Girl groups take the K-pop lead

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Girl groups take the K-pop lead

Yang Sung-hee

The author is a columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.

True, BTS has set so many spectacular records that most other records are less impressive these days. But Blackpink did it. It became the first girl group to top the Billboard main album chart. It did it with “Born Pink,” its second full-length album. Earlier, Blackpink topped the UK’s official album chart, becoming the first Asian female artist to dominate both at the same time. It also topped Spotify, the world’s largest music streaming platform. The No. 1 spot on Spotify is a record even BTS has never achieved before.

Until now, the top spot in the Billboard album chart has been exclusively held by K-pop boy bands, including BTS, SuperM, and Stray Kids. Blackpink’s triumph is meaningful in its own way, as there were female idols like BoA, Wonder Girls, and Girls’ Generation, who knocked on the U.S. market and laid the foundation for the Korean wave. Music critic Lim Jin-mo said, “With Blackpink joining the success of BTS, the true ‘K-pop Invasion’ has begun,” and predicted, “Considering BTS’ military service issue, it will be the era of Blackpink after BTS.”

In fact, Blackpink’s explosive popularity can be seen on social media already. It has the greatest number of subscribes on YouTube, with 81.8 million. Blackpink member Lisa is the most followed K-pop singer on Instagram, with 82.47 million, followed by other Blackpink members. Next are the members of BTS.
Blackpink became the first girl group to top the Billboard main album chart, with its second full-length album “Born Pink.” [YG ENTERTAINMENT]

Blackpink, which has three major elements of K-pop idols — visual, singing and performance — has been loved for its confident attitude. They are differentiated from other K-pop idols for being treated as global celebrities. All members work as global ambassadors for luxury brands, Jenny for Chanel, Lisa for Celine, Jisoo for Dior, and Rosé for Saint Laurent. If BTS penetrated the millennial and Gen Z market, which is sensitive to diversity, Blackpink is achieving global celebrity. Another strength is that members have experiences of living abroad, including Lisa being Thai, and they speak good English, Japanese and Thai.

Along with Blackpink’s global success, the girl groups are the trend of the domestic market. Eight of the top ten songs on Melon music chart between September 19 and 25 were songs by Blackpink, Girls Generation, Ive and New Jeans. Ive and New Jeans are newcomers who created a sensation with easy listening popular music rather than the powerful K-pop preferred abroad.

The strong push of the girl groups breaks the old convention that basic traction for idol fandom is based on fan girls’ love for male idols. The fans of the girl groups expanded from the existing “uncles” to “aunts.” On Aladdin, pre-orders for Ive’s After Like album was by 69 percent female customers and 31 percent male customers. Among the women, customers in their 40s made up 25 percent, followed by teens at 22 percent. It is evidence that women in their 40s with spending power actively consume the music by young girl groups. Women like female idols, support them as if raising them, confirm sisterhood, and admire them. As Blackpink shows, the essence of admiration is the super celeb image achieved with outstanding natural beauty, good family backgrounds, global sense and sophisticated manners and luxury goods.

Traditionally, the key to K-pop fandom business is attracting female consumers willing to open their wallets for the stars. Boy bands with more female fans than male fans always had dominance over girl groups mostly with male fans who are stingy.

But now the world has changed. As female fans who open their wallets for girl groups have emerged, agencies focus on girl groups. Girl groups also have a strength in risk management. There are girl group members who were involved in school violence, but compared to male idols, there are fewer cases of being in trouble in the private lives. They can be active longer because they don’t serve in the military. As the world changes, agencies and the industry change. How long will the “girl group dominance” last? It is the most eye-catching scene in K-pop today.
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