There are few safe bets in life but, right now, you could almost stake everything you have on a fourth generation K-pop girl group coming out with a girl crush concept. It feels like an understatement to say we’ve reached a saturation point but, as more and more acts hop on the trend, it’s one that’s showing no signs of letting up soon.
For the uninitiated, girl crush is all about female empowerment and being an aspirational role model to fellow women. Forget being cute and playful – girl crush thrives on dark, mature sounds and themes, as well as being a total badass. It’s ITZY’s ‘Wannabe’ (“Whatever people say, I’m me / I just wanna be me”) and BLACKPINK’s ‘Ddu-du Ddu-du’ (“I do however I want because I’m a bad girl”) – a strong attitude and rich self-confidence set to heavier, more impactful sonics.
While we’ll never advocate for girl groups to drop the empowering anthems entirely – helping women believe in their own power and ability to set their own terms in life is incredibly important – the lack of variety in the current landscape feels like it’s in danger of lessening the impact and making girl crush feel played out. There are different ways to share confidence and strength than the obvious route of declaring that you DGAF – and if everyone is doing that, it starts to feel hollow, just as some western pop releases or Hollywood “empowerment” movies do.
If everyone’s concepts fall under the same umbrella, the fourth generation of K-pop is going to get boring and monotonous very quickly. Lately, we’ve seen the likes of NMIXX, EVERGLOW, IVE, Kep1er, Purple Kiss and more going girl crush and, while some of them put their own take on it, it’s getting harder to differentiate between each group. Even Weeekly, a group previously with their own distinctive style and sound far removed from the concept, pivoted to it on their latest single ‘Play Game: AWAKE’.
While that release was in no way bad, it felt like a disappointing concession to the status quo rather than pushing forward with their own unique identity. No matter how good the songs are – and, of course, some of them are great – how can you expect to stand out from the crowd, particularly on a smaller label, if you’re not thinking outside the box? And what is empowering about falling in line with the rest of your field?
Of course, it’s not the groups themselves that are to blame here, but their agencies’ lack of imagination. Whether they’re chasing the success of the likes of BLACKPINK or ITZY, or just lacking creative ideas, it’s time for them to explore different sounds, styles and themes. You can do mature without being girl crush – just look at the dark, gothic elegance of Red Velvet’s ‘Psycho’ – and empowering without jumping on the bandwagon too (EVERGLOW’s ‘Salute’ is a good case in point). Similarly, a cute and feminine concept can also be executed without it being childish and infantilising, just as OH MY GIRL have done over their career.
Making your own mark with your own sound is typically the key to a long and successful career in music, and you can see that triumph coming STAYC’s way right now. While we can’t say exactly why that is, it’s not unlikely that following a different path is at least partially behind that – their releases and concepts feel more refreshing than most of their peers’ and that uniqueness helps pull you in and makes you want to return to them again and again.
Trends will always exist in music, regardless of the genre, scene or industry. Rather than being followers, though, it seems like the most empowering move a fourth gen girl group could make right now is to lead us into new territory and give us something new.