Korea is the "Idol" republic. It's the norm now to hear an unfamiliar name of a new group each waking morning, and Korea has truly become an idol group nation.
Following H.O.T's disbandment in early 2000, it seemed as though the idol group market would disappear. However, with TVXQ's debut in 2004 (SM Entertainment), the idol movement was rekindled. Not only was it rekindled, they set off wearing jet packs, and the idol group movement has become more powerful and is spreading like wildfire, evolving over the years.
Of course where there are idol groups there will always be rumors, but they still represent Korea's growing culture, and is receiving a lot of attention for their influential power.
But how many of these idol groups can wield unfading popularity? It's difficult to say for sure because there are many agencies besides those listed in the South Korean Entertainment Producers Association, but we can come up with a rough estimate. With the help of Korea's largest music site Melon, we were able to investigate music charts from 2005 until July of 2013.
The survey counted each and every male and female idol group in Melon's top 100 weekly charts (duplicates excluded). Although we can't enter the charts here, we summarized the active idol groups at the time.
As for boy groups, there were 19 active in 2005, 10 in 2006, 10 in 2007, and 17 in 2013 so far, for a total of 130 idol groups. As for girl groups, there were 16 in 2005, 4 in 2006, 11 in 2007, and 10 in 2013 so far, for a total of 103 idol groups. There were 11 coed groups in the past 9 years. And the total number of idol groups since 2005 is 244. (See Chart 1)
However, according to agencies and producers, there are much more than that. One major agency rep said, "If we consider groups that rank on daily charts and disappear, or groups that have been formed but haven't been able to go through with their activities, there must be at least 300 groups."
As we can see through the survey, since TVXQ's debut in 2004, the number of idol groups has rapidly increased. Unlike the 1st generation idols H.O.T, Sechs Skies, S.E.S, and Finkl, who were active from the late 1990s to early 2000s, TVXQ was the start of the 2nd generation idols.
After that, Super Junior, Big Bang, SS501, and 2PM started the 2nd generation of idols. Girls Generation and Wonder Girls' debuts in 2007 were a catalyst for the new generation of girl groups. In 2007 11 new girl groups were formed, and besides the 7 in 2008 and 8 in 2009, there have been at least 10 new girl groups each year. This is most likely thanks to the different and new strategy that was born with these 2 girl groups.
Why Are There So Many Idol Groups?
Just in 2013 so far, there have been 30 new idol groups that have debuted. These include groups such as SPICA, Hello Venus, AOA, Bigs, Glam, and other unfamiliar names that have released new songs, and have been working behind the scenes.
The more well-known groups such as EXO have already taken the number 1 spots on music charts, and are chasing after the popularity of well established stars. It's becoming increasingly rare to see solo artists on the music charts. And 7-8 spots of the top 10 are occupied by idol groups, and it has been that way for the past 5 years.
The reason why there are so many idol groups is because there really is no alternative. Idol groups are able to bring in international revenue, which is necessary in the Korean market, where music revenue has decreased. Idol groups are easy to market, and are "weapons" to quickly get a return on investments.
Bobby Kim's agency Oscar Entertainment's rep Jun Hong Joon plans to launch the agency's first male idol group next year. Despite never before having debuted an idol group, he said, "The music industry has become a market that's hard to survive in without an idol group. Even though it's a big investment, it's a necessary challenge."
The emergence of idol groups is also suspected to be the cause of the decline of the Korean OST market. A song's popularity has the life of about 2 weeks, but there hasn't been a very high demand for OST ballads as of late. If there isn't much of a response after the first 2 weeks, the song is bound to fade into the background and disappear.
Idol Group Production - All or Nothing
We say "idol group production" so easily, but there's an enormous cost involved in the production. In the industry, just to debut an idol group costs about $400,000. And this is only the cost of small and medium-sized agency production costs. (See Chart 2)
In major agencies, the amount of money that goes into a trainee each month is several hundred thousand dollars. At JYP Entertainment, the agency for groups such as Wonder Girls, 2PM, and Miss A, they spend about $200,000 for the rookie development team. They pay for English classes, dance lessons, singing lessons, dormitories, and maintenance fees for about 40 trainees, and each trainee costs about $5,000 a month.
Jung Wook, a JYP rep, said, there's a lot that goes into singing lessons, such as tone and skill. And there are a total of about 70 different curriculums that envelop the detailed education these trainees receive. It costs over $2,000,000 each year."
When you consider all things, it's difficult to produce an idol group, but sometimes they are debuted as a "last card." For example, when YG Entertainment was in trouble, they debuted Big Bang as their final card. Even WM Entertainment debuted B1A4, despite many warnings to the agency that this was a bad move. However, it turned out to be a success. These are happy cases that turned out well, but there have been many failed attempts from reckless planning to debut idol groups.
Idol Groups and Their Futures
What will happen to these idol groups? Experts say, "In an industry that increasingly demands more choices to the consumer, idol groups will diversify to meet those demands."
The 1st generation idol groups lacked experience, and there were a lot of problems with their agencies because of contract issues. However, the 2nd generation of idol groups has discovered how to make contracts and make themselves stand out, so they are well-prepared to tackle these problems when they arise.
That's why they have to learn skills not only in song, but in choreography, acting, and English, to name a few, and learn how to create relationships in the overseas market, teamwork, and business partnership.
Among these massive numbers of idol groups, there still are favorites among the fans, and this goes to show that they are able to really stand out. Who are your favorite idol groups?