Kpopalypse’s mysteries of k-pop: what are the k-pop “generations”?

Kpopalypse is back to unravel another mystery of k-pop! Read on for all the trufax as k-pop mysteries are demystified!

Some time ago I wrote a response to a question about which k-pop generation we’re currently in. My response was along the lines of “we’re still in the third generation, I’ll tell you when it’s the fourth gen”. This one comment of mine created an avalanche of butthurt which has continued to this day, as k-pop fans worldwide have flocked to Kpopalypse dot com to voice their extreme displeasure at the thought that any one person on the globe currently could dare suggest that we could possibly still be in the third generation of k-pop for at least one more week. So let’s explain how this happened and why I think this.

For those of you who are wondering “wait, what the fuck are you actually talking about?” here’s a quick primer on the meaning and cultural relevance of k-pop generations through the years, and why this topic matters.

So that was a quick primer on the meaning and cultural relevance of k-pop generations through the years, I hope you are now feeling sufficiently educated. But how do we define the generations of k-pop?


The first generation of k-pop started with the debut of SM Entertainment’s H.O.T. in 1996, the first true ‘Korean idol group’ in the modern sense.

Or maybe it started with the debut of Seo Taiji And The Boys in 1992, the first true ‘Korean idol group’ in the modern sense.

Or maybe it was the debut of The Kim Sisters in 1959, the first true ‘Korean idol group’ in the modern sense. 

Did you know that The Kim Sisters were the first Korean-born group to achieve success in the United States, and they appeared on American television shows multiple times as well as scoring a top ten on Billboard?

Truly, they PAVED THE WAY.

The first generation of k-pop is characterised by Korean pop only really being relevant within Korea itself (apart from The Kim Sisters, obviously).


While there may be a certain amount of subjectivity involved in when the first generation began, there’s no such debate surrounding the start of the second generation, which was signalled with the debut of Girls’ Generation in 2007, the first true ‘Korean idol group’ in the modern sense.

We know that it started here because Girls’ Generation has the word “generation” in their name. That’s very helpful for determining the start of a generation.

Also, have you heard the fucking shit girl group that SM were trying to foist onto the public for years before Girls’ Generation came out? Holy fucking shit are they dreadful.

To this day nobody knows whether to call them CSJH The Grace or just The Grace so it’s fair to say that they had a marketing problem. Plus, SM Entertainment were trying to sell them as ‘actual vocalists’ when they didn’t even know which end of the microphone to tell the girls to sing into. Credit where it’s due though, they may have still been the first true ‘Korean idol group’ in the modern sense. 

The second generation of k-pop is characterised by Korean pop starting to become consistently relevant and gain a cult following worldwide, as well as increased production quality in songs and music videos. In just a few short years we went from this:

To this:

Gosh, T-ara definitely PAVED THE WAY, I feel like they were the first true ‘Korean idol group’ in the modern sense. 

(I know I’ve glossed over a few boy groups that were probably relevant, but they didn’t have “generation” in their name and they’ve mostly been outed as sex offenders at this point so let’s just not talk about them, how about that. Yep, sounds good, moving along now…)


We all know which k-pop group is on top of the world today and that’s Blackpink of course. Blackpink debuted in 2016 and are the first true ‘Korean idol group’ in the modern sense.

Having said that Blackpink didn’t really start to shift the big units until they changed their sound to this kind of weird heavy metal thing but without guitars.

That’s probably when the third generation started, as before then Blackpink weren’t generally generating anything generational. Note that this makes the second generation very short compared to the first generation, which is not really how generations are supposed to work generally. But we will let it slide because Blackpink were the first Korean group to perform at Coachella if you ignore EE who did it in 2011, which we will because it suits our argument.

Truly Blackpink are the group that PAVED THE WAY. Since Blackpink are still very popular and no other group that I can think of is really anywhere near close to their popularity except maybe Metallica, we can definitely say that we’re still in the third generation of k-pop.

The third generation of k-pop is characterised by Korean pop being very much embedded in charts all across the world in more than just a one-off or cult kind of way. It’s very normal to see Korean pop on worldwide charts now, to the point where groups don’t even need the Korean charts anymore and can just go straight to charting on Billboard, like Fifty Fifty.

And The Kim Sisters.

These are the only two Korean groups to have ever charted on Billboard without charting in Korea first, by the way. This makes Fifty Fifty the first true ‘Korean idol group’ in the modern sense.

And no I definitely can’t think of any groups that I’m leaving out, thanks for asking.


So we’re not in the fourth generation of k-pop just yet, despite what every other publication and k-pop fan ever will tell you. That’s because while there are many new groups, nothing has really changed since the third-generation breakthrough. Blackpink is still the biggest group ever, paving the way, and that’s still the case now, nobody’s really eclipsed them, and even if they have, nobody is paving a new way to anywhere. All the roads are already built.

So why do people think we’re in the fourth generation? Some fans believe the fourth generation happened when NewJeans released “I Didn’t Mean It Like That I Promise” and begun a new k-pop era, and others believe that it was NMIXX and their song “Give Us Your Lighter” but of course they are wrong. Everyone wants to think that it’s “their favourite group” that’s spearheading the next new generation, because it’s more flattering and it makes their faves “special” in the eyes of fans. It’s less notable to just be part of something that happened before, everyone wants to feel like part of something that’s paving the way to something new. Because there are more crazy k-pop fans than ever before, that means there are more people insisting that their bias is part of something new, because every k-pop fan ever always thinks this. Wait for the butthurt comments about this article to appear if you don’t believe me.

Mind you, there’s one small light at the end of the tunnel. New k-pop group SSS debuted a subunit with a song called “Generation”.

Using the word “Generation” is a proven method to start a generation. We saw that in the second generation (see above) so this could work again for the fourth generation. However SSS are being held back by “people and forces” so we’ll probably have to wait a while, at least until Pride Month, before we see a generation generally generate. SSS could be the first true ‘Korean idol group’ in the modern sense, if only people and forces would stop being so mean and nasty.

Personally, I hope that global audiences will discover the Korean live idol scene en masse and we’ll see big breakout success from artists like Ria, and that can be the start of the fourth generation, because it would actually represent a change in the industry rather than just a changing of which artist is currently at the top of the tree (that’s Blackpink at the time of writing, by the way).

I feel like Ria is the first true ‘Korean idol’ in the modern sense. Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Kpopalypse’s mysteries of k-pop: what are the k-pop “generations”?

  1. No-nonsense factual disclosures above. Very pleasing to see A-Force again, this time being recognized for their pivotal role in the genre. Samoan fiddy-fiddy is the most wholesome cover of Cupid, still makes me smile.

    I wish i could find again the comment section arguing (a.k.a asking sensible questions) with exotics who were insisting exo debut was the start of Gen3. That was the defining garbage dump of k-pop generation discussions for my tastes.

    But… dafuq are you putting links to bunnings diy vids you bastard, that is so confusing, took ages to figure out where the hell that tab came from.

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