Curious to know which among the 4th generation girl groups will dominate the K-pop scene? We are placing our bets on four:
What we know so far: Scary aespa has incurred a plethora of emotions from both fans and anti-fans. All of their tracks have made it to the top of the country’s music charts, and that’s despite them having only been in the business for just over more than a year. Yes, aespa debuted in November 2020 and has had only five songs and one EP in their discography. But all of these songs have charted pretty well, starting from Black Mamba, their debut track, and Next Level and Savage, both of which have significantly benefited from social media viral trends. That hook and choreography of Next Level is what marketer’s dreams are made of. Everyone in the music industry just knows that palm flipping move – very reminiscent of TWICE’s “Shy Shy Shy” choreography.
And again, they’ve only been in existence for just more than a year.
How will they slay: As expected, SM Entertainment has once again delivered in terms of the quality of their rookie group’s output. This is not to say that the company becomes lax when it comes to giving high-quality songs and productions to their existing groups, as can be seen in the great songs Super Junior, SHINee, Red Velvet, and NCT continue to release up to now. However, as with any other company, SM really puts extra effort when it comes to the releases of their rookie groups, and it shows in the very strong releases aespa has had so far. And coming from a company that is well-known for producing songs that do not compromise on quality, aespa so far does not disappoint, and if this continues, they are quite assured of being household names in the very near future. So there, a combination of being an SM group and the high quality of releases that follow is more than sufficient reason for the group to be slaying.
Another factor that will assure them of success that’s also related to them being SM talents is the premium exposure they have had even as rookies. Everybody can agree that in this field, five rookies with the same concept and the same quality of songs, the group that will be debuted by either SM, YG, JYP, or BigHit will always have an edge. Not just because of their agency’s name recall but because being from these agencies allows the groups to be exposed to other opportunities that the other rookies from smaller agencies wouldn’t even dare to imagine. As soon as they debuted, aespa became the brand ambassador for the French luxury brand Givenchy. That gives them so much free publicity not only in Korea but in international markets where the French brand is present. And that is definitely not something a mom-and-pop small-time talent agency can do for its talents, particularly rookie groups that haven’t contributed much to their bank.
Alas, we have to talk about the individual members. Giselle is part Japanese and Ningning is Chinese, so that already gives the group a huge advantage in overseas markets. Even if China continues its “ban” on K-pop and other foreign cultural influences, Chinese people will not think twice about supporting their countrymen who are trying to make a name for themselves in a field that is internationally popular such as K-pop.
— aespa edits! (@aesparchives) May 8, 2022
What could make their star fall: Nothing much, except one thing: If SM Entertainment continues to push the idea of the avatars and KWANGYA. It is no secret that people, even SM talents themselves, find the idea of aespa’s avatars downright creepy and unnecessary. I mean, the four members are enough for people to go gaga over the group, so this concept of them having doppelgangers that live in this wilderness or dimension or whatever it is called KWANGYA is just something a tad too extra. The idea didn’t explode (in terms of popularity) with NCT and sure as hell it won’t with aespa. Even TVXQ’s Changmin has also had a brush with KWANGYA in his solo release, DEVIL. Anyhoo, let me channel the ultimate mean girl Regina George and suggest to SM to stop trying to make ‘KWANGYA’ happen, it’s NOT going to happen!
But then SM is also known to drop concepts and events like they never happened in the first place. Remember Super Junior ‘05? Remember all the sub-units of Super Junior – M, T, KRY, H, and D&E? (well, KRY and D&E are still active, but the rest are practically dead) Remember the push for ballads and songs with slower beats to beef up the Velvet discography of RV? Trust SM to drop anything like a hot potato once they realize something is not working to their advantage.
What we know so far: StayC is one of those refreshing stories of success in the Korean music industry that come as a bit of a surprise to even casual observers of K-pop, mainly because of the circumstances that the group was in. For one, the group is under a relatively unknown entertainment company, High Up Music. Although the company is associated with mega-successful producer Black Eyed Pisung, it is never an indication that the company will be super successful (e.g., Brave Entertainment which currently only has Grave Girls to present as successful in its 14-year existence). Secondly, they debuted in November 2020, while the world was still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, we have been living in COVID times for more than eight months and a number of K-pop acts had already done fairly well considering the situation, but then debuting a girl group was a completely different matter. Alas, High Up took the risk and gambled, and things paid off pretty well.
How will they slay: So far, they have slayed since their debut, with the EP Star to a Young Culture peaking the charts at number 6 and selling over 70,000 copies, a very strong number for any debuting group, be it a boy group or a girl group. Their follow-up album Staydom, released close to five months after their debut album may have only reached #9 in the Gaon Album Chart, but sold more than 105,000 copies, which is absolutely more albums than most groups can only hope for in their dreams. Not only that, but their single ASAP, reached number 9 in the digital chart, cementing the group’s success on both digital and album sales. And they did with only two releases!
The group’s next two EPs only solidified StayC‘s position as a monster rookie, as Stereotype, released in September last year and Young-Luv.com, released last February, peaked on the album charts at numbers 2 and 1 and sold more than 179,000 and 212,000 copies respectively. Those are really some impressive figures not just for amateur groups, but for Korean pop acts in general.
During their debut, it may also have helped that two of the members (who happen to have similar names) were no strangers to the public. Sieun was already popular prior to the group’s debut as the daughter of veteran singer Park Namjung and a teen actress. She was already seen in her appearances in dramas such as the Korean remake of The Good Wife, Queen for Seven Days, and The Crowned Clown. Her acting skills were even recognized as she bagged the Youth Acting Award in 2018 SBS Drama Awards for her role in Still 17, where she played the young Seori, the show’s female protagonist (the adult version was played by Mr. Queen‘s Shin Hyesun).
Another actress prior to the group’s debut and was already known to the public is Seeun. Her acting credits prior to joining StayC include Circle and The Guardians. Prior to joining High Up Entertainment, Seeun also trained in Plan A Entertainment, which means had she not left the agency, she would have been a member of a group we will talk about later instead of being in StayC.
— ً (@YOONLOOKSS) May 10, 2022
What could make their star fall: All StayC members are good at singing, good in rapping, good in dancing, which is great considering that we are past the era of groups with members that are just there for display. But that may also be the problem for StayC. So far, Sieun is the one being pushed as the group’s main vocalist and sometimes-center because she may be the most popular. But listening to their songs, you can’t really recognize Sieun’s vocals as superior and standing out from the rest. For easy “identifiability”, groups usually employ the positions for fans to easily point out which member is which. StayC is so popular, but somehow we still have to consult Google to know which member is which. This, we cannot say is the same with aespa.
What we know so far: Definitely one of the top contenders for the title “leaders of the 4th Gen,” Itzy has continued the tradition of excellence by JYP Entertainment when it comes to producing girl groups. With the sterling track record of Wonder Girls, miss A, and TWICE, Itzy was destined for success. And if anything else, Itzy’s also a testament to the loyalty of one Lee Chaeryeong. Imagine not getting into TWICE because you and your sister got eliminated in Sixteen, the show that brought together the group. All eliminated contestants started leaving JYP after being told to go back to the training room. Even after her sister left the company, she remained. Her loyalty paid off when she and four other girls were selected to make up the group Itzy, which also has its share of high-profile quitters, allegedly including IOI center Somi, who opted to leave JYP (and thus defaulting her chances of being included in Itzy) for a solo career with the Black Label, a YG subsidiary.
Anyway, as the group is a JYP group, they were off to an inevitably phenomenal start when they debuted on February 12, 2019, with the single album, It’z Different, led by the single Dalla Dalla. The group brushed off rookie jitters as it scored one of the biggest Billboard debuts for a new K-pop act in years, with their song entering at number three and peaking at number two on the World Digital Song Sales chart. The music video surpassed 17.1 million views within 24 hours of its release and broke the record for the most viewed K-pop debut music video within 24 hours. After only eight days since their debut, Itzy received their first music show win on M Countdown, breaking the record for the fastest time for a girl group to achieve their first music show win. The song went on to win nine more music show trophies while the music video became the fastest K-pop debut music video to reach 100 million views on YouTube at the time.
Five months later, the group’s first EP, It’z Icy, was released and met critical and commercial success anew, as it peaked at number three on the Gaon Album Chart. Icy, the EP’s lead single won 12 music show #1s, including a triple crown on Show Champion. As expected, by the end of the year, the group won numerous rookie of the year awards, including the Best New Female Artist awards at the 2019 Melon Music Awards and the 2019 Mnet Asian Music Awards. The music videos for Dalla Dalla and Icy placed on the list of South Korea’s most popular music videos on YouTube at numbers two and seven, respectively.
How will they slay: Itzy has, for three years, proven how hard JYP girl groups slap at their peak. The sales figures for their EPs look like they’re from a veteran girl group. The interest of the fans in the five members is also quite evenly distributed and no one is made to feel they’re less popular or less talented than the others. There’s also the viral choreography that most of the time serves as a passport to the success of 4th gen groups. From the finger crowns that have been through several variations for each Itzy release to the iconic shoulder dance of Ryujin, it’s safe to say that the girls have engrained themselves in Korean pop culture.
What could make their star fall: The JYP disease. This condition differs between girl and boy groups. For boy groups, it’s just being dropped when Asiansoul JYP doesn’t really like the songs the group comes up with (e.g., JB’s songs). For girl groups, it’s where the company abandons everything and treats all other talents like yesterday’s newspaper to focus all energies and resources for the favored rookie group.
— for itzy! (@contextisitzy) May 9, 2022
This is what happened to Wonder Girls when miss A emerged, which was eventually replaced by TWICE, which has now taken a back seat for Itzy. And now that Nmixx has been introduced to the public, we can only watch and brace ourselves as it projected that Itzy will start its slow and steady decline. Basing on the group’s last two releases, the much maligned (Mafia) In the Morning and Loco, which only managed to chart at numbers 10 and 26, respectively, we can say that the decline may already be starting.
What we know so far: At last, we go to the “pioneers” of the 4th generation of girl groups, (G)I-dle. After the “success” of the Cube trainees’ exposure in Produce 101 (success in quotes because even though the two Cube trainees didn’t qualify for the project group IOI, Kwon Eunbin and Jeon Soyeon did generate a lot of buzz and were recognized as very talented contestants), the company decided to add Eunbin to the lineup of CLC, an underperforming group under the company. As for the more successful Soyeon, the company gave her a solo single release and allowing her to join project releases like Wow Thing with Seulgi, SinB, and her PD101 castmate Chungha and Unpretty Rapstar, which added to her credentials as a legit rapper. Finally, in 2018, she was introduced as the leader of Cube Entertainment’s new girl group, (G)I-dle, with Miyeon (a former YG trainee who was reportedly supposed to be a member of Blackpink), Minnie, Soojin, Shuhua and Yuqi.
How will they slay: From the get-go, the group slayed as (G)I-dle released Latata on May 2 of that year. Latata‘s music video exceeded 5.9 million views within the first week, and the EP debuted at number 13 on the Gaon Album Chart issued on May 10. One week after release, “Latata” debuted at number 35 on Gaon Digital Chart on May 17.(G)I-dle received their first-ever music show win on SBS MTV’s The Show on May 22, solidifying the success of the debut.
On August 14, (G)I-dle’s first digital single Hann (Alone) was released. Within 24 hours, the music video surpassed 4.9 million views on YouTube. The song topped domestic music charts including Bugs, Genie and Olleh Music on August 16 and peaked at number two on the Billboard World Digital Song Sales chart. The following week, (G)I-dle received their first music show win for the song on Show Champion on August 29.
Throughout the rest of 2018, (G)I-dle won several rookie awards at major Korean year-end music award shows, including the Asia Artist Awards, Gaon Chart Music Awards, Genie Music Awards, Golden Disc Awards, Korea Popular Music Awards and Melon Music Awards.
In 2019, they participated in the first season of Queendom, which pitted them against more experienced artists and groups such as Mamamoo, AOA, Park Bom, and Oh My Girl. They may have only ended up in third place, but their performances and releases from the show garnered a lot of attention, acclaim, and even sales. The group’s success went on despite the pandemic and just in March, the group finally had their long-awaited comeback with their first full-length studio album I Never Die and the lead single, Tomboy dominating the charts and earning them a rare PAK (perfect all-kill).
Finally, (G)I-dle slaying is quite inevitable, considering they have established a reputation of being directly involved in the creation of their music. Soyeon particularly has helped write and produce a majority of the group’s songs, and Minnie and Yuqi have also co-written numerous album tracks. With all the highlights of just one year that since extended to their second, third, and fourth year, (G)I-dle have since been considered one of the most successful South Korean girl groups from outside of the “big three” record labels. This also rehabilitated Cube’s slightly damaged reputation after the not-so-lustrous career of CLC, which as of 2021, was verified by the members as being a “discontinued” group.
Message from (G)I-DLE to the fans attending KPOP.FLEX 💕
— JSYEUROPE (@jsyeurope) May 11, 2022
What could make their star fall: We are talking about Cube Entertainment, the company that Be2st, 4Minute, HyunA, and e-Dawn left because of poor treatment. The company has a reputation of producing very successful groups that they eventually mismanage (as seen in 4Minute and Be2st) or artists that they leave out in the darkness when push comes to shove . So, when eagle-eyed fans saw Soyeon having the business card of someone from Psy’s P.Nation during one of her live sessions, people started speculating that (G)I-dle might be on their way to CLC-dom. But then, Soyeon has produced songs for other artists, so it might be that she was just exploring collab opportunities with P.Nation artists.
But then, last year, it was announced that Soojin would temporarily halt all activities following allegations of bullying by former classmates. On August 14, Cube Entertainment announced that Soojin had officially withdrawn from (G)I-dle, though she will remain under the same agency. In March this year, Cube Entertainment announced that they have officially terminated Soojin’s contract after police investigations concluded that the accusers were not guilty of spreading false information. With Cube’s characteristically lackadaisical handling of the Soojin “scandal”, we can safely conclude that should there be any scandals among the remaining (G)I-dle members in the future, we should expect the same treatment from the company. So, really, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the group will disband in the future.
By how things are unfolding, it does look like these four groups are following in the long line of girl groups whom went on to become the leaders of their own generations – S.E.S., Fin. K.L, and Baby Vox for the first generation, SNSD, SISTAR, 2NE1, Wonder Girls, and Apink for the 2nd gen, and Blackpink, TWICE, Red Velvet, and MAMAMOO for the third generation. It would be interesting to see how these monster groups will reign in the years to come.
Featured Image: Itzy Official Twitter