Nearly two and a half decades have passed since Seo Taiji and Boys’ “Nan Arayo” heralded in the beginning of the K-pop musical genre. Since then, there have been countless singers and idol groups who have made an impacts on K-pop as a whole and one of the most important trendsetters of the past nine years has been none other than Girls’ Generation. They have solidified their legacy with hit after hit and shown audiences one iconic concept after another. And, with such a career, Girls’ Generation is clearly a role model for newer acts. But as rookie groups GFriend, Twice, and the newly-debuted project group IOI have learned, there is a fine line between homage and copying.
It’s this differentiation that is coming to light as K-pop fans around the world criticize rookie girl groups who have clearly chosen to model themselves after one of the most successful acts of the generation. The K-pop industry is small enough that originality is always applauded, and there is plenty of that when it comes to Twice, IOI, and GFriend. But these new girl groups have taken a few lessons from older acts like Girls’ Generation and proved that there is much to be learned. Unfortunately, it sometimes leads to a “wait, was that plagiarized?” moment. There have been multiple head scratching and accusations towards groups who have a concept too similar to one of those of Girls’ Generation, but the question is worth asking: Are these girl groups copying or are they emulating?
Over the past few months, GFriend has surpassed the expectations of many, with successive hits after one another. But while their refreshing image and their pristine performances have set them apart, GFriend’s debut concept had K-pop fans around the world crying “foul!” “Glass Bead,” the first in a trilogy that followed a youthful schoolgirl concept, was attacked for sounding altogether too similar to Girls’ Generation’s debut song “Into The New World.” With similar cadences and an energetic dance while also wearing athletic gear, GFriend was initially accused of trying to garner attention for imitating Girls’ Generation.
Also on KultScene: 8 Misheard K-Pop Lyrics Pt. 5
Now, more than a year later, it’s clear that GFriend hasn’t just mimicked Girls’ Generation –they’ve imitated them as icons of a certain K-pop concept. Additionally, GFriend’s agency Source Music consists of former SM Entertainment staff members. While speculative, there’s no real question that GFriend’s production team took the example of Girls’ Generation’s debut concept and analyzed it to get the formula right. And, with two additional hit songs under their belt, it’s obvious that it worked.
While they’re down to eight members following the 2014 departure of Jessica Jung, Girls’ Generation was the first K-pop female megagroup. Girls’ Generation’s launch heralded in larger girl groups, but even now larger girl groups are far and few in between (AOA is the only other mainstream group with eight members) so Twice’s size was a tip off to the fact that JYP was going to market Twice as a group that has something to offer everybody. I was honestly surprised more people didn’t call out the Girls’ Generation comparison the minute JYP Entertainment (a main competitor of Girls’ Generation’s agency, SM Entertainment) announced that it would debut a nine-member girl group. When it comes to K-pop, size really does matter because it means there’s a higher likelihood that there will be a member to suit everybody’s taste. And Twice certainly has aimed to highlight the different sort of women in the group, with each of their music videos clearly defining individual charms and personas of the members.
This week’s debut of I.O.I takes us back to “Into The New World” in a way that’s far more obvious than GFriend’s instance. While GFriend first song and music video were stylistically similar to Girls’ Generation’s debut, the concept and music video for I.O.I’s debut song “Dream Girl” harkens a bit close to home.
Also on KultScene: Spiritual K-Pop: Lovelyz & Berry Good Find Their Destinies
Like in “Into The New World,” “Dream Girl” introduces the members of the new group through their own individual aspirations including being successful as dancers, athletes, and fashion designers. Watching the music video, it would be almost impossible to say that “Dream Girl” wasn’t based on “Into The New World” as scenes are set up similarly in ways that make it near impossible to be coincidences. I.O.I’s agency, YMC Entertainment, reportedly told local Korean outlets that the music video was designed with the song’s sound and lyrics in mind, but it truly seems like a 2016 update of “Into the New World” idea. For a group that debuted nearly a decade after Girls’ Generation, it seems natural for newer groups to want to resuscitate the style of an older music video.
When it comes down to things, Girls’ Generation and their success is something that future girl groups can only hope to achieve. At the end of the day, none of these instances come across as plagiarism but instead appear to be this new generation of K-pop girl group’s imitation of a successful older act. And, as it’s said: Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.
What do you think about Girls’ Generation’s legacy? Are the newer groups wrong in stylizing themselves after them? hare your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter,Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.