A brief history of K-pop and its oldest recorded song

K-pop is believed to have originated in the 1950s, with the first song to define the genre coming out in 1997 by H.O.T, titled Candy.

K-pop is a music genre that originates from South Korea. The sound was formally introduced to the global market arguably in 2017, following the American Music Awards (AMAs) hosting popular K-pop boy band, BTS. However, the music genre has a long history, dating as far back as the 1950s with the introduction of The Kim Sisters.

K-pop from 1950s to first generation

The Kim Sisters were a Korean music group consisting of three members from the 1950s. The trio did not speak a word of English, but still managed to infiltrate the American market. Similar to popular K-pop groups of today, the trio was not only talented musically, but also had a distinct style and aesthetic. They are regarded as pioneers of the genre. However, their popularity is attributed to them singing American pop singles through the use of phonetics, without understanding the words.

As the years passed by, in the 1970s, the ethos of K-pop needing to have a grounding in some sense of political activism became an integral aspect of the genre. One of the songs to have been released during the 70s was the 1970 single, Morning Dew, by folk-rock singer and composer, Kim Min-ki. Following its release, the single had such an impact that it became the anthem of the pro-democracy movement during South Korea’s time of political turmoil.

First generation of K-pop and Candy

It would be two decades before the first iteration of a K-pop band emerged, which would resemble the kind of staunch fanbase and musicality of K-pop groups today. In the 1990s, a K-pop all-boys trio called Seo Taiji and Boys emerged. The group is considered to have revolutionised Korean pop music and gave the first signifiers of K-pop through merging Korean popular music with American popular music influences. The group is considered the first fully realised K-pop group.

Although, their catalogue of songs does not have the first K-pop-defining single. The oldest recorded and universally consensual K-pop song is the 1997 hit single, Candy. The single was released by one of the first generation K-pop groups, H.O.T. The group is considered the first actual K-pop group to mirror popular groups of today. This is as they were consciously created and consisted of trained pop stars. They were the fully realised recipe of K-pop groups through their ability to produce genre-bending music, a clear group and individual aesthetic, thought out performances and intricate and synched choreography.

Also, included as popular K-pop first-generations groups are 1997’s Sechs Kies, which was a boy band. S.E.S is the girl group which debuted in 1997, and the band Fin.K.L is another K-pop first generation group which was formed in 1998 by DSP Media. Since then, the genre has had a second and the current third generation of K-pop groups.

From second to third generation

The first of the second generation of the K-pop groups is considerably the 1999 boy band, g.o.d, an acronym which stands for Groove Over Dose. The group is lauded for having taken the tenets concretised by the first-generation of K-pop groups and fully actualising them. Their success would carry the genre into the 2000s, where other K-pop second generation groups would emerge. These included 2003’s TVXQ, 2005’s Super Junior, 2006’s BIGBANG and 2007’s F.T ISLAND.

Hence chronologically, K-pop’s third generation consists of the bands that emerged in the 2010s. This generation of K-pop groups marks the global acceptance of K-pop as a genre. This is as there were more than just one group that achieved global success and recognition. These groups have created a global commercial blueprint for K-pop in music and in popular culture. Already mentioned is BTS, however, there are other groups such as BLACKPINK, EXO and Seventeen.

This generation of K-pop groups showcase the market which the K-pop groups serve internationally, specifically in the US and European market. K-pop third generation groups are considered most popular between the age groups of 13 to 18. This is as they are believed to serve a Gen Z market due to their distinct aesthetics and the pop-inclusive but hybrid musicality.