Some K-Pop girl groups launched in 2021-2022 have performed strongly on music charts, pointing to a golden era of the 4th generation girl groups and shattering the long-standing theory that K-Pop girl groups lag behind boy groups in terms of selling albums, concert tickets, and merchandise items.
Historically, boy groups had a strong following from fiercely loyal fandoms. In contrast, girl groups had to appeal to a broader audience with their music because male followers generally handled “fanboying” less enthusiastically.
Here are five of the strongest 4th generation girl groups in terms of album sales that debuted in 2021-2022.
NewJeans sold an impressive 311,271 copies of its self-titled debut EP in its first-week release, the highest first-week release sales for any girl-group debut album. In less than a month, the group also grabbed the number one spot on Melon, one of Korea’s most dominant streaming platforms. Their lead single, “Attention,” has been on top of the charts for over two weeks as of August 31.
IVE’s “Love Dive” album sold 338,141 copies in its first-week release, more than doubling its previous record of 152,229 set by their debut single album “Eleven” last year. Their third single album, “After Like,” broke this record, which sold an even more impressive total of 924,363 copies in its first week of release, almost tripling their first record.
aespa debuted in 2020, but their achievement this year is significant to this list. Their second mini album, “Girls,” sold an astounding 1,126,068 copies based on the Hanteo chart, making them the first-ever K-Pop girl group to achieve this feat. “Girls” is also the best-selling album in the history of the Hanteo charts.
4. Le Sserafim
Le Sserafim sold 307,450 copies in its first week of release in May, with an actual 176,861 copies sold on its first day, the highest sales volume for a girl group in its first day’s release.
Based on the Hanteo Chart, Kep1er’s mini album “DOUBLAST” sold 287,109 copies in its first week of release in June, beating its previous first-week record of 206,569 for their debut mini album “First Impact” earlier this year.
Lee Hye Jin, clinical assistant professor of communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has rationalized three factors for why these 4th generation girl groups are performing so well.
First, they debuted under powerful labels. Le Sserafim, aespa, and NMIXX were known as the first girl groups made by BTS label HYBE, SM’s new girl group, TWICE and ITZY’s younger sister group, respectively, even before their official debut. Their powerful management companies and the success of other artists under the same labels gave them greater visibility from the onset. IVE is also represented by Starship Entertainment, which catapulted Monsta X and WJSN (Cosmic Girls) to fame.
—Lee Hye Jin
Professor Lee says fans’ familiarity with some members is the second factor for their popularity, and choice of songs is the third factor. IVE’s Jang Won-young and Ahn Yu-jin and Le Sserafim’s Sakura and Kim Chaewon were already enjoying fandoms before their debuts as they were once part of the disbanded project group IZ*ONE.
There is definitely a spillover of IZ*ONE’s popularity to the success of IVE and Le Sserafim.
Kep1er members also had the chance to introduce themselves through an audition show titled ‘Girls Planet 999’ (2021) before their debut, and STAYC has Sieun, a former child actor and the daughter of a famous Korean singer Park Nam-Jung in the group.
The last contributing factor is their songs. Most of them are just pop songs and are easy for people to hum, sing and dance to. They are lower pitched and in a comfortable singing range.
— Lee Hye Jin
Kim Jin Woo, a music business professor at Seoul Institute of the Arts and head researcher at Gaon Chart, said that after Blackpink became the first K-Pop girl group to sell one million albums in 2020, K-Pop insiders realized female acts could amass big fandoms and thus began launching girl groups using the girl crush concept, to appeal to female fans globally. The girl crush concept in K-Pop refers to strong, confident, and independent women that can inspire admiration from female fans.
Professor Lee, however, thinks that the girl crush concept is no longer applicable. For her, the girl groups that came out in 2021-2022 showed “different aspects of what a girl group can look and sound like.” NewJeans is chill and retro with the late 1990s feel. She described aespa as “more experimental and edgy with its sound and music, while STAYC plays up to its members’ cuteness.” Le Sserafim has a strong and confident vibe, while IVE has a romantic feel in their music.
It seems diversity in sound, style, and representation of femininity are some of the defining characteristics of the fourth-generation girl groups. They have also had a greater presence on platforms like TikTok, and this fact partially explains why their songs have different sound styles these days ― the so-called maximalist and complex songs are less conducive to going viral on TikTok.
— Lee Hye Jin
The success of these new girl groups shows that there is no formula for them to thrive for as long as they have quality songs and distinctive personalities.