Kpop history 101: Generations of idol groups throughout the years

K-pop is one of the biggest industries in music today. It has surpassed South Korea’s borders and language barriers, communicating through sound, choreography, style, and of course, fan service. Let’s face it: South Korean management does it best. These companies train their idols to perfection and know how to market them in a way that will cater to both the Korean and international market (although they’re also known for toxic talent handling, but have been improving especially with third-generation groups). And as the Kpop industry, continues to thrive, various new groups have been emerging with new sounds and aesthetics.

With the number of idol groups existing throughout the years, fandoms have divided them into generations—from the original groups that spurred the beginnings of Kpop, to the newbies of today. 

It’s not easy to say whenever a new generation has emerged because it’s something that usually depends on the fans. To which generation a group belongs is subjective, and mostly hinges on the style, age, and sound of a certain era of music. When fans feel like emerging groups are representing a shift in sound, a new generation is introduced. But usually, everyone has different opinions on which group belongs to a generation.

1st generation

The first generation of Kpop groups started in the early 1990s to 2000s. Thanks to the pioneering group Seo Taiji and Boys whose debut song “I KNOW’ that introduced a new pop sound that incorporated Western-style pop music. The group changed South Korea’s music landscape and paved the way for other artists to become more flexible and be experimental with style, choreography, and sound.

The reigning aesthetic during this generation revolved mostly around pop and hip-hop. Well-known groups from this generation are Shinhwa, S.E.S, Sech Kies, Turbo, G.O.D, Fly to the Sky and H.O.T. Rain, Lee Hyori, and BoA are well known solo idols. Even in this era,  people could tell that Kpop had the potential for global success.

Seo Taiji and Boys



2nd generation

The second generation started in 2003, but there is no exact year when it ended. Some say 2009 to or 2010. The debut of TVXQ brought a new generation of Kpop groups, followed by the rise of Bigbang, Wonder Girls, 2ne1, Super Junior, Girls Generation, and SHINee, while groups like Epik High, TARA, KARA, After School, 4minute, Brown Eyed Girls, Miss A, UKISS, SS501, 2 PM, 2 AM, B2ST, SISTAR, f(x), and Secret gained more and more enthusiasts.

In this period, Hallyu or the Korean Wave has expanded and become more popular not just in Korea but across Asia and Australia. Their unique, distinctive choreographies, captivating melodies, and lyrics captured the hearts of many. This was when ballads and mellow love songs also started becoming more popular. But even with slow melodies, Kpop never fails to incorporate intricate choreography and movement to their performances—a very crucial aspect of the industry.




3rd generation

The third generation started in 2011. Some people say it ended in early 2018, while others claim that this generation is ongoing. It can definitely be seen that Kpop has evolved from the first generation to the present era. It has become more creative, expressive, and brave when it comes to the message of their lyrics. The music has become more modern with combinations of different genres such as techno, rock, ballad, etc.

Companies these days are more open to producing groups of different origins and ethnicity (unlike before, where all the idols had to be purely Korean). Some groups from this generation include EXO, Blackpink, BTS, Twice, Red Velvet, iKON, GOT7, Winner, Apink, G-friend, and CLC. This era continues to spread K-Pop’s infectious charm all over the world with their on-point choreographies and awesome performances.

Red Velvet




Photo courtesy of @yolith_2ne1’s Instagram account

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