EVOLUTION OF K-POP

Korean pop has sought overseas expansion since the 1980s in both the number of markets and level of artistry. Nowadays, most people heard about K-Pop. Without a doubt, K-Pop has become a global phenomenon entertaining youth worldwide. If you are not familiar with K-Pop, you can start with this newly released music video of BTS, performed at the United Nations General Assembly.

K-Pop gained popularity in the early 90’s. The group Seo Taiji and Boys pioneered the K-Pop culture with a fusion of American rap and Korean lyrics. They defied the status quo at the time, by merging different cultures of music. Their style was defined as a mix of hip hop and new jack swing. Enjoy one of the most popular music in the 90s below.

Their success helped birth many other groups such as H.O.T The boy band H.O.T. (High Five of Teenagers) debuted in 1996 and signaled the launch of the K-pop idol era. SM CEO Lee Soo-man learned from Korean hip-hop pioneer Seo Taeji and Boys the music potential of the teen fan demographic. Lee strategized the production of commercially optimized idol groups, heralding the arrival of H.O.T. Tailored to appeal to teenage girls, each member underwent intensive training before the group made its official debut, and thus the boy band made K-pop the nation’s mainstream music genre. Another K-pop milestone was H.O.T.’s 2000 concert in Beijing, after which the Chinese media announced the start of Hallyu (Korean Wave). K-pop idol groups commanded higher popularity in the Chinese bloc than anywhere else. The first generation of K-pop idols from the 1990s engaged in fierce competition, pitting management agencies SM and DSP against each other. DSP’s the boy band Sechs Kies took on SM’s H.O.T., and in the girl group category, Fin.K.L (Fin Killing Liberty) of SM and S.E.S. (Sea, Eugene, Shoo) of DSP brought even schoolboys into the K-pop demographic. (source: Korea Webzine)

Apart from some girl groups such as Fin.K.L and S.E.S, K-Pop was tend to be a bit male dominated. This changed in the early 2000’s when girl groups became more and more popular revealing mega star Kwon Bo-Ah also known as the K-Pop Queen. She has since released over 20 albums. She also paved the way for many upcoming girl groups such as the SNSD who were feminine in a glamorous way drawing many young girls attention. In 2009, their catchy tune ‘Gee’ became a worldwide sensation.

Their international success helped the Wonder Girls also achieve their international success. A notable milestone in Wonder Girls’ career is being the opening act for the Jonas Brothers in 2009 alongside Jordin Sparks. Together with many glorious girl groups, 2NE1 dominated the industry with an edgy, confident sound with their song ‘I am the best’ in 2011. The Western audience really gravitated to their ‘rebel’ image increasing the popularity.


In the 2010s, the girl groups BLACKPINK, Red Velvet, Twice and MAMAMOO and boy groups SEVENTEEN, Wanna One, GOT7, Monsta X and BTS ascended as industry leaders; they are often called the third generation of K-pop idols. Buoyed by Psy’s 2012 megahit “Gangnam Style,” these groups made systematic advances into the U.S. market, with BTS, EXO, BLACKPINK, Red Velvet, NCT Dream and NCT 127 all making the Billboard charts. (source: Korea Webzine)

BTS is by far the most successful group from Korea. The group of seven male singers have surpassed both Korean and global expectations. 2018 was a significant year in their career. Their songs from the album ‘Love yourself’, ‘Tear’ and ‘Answer’ debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart in May and September respectively. In June of the same year the Time magazine named them one of the 25 most influential people in the internet. Their internet fan base is unmatched and they have used this platform to create awareness to mental health, injustice and politics. In 2020, through their online fan base, they were able to disrupt a political rally in the US and also forge forward the Black Lives Matter movement. Also, their fandom has attracted numerous western collaborators, from Halsey to Zara Larsson to Charli XCX, further propelling BTS’s pop domination beyond Korea.

If you'd like to try the latest K-Pop songs, try the 24/7 playlist.

Dear Kenya K-Pop Fans, suggest your favourite K-pop stars' playlists to emb-ke@mofa.go.kr or our sns channel!

* below lists are selected by Rayan, a Kenyan K-pop fan*