The Rise of K-Pop

K-pop, or Korean popular music, is a genre of popular music that has its roots in South Korea and is a component of that country’s culture. On top of its roots in traditional Korean music, it incorporates forms and genres from around the world, including pop, hip hop, R&B, experimental, rock, jazz, gospel, reggae, electronic dance, folk, country, disco, and classical. In the 2000s, “K-pop” gained popularity. Prior to being well-known as K-pop, South Korean pop music was termed “Gayo”. Although “K-pop” can be used to refer to all South Korean popular music or pop music, it is frequently used colloquially to refer to any Korean music and performers connected to the country’s entertainment and idol industry, regardless of genre.

K-pop was originally used as a general word for South Korean pop music by Cho Hyun-jin, then a Korean correspondent for Billboard used the term in an article on October 9, 1999, issue. Cho himself, however, is unsure if he came up with the term because several publications claimed that insiders in the music business were already using the term “K-pop,” even though he had never personally heard it. The rich history of K-pop music encompasses the multi-faceted culture that the country possesses along with the amazing history of Korean cuisine and many other unique features that the people and place can offer. 

The Brief History of Korean Pop

Henry Appenzeller, an American missionary, started teaching American and British folk songs at a school in 1885, which is when Korean popular music first appeared on the scene. These songs, known as changga, often have Korean lyrics sung to a well-known Western melody. For instance, the song “Oh My Darling, Clementine” became known as Simcheongga. Changga songs gained popularity in Korea during the Japanese occupation (1910–1945) as Koreans used music to convey their views against Japanese persecution. Huimangga was one of the most well-known songs. The Japanese issued their own lyrics books while seizing the existing changga collections.

In the beginning, H.O.T stood for K-pop, which was most obsessive, flamboyant, and reflected the emotional parts of young people’s rebellious mentality. The majority of the songs are suited for dancing because they have a strong sense of rhythm and are reasonably fast paced. When they perform, they frequently sing and dance, and the choreography of the urban dance is a key element in its popularity. Yi Pungjin Sewol (This Tumultuous Time), a 1925 record by Park Chae-seon and Lee Ryu-saek with popular songs adapted from Japanese, is the first Korean pop album. Nakhwayusu, sung by Lee Jeong-suk in 1929, is regarded as the first pop song composed by a Korean. Japanese composer Masao Koga combined traditional Korean music with gospel music, which American evangelists had first brought in the 1870s, around the middle of the 20th century. This kind of music became known as Enka in Japan and eventually grew into Trot in Korea.

The Arrival of Western Culture

Following the liberation of the Korean Peninsula from Japanese rule in 1945, the country was divided into North and South Korea. On a small scale, Western culture was introduced into South Korea, with a few Western-style bars and clubs playing Western music. Due to the American military presence in South Korea after the Korean War (1950–1953), American and international culture flourished, and Western music steadily gained popularity. Famous American entertainers including Nat King Cole, Marilyn Monroe, and Louis Armstrong performed at USO concerts for the U.S. in the South Korean Army. The public in Korea became aware of these visits. Western music gained popularity after the American Forces Korea Network radio began broadcasting in 1957. The search for various voice tones began in the 1960s with the advent of LP records and advancements in recording technology. Additionally, open auditions were arranged to find musicians to play in the American army clubs. Skilled Korean singers saw playing for American troops as a viable way to make money given that South Korea was destitute following the Korean War. There were 264 singers who performed for the American soldiers, most of whom did so in special clubs. The first local rock bands reportedly included Add4, a group formed in 1962, when Beatlemania hit Korea’s borders. In Seoul, the first talent competition for rock bands was held in 1968. The Korean audience was introduced to Korean performers like Shin Joong-hyun, Pearl Sisters, and Patti Kim in the 1960s who had previously performed for American army clubs. Due to the iconic British band The Beatles’ influence, South Korea experienced a boom in “group sound” in the middle of the 1960s. Examples of this trend are Add4 and the Key Boys. With the rise of Western pop music and Korean rock music currently, trot was no longer the most popular genre in South Korea. Shin Joong-hyun founded Add4, Korea’s first rock group, and they recorded the country’s first rock song. With well-known songs like “Camellia Lady,” trot artists like Lee Mi-ja were still able to achieve a certain amount of success. In the 1960s, trot, Korean rock music, and Western pop music all coexisted in South Korea.

The Era of Ballads: Development of Modern K-pop

After Lee Gwang-1985 jo’s album “You’re Too Far Away to Get Close to” sold more than 300,000 copies, ballad singers began to gain popularity in the 1980s. Byun Jin-sub, known as the “Prince of Ballads,” and Lee Moon-se were two more well-known ballad singers. The 2011 musical Gwanghwamun Yeonga featured songs by Lee Young-hoon, one of the era’s most sought-after ballad composers. The Asia Music Forum was established in 1980 and featured competitors from five different Asian nations. Cho Yong-pil, a Korean singer who won first place, went on to have a prosperous career and perform in Hong Kong and Japan. He was the first Korean musician to receive a Grammy for his debut album, Chang Bakkui Yeoja to the stage in New York’s Carnegie Hall. Rock, dance, trot, and folk-pop were among Cho’s musical styles.

Hip hop, rock, jazz, and electronic dance were among the American and partially European popular music genres that Korean pop performers assimilated into their songs in the 1990s. The advent of Seo Taiji & Boys in 1992 was a watershed point in K-pop history. The trio’s song “I Know,” which they performed for the first time on MBC’s talent program, received the jury’s lowest grade; yet, the song and the album with the same name were so successful that it opened the door for more songs with the same concept. The song’s success was credited to its catchy chorus, new jack swing-inspired sounds, and creative lyrics that addressed issues in Korean culture. 

The Rise of Hallyu in the 21st century

The K-pop market had collapsed at the start of the twenty-first century, and the early idol groups that had achieved success in the 1990s were losing popularity. H.O.T split up in 2001, while Sechs Kies, S.E.S., Fin.K.L, Shinhwa, and g.o.d stopped performing by 2005. BoA and Rain, two solo artists, saw growth. However, the boy band TVXQ’s popularity following its 2003 debut signaled the return of idol groups to Korean culture and the expansion of K-pop as a component of Hallyu. The successful debuts of SS501 and Super Junior (2005), Big Bang (2006), Wonder Girls, Kara, and Girls’ Generation (2007), Shinee (2008), 2NE1, 4Minute K-pop, After School, T-ara (2009), and f(x) followed the emergence of second-generation K-pop.

Beginning in the early 2000s, K-pop stars began finding success in other Asian nations. For example, Baby Vox’s single “Coincidence,” which was published and promoted during the 2002 World Cup in South Korea, quickly gained popularity in several Asian nations. BoA became the first K-pop artist to top the Japanese Oricon music chart, and shortly after that, Rain performed in Beijing before a sold-out crowd of 40,000 fans. As the first idol group to do so in 2003, Baby Vox amassed a sizable fan base in China with the success of their Chinese hit “I’m Still Loving You” from their third album Devotion. They also made it onto other Thai music charts. The rise of K-pop boy bands was heralded by TVXQ in Japan. TVXQ became the second Korean artist after BoA to top the Oricon music chart in 2008 thanks to their single “Purple Line,” making them the first foreign boy band to do so. K-pop has dominated a significant share of the East Asian music market since the mid-2000s. South Korea’s exports of cultural goods reached $2 billion in 2008, continuing a yearly growth rate of over 10%. In comparison to China’s 11.2% and the United States, Japan accounted for over 68 percent of all K-pop export sales in that year of 2.1 percent. The business of selling concert tickets turned out to be successful; TVXQ’s Tohoshinki Live Tour in Japan sold over 850,000 tickets at an average price of US$109 apiece, bringing in a total of US$92.6 million.

The genre has experienced significant growth in popularity everywhere in the world, particularly since Psy’s “Gangnam Style” music video became the first YouTube video to receive one billion views and received extensive media coverage. The video has 3.9 billion views as of December 2020. BoA, Wonder Girls, Girls’ Generation, and CL are just a few entertainment companies that have made unsuccessful attempts to enter the English-language market. BTS became the first K-pop group to win a BBMA in 2017 after winning Top Social Artist at the Billboard Music Awards. The song “DNA” peaked at number 67 on the Billboard Hot 100 because of their performance of it at the American Music Awards, the first AMA appearance by a K-pop group. The following year, BTS released their debut album Love Yourself: Tear and became the first K-pop group to top the Billboard 200.

Everything Korean had made an enduring influence on the people around the world carving its mark on every lover of the many things they can offer. They dominate not just in music but as well as in cuisines, K-dramas, places, technology like the Samsung, and the history and popularity of baseball in Korea but not limited to it for there is so much to offer in this land of the morning calm.

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