The Third Generation of K-Pop: The Breakthrough

Chhavi Sharma, Surat, Gujarat and Ashley Kumar, New Delhi

K-pop (Korean pop music) originating from South Korea, is vast content-driven music, divided into several categories, one of which is based on “Generations.” Seo Taiji and Boys is considered to be the first K-pop group that gave birth to the K-pop industry. Groups debuting around the short timeline of 2012-2016 are considered to be a part of the 3rd generation of K-pop. The Third Generation of K-Pop artists plays a significant role in the breakthrough of the K-pop industry in the true sense.

After their seniors’ efforts to make K-pop an international phenomenon, they took K-pop to another level. Groups including EXO, BTS, BLACKPINK, Twice, EXID, BtoB, Got7, ikon, Mamamoo, GFriend, Seventeen, Winner, Red Velvet, NCT, MONSTA X, SF9, ASTRO, VICTON etc. are a part of this generation. 3rd generation was when K-pop started to get internationally famous and get global recognition. It was because of this generation that K-pop became truly a phenomenon. This generation put in a vibrant genre to Korea’s existing music industry where it could now be seen as something absolutely global and successful.

The songs in this time were different and bright with a speck of darkness in between. Dance routines became a standard which became one of the main elements of talent. It was at this time that groups would start making songs that would target a particular audience. It was also at this time that groups would start breaking societal stereotypes, proving that you don’t have to change yourself in order to fit in society. A great example would be Mamamoo.

Their music hit differently in the K-pop industry, and because of their lyrics, non-conventional thinking and quirky style, they gained a lot of attention and initially got a lot of support as well. This instigated a humungous international growth as well as domestic growth for the current K-pop market of the 3rd generation.

Video Credits: MAMAMOO

This was also the time when groups would fix an image for themselves. EXO was one of the first groups that came into this generation starting with their debut year in 2012. They were assigned all earthly elements’ power and abilities for each member such as fire, water, light, wind, teleportation, flight, lightning, ice/frost, telekinesis, time control, and healing which became their signature. This unique concept grabbed attention and EXO became the group with massive popularity and a dedicated fanbase.

With their first album ‘XOXO’ in 2013, alongside their single ‘Growl’, EXO became an instant hit, as they sold over one million copies, making this group the first Korean group to do so in 12 years. The group was also appointed as Korean Tourism Ambassadors in 2018 and had the honour of performing at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Video Credits: SMTOWN

One of the most famous groups, BTS (Bangtan Sonyeondan), also comes in the 3rd generation line debuting in 2013. With humble beginnings at the start, this group saw immense success and popularity in years to come cementing their position as one of the top-global artists in the music scene. They became ‘The K-pop Group’, achieving every artist awards in their reach domestically and internationally. By 2016-2017, BTS had made their way to the Global music market, leading the Korean wave in many countries across the world breaking numerous records and stereotypes. 

The group also became the first Korean act to top the US Billboard 200 Chart with their ‘Love Yourself: Tear’ (2018), followed by topping the Billboard consecutively with multiple singles and getting nominated for Grammy in 2020 and 2021. The members even became the youngest recipients of the prestigious ‘Order of Cultural Merit’ and were titled the ‘Presidential Envoys of South Korea’ by addressing the United Nations 73rd and 75th General Assemblies. 

Video Credits: HYBE LABELS

This time was basically labelled as “the quirkier, the better”. Groups like EXID, Red Velvet and Twice had album concepts that visually and musically set them apart from others. Songs like ‘Psycho’ ‘Up and Down’, ‘Red Flavor’, ‘Fancy’ and ‘Cheer Up’ had eye-popping effects and colours which initially led to their smashing success.

Video Credits: SMTOWN

This was also the time when the impact of social media was recognised. Artists started to open Instagram, Facebook and Twitter account to promote themselves better which led to a flood of international fans from all corners of the world. These accounts also made it easier to communicate with fans on a more personal level, fandom wise.

Apart from year-end awards and physical album sales, other indicators such as YouTube views, digital charts, group rankings, brand reputation, and digital sales started to mean a lot for ascertaining a group’s popularity and success in this generation and for the upcoming next generation as well. Dance choreographies were made to be catchy, trendy and original. For example, most of Red Velvet and Twice’s choreographies have a certain point in them which makes it easier for fans to follow along.

Video Credits: JYP Entertainment

Following the list, BLACKPINK came as a group with a girl-crush concept and naturally, they became a standard for it. Their lyrics, vocals, rap-line and choreographies became a new trend. They became the first female K-pop group to gain 1 billion views on YouTube, all thanks to their original concept which caught the audience’s eye.

Video Credits: YG Entertainment

If we were to talk about 3rd gen’s vigorous dance routines, NCT and Seventeen are the dominant ones. NCT, currently comprising of 23 members, boasts its unique concept of unending members lineup and sub-units called NCT 127, NCT Dream, WayV, & NCT U that have carved their name for their experimental music and intricate concepts.

Video Credits: SMTOWN

On the other hand, Seventeen is a 13 members group, split into three sub-units namely “hip-hop”, “vocal unit” and “performance unit.” The choreographies of NCT and Seventeen have set the bar real high globally and are nearly impossible to match their level. It is because of these groups that newer ones are expected to showcase ever more unique moves for their albums.

Video Credits: SEVENTEEN

GOT7 is also one such group that stood out during this generation the most because of their pure focus on hip-hop. They cemented their place in this scene and generation right from the beginning and became a true hip-hop phenomenon later on exploring other genres as well.

Video Credits: JYP Entertainment

MONSTA X is a well-known group formed through a survival reality show. The group is known for their intimidating and confident music style approach and has come a long way with their amazing discography comprising amazing tracks in both Korean and English.

Video Credits: MONSTA X

The 3rd generation might’ve been a short one, but they were the ones who brought in numerous trends, massive international and domestic appeal and have broken numerous records while setting many. These artists have set the standards and bar high for K-pop what it is today. Which Third generation group is your favourite? Tell us in the comments.

17 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    The Third Generation idols have made my life so much better! They are the reason for my obsession! Thank you so much for this article!! I really want people to find out about these legends of kpop!

  2. suhasini17 says:

    From BTS to NCT, the third generation has won all hearts! I am so glad to stan such legends!! thank you so much for penning down this article! Really enjoyed reading this article!!

  3. I’m loving this generation of Kpop series so much!😍 Thank you for these articles💜 The third generation was my intro to Kpop😍♥️

  4. Anushka Gupta says:

    I got to know about k-pop in this generation and I’m glad they broke stereotypes and made a great mark.

  5. ThatMoleGirl says:

    Sums up the whole journey – good for those who are new to k-pop!!💜

    1. Well written 👏 3rd gen has always a special place in my heart❤️

  6. This generation played a significant role in bringing K-pop to more wider audience. Each group has its own uniqueness. Variety of genres and stories through their music has been a blessing to us. Glad to be their fan and thanks to them for bringing amazing music to our lives.

  7. shwets007 says:

    Without third generation groups, I wouldn’t have been able to find k-pop. With BTS is my life, things have been so much better.

  8. Lal Ambrose says:

    Great article Chhavi! You did an awesome job on the research and presentation. Would love to read more of your work!

  9. mehaksharma2803 says:

    Great one ❤️

  10. Third generation is the reason why I am now into kpop.Gen 3 feels like its still keeping its own distinct sound but always revamping it. People started learning korean lyrics and language. This is the generation that put kpop in a way that no one has ever done. I really enjoyed reading the article.

  11. Anonymous says:

    This article was so cool, thanks for all the information 🤗❣️

  12. anishanath says:

    My listening to kpop started from 3rd generation artists only. So this generation is really special for me. Lovely article.

  13. khiroda06 says:

    starting with BLACKPINK to being a multi and then being a K-culture enthusiast, thanks to this 3rd gen, the reason why I was able to explore great music, entertainment and culture✨🙌🏽

  14. Smriti. L says:

    3rd generation of K-pop made me JIM-IN🤭 to K-pop world❤️🙌 loved the article 💞

  15. Sobhana says:

    If we have to divide 3rd Generation then the first half is probably the Most iconic era of k-pop. We have the big 3 companies debuting the most talented groups who are well trained in vocal, rap, dance and must not forget that incredible stage presence. K-pop was flooding overseas so was the fandom getting diverse. This made the groups with multi linguistical members more popular. The fan service is also very popular in this era.
    This generation bought competition between both Fandom and Groups. The most wins, charted groups were favoured by the fans over the experimented songs by the groups/ companies. The lightsticks and the albums started to become a very big market among the fandom and cash grab for the companies.

  16. Mondal Mondal says:

    Now the 3rd generation is just like a turning point of this industry.this generation got me into kpop .imma army , so definitely BTS has done a remarkable work here but we can’t forget exo,blackpink,nct,monstax,twice,BTOB,Astro because they also gave their best in this era I personally like many songs of these groups so for me 3rd generation is obviously the amazing one.

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