How NewJeans is redefining the identity of K-Pop
Photo by Hiu Yan Chelsia Choi on Unsplash
Ever since "Gangnam Style" and the rise of BTS, K-Pop has made an indelible impression of Korean culture and Korea's music industry around the world. Its rapid exponential growth contributed to the "Korean wave", or Hallyu, of cultural appreciation. While the American music industry is composed of an eclectic mix of styles and personalities, K-Pop's music industry yields one streamlined path to success.

American-made stars hail from all types of origin stories such as YouTube, TikTok, reality shows, and the wills of risk-taking A&R representatives. In Korea, a new artist's discovery is a calculated venture through nationwide and international auditions hosted by huge entertainment companies: SM Entertainment Co., Ltd., YG Entertainment Inc., JYP Entertainment Corporation, and Hybe Corporation, to name a few.
The musicians must not only be musicians, but also dancers, actors, and models held to an incredibly inflexible beauty standard. One K-Pop idol goes through an average of two to four years of vocal, dance, and language training before debuting with a group formulated through countless rounds of auditions from company judges. Unlike the USA, Korean-made idols are curated and monitored from their appearance to their demeanor, and their personality is branded for stans to aestheticize and obsess over. And it works every time. Because of the ultra-specific rise to fame that K-Pop groups are notorious for, many people agree that K-pop isn't just a musical genre, but a multibillion-dollar industry that drives the national brand and spearheads global culture.

In July 2022, a new K-Pop group surfaced to worldwide attention: NewJeans. It was crowned No.1 on the iTunes Top Album charts in nine countries and No.10 in the USA. As of September, it has garnered over nine million listeners on Spotify with its top hit "Attention" at over 48 million streams despite how young the idols are. And "young" is not an understatement: the maknae, or youngest member, even said she was in elementary school when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
But what makes their debut different? K-pop companies constantly compete for the world's spotlight through each group's image and earworm pop/electronic melodies. However, Hybe Entertainment's NewJeans revolutionizes the precedent with unique harmonic progressions and an innovative structure without a quintessential electronic dance break, and even a soft folk-style track on a debut album. The name of the group itself has a dual meaning as a play on "new genes", representing a new wave of K-pop music. In multiple interviews, the members have also explained how a new pair of jeans are versatile and can have many types of uses, while also having the quality of never getting old – like NewJeans aims for their music to be.

Their marketing strategies are fresh and appear to derive from Western pop influence. The clever branding with Y2K hair clips, braids, and vintage-style clothing evokes the same generational buzz in K-Pop as Olivia Rodrigo spearheaded for Gen Z through her 2021 hit album "Sour."

The aesthetic is cute, youthful, and relatable. Not to mention their YouTube channel is decorated with portrait-oriented, one-three minute TikTok-length clips, appealing to the Gen Z target audience with colorful content bombardment.

New Jeans has successfully been able to capture the Gen Z x Y2K aesthetic through its debut, and honor music influences such as New York Drill and RnB harmonies. The group's cleverly targeted marketing is progressive and takes advantage of many forms of media creation, and it manages to curate it all perfectly under the brand that the girl group has created for itself. We can only expect for NewJeans' influence to grow and reach broader audiences that the K-Pop genre has yet to tap into.
Anna Castagnaro is a Composium Ambassador pursuing a Dual Degree in Radio/TV/Film and Music Composition at Northwestern University
Made on