We’ve come full circle, it seems. At the turn of the last decade, a multitude of South Korean “second generation” groups had ruled the K-pop sphere, bringing their addictive refrains and mesmerising choreographies to the zeitgeist of the early 2010s—leading to the then-nascent emergence of the Hallyu Wave. Songs like TVXQ’s ‘Mirotic’, Big Bang‘s ‘Haru Haru’, Girls’ Generation’s ‘Gee’ and SHINee’s ‘Ring Ding Dong’ were core to the playlists of every youngling who had once found themselves enamoured with the aspirational sound and high-octane aesthetic that was characteristic of the scene.
Just last year, some of the biggest girl groups of that time celebrated their 15th anniversaries with a bang; both Girls’ Generation and Kara made their long-awaited returns with scintillating comebacks, releasing new music that was reminiscent of their heydays. But in 2023, it seems like the most-celebrated boy groups of the once-golden era are calling for eyes to fall on them once again.
Back to reclaim their thrones, a number of groups have since made bold declarations of their potential comebacks at the start of the year. G-Dragon of Big Bang, for one, released an unexpected video on YouTube for the first time since his official discharge from South Korea’s compulsory military service at the end of 2019. Whilst it was led by well wishes for his fans, it was also accompanied by the surprising promise of new music from the sensational artist for the first time since 2017: “I’m planning on meeting you through various activities. I’m currently working on a new album too.”
And it seems like G-Dragon will not be the only member of Big Bang slated for a high-impact return to the scene this year. Just three days after, Taeyang confirmed an exciting new release titled ‘Vibe’—a collaboration with none other than Jimin of BTS. And considering how Big Bang had once ruled the roost in the mid 2010s with record-breaking tracks like ‘Fantastic Baby’ and ‘Bang Bang Bang’ just before each member started enlisting into the military, it seems the post-pandemic mood coupled with a refreshed outlook on the K-pop sound just might herald a new era of music for them.
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But the two Big Bang members are far from being the only ones planning on their grand returns. SHINee, who had been behind hits such as ‘Lucifer’ and ‘Sherlock’ in the early 2010s can also be expected to make their comeback as four in 2023—in light of the completion of military service for their youngest member Taemin. TVXQ, behind the iconic ‘Mirotic’, have also recently updated their socials with an aesthetic makeover to mark 20 years since their debut—seemingly pointing to the potential for new music to celebrate their anniversary. Elsewhere, EXO have also confirmed their comeback with all nine members in 2023—with their leader Suho breaking the news via an Instagram post. This made for delightful news to their fans, who have also been waiting for Baekhyun to return from his military post.
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For the uninitiated, it will be helpful to know that most South Korean men—chart-topping idols or not—must complete their national military service by the time they turn 28. And so, for two generations past, these male-dominated K-pop groups have experienced the immense highs of their career—before their oldest members kick off the military entrance one by one, setting off a seemingly endless hiatus as fans patiently await all the members of their favourite groups to return as one. Five years ago, this had been the case for one of the longest-reigning K-pop groups: Shinhwa. To the surprise and adoration of all their fans who had been there for them since almost 24 years ago, the group managed to return with ‘Heart’ in 2018—and filled entire concert arenas with the nostalgia of the old days.
So whichever K-pop boy group you were once a fan of (or still are), it seems like you should ready some space in your hearts for the potential onset of fresh new music, live performances and the possibility of meeting your favourite idols once again. For with what we have coming our way in 2023, it feels like we’re only about to be proven that they were worth the wait.