As the K-Pop market becomes increasingly competitive, older groups need to reinvent themselves to stand out and attract new fans. A successful example of this happening in the past year is the girl group Apink.
Apink debuted in 2011 with the song I Don’t Know. In the eight years they have been active, they have done only cute and innocent concepts. Over time, the girl crush concept became more favored, and Apink was stagnant as other girl groups became the focus of the public.
That was until July 2, 2018, when they released their smash hit I’m So Sick. It was a side of the girls that no one had seen before. It was cool and modern, skyrocketing their popularity.
This is reflected in their YouTube views. One of Apink’s biggest past hits is Mr. Chu. It was released in 2014 and has 60 million views. In the roughly nine months it has been out, I’m So Sick has garnered over 66 million views.
They followed up I’m So Sick with %% in January 2019, which already has more than 25 million views. Both Pink Pandas, Apink’s fans, and general K-Pop fans have praised the group for their new concept.
Apink isn’t the only girl group to succeed by changing their concept. CLC debuted with the cute concept in 2015. Their debut song, Pepe, has gotten just over 10 million views in the nearly four years it has been out. Their most recent comeback, No, has over 13 million views, and was released on January 30, 2019.
Overall, groups that do the girl crush concepts tend to do better than those that do cute concepts. A clear example is the biggest K-Pop girl group, BLACKPINK, who have broken numerous records and gained international recognition with their girl crush songs like DDU-DU DDU-DU and Kill This Love. Red Velvet is a group that switches between cute and girl crush, also known as ‘red’ and ‘velvet,’ concepts. ‘Red’ concepts involve bright colors and happy songs, while ‘velvet’ concepts are more mature, with darker color palettes and smooth, feminine songs. Their ‘velvet’ concepts are always more widely loved. For example, their 2018 hit Bad Boy is preferred by the general public over their summer comeback from the same year, Power Up.
Some fans might wonder why the girl crush concept is so much more popular.
“It’s simple. Themes adapt with their audience and recent events that take place around the world,” freshman April Olson said. “Think of it as a girl group putting their voice into history. Recently, there have been a lot of movements to empower women, which is exactly what the girl crush concept portrays. These real world concepts also find a way to follow into the music we listen to. In past years, women were seen as the cute, ditzy kind of characters that appealed to male fans. With K-Pop industries realizing that they have an increasing amount of female fans, they have changed their concepts to appeal to their audience, and to keep up with the latest trends.”
For some fans, cute concepts embody women’s societal roles in the past. They are always happy, and the music videos sometimes involve them chasing after a guy. Girl crush concepts are a refreshing change, showing the female idols as powerful and fierce. They can be very empowering for female fans.
Junior Paula Chanthakhoun said, “I really like girl crush concepts since they are more powerful and upbeat. Some cute concepts are hard to like since you feel like it’s very kiddish.”
Considering this seemingly clear advantage that the girl crush concept has, TWICE is an anomaly. The group has won over their audiences with their cute image and bubblegum pop songs. However, it seems that even they are changing it up. They have recently came back with Fancy, and though the song still is energetic, the overall vibe is more mature and very girl crush-esque.
While in the past cute concepts have dominated the K-Pop market, the girl crush concept has taken over the girl group scene. And with successful groups like BLACKPINK, Red Velvet, and now Apink, as well as newer groups such as EVERGLOW and TWICE’s little sister group ITZY, it seems like it won’t be going away anytime soon.