90’s > early 2000’s)
The groups in this generation were the foundation of k-pop and basically defined the signature sound and style that differentiates from other music. While many k-poppers would not have heard the songs from these groups, they certainly know the names. It’s possible that, like some idols, some fans were not even born when these groups were on stage.
- Shinhwa (still active too)
- Seo Taiji & The Boys
- Sech Skies
- Baby VOX
2nd generation (early 2000’s > late 2000’s)
Generally assumed to be around 2002 to 2008/09, this is the generation that catapulted k-pop onto the global stage via the “Hallyu Wave”. The earlier years were dominated by male groups and only towards the end did any female groups make an impact, namely the triple whammy in 2007 by the debut of Wonder Girls, Girls Generation, and KARA. Two years later, the powerhouse group that would be 2NE1 made their debut.
There have been some debate as to whether 2009 should be included here as 2NE1’s style didn’t really match this generation’s but in hindsight, since they were regarded as competitors to the other three female groups here, it seems only fitting to do so.
- Super Junior
- DBSK (which would later split into JYJ and TVXQ)
- Epik High
- Big Bang
- Wonder Girls
- Girls Generation
3rd generation (late 2000’s > early 2010’s)
One of the shorter generations as it only spanned ~2009-2011, it was characterised by the massive influx of girl groups caused by the success of the four girl groups named in the previous generation. That’s not to say male groups didn’t debut but they were noticeably fewer. Many did not survive past a couple of years but those that did would become the face of kpop and a staple bias for many current k-pop fans.
- After School
- Nine Muses
- Miss A
- Brave Girls
- A Pink
- Girl’s Day
- CN BLUE
- Teen Top
- Block B
4th generation (early 2010’s > present) & disputed 5th generation (mid-2010’s > present)
Some people argue that the 5th generation started in 2015 because 4th gen was known for the heavier, aggressive hip-hop style for male groups and sexy concepts for the females (e.g. BAP, BTS, EXO, GOT7, AOA, EXID, Fiestar, etc) to a more diverse range of styles and groups. Groups from smaller, lesser-known agencies also started taking the spotlight more, most notably G-Friend along with the likes of Oh My Girl and Up10tion.
Personally, I don’t think it’s enough to consider that enough change to warrant a new generation. Even in 4th gen, there were debuts which didn’t fit into those categories and 5th gen still has that hip-hop vibe going, although it’s been more refined to suit K-pop.
- Red Velvet
- NCT (all units)
- Monsta X
So that was a basic introduction and rough overview of the concept of k-pop generations. Some people might disagree with the splitting but from the various articles and other blogs I’ve looked into, those are basically the agreed years. It’ll be interesting to see how k-pop evolves and where it’ll be a decade from now. How many more generations will we see? What will be the next shift be? How long will k-pop’s popularity last?