History of K-Pop: BIGBANG
Rightfully dubbed the “Kings of K-Pop,” BIGBANG continues to be one of the biggest names in the entire K-Pop music industry. Since all of the members have enlisted or will enlist for their mandatory military service, and we won’t be seeing them anytime soon, let’s take a walk down memory lane to fill that temporary void.
Debut & The Early Years
A common phenomenon in the K-Pop industry, BIGBANG’s formation was documented through the television series, Big Bang Documentary, from July until their eventual debut in August of 2006. Fun fact: the originally debuted members consisted of the five—T.O.P, Daesung, Seungri, Taeyang, and G-DRAGON—we know and love today. However, the lineup was actually six pre-debut, including Jang Hyunseung, the former member of B2ST, now known as HIGHLIGHT. Unfortunately, Hyunseung was cut in the final elimination round of the series.
BIGBANG went on to debut during YG Entertainment’s YG Family 10th Anniversary Concert at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul. Their first single, Bigbang, contained the tracks “We Belong Together” featuring future member of 2NE1, Park Bom, “A Fool of Tears,” and “This Love.” Both “We Belong Together” and “This Love” were adaptations of the popular singles released by American acts Mariah Carey and Maroon 5, respectively.
Their debut had strategically adopted a contemporary, urban Western sound that was modified with a K-Pop flavor, making it bound to be popular to both Western and Eastern audiences alike. Even with “A Fool of Tears,” the boys stuck with the R&B slow jam vibe most popular during the early and mid-2000s. Sporting Western urban fashion wasn’t a new practice, famously attempted by senior hip-hop group 1TYM, but Taeyang’s cornrows, the baggy pants, and large chains made the boys look grown for a rookie group. Their smooth, clean dance moves added to their appeal.
Their second single, Bigbang is V.I.P, was released a month after and included “La La La,” “Ma Girl” by Taeyang feat. GD and T.O.P, and “V.I.P.” “La La La” continued with the urban R&B feel that the boys were going for, building a reputation as the mischievous but fun, magnetic bad boys in school that everyone wanted to hang out with.
The boys went on to release a third single, Big Bang 03, two months after their second, which included five tracks, the most prominent being “Forever With U,” yet again featuring Park Bom and “Good Bye Baby.” Continuing the pattern with the previous singles, the tracks showcased the group’s duality between slower R&B jams and urban hip-hop party anthems. Their consistent sound helped the group to see a successful debut, each single selling over 30,000 copies.
Breakthrough & The Start of Their Solo Careers
BIGBANG’s popularity skyrocketed with their breakthrough title track “Lies,” which achieved number one on the music charts in August of 2007. This coincided with the boys taking more direction over their music—more so than with their previous releases, which explains their musical shift from R&B to electronic, which was more popular in Asia in the mid to late 2000s. The track landed them awards for “Best Male Group” and “Song of the Year” at the 2007 Mnet Asian Music Awards, as well as “Artist of the Year” and “Digital Record of the Year” at the 17th Seoul Music Awards. “Lies” continues to withstand time, remaining one of the group’s most recognized songs.
Their seemingly overnight success allowed the group the opportunity to pursue popularity in Japan. Although they released a couple of mini-albums, there was minimal promotion, though it didn’t seem to hinder their success as the group charted highly on the Oricon charts. The Korean version of their Japanese single, “Day by Day (하루하루),” is one of the most successful songs of all time in South Korea, selling over five million copies in South Korea alone. BIGBANG won their second “Artist of the Year” award at the 2008 Mnet Asian Music Awards.
By the end of 2009, BIGBANG had become the most searched artist in South Korea. This was largely due to the members pursuing solo careers throughout the year. That year, G-DRAGON released his debut solo album, Heartbreaker, and the title track of the same name went on to pass five million downloads. Heartbreaker went on to win “Album of the Year” at the 2009 Mnet Asian Music Awards, signifying a strong start to GD’s colorful solo career. T.O.P was the first member to venture into acting in 2007 with the KBS drama I Am Sam, and in 2009, he portrayed an assassin in the popular K-drama Iris. He also went on to star in the movie 19-Nineteen with Seungri.
The maknae’s solo career actually began with “Strong Baby,” the second single promoted from the Remember album, in 2008. With “Strong Baby,” Seungri won his first triple crown on SBS’s Inkigayo. That being said, he starred in the popular movie Why Did You Come to My House? alongside Kang Hyejung in 2009. Taeyang went on to release two of his most treasured solo releases: “Where U At” and “Wedding Dress,” the second of which was widely popular in South Korea as well as with international audiences. Daesung released his second trot single, “Big Hit,” in the same year and ventured into acting in musicals.
BIGBANG returned as a unit for a collaboration with the recently debuted 2NE1. The group released the iconic collaboration “Lollipop” to promote the LG Cyon. The music video embodied the fashion, music, and style of 2009, with all members sporting neon colors, funky accessories, and crazy hairstyles. “Lollipop” would only symbolize the beginning of the domination of two of K-Pop’s supergroups, with the fairly established BIGBANG using their platform to launch 2NE1 to their own heights of success.
Between 2010 and 2012, the members continued to pursue projects outside of the group, all garnering recognition and popularity that would further propel them to international fame when they came back together. G-DRAGON and T.O.P released their collaboration album GD & T.O.P and Taeyang released his first full length album Solar which won him “Best Male Artist” at the 2010 Mnet Asian Music Awards. Seungri dabbled in both acting and music, releasing singles “VVIP” and “What Can I Do” as well as starring in the MBC drama Lights and Shadows. Daesung starred in the musical drama What’s Up as well as hosted the variety talk show Night After Night.
Their presence in Japan really expanded throughout these years, winning several Japanese awards throughout 2010. In early 2011, BIGBANG returned with their Korean single “Tonight,” which is widely claimed to have been the the signifying comeback that solidifed BIGBANG’s sound in the K-Pop music industry. Their international presence was even further exemplified as they took home the “Best Worldwide Act” of the Asia-Pacific region at the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards. They later released their popular second single, “Love Song,” with their special edition album.
BIGBANG is Really Fantastic, Baby
Arguably the most influential comeback of their career, BIGBANG returned with their critically acclaimed album Alive in 2012. The album spawned three massive singles: “Bad Boy,” “Blue,” and “Fantastic Baby.” They became the first Korean act with a Korean album to chart at number 150 on the Billboard 200. “Fantastic Baby” was the most viewed video by a Korean group on YouTube until PSY’s “Gangnam Style.” The year also marked their first official world tour, which was held in 21 cities in 13 countries and with a total attendance of over 800,000 fans. The group’s influence on the fashion, music, style, and distribution of the Hallyu Wave is ubiquitous; it’s impossible to discuss 2012 as the year K-Pop broke through to international markets without crediting BIGBANG.
Throughout 2013 and 2014, the members largely pursued their solo endeavors, leading fans to endure a nearly three-year BIGBANG drought. However, the members continued to assert their eccentric personalities, maintaining their relevance and even expanding their fanbase as they covered varying musical styles.
In 2013, G-DRAGON released his critically acclaimed solo album Coup d’Etat which spawned the hit singles “Crooked” and “Who You?,” which earned him four awards at the 15th Mnet Asian Music Awards and made him the first Korean artist to have multiple entries on the Billboard 200. His other bigger project was a collaboration with American producers Skrillex and Diplo on “Dirty Vibe,” featuring CL of 2NE1. The crossover proved to be popular for fans of the electronic genre in both Western and Eastern audiences. Taeyang went on to release his solo single “Ringa Linga” in 2013, preceding his second solo album Rise that birthed “1AM” and “Eyes, Nose, Lips,” the latter being the second best-performing single of 2014 in South Korea. GD and Taeyang went on to also form a duo and released the smash hit “Good Boy” in 2014 selling over a million units in Korea and topping Billboard’s World Digital Singles Chart. Both artists tackled R&B, Hip-Hop, and EDM genres—the ones in which they are the most influential within the world of K-Pop—and further broadened the definition of what it means to be K-Pop idols.
2013 was a great year for T.O.P; the rapper was named one of the hottest sex symbols of 2013 by the American publication Rolling Stone. That year, he also went on to release one of his biggest solo singles, “Doom Dada.” The single redefined what it means to be an idol rapper, broadcasting his musical creativity as well as skill. He also continued to dabble in acting, starring in the film Tazza: The Hidden Card. Seungri found success in his own pursuits, releasing his second Korean EP Let’s Talk About Love with one of his most popular singles, “Gotta Talk To You.” That same year, he released his first Japanese album, topping the Oricon charts, and starred in the Japanese drama A Message Send To You. Daesung additionally released his first solo Japanese album D’scover in 2013, and embarked on The D’scover Tour that hit 18 cities in Japan. He capitalized on his success by holding a second tour, the D’slove 2014 in Japan tour, drawing in over 170,000 fans in 17 shows. He consequently became the first Korean artist to bring in more than 100,000 fans to his concert tour in two consecutive years.
The End to the Three-Year Drought
When the boys decided to reunite in 2015, the world was not prepared to receive one of the most ambitious projects in K-Pop history. MADE: M, A, D, E were singles released monthly that would lead up to the final full-length album of the same name. “Loser” and “Bae Bae” were released in May, signifying a more mature sound from the group while staying true to their unique musicality. They went on to release “Bang Bang Bang” and “We Like 2 Party” in June, “If You” and “Sober” in July, and “Zutter” and “Let’s Not Fall in Love” in August. It would take a completely separate article to list the accomplishments, awards, and recognitions that the individual tracks accumulated. All of the MADE tracks were some of, if not the biggest tracks of 2015 in South Korea. BIGBANG completely dominated the charts and the Internet by keeping fans on their feet, aggressively anticipating next month’s release. The success of MADE translated into the group holding their second world tour. The tour saw over 1.5 million attendees, making it the largest tour by a Korean act ever and earning the boys over $120 million.
Not surprisingly, the success of the world tour led the boys to extend touring into 2016 with their MADE V.I.P tour—not a bad way to start the year marking their 10-year anniversary! To celebrate, BIGBANG held their 10-year anniversary concert tour appropriately titled 0.TO.10, gathering over 1.1 million fans. Additionally, the group celebrated with the art exhibit A TO Z that ran in both Seoul and in Taipei, Taiwan in 2017.
The full length MADE album was finally released in December of 2016 with two new singles: the eccentric “Fxxk It” and somber “Last Dance.” Both singles charted highly alongside “Girlfriend,” selling over one million digital copies combined in five days. The conclusion to the MADE project was bittersweet as it meant the conclusion of BIGBANG’s arguably best work as well as the uncertain future of the group due to the mandatory military service of all South Korean men.
Although it’ll be a while until we receive another full-length project from BIGBANG, V.I.Ps were able to snag some more solo work from the boys last year. G-DRAGON released an album, entitled Kwon Ji Yong, in the innovative form of a USB flash drive. Kwon Ji Yong topped the iTunes charts in 46 countries—the most by any Korean album at the time—and became his best-selling album in just one day, selling over 760,000 digital units in China on the first day alone. This predictably led to a successful second world tour, ACT III: M.O.T.T.E, which was the largest concert tour ever conducted by a Korean solo artist.
Taeyang released is third album, White Night, and also embarked on a world tour that visited over 19 cities. The album stayed at number one for two consecutive weeks on Billboard’s World Digital Albums chart, making him only the second Korean solo artist to do so. He also announced his engagement to long-time girlfriend and actress Min Hyorin in December of 2017, to whom he married in a private ceremony in February of 2018.
Daesung continued to capitalize on his popularity in Japan, releasing his second Japanese mini-album, D-Day, which peaked at number one on the Billboard Japan Albums chart and the Oricon Albums Chart. He also held his first solo dome tour, the D-Lite Japan Dome Tour 2017, which attracted over 150,000 fans in two cities.
When the Flowers Bloom
Unfortunately for V.I.Ps and the K-Pop industry as a whole, all of the members of BIGBANG enlisted or will be enlisting for their mandatory two-year military service this year, meaning the earliest we’ll see any of the members will be mid-2019. BIGBANG, however, aren’t the type to leave without a goodbye; the group released the single “Flower Road” as a farewell to their fans. In BIGBANG fashion, the single went on to set a record, reaching one million in sales in China in just three days. Though “Flower Road” is the last single we’ll get from BIGBANG for a while, the song maintains an optimistic, upbeat vibe, encouraging fans to remember the members fondly as they travel down the road scattered with flowers.
As one can tell from the length of this article, it’s difficult to condense BIGBANG’s illustrious career into a few paragraphs. The group is a trailblazer not only for K-Pop, but for boy bands worldwide. They’re not widely respected and admired for no reason; it’s impossible to imagine K-Pop at the magnitude it’s grown to be without crediting the group, both as a unit and through their solo careers, as a fundamental part of it. Not only will we avidly wait for them to return safely from their services, but when BIGBANG is once again reunited, we will feverishly anticipate their music as they once again demonstrate their influence over the Korean music industry. We miss you, BIGBANG, but we’ll see each other again when the flowers bloom!