Evolution of K-pop Series – An overview

August 15, 2019



When talking about K-pop (케이팝 – Korean pop music), you may think of the songs sung by K-pop idol groups like Girls’ Generation, EXO, Super Junior, etc. However, if you watch the variety show, Immortal Songs (불후의 명곡), and the Korean drama “Reply 1994” (응답하라 1994), you may hear names like Shin Joong-hyun, Pearl Sisters, Patti Kim, Seo Taji & Boys and many other names who contributed to the development of the present-day Korean pop music. Looking at the evolution of the K-pop can help us better understand the characteristics of the present-day K-pop music and also gives us a chance to appreciate the K-pop music of the past, which is still very nice to listen to.  So, I will start a blog post series on the evolution of K-pop.


In this evolution of K-pop series, I will write a blog post on each period of the evolution giving information on the characteristics, introducing some key personalities who are significant to the development of K-pop and also sharing some popular and/or representative songs of the relevant period.  I will first give a brief overview of the different periods in this blog post as follows:

  • The birth of K-pop can be traced back to as far as 1885 when the American or British folk songs were introduced into Korea by the U.S. missionary Henry Appenzeller and were transformed into Korean songs with Korean lyrics.

  • During the Japanese colonization period from 1910 to 1948, a new genre of Korean pop music called “trot” was developed as a result of influence of the Japanese “enka” songs.

  • In the 1950’s, due to the stationing of the U.S. troops in South Korea after the Korean War, Koreans were exposed to the western pop music like country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll through the Korean musicians who performed for soldiers in the U.S. military bases.

  • In the 1960’s, the British group Beatles created a mania not only in western pop music but also in South Korea, leading to the rise of rock bands.

  • In the 1970’s, the post-war generation born after the 1950’s grew up under U.S. influence and expressed themselves through long hair, jeans, acoustic guitars and folk music.  The folk music at that time was mainly initiated by elite university students or graduates from prestigious schools.

  •  In the 1980’s, ballad, which is a slow form of popular love song, became one of the dominant music genres in South Korea.

  • In the 1990’s, the appearance of Seo Taji & Boys started a new generation of K-pop.  The music of Seo Taji & Boys combined rap, plaintive lyrics, heavy metal sounds and they performed with flamboyant choreography.  The fashion they wore like oversized jeans and T-shirts also became very popular among teenagers.  From then on, teenagers became a key audience group of K-pop.  Seo Taji & Boys laid the foundation of the development of K-pop idol groups like H.O.T., Sechs Kies, S.E.S., Fin.K.L., Shinwa, g.o.d., etc.  K-pop agency companies like SM Entertainment which developed the idol groups also appeared.

  • As a result of the economic downturn at home after the 1997 IMF crisis, the South Korean music industry was keen to expand overseas from 2000 onwards.  K-pop music, with its simple catchy choruses and easy-to-copy dance steps, was well received by the audience through social media like Youtube. The most well-known K-pop music video should be Psy’s Gangnam Style which went viral on the Youtube.  The fashion worn by the K-pop idol groups also became popular among K-pop fans.  Nowadays, K-pop has became an important part of the Korean wave which swept across the world.

Above is a brief overview of the evolution of K-pop.  I will talk in greater detail and share the popular and/or representative songs of each period in the coming blog posts.


Related Blog Posts:

“Evolution of K-pop Series – Birth of K-pop to 1940’s” dated 27 February 2015

“Evolution of K-pop Series – 1950’s and 1960’s” dated 4 March 2015

“Evolution of K-pop Series – 1970’s and 1980’s” dated 6 March 2015

“Evolution of K-pop Series – 1990’s (Rise of Modern K-pop) dated 9 March 2015

“Evolution of K-pop Series – 2000’s and beyond” dated 11 March 2015



John Lie, “What is the K in K-pop? South Korean Popular Music, the Culture Industry and National Identity”, Korea Observer, Vol. 43, No.3, Autumn 2012, pp.339-363

Korean Culture and Information Service, K-pop: A new force in pop music, Republic of Korea, 2011



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