If there is another hyperfixation I have outside of anime, it’s K-Pop. And like, I’ve been here a while, since 2nd Gen at the very least. That’s right folks, I didn’t just get brought in by newer gen groups such as NewJeans and IVE. I’ve been a fan of the genre since the days of BoA and 2NE1. So, yeah, I’ve seen how the cycle works but lately, things have been blurring.
Take the case of NewJeans, the girl group revealed by ADOR Entertainment around Summer 2022, and they took the world by storm. So, that ends up making NewJeans a 4th Gen group. However, the timing of the debut makes them one of the last groups to debut in the 4th Gen, plus their influence on the Y2K Trend for 5th Gen groups makes it confusing as to where they are placed in this whole Gen business.
Generations in K-Pop are rough estimations anyways, with each cycle of K-Pop music being its own defined era. And as K-Pop grows bigger and brighter, trend cycles themselves are getting so much shorter. With the constant release of newer K-Pop groups, it’s getting difficult to see where one gen ends and another starts. But NewJeans would be a force in any of them, so let’s discuss that in our newest segment: K-Pop Karousel!
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NewJeans: 4th Gen Trendsetters For 5th Gen?
So, is it too early for me to say that NewJeans has the global mass appeal that we only saw with the likes of BlackPink and TWICE? Hear me out, ADOR did something right here. The five member girl group basically stepped on the scene with nary a promotion and outsold everyone debuting that summer.
And it’s not hard to see why. The combination of bright nostalgia and a youthful concept paired with genuinely catchy music made for a powerhouse combination. Amongst all the Girlcrush and Elegant concepts, NewJeans stood out for their early 2000s fashion, their focus on natural hair and makeup styling and just the coolest choreography. And yet, they add their own spin on it with a charisma like no other
As someone who did grow up in the era of music like Atomic Kitten, the Cheetah Girls and 3LW, NewJeans just made sense. Like, they appear as such a benchmark in K-Pop history right now. Sure, Y2K was already on the rise before NewJeans, but their debut certainly made the trend mega popular in K-Pop spheres. And it’s why it feels like they are the ones that ushered in the 5th gen of K-Pop in the first place.
Because every group now is trying to do a Y2K aesthetic. And succeeding, in different aspects like with XG and their more futuristic Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century and TLC inspired vibes.
So while NewJeans is definitely 4th Gen, they set the standards for 5th Gen groups to come.
K-Pop Gen Cycles Are Getting Weird:
As much as I love K-Pop, the X Gen stan wars have always made me chuckle. Because I started my K-Pop obsession back in 2009, with groups like Girls Generation and SHINee dominating the scene. But even before that, I had heard music from H.O.T. and Sechs Kies. So, gens are just a way to differentiate between eras for me. However, I think there is something to consider here with how social media has changed our perception of time.
Usually K-Pop gens have a difference of roughly 8 years. So you have 1st Gen with groups like S.E.S. and Baby Vox that spanned from the early 90s to the early 2000s. Then you had 2nd Gen with notable names like Big Bang and Girls Generation, starting around 2006. After that was 3rd Gen from 2014 onwards, ultimately known for globalizing K-Pop thanks to acts like BlackPink and BTS. And then 4th Gen came in around 2018 with groups like G(i)-dle, Stray Kidz, TXT and Itzy.
However, 4th Gen is unique because its cycle feels the shortest, considering the definitive start of 5th Gen is a group called ADYA that debuted in March 2023. It is technically still 7 years, but comparing that to the generations before, it feels like time hasn’t passed at all. And perhaps that’s because K-Pop really came into its own around the 2016-2019 period. So many iconic groups debuted around that time, and became household names.
In general, trend cycles are, well, cyclical. You have a new aesthetic out every minute thanks to apps like TikTok, and our general attention spans have shortened greatly. So, everything is just full steam ahead, with new groups and concepts being released to match the trend cycles.
All in all, it’s not like K-Pop generations even matter. After all, NewJeans are 4th Gen but their influence got so big, so fast, you can’t really compare it to anything prior. So, arguing semantics over debut releases eras is ultimately moot.
Because either way, the girls have been dominating the charts, even amongst their more seasoned seniors!