The girl groups breaking the seven-year curse
While this year marks the seventh year since girl group Oh My Girl’s debut, its heyday has just begun.
In January, the seven-member group’s 2020 hit “Nonstop” made it on the 2021 Golden Disc Awards’ Best Digital Song list and was named April 2020’s “Song of the Year” at the 2021 Gaon Chart Music Awards. “Nonstop” also topped major music programs’ charts eight times last year.
Gaon Chart also placed Oh My Girl at number four on its 2020 girl group ranking chart announced in January, following Blackpink, Twice and IZ*ONE. The group had not received any significant accolades prior to mid-2020.
Another indication of the group's rising popularity is the fact it starred in a total of seven commercials last year, the most since its debut.
In the case of late bloomer Oh My Girl, the “seven-year curse” does not seem to apply.
The seven-year curse is a term used among K-pop fans and refers to how many idol groups significantly lose popularity or practically disband altogether around their seventh year in the industry. This “curse” has hit numerous groups such as 4Minute, Miss A, Rainbow, ZE:A, 2AM, Infinite and B.A.P, among many others.
While the term "curse" conjures a sense of mysticism, this phenomenon has many realistic factors behind it.
Firstly, it has to do with the fact that most members officially sign contracts around the time they debut, and the longest duration for an exclusive contract is limited to seven years under the current law. The Fair Trade Commission introduced this limit in 2009 to prevent excessively long contracts that had been criticized as “slave contracts.”
Of course, members can renew their contracts after seven years and keep the group going, but this doesn't happen often as many groups see their popularity fade even before the seven year mark. Hence, agencies have less incentive to sign another contract to maintain a waning group, and members often prefer to go their separate ways and build individual careers.
This is especially true for girl groups, whose fan bases are not as loyal as those of boy bands, and also whose popularity is affected more by aging. As members become older, girl groups often face difficulty maintaining their initial public image emphasizing purity and innocence, a popular style for young female K-pop artists.
A K-pop industry insider, told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, that Oh My Girl has been able to last because it started with a fantasy-like style, rather than an innocent and bubbly style that most girl groups rely on when they debut.
“I think Oh My Girl is being acknowledged as a genre of its own because they were able to maintain the unique color of the team without changing its style over the years,” the insider said.
Oh My Girl is not the only group that has managed to escape the seven-year curse. Girl groups that debuted in the mid-2010s — such as Red Velvet, Lovelyz, Mamamoo, GFriend and Twice, which all debuted between 2014 and 2015 — are still seeing success.
Similarly to Oh My Girl, these groups have gradually been moving away from their initial cute, girly styles to a more mature, chic style that is more sustainable as the group matures.
The average age of girl group members is also on the rise. The average age of Oh My Girl members is 24.8, while the average age for girl group Apink is 27.3. Irene of Red Velvet turns 30 this March, but is still the representative member of the team.
In the early 2000s, female idol singers in that age range would have been long retired. Girl group S.E.S., which debuted in 1997 and is considered to be the “original” girl group, was only active for five years and disbanded in 2002. The members’ average age was 21.6 at the time of their disbandment. Fin.K.L, also considered to be a first-generation girl group, was active from 1998 to 2005 but its releases became few and far between from 2003. The team disbanded when the members’ average age was 25.
In contrast, Apink debuted in 2011 and topped charts produced by various music programs eight times with its song “Dumhdurum” in 2020, its 10th year. Apink’s recent releases are also drastically different from the “innocent girl” image it portrayed when it debuted, now depicting more confident and calmer women.
One anonymous former girl group member who was active in the early 2000s said that times have changed.
“Back in the day, female idol singers [including myself] were openly told ‘aren’t you past your prime to be in a girl group?' when they were only in their mid-20s,” she said.
“But now, compared to the past [...] people view girl groups differently, and the overseas market has become bigger. Such a different time from our days.”
BY YOU SEONG-UN [firstname.lastname@example.org]