'BTS Paved the Way': A walk down 'Hallyu' memory lane and the iconic moments that shaped the K-pop industry

As BTS continues to take K-pop to new heights, we look at the artistes who helped pave the way for them to do so


                            'BTS Paved the Way': A walk down 'Hallyu' memory lane and the iconic moments that shaped the K-pop industry
BTS (Getty Images)
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As the ARMY tributes BTS for shattering all the glass ceilings and paving the way for future K-Pop acts, we take a moment to appreciate the journey the modern Korean music industry has had since its roots all the way back in the '90s.

Origins of "Hallyu"

The term "Hallyu" is Chinese in origin and literally translates to "Korean wave". Referring to South Korea's role as a leader in the export of popular culture, it was coined to encompass everything from Korean dramas and music to popular culture and cuisine.

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Over time, however, the Korean wave has become synonymous with 'Korean pop' as far as international understandings of the term go owing to the booming popularity of K-pop, most recently bolstered by the success of groups like BTS.

K-pop, however, has had a much longer and illustrious history that begins with the first generation of K-pop idols led by Seo Taiki and Boys from 1992 to 1996, who are credited with changing the South Korean music industry by being the pioneers of infusing rap in Korean pop and using English in their lyrics, which resulted in the formation of the modern "K-pop sound".

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They were also known to include social commentary in their work despite severe backlash from ethics and censorship committees, which led to protests that eventually led to the abolishment of the Pre-censorship law in 1996 and essentially made them the voice of a new generation.

Additionally, Seo Taiji owned his own studio and thus did not rely on networks for broadcast, allowing him to pioneer the growth of several subcultures in South Korea, including heavy metal.

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Emergence of 'The Big Three'

Following his time in Seo Taiji and Boys, member Yang Hyun-suk went on to form YG Entertainment, the company that housed PSY during his 2012 international breakthrough with 'Gangnam Style'. In addition to PSY, YGE has also boasted artists like Big Bang, 2NE1, Winner, iKon and Blackpink.

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Big Bang is credited with being the first mainstream hip-hop idols with leader G-Dragon being considered one of the most accomplished songwriters in the country. The group is also prominently featured as part of South Korea's tourism campaigns on account of their massive contribution to the country's economic growth.

They ranked second on Time's "Most Influential People in the World" in 2016 (behind Bernie Sanders), and have been cited as influences to artists like Pixie Lott, Nelly Furtado, Jill Scott and BTS, among several other K-pop acts.

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Their fellow act 2NE1 was one of the most successful and popular girl groups in South Korea as well as one of the best-selling girl groups of all time, having sold 66.5 million records in addition to collaborating with artists like will.i.am and participating in the first major foray of K-Pop into the Western market.

Leader CL would go on to collaborate with Diplo, PSY, The Black Eyed Peas, and Afrojack, and is currently signed to Scooter Braun's School Boy Records.

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Labelmate Blackpink has already broken several records, including "most-watched music video by a South Korean group" for 'Ddu-Du Ddu-Du', surpassing BTS' 'DNA' in 2019, as well as the music group with the highest number of subscribers on YouTube, surpassing One Direction.

They also reached 9.6 followers on Spotify, surpassing Fifth Harmony and Little Mix and breaking the record for the most followed girl group on the platform.

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Jennie Kim, Rosé, Lisa and Jisoo of 'BLACKPINK' are seen at the YouTube Music Artist Lounge at Coachella 2019 on April 12, 2019, in Indio, California (Getty Images)

YGE's success put it in the same ranks as pioneering K-pop agency SM Entertainment, founded in 1995 by singer Lee Soo-man. Named as "one of the world's influential music industry leaders" by Billboard, Lee is an equally defining member of the Korean wave who has shaped modern K-pop.

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SME artistes like SES, Shinhwa, BoA, TVXQ, Super Junior and Girls Generation were some of the first to break into the international markets, paving the way for the "Hallyu".

BoA, one of the most successful and influential Korean soloists, was the first Korean pop star to break through in Japan in 2002 when she was only 16, soon rivaling Japanese artistes on the Oricon charts.

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She is also one of the few K-pop acts to have released an English album, which went on to debut on the Billboard 200. Girls Generation would also later make their foray into Western markets, with their song 'Gee' as well as their appearances on late-night shows being credited with paving the way for future K-pop acts.

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Labelmate EXO was the first K-Pop group to appear on the Billboard 200 charts. It won the "Korean Act and Asian Act" at the 2013 MTV EMAs, and was the highest-charting group in the US before BTS, while Super Junior notably took home two awards at the 2015 Teen Choice Awards.

The third major K-pop agency, JYP Entertainment, was founded in 1997 by recording artiste and producer Park Jin-young and has housed artistes like Rain, god and Wonder Girls, who have been credited with helping shape modern K-pop through their exploration of genres like jazz, soul, and R&B.

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Wonder Girls, in particular, gained international fame when the English version of their 2008 megahit 'Nobody' became the first K-pop song to appear on the Billboard Hot 100. They would go on to appear on The Wendy Williams show.

Yubin, Yenny, Lim, Sohee and Sun of Wonder Girls perform onstage at iHeartRadio Presents Wonder Girls at iHeartRadio Performance Theater on September 5, 2012, in New York City (Getty Images)

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Labelmate Rain was the first Korean star to perform at the Tokyo Dome, was listed by Time as "100 Most Influential People Who Shape Our World" in 2006, starred in the Wachowskis-directed 'Speed Racer' and won the 'Biggest Badass award' at the 2010 MTV Movie Awards for his role in 'Ninja Assassin'.

New Wave

While the 'Big Three' agencies held on to their title for most of the Korean wave, new competitors have finally emerged and managed to carve a spot out for themselves in the K-Pop industry. Two notable ones are Starship Entertainment, who manage groups like Monsta X, and Big Hit Entertainment, who manage BTS.

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Monsta X is notably one of the few major K-Pop act to land an all-English album on the Billboard charts with their 2020 release 'All About Luv'. Despite significant hurdles, the group continues to make its mark internationally.

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BTS, of course, needs no introduction. The group has made and broken so many records, it's hard to collate them all into a single space. This year alone they have appeared at the Grammys, on several late-night shows, and topped charts globally.

That they've done so without being from one of the larger labels is even more impressive. The international success BTS has achieved is paving the way for modern K-pop acts to do the same.

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What makes the group so internationally beloved, however, is that through it all they remain just as humble as they are ambitious. In 2017, the group remade 'Come Back Home' to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Seo Taiji and Boys.

The song saw Seo argue for societal change, something BTS honed in on with their cover while adding layers of their own struggles against society into the lyrics and thus paid homage to the roots of K-pop in the most authentic way possible.

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