NewJeans goes viral, challenges K-pop norms

The five members of NewJeans are Kim Minji, Hanni Pham, Danielle Marsh, Kang Haerin and Lee Hyein. As such a new and young group, the members are adored by many industry professionals. // Photo courtesy of ADOR

NewJeans is a fourth generation girl group under HYBE’s sublabel ADOR. HYBE, a South Korean multinational entertainment company, is the same label that manages big-name groups like BTS, SEVENTEEN and LE SSERAFIM. After the major breakout of the company’s first girl group, LE SSERAFIM, debuted under the label in mid-2022, NewJeans’ launch came as a surprise but was a major success. 

On July 1, ADOR released teasers for a new girl group and announced that they would drop their first content on July 22. Rather than release another teaser or an introduction video as many curious viewers expected, ADOR revealed NewJeans and unveiled their debut music video for “Attention.” 

The group name references the timelessness of denim jeans, which can maintain relevance in fashion and trends as time passes, and their mission to reach that same icon status. It also incorporated the meaning of “New Genes,” showcasing their breaking into the world of K-pop with a fresh and new concept. 

Despite a lack of promotion, NewJean’s debut song and EP gained explosive popularity. Nearly half a million pre-orders were recorded only a few days after pre-order was announced on July 25. The merchandise was particularly unique, with the CDs in circular bags and decorated with graffiti-style art. They sold out by the next day.

Since their debut, NewJeans has dominated both the charts and the hearts of K-pop and non-K-pop fans alike across global markets. They won Best New Artist at the 2022 Melon Music Awards, and have seen major success with the release of the recent song “Ditto,” from their new single album, “OMG.”

The song became NewJeans’ first entry on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 85. 

NewJeans has even become the fastest girl group of all time to receive a Daesang (grand prize) at the annual Asia Artist Awards last month. Many fans on social media have speculated on the unprecedented success of the group, as NewJeans has continuously performed at or above the level of well-established and successful girl groups already in the industry. 

“I don’t even think NewJeans is competition in the industry; everyone just likes them. Even older artists are doing covers of their dances on social media. I think they’re well-admired, especially because of their young age,” said Beliz Utebay, fourth-year CHBE.

As of recently, the group has been trending on TikTok. There has been a recent fascination with the group across social media, with multiple dance challenges to songs like “Ditto,” and “OMG.” Additions of NewJeans music to the background of videos and the group’s fresh barrier-breaking concept and “pretty” music might be the reason why. 

From the music, concept, styling and promotions, absolutely everything about the group is carefully curated without looking unnatural. NewJeans is essentially the “no makeup, makeup look” of K-pop, which may be why they have been resonating with domestic and international audiences so well. 

Oftentimes, K-pop promotions and concepts can look very similar, which is not a bad thing since the formula has brought great amounts of attention and success to various groups and has globalized the industry. However, NewJeans is different. The promotions are different in that the teasers do not give audiences an idea of what the song is, rather it looks like various clips of just friends coming together to make a song. It is left to the viewer to guess what the final song will be. Another factor is the concept. NewJeans’ forte is combining nostalgia with a modern twist, often taking inspiration from their K-pop predecessors. 

This way new audiences can enjoy the music and fans of older K-pop generations can feel seen as well. This nostalgic formula has been utilized often in current media as seen with the huge triumphs that shows like “Stranger Things” have made. The integration of the old and new becomes mainstream. NewJeans brought back the sentiments that were popular with the second generation K-pop groups, which is understandable as they are the product of Min Hee-jin’s creative direction. Min Hee-jin is the CEO and art director of ADOR, and has years of experience in the industry and was heavily involved in the creation of some of SM Entertainment’s most iconic second and third generation groups: SNSD, Shinee, f(x), EXO and Red Velvet. 

This appeal to second generation fans is especially important due to the significance of that generation in South Korea. Second generation idols were arguably the most loved by the general public  as many people opened up to the idea of idols and K-pop as a growing industry at this time, making way for the celebrity status that K-pop groups have today. 

Second generation K-pop music, for young girls specifically, was critical as it included the “Girl Group Boom.” From 2007 to 2009, girl groups were rapidly debuting, often having a bright sound, effortless natural beauty and fun choreography. Compared to current K-pop, the choreography for second generation girl groups was much simpler and the performances focused more on charming the audience, such as beloved girl group SNSD who received numerous accolades and the nickname “The Nation’s Girl Group.” 

NewJeans perfectly mixes second generation energy with the fourth generation standards as all the members are incredibly talented singers and dancers, but the girls genuinely look like they have fun on stage and they seem to have less pressure to be perfect. 

This potentially could be because they are still rookies in the industry, but it could also be ADOR is marketing the group as “coming-of-age best friends making feel-good music.” Their brand is youthful, fresh and relatable, and being picture-perfect would hinder that image. NewJeans is breaking barriers by being different in a way that allows the group to take the best out of K-pop’s past and rebrand with a modern flare.