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10 Biggest K-pop Moments in 2019

G-Dragon’s return from the military, BTS at Wembley and the #FightForWonho are just some of the most significant events that defined the K-pop industry in 2019

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Riddhi Chakraborty Jan 01, 2020
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G-Dragon’s Return From the Military 

On October 26th, G-Dragon–aka the King of K-pop–made his highly anticipated return from mandatory military enlistment. A reported 3,000 fans gathered at the location to receive the 31-year old, while many more around the world tuned in to watch live online. It’s the biggest gathering seen so far for a Korean celebrity after they exit the military and G-Dragon himself seemed surprised by the large group waiting for him. The hashtag #ONE_OF_A_KIND_GD trended worldwide for hours to mark the emotional occasion.

BTS at Wembley

BTS made history by headlining London’s Wembley Stadium in 2019. Photo: BigHit Entertainment

In June 2019, K-pop mega stars BTS made history by becoming the first Korean act to headline Wembley Stadium in London. The septet sold out two dates (June 1st and 2nd) at the venue for their ‘Love Yourself: Speak Yourself’ tour and drew in a reported 60,000 fans on each day. Wembley is known for hosting some of the biggest concerts in history, including 1985’s iconic Live Aid Concert which featured performances from the likes of Queen, U2 and David Bowie. BTS vocalist Jin paid tribute to the late Freddie Mercury by leading the audience into the Queen frontman’s famous ‘ay-oh’ chant, which made for a powerful display of music connecting generations.

The Burning Sun Scandal

In March 2019, we saw the beginning of what would go on to become one of the biggest scandals of the K-pop industry. The Burning Sun scandal, also known as the Burning Sun gate, alleged that several Korean celebrities were guilty of sex crimes, including online distribution of sex videos taken of women without their consent, rape, sex bribery and more. The artists involved included Big Bang’s Seungri, singer Jung Joonyoung, Yong Junhyung of Highlight, Choi Jonghoon of F.T. Island and Lee Jonghyun of CNBLUE, while other participants included other businessmen, members of the Korean police force and YG Entertainment’s founder and ex-CEO Yang Hyunsuk. As of now, several of those involved–including Jung–have been convicted and sentenced, while others like Seungri and Yang are still awaiting trial for additional charges of gambling and alleged embezzlement.

The Produce 101 Debacle

IZ*ONE [top] and X1’s activities came to a grinding halt this year in light of the Produce 101 scandal.

In April 2019, the producers behind popular reality idol competition Produce 101 came under fire for rigging all four seasons of the show. The vote-based program results in the formation of a new idol group at the end of each season and it was revealed that several producers had accepted bribes and deals from entertainment agencies to manipulate votes to place certain participants in the final winning lineups. This led to a lengthy court battle and the halt of current promoting groups, X1 and IZ*ONE’s activities. CJ ENM, the entertainment label which leads the operations around Produce 101, held a press conference on Monday, December 30th, to announce that IZ*ONE and X1 will resume official activities in 2020 and release and promote new music. The company further apologized to the artists in both groups.

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The #FightForWonho

When Monsta X vocalist Wonho shocked fans in October 2019 by announcing he would be withdrawing from the group due to alleged rumors and past scandals, it sparked one of the biggest global fan-driven online movements K-pop has ever seen. The group’s fandom Monbebe protested the termination of the singer’s contract by trending hashtags like #FightForWonho and #WeStandWithWonho on social media for over 10 days. Some fans even stood in silent protest outside the group’s label Starship Entertainment’s offices in Seoul, posting supportive notes for the vocalist and begging him and his company to reconsider the decision. While it does not look like Wonho will be rejoining the group anytime soon (Monsta X are currently promoting as six members), fans are determined to keep fighting for him well into 2020.

JYP’s Big Comeback

K-pop legend and CEO of JYP Entertainment Park Jinyoung aka J.Y. Park surprised us all in 2019 by releasing his first single in over three years titled “Fever.” The veteran artist and producer is one of K-pop’s first big super stars, having started his career with K-pop originators Seo Taiji and Boys. The highlight of the entire comeback process however, was his quirky and over-the-top performance at the 2019 MAMA Awards with girl group Mamamoo which had us delighted and stunned in equal measure.

The Launch of P Nation

PSY, Jessi, DAWN and HyunA. Photo: Courtesy of P Nation

“Gangnam Style” hitmaker PSY shook up the industry with the launch of his very own music label and entertainment company, P Nation in January 2019. The producer and CEO’s first move was to sign hip-hop phenomenon Jessi, one of Korea’s most prominent rappers and a force to be reckoned with. Soon after, he brought on-board pop superstar HyunA and rapper Hyojong aka DAWN (formerly E’DAWN of Pentagon.) Both artists had been dropped from their previous label for being in a relationship with each other in 2018, so fans rejoiced when they saw the power couple emerge stronger than ever under a new company. PSY’s final signee of the year was R&B sensation Crush, who had just left longtime label Amoeba Culture.

Sulli and Goo Hara

2019 year saw the K-pop industry lose two talented entertainers, Sulli and Goo Hara, to suicide. Both artists–who died barely a month apart from each other–were two of the strongest, most independent female artists in Korean entertainment and were powerful voices in the fight for women’s rights. Their open defiance of Korean societal norms often brought about waves of online attacks and media-led ridicule, which they admitted took a toll on them. Sulli and Goo Hara’s deaths brought about a massive global discussion around cyber-bullying, the way women are treated by society and celebrities’ mental health.

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The Return of CL

After a three-year long battle with YG Entertainment, CL broke free from her contract with the label and returned to releasing new music in November. The rapper and singer-songwriter left the company after spending 10 years under their roster and almost immediately dropped six tracks and music videos in quick succession. All the songs celebrate her freedom, her fans, her friends and her evolution as an artist. The lead single “DONE161201” came with a fun cameo-filled Instagram-style music video which featured celebrities like Big Bang’s Taeyang, Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, fashion designer Alexander Wang, Sohee of Wonder Girls and CL’s former bandmates from 2NE1. The second music video “REWIND170205″ is a nostalgic collage style tribute to the biggest moments and most important people in CL’s life including other artists, her former bandmates and her fans. All six tracks appear on her new EP In The Name Of Love.

2019 was India’s biggest year for K-pop yet

VAV’s India debut is proof of K-pop’s undeniable and rapid rise in the country. Photograph by Ashish Sahu for Rolling Stone India. Shirts by ZOD!

It’s possible that 2019 has been the biggest year for desi K-pop fans. Some of the artists who made their India concert debuts included groups like KARD, IN2IT, VAV and MustB, plus soloists AleXa and LiveYubin while rookie boy group Mont visited for a second time. The year also saw Rolling Stone India‘s first cover shoot in South Korea featuring IN2IT while VAV became the first K-pop group to have a full-scale photo shoot in India for Rolling Stone India‘s June issue. Twitter trends, K-pop dance covers, and participation in competitions this year from India have been massive–the 2019 Changwon International K-pop Contest’s India rounds saw over 3000 entries. ATEEZ made a video with Rolling Stone India where they tasted various Indian foods their fans had recommended, while IN2IT and AleXa reciprocated the dance cover culture with a performance to “The Jawaani Song” from 2019 Bollywood film Student of the Year 2. Rookie group 3YE joined the Bollywood cover movement with a performance of “Dilbar” while artists like Pentagon, WINNER, Mrshll, Holland, GOT7’s Jackson, and more expressed their interest in visiting India someday and NCT’s Taeyong spoke about his love for Indian singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad’s music on a livestream. BTS’ films Love Yourself in Seoul and Bring the Soul: The Movie did phenomenally across India and as did the launch of their first ‘official merchandise’ in the country through a collaboration with Korean beauty brand Innisfree.

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