Korean pop music or k-pop refers not only to types of music but to a musical movement that took South Korea by a storm in the early 1990s and continues to dominate until now. Much of the music is similar to songs heard on American pop radio stations, though more often sung or rapped in Korean. Early versions of Korean pop leaned heavily on certain American forms, like R&B, hip hop, and a little bit of rock and techno.
One of the first bands thought to have influenced the wave of k-pop was Seo Tai-ji and Boys. Seo Tai-ji is actually considered an icon of pop music, along the same lines in which Americans might view Michael Jackson or Madonna, particularly at the height of their careers in the 1980s. Seo Tai-ji’s first album was released in 1992, and its dance tunes were a huge hit. Other bands soon jumped on the bandwagon and hip-hop groups like Deux quickly gained huge popularity. Following American trends, a host of teen idols became popular by the mid 1990s.
The emergence of the group Seo Taiji and Boys in 1992 marked a turning point for Korean popular music, as the group incorporated elements of American popular musical genres of rap, rock, and techno into its music. The tremendous success of Seo Taiji and Boys in Korea and such similarly experimental groups as Panic set the trend for the present generation of K-pop groups and artists. Following Seo Taiji and Boys, dance-oriented acts were dominant in the Korean popular music scene of the 1990s.
Individual artists show considerable experimentation in their work. Idols like Seo Tai-ji have created highly danceable albums and ones that dip into heavy metal and alternative rock and contain virtually no dance tunes. In the 2000s, ballads from k-pop artists have become common, yet you can’t label k-pop as all one type of music, since individuals and bands differ so much.