WONDER GIRLS: The decade-old group disbanded on January 26, 2017. PHOTO/COURTESY
(CNN)Is K-pop past its prime? Or just having growing pains?
Seven South Korean pop groups have split up in the last 12 months — two since the beginning of 2017 — raising questions about the future of the manufactured and wildly popular music genre, which has taken Asia by storm.
Mega group Wonder Girls released their final single last Friday. The decade-old group was the first K-pop act to enter the US Billboard Hot 100 with their hit “Nobody” in 2009.
Industry figures point to 2017 as a “pivotal” and “transitional,” year for K-pop, with some wondering about the genre’s future. Fans on Twitter, from as far as St. Louis, Missouri, to the Philippines, were lamenting about an “era ending.”
“It’s pretty sad to see these groups disband,” said Paul Han, co-founder of allkpop, a site for K-pop gossip and news, which has 10 million monthly readers worldwide.
4MINUTE: 4Minute onstage during the 20th Dream Concert on June 7, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. The group disbanded June 2016. PHOTO/COURTESY
“You could see that their popularity has waned from their peak and naturally they receive less promotions and eventually disband.”
In January, “Kings of K-pop” Big Bang played their last concert before going on hiatus — after dominating the charts for 10 years. Girl groups Kara, 2NE1, 4Minute, I.O.I and Rainbow have disbanded after multi-year careers that saw them sell millions of albums and fill stadiums across the globe.
K-pop emerged in South Korea in the early 1990s, and labels such as JYP, DSP and YG built the nation’s pop industry from the ground up, creating a training scheme that churned out stars for music, soap operas and movies.
In 2009, the genre first came to global attention with the Wonder Girls, who opened for the Jonas Brothers on their tour. Then in 2011, Big Bang released “Alive,” which was the first Korean-language K-pop album to make the Billboard 200.
KARA: Kara on stage during the K-POP festival on September 28, 2013 in Wonju, South Korea.
They disbanded in January 2016. PHOTO/COURTESY
But it was PSY in 2012 who really cemented its popularity when his single “Gangnam Style” rose to No. 2 on the Billboard 100 and almost broke YouTube.
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“K-pop really garnered an external following outside of Asia,” said Tamar Herman, who covers K-pop for Billboard.com.
The recent splits come down to a number of reasons.
K-pop music contracts usually last seven years, said Herman, and with many of the biggest acts starting out in 2009 and 2010, it means more groups could disband soon.
Still, it’s fair to say that many K-pop acts have outlasted or at least matched the lifespan of many Western pop groups — the Spice Girls lasted four years, Destiny’s Child at nine, *NSYNC seven and One Direction at six.
K-pop’s success has also been dependent on a highly-polished image. Stars typically can’t be seen dating, getting plastic surgery, or become embroiled in any kind of scandal, said Herman.
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