South Korean pop music is ever-present in today’s culture, but it was only a decade ago that an interest in K-pop would’ve seen you labelled quirky. However, dozens of K-pop acts – from Psy to Red Velvet and BTS – have achieved international stardom over the last ten years.
South Korea has been producing quality pop music since not long after the country’s liberation from Japan at the end of World War II. The USA governed South Korea for the first three years after the Japanese were pushed out. This is when Western influences started to infiltrate the Korean Peninsula’s southern half.
The American influences became even more prominent with the influx of US soldiers during and after the Korean War of the early-’50s. Long story short, South Korean pop music isn’t something that emerged at the precise moment Psy uploaded ‘Gangnam Style’ to YouTube in mid-2012. It is fair to describe that as a watershed moment, however.
That said, K-pop in its current iteration – a genre that takes explicit influence from contemporary R&B, hip hop, rock and ‘90s Europop – has been a major cultural force since the early-’90s. Seoul trio Seo Taiji & Boys played a significant role in ushering in the new wave of K-pop. The group’s hip hop influenced, socially alert style was massively successful throughout the 1990s.
Artists like Psy, Red Velvet, Seventeen, Exo and Twice have all followed Seo Taiji’s lead, but no one comes even remotely close to BTS. BTS are not only responsible for South Korea’s highest selling album of all time, but they’ve also become the biggest boy band in the world.