How to Build a Kpop Girl Group


Here at CriticalKpop, we love our girl groups. From cute to sexy to everything in between, girl groups have tried almost everything to stand out in a world of Generations, Brown Eyes and Wonder. As the public jumps to Melon and Olleh for catchy songs and fans crowd concert venues and record stores, the question must be asked — what makes a Kpop girl group stand out?

Is it a catchy song? A pretty face? A killer choreography? Maybe a great vocal? How about a variety star? The problem with that question is, well, the answer could be anything. Girls’ Generation slayed with a cute tune and some skinny jeans, while EXID became relevant with a fancam, of all things. Considering these facts, we should probably revise our question — what sustains a Kpop girl group? What builds a fan base, and keeps them interesting comeback after comeback? And there’s only one answer to this question: everything.

That’s right — dynamic is the true key to a girl group’s success. Every member brings something, whether it be talent, personality, or visuals, to make the group well-rounded and likeable across the board. Without it, the group will undoubtedly flop after that one catchy song falls off the charts. The importance of group dynamic seems to be a constant over the years, from legends like Girls’ Generation to new trends like TWICE. Let’s take a look at how dynamics have affected groups, both in success and failure, over the years.


Girls’ Generation making their debut with “Into the New World” (Image Credit: AllKpop)

From August 5th, 2007, it was clear that Kpop had a dynamic rookie monster in its hands — 9-member Girls’ Generation, who would, a few years later, become Kpop’s most powerful group, transcending music and permeating into Asian culture itself. But it wasn’t just good looks or “Gee” that made them the girl group they’ve become. The group was designed to succeed, with four strong vocalists (Taeyeon, Jessica, Seohyun, Tiffany) all with varying ranges, specialties and tonalities, four talented dancers (Yuri, Sooyoung, Hyoyeon, Yoona), an in-between who specializes in aegyo (Sunny), variety talents (Hyoyeon, Sooyoung, Sunny), and mind-blowing visuals (Yoona, Taeyeon).

The group could handle almost any song, from using lollipops on stage in “Kissing You” to rocking caps and ripped jeans in “I Got a Boy,” because of the wide display of talent and ability. Members of the public were bound to be interested in one way or another — if you didn’t like their song, you might have liked the intense choreography, Yoona’s latest CF or Sooyoung’s recent variety appearance. The group had a monopoly on what Kpop was all about: charm. Not just talent, but charm — the ability to captivate an audience through whatever means available. And that charm didn’t leave with Jessica in 2014. The group was not only so established, but also strong enough with the mix of personalities, vocals, and dance that it could carry on without one of its central members just as successfully as it had before. SNSD is the poster child of group dynamics, gathering both public recognition and a gigantic fan base in the 8.5 years since that fateful August.

2NE1 reintroduce themselves at the 2015 MAMA Awards

Fast forward to 2009, and you get a slightly different story. 2NE1 debuted to immediate success, with all-around talents from CL and Minzy, vocals and long legs (they were so notable that they seem to serve as a charm of their own) from Bom, and visuals from Dara. Despite horrible management after 2012, the group was able to make its notable share of accomplishments through a well-rounded display of talent, as well as a ton of personality through 2NE1TV, one of Kpop’s most-watched reality shows.

You also have f(x), which is another dynamic masterpiece and consequential success, with vocals (Krystal, Luna), visuals (Krystal, Victoria, Sulli), and rap (Amber, occasionally Sulli). The group has repeatedly received heat, however, for Krystal’s seemingly cold personality, and Sulli’s alleged lack of professionalism. Seven years in, f(x) has seen some loss in popularity as a result, losing “trend” status to newer groups like Girl's Day and AOA. It ultimately demonstrates that showing weakness in one of the many components of a girl group’s charm can significantly affect success. Following the same line of logic to 2010, Miss A can push Suzy’s charms all they want, but she alone can’t make 4-member Miss A one of Kpop’s legendary girl groups — a claim proven by their repeated hit-or-miss comebacks over the years. Despite the other member’s talents, they don’t make a dynamically full girl group in the public’s eyes, which hurts their album sales and chart rankings time after time.

If we keep going forward in Kpop history, the trend is continuously prevalent. Yeah, Hyeri can act herself to fame on Reply 1988, but Sojin’s vocals, combined with visuals from Minah and Yura and a newfound sexy concept, maintained interest in the group for years to come, ultimately making them one of Kpop’s biggest success stories. SPICA’s vocal-heavy lineup works well for the ear, but doesn’t do much for the rest of their appeal, which shows in their long hiatuses and lack of top 10 hits. Hani can “wi arae, wi wi arae” to her heart’s content for the fan camera, but it was ultimately great music, Solji’s vocals and the group’s unique variety color that gave them notoriety instead of disbandment.


TWICE: the ultimate package of Kpop charm (Image Credit: wowkeren.com)

As we dive head-first into a new year of Kpop, the same pattern unfolds before us, but even more noticeably than before. TWICE was designed almost exactly like Girls’ Generation (arguably better, depending on who you ask). You have one power vocal at the center (Jihyo, like Taeyeon) with two other strong singers (Jeongyeon and Nayeon, like Tiffany, Seohyun and Jessica), great dancers (Momo and Mina, like Hyoyeon, Sooyoung and Yuri), an in-between that knows how to put on a show (Sana, like Sunny), and a beautiful visual (Tzuyu, like Yoona). The slight differences actually make TWICE even stronger as a dynamic group, with versatile rappers (Dahyun and Chaeyoung) and multi-national members from both Taiwan (Tzuyu) and Japan (Momo, Sana, Mina). And the incredible dynamic in this group is bringing them incredible success — their debut song “Like OOH-AHH” lurks at the edges of real-time top 10 on Korean charts 5 months after release, and their mini-album, The Story Begins, has sold 55,000 copies, more than albums from more established groups like Red Velvet have ever sold.

GFriend in recent hit release, "Rough"

GFriend is another new girl group finding success, becoming the year’s first act to hit a perfect all-kill with their song “Rough.” But the difference between GFriend and TWICE is clear — TWICE is getting known for its wide variety of members, building a large fan base and public popularity in the process, while GFriend is getting popular off of a few slips on stage and a good song to follow. GFriend’s success is nothing to laugh at right now, considering that even Taeyeon came nowhere near climbing over them on the charts this past week, but their continued relevance is questionable. Without members being known to the public, will the world get bored of their musical color (which notably takes after Girls’ Generation’s iconic debut song) and look for a group with a more exciting dynamic (a group possibly like TWICE)? A seeming lack of dynamic endangers GFriend’s popularity in the same way that a strong dynamic ensures TWICE’s success.

So, if you ever had a slight inclination to, oh, I don’t know, build a Kpop girl group from scratch, be careful. Don’t pick just anybody — make a group that catches your attention with not just one gimmick set to expire in a comeback or two, but everything. In the world of Kpop, a girl group that defines a Generation, one that makes you think about them Twice, can sing into a microphone, dance under the lights, pose for a camera, laugh on screen, and much, much more.

Kushal Dev is an Indian-American writer based in New Jersey. He discovered K-Pop through friends and YouTube, and has been an avid follower of Korean entertainment for 4 years. He biases 2NE1, Girls' Generation, f(x), MAMAMOO and EXID.

5 comments:

  1. While I agree that talent, looks and (diverse) personality matter in a girl group, I believe this is just the prerequisite of a trainee.

    The main contributor to their success is the management company itself.

    A 'girl group' project is created ~2 years before their debut. The agency strategizes on the market segment, music sub-genre and group dynamics. Then comes 2 years of team training and selection. The marketing machine kicks in 3-6 mths before the debut. After which, the company adjusts the group's concept with each new album to fit their target market.

    Girls Generation weren't breakout idols from their debut stage. It was only after SM realised the potential of the new, more profitable 'samchon fan' segment, that their concept changed from schoolgirls to hip & hot. And with Gee, they became fashion icons, the ideal girlfriend, and even the image of the perfect daughter-in-law. Likewise YG did a great job launching 2NE1 into an almost unchartered hip-hop girl group segment.

    Success in the entertainment business is after all, about popularity. Large agencies like SM, JYP and YG give their groups immense publicity and exposure by getting them invited into just about every variety and music show (on TV & radio). Notice how long it took Girls Day or EXID to get noticed? Yet Red Velvet and Twice got to hit the floor running.

    Being the 'it girls' matter, popular girl groups make far more in advertising, appearances and mechandising, then album sales.

    And success doesn't just come by. There is an army of concept planners, fanclub managers, music directors, vocal trainers, choreographers, stylists, fashion designers, image consultants, publicists, fitness trainers, etc. who make Girls Generation, AOA and 2NE1 the icons they are.

    So does star quality even matter? Of course, not everyone can be as sweet and likeable as Hyeri, Suzy or Yoona. But make no mistake - agencies don't just look for 'talent'. A real star has the hunger and mental toughness to take on the most exhausting schedules, handle brash criticism, adapt to any concept and smile in a crisis (just think of Taeyeon and Tzuyu). These girls could probably stare down a charging bull.

    So what really makes a successful girl group? A great agency is a big part of it. But what kind of singer really debuts in this group? A perky, talented girl who's actually tough as nails!

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  2. "TWICE was designed almost exactly like Girls’ Generation (arguably better, depending on who you ask). You have one power vocal at the center (Jihyo, like Taeyeon) with two other strong singers (Jeongyeon and Nayeon, like Tiffany, Seohyun and Jessica), great dancers (Momo and Mina, like Hyoyeon, Sooyoung and Yuri), an in-between that knows how to put on a show (Sana, like Sunny), and a beautiful visual (Tzuyu, like Yoona)."
    Did you seriously just compare TWICE to SNSD??? I'm appalled, I have no idea how ANYONE could possibly fathom that comparison and then even state that TWICE IS BETTER??
    "But the difference between GFriend and TWICE is clear"
    You're right, it is clear. GFriend became popular due to their hard work ethics and talent, while TWICE is only popular due to the backing of a large company name.

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    Replies
    1. THANK YOU so much for saying this! Ive been trying to say this. Comparing Twice to SNSD? what a joke SNSD has four vocalists, i would say Sooyoung and Sunny too when they debuted. Listen to MR removed "Into the New World" and you can see that they're talented.

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  3. I think being popular =/= talent.

    TWICE is only doing well because they have a big company backing them like the comment before me has said. Gfriend comes from a small company and they had to work to get where they are now. TWICE, not saying they don't work hard, are handed gigs because of their affiliation with JYP. TWICE barely breathed for 10 days and they won the Rookie Award at MAMAs last year. They hadn't yet proven their "skills". They got the media play and the views because of JYP.

    Without talent they can only get so far. They can't rely on their 'looks' forever. A long lasting group has talent and dynamic within the group. And while you state that TWICE has 'more dynamic than Gfriend" and therefore they are bound to be way more popular. While I agree that dynamics are important, talent is a priority. They are idols, meaning they have to dance and sing well.

    Gfriend does all of that with grace. They have stable vocals, even with the difficult and 'knife-like' choreo. Twice on the other hand lacks severely in the vocals department. Even their 'power-vocalist' Jihyo, who trained for 10 years, is extremely unstable live, running out of breath and not hitting the correct notes. Dahyun was made into a rapper because she lacked vocal skills. Same goes for Chaeyoung. I'd like to see them freestyle rap one day. Sana and Tzuyu are also one of the most unstable vocalists in the group. They are known to the public for their visuals, but their vocal talent falls flat in comparison. Momo, while known and acknowledged for her dance skills, was added onto the official line up despite lacking in the vocal department. Dancing, anyone can do, but idols produce MUSIC. You don't listen to their feet moving in the recordings, now do you? Dancing isn't exactly required. It's just added for the performance factor. You can do without dancing. You can't do without singing. Jugyeon is the only stable member in TWICE and Nayeon is semi-stable even though she doesn't always hit the notes either. Even with that only 1.5 members out of 9 are talented vocally.

    If you listen to their MR removed and Gfriend's immediately after, the gap between the two groups is evident in terms of talent.

    I don't need any Onces telling me that TWICE is prettier than Gfriend because 1.) beauty is subjective and 2.) it is irrelevant in an argument about talent. I also don't need any Onces saying "well can you do x, y, and z like TWICE? I don't think so" because IT'S NOT MY JOB. I'm not an idol, TWICE is and they need to fill the job requirement.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for saying what needs to be said. I agree, visuals can only go so far, talent is what lasts. SNSD has four, i would say six, vocals.

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