Ashley Kumar, New Delhi
Seo Taiji and Boys, H.O.T., S.E.S., BoA, Buzz. These were the artists who shaped the Korean Music Industry during the end of the 20th century and are known as the original first-generation K-pop artists. Following their footsteps, the second generation came into view which changed the perspective of K-pop entirely.
“The Golden Age” or “The Golden Era” of K-Pop debatably went from 2005 to 2012. It’s also known as the 2nd generation of K-pop. It’s called the Golden Era because second-generation groups like TVXQ!, Super Junior, Wonder Girls, BIGBANG, Miss A, Girls’ Generation, SHINee, Apink, f(x), Sistar, Infinite, Teen Top, 2PM, KARA, 2NE1, and many more, popularized K-pop and made it a trend overseas showcasing the Korean vibe in their music. This was the time when everyone knew the lyrics to songs like ‘Bonamana’, ‘Mirotic’, ‘Be Mine’, ‘Gee’, ‘Nobody’, ‘I’m The Best, ‘Mister’, ‘Ring Ding Dong’, ‘My My’, ‘Heartbeat’, and many more.
Song lyrics during this era was more about how catchy it sounded, even if the lyrics didn’t make much sense. It was mostly about stage presence, fashion, live performance and concept. If we were to talk about the biggest selling girl groups, they would be 2NE1 and Girls’ Generation. These groups were consistently on top in terms of physical album sales and digital sales. Following these girl groups would be KARA, 4MINUTE, SISTAR, and Apink.
Now when we talk about boy groups, there are many who dominated the music charts of that time. Groups like TVXQ, BIGBANG, Super Junior, and 2PM were highest on music charts for very long durations. They released iconic songs like ‘Rising Sun’, ‘Haru Haru’, ‘Mr. Simple’, ‘Heart Beat’, etc. to which fans listen to even today. They have consistently been among the top popular groups in terms of popularity, sales, music, and fashion. Other groups that reached popularity around this time were Infinite, Beast (now Highlight), and SHINee.
Super Junior brought K-Pop outside Asia with ‘Sorry Sorry’ and took over the world. They were also the first large scale group to debut with 13 members (15, including the Chinese unit). They initially got a lot of hate for this, but with their outstanding success, they prompted the debut of many large groups who are active and successful now like SEVENTEEN, NCT, Cosmic Girls, etc.
Fashion during the Golden Era was as iconic as the songs they released. Some groups changed their fashion concept with every comeback, while some groups didn’t change their fashion concept. For example, Girls’ Generation was known to try out different fashion concepts for each comeback which they displayed successfully each time. Contrary to Girls’ Generation, Apink was known to do cute concepts every comeback which also made them super successful in Korea. It is only since 2018 that Apink has changed their concept to a more mature one after releasing cute concepts for almost 7 years.
Super Junior was known to perform in suits, sometimes coloured suits, but they were suits. BIGBANG on the other hand were known for their individuality and every member had a uniqueness about them. Nonetheless, both groups were immensely successful in Korea and overseas. This was also the time when companies would experiment on their groups for different concepts. They would be vague, bizarre, grotesque and un-graspable. In other words, they would be completely out of the box. Once these groups became experiments for concepts, they kept carrying that tag of being unique. Examples of such groups would be SHINee and f(x), also known as sibling groups. Vague and bizarre concept albums like ‘Misconceptions of Us’, ‘Electric Shock’, ‘Romeo’ and ‘Pinocchio‘ were and are still handed to these groups, rather than those who have a fixed image and concept for themselves.
During the Golden Era, there wasn’t a single artist or group that had a social media platform to promote themselves. Groups debuting these days have a whole lot of advantages of becoming popular, thanks to the growing advancements of technology and growing users of the internet. This internet power is at their disposal from the very beginning of their debut. With these internet advancements, new groups gain an international audience and massive following almost the instant they debut, even faster than Korean audiences, and the music they make is just phenomenal and outstanding.
It used to be a very big thing if a group was able to debut in Japan, but now, it has pretty much become a standard for new-age groups to have a Japanese debut. Now, the big deal seems to be able to have a debut and success rate in the biggest music market of the world that is the US as well. Before having this US debut aspiration, K-Pop was very much present internationally though as a niche interest. So, to appeal to international fans, groups would release English versions of their songs to gain a more international audience. But out of all songs, PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ released in 2012 which is very much Korean, became the first song to become immensely popular gaining billions of views on YouTube towards the end of the second-generation phase.
Through this, many companies realized that in order to have a more international appeal, lyrics translation isn’t the only option. If the music video and the beats to the song are catchy, meaningful, or relatable; the song is good to go. K-Pop has grown tremendously in the past few years and how the fans aspire to attend their favourite artists’ concerts or meet them in person is pretty amazing. But if this new grown and popular K-Pop is the only K- Pop you’ve ever known, you should know that the fans and groups which came before these talented artists are the ones who helped set the stage, making and breaking unbelievable records for themselves. At some award shows, we see new artists covering songs of their seniors. All these covers are really amazing and leave the fans feeling very happy and nostalgic. Cheers to all the new groups who try to keep old songs alive!
With new groups debuting almost every week in today’s time, it becomes hard for them to survive in this industry with immense competition which ultimately leads to group disbandment after a few years of their debut. However, this was not the case during the Golden Era as usually, only 5-6 groups used to debut in the same year, giving them ample opportunities to compete with each other and showcase their talent to their maximum potential. The Golden Era was no doubt a very accomplishing period for the music industry in South Korea which made it popular and known overseas. New artists are doing excellent in this field, but undoubtedly, the old ones will always remain a legend.
Do you have a favourite Golden Era song or memory? Tell me about it in the comments below!