How Far Back In K-Pop Do You Remember?

Doesn’t it feel like everyday there is a new app coming out to watch your favorite idols live stream or a fashion fad that seems to be coming back from long ago? Well, we’ve compiled a list of K-pop trends that highlight the changes over time and how the multimedia art form has truly evolved! Warning: how much you can remember from these trends will definitely reveal your age. From hairstyle to muscles to modern technology, it sure has been a transformative ride for K-pop fans of all ages.

Can you hear me, my 90s?

When phones and VHS were everything

For those fans who have been dedicated to the K-pop fandom since the 90s, they can definitely confirm that the evolution of technology is truly marvelous. It’s beyond belief how much we’ve changed the functions of the telephone. For those of you who have been loyal fans for longer than many recent fans have even been alive, the telephone was your closest connection to your idols. Whether it was used for voting for your favorite group or calling your favorite idols answering machines to hear the pre-made voicemails that were used for announcements, the phone (even with its tangled up cords) was your easiest and most solid connection.

If you can’t recall these challenges, you can refresh your memory be watching the pains fangirl Sung Si Won experienced in “Reply 1997.” The cold nights in front of the bank, having to ask your parents to record something on VHS for you, and purchasing of cassettes.

These were the challenges of fans all over the world and yet, they still made it work!

When colored hair was a no-no

If you remember those days then you definitely recall the days that idols were only allowed to have black hair color on screen! This was largely due to the IMF crisis and censoring required for television. For those of you g.o.d fans, you know that the black hairspray ran out and that Park Joon Hyung’s head is only half dyed in this.

The strict hair rule surely elicited the rebellious leader of one of the most famous groups of all time, H.O.T.’s Moon Hee Jun!

The first times our hearts were broken by disbandment

While H.O.T and Sech Kies were seen as the two groups on top and many interpreted as rivals, their announcements of disbandment really made a ripple in the history of K-pop. After almost 20 years of pondering if a reunion would be happening, Sech Kies have signed with YG Entertainment to return to the scene and are sure to create another ripple in the history of K-pop! What a time to be alive for 90s fans.

Okay, maybe you don’t remember those things, but if you came upon the wonderful world of k-pop in the 2000s, you’ll surely remember these next ones.

The New Millenium

The Rising Gods of the East

A fitting name for one of the most successful male groups of all time in K-pop history. Not only were they able to bloom beautifully in Korea, their breakthrough into the Japanese industry was truly one for the books.

How many of you all remember crying over this music video release? Now, was it because it was a great hit or that finally their hard work was recognized? It was probably a good mix of both.
With their international fame and profound effects on the music industry throughout Asia, their split shook fans to the core and although we now know they’ve found new successes, it truly will never be the same.

The first K-pop super group

The shock of seeing a group with over 10 members was not only life changing for fans but also the industry. Can you imagine how much coordinators and music programs must have gone through to film so many members like in Super Junior? Or the fans trying to learn all their names and fit it into a chant?

2PM + 2AM

Another concept that impressed fans and was, albeit, a bit confusing, was the debut of 2pm & 2am as separate groups which were complementary of each other in style! Not to mention, releasing a single together called “One Day” to add more to the confusion.

Muscle craze

Although I credit Shinhwa to the concept of “beast-dols” in the early 2000s, many fans still tried to hold onto the dandy boy image. It wasn’t until the late 2000s that the craze of ab flashes truly took over. Since then, it has just been muscle on muscle for us fans to gawk and stare at.

If there’s any lasting image of the mid 2000s to late 2000s that is representative of the second generation, it’s definitely Lee Min Ho’s curls in the famous Korean adaptation of “Boys over Flowers.” This popular drama is an adaptation of a manga that was recreated in several different countries in East Asia and spread like wildfire. The timing of this drama’s release was also when the hunt for episodes online was at its prime and a popular discussion among viewers who was the fastest to upload and where they could watch it with subtitles – a problem we sure don’t have to face nowadays.

Internet as a growing medium

Of course we can’t forget international hits like “Gee” and “Haru Haru” where, for the first time, your friends probably asked you if you heard of this song and you jumped at the opportunity to teach them about the wonderful world of K-pop.

Of course, this was all during the rise of YouTube where international fans finally found an easily accessible platform to watch all their favorite idols.

It’s still as catchy as the first time we heard it 7 years ago.


The early 2010s were all about global popularity.

If hits like “Gee” and “Haru Haru” didn’t catch your non k-pop friends’ radar, then one song for sure did. “Gangnam Style” took over the world.

I mean, how many times did you reveal you were a fan of K-pop and your friend asked if you liked PSY?

Joint Chinese-Korean groups

Complementary groups continued to trend as the formation of EXO-K & EXO-M came about. While groups here and there did have a token member who was not Korean, we really saw internationalization of K-pop groups take off with 4 Chinese members and the uniqueness EXO-M brought to the industry.

We also can’t forget the debut of miss A which pretty much symbolizes internationalization!

K-pop singers for Disney and Hollywood

K-pop artists started to be recruited for Korean promotions of Hollywood films.

Here is SISTAR’s Hyorin singing “Let It Go” in Korean.

BTS’s Rap Monster and “Fantastic 4”:

EXO and “Star Wars”:

Survival shows EVERYWHERE

The path to becoming famous was is never easy and for some twisted reason, (but also inspiring for viewers in many ways) producers decided that broadcasting these aspiring artists trials and journeys to stardom would be a success — and it has.

While survival shows blossomed and evolved, the incorporation of rap and the concept of survival together is a whole new animal in itself.

“Show Me the Money” and “Unpretty Rapstar” took rooting for a contestant to a whole new level as those diss battles and free styles were sure to be nasty — but in a good, entertaining way.

Death without social media

The rise of social media has escalated and is continuously snowballing. Idols are on everything! Everyday I feel that someone is hitting a new milestone with X million followers or getting a notification that some group is live on V app.

The blast of social media has been one of happiness and distress at the same time.


Getting up close and personal

With the development of social media trends and the accessibility increase to be at the tip of the idol’s fingers to reach their fans across the world, we’ve really been able to see more of what goes on outside of their lives besides concerts, music show performances, and award shows!

We’ve gotten tours of dorms…

and even clips of their own vacations! And lastly, one of my favorite trends that many others also appreciate for coming into our lives: the dance practice videos. These videos would not be possible without previous innovations created to help us become one step closer to our idols. Whether it’s just being able to watch our favorite dance over and over again, in a context outside of a stage

or seeing our favorite idols goof off and enjoying themselves,

they’ve truly brought us one step closer to seeing what a day in the life of an idol may be like, which, whether it be implicit or explicit, has been the goal for over 20 years.

At which trend do your K-pop memories start? Let us know in the comments below.

amycwang93 loves singing, dancing, and reading. When she is not imagining performing alongside BTS, she spends her time working so she can make money and visit her idols!

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