Don’t forget about the elders of K-Pop

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Age is a frequent topic in K-Pop. While some criticize the young age at which members start the training process, others are also concerned about “old” K-pop members, those 30 and over. However, there is nothing wrong with being in K-Pop and being over 30. In fact, they are some of the most productive people in K-Pop.

Apparently, 30 is the new 90. It tickled me when I read how someone expressed surprise at the success of the 30-something members of Shinhwa,  as if the members are ready to go to the K-Pop Retirement Home. The media marveled at PSY‘s success in Western countries, partly because of his age:  “One Guardian columnist wondered if PSY, rather than breaking the K-Pop mould, had reinforced stereotypes of socially challenged, middle-aged east Asian men” (McCurry).

One reason for the shocked responses surrounding K-Pop groups and artists has to do with the centrality of youth in K-Pop. Groups continue to debut with young, teenage members. Some groups, like Boyfriend, featured members in their mid-teens when they debuted. The logic goes: K-Pop appeals to teenagers because it features teenagers.

But older K-Pop artists and industry folks, which I lovingly refer to as Old School, are still active and appreciated by K-Pop fans.  Let’s start with the godfather of K-Pop, born in 1972 : Seo Taiji. Although you don’t see him much, you hear about this 40-year-old often because of his continued influence on K-pop.  From career management to marketing, people are still following Seo Taiji’s example.

Right up there with Seo Taiji is Tiger JK.Born in 1974, Tiger JK continues to be active and vocal on a huge number of issues. In March 2012, he responded to several well-publicized incidents involving racial comments and behavior:

However, I think it’s time we should let the kids learn on what’s the right thing to do, and what’s wrong and what not to do. I think we should try to provide them with enough information and opportunities to change their minds regarding racial prejudices.  Racial discrimination and prejudices used to exist in any country throughout the world. But now the world has shrunken into a small global community. Korea is currently enjoying attention around the world with the K-Pop phenomenon along with other human resource (Tiger JK).

One of my favorite members of the Old School is Kangta. Nobody expected a kid with a bowl cut to eventually become an executive at SM Entertainment. Not looking a day over 33, he also has a respectable catalog of material, and rumors persist around a Kangta comeback.

Everyone in Shinhwa is over 30, but that has not prevented the group from selling out their comeback concert and members like Minwoo and Hyesung selling out their own concerts. They have enough energy to star in several dozen episodes of Shinhwa Broadcast.  In the episode below, Shinhwa meets SHINee, and even though old jokes occur throughout the program, you can tell that SHINee still has respect for the veteran group.

[vsw id=”n-ptqMC1Oa0″ source=”youtube” width=”425″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]

Old School K-Pop people also branch out into other areas of entertainment as a way of continuing their careers. Lee Hyori, 33, has not put out an album in a while, but she frequently does photos shoots for major publications. Former S.E.S member Eugene, 31, appeared in the Kdrama Baker King Kim Tak Goo. Also 31, Yuri Sung, maknae of Fin.K.L, starred in Hong Gil Dong, and most recently, Feast of the Gods.


Many of the producers behind your favorite K-pop groups are in their 40s.  Yoo Young Jin, 41, has been involved with some of SM Entertainment’s biggest hits by H.O.T, S.E.S, TVXQ!, Super Junior and SHINee. In an interview, Yoo indicates he is in K-pop for the long haul:  “I want to be a helper to SM and all of its singers. A helper who always does everything that he’s been given to do. I think I’d be very happy if I could sit down in a studio even when I’m eighty and still be creating rhythms” (Kang).

The man behind YG Entertainment, Yang Hyun Suk, 41, continues to be a force in the music industry long after his stint in Seo Taiji and Boys.  Most recently, he has presided over the meteoric and global rise of Psy, as well as successful U.S. tours of Big Bang and 2NE1. He shows no sign of stopping, as SuPearls is only the latest group whose career he has managed:  “Yang Hyun Suk is avidly doing what he can for the girls, training them to have amazing musicality and star quality similar to that of female vocal group Big Mama who has in the past worked with YG” (Leesa86).

Jae Chong, former member of Solid, one of the first R&B groups in Korea, currently produces Aziatix. He has an equally impressive track record at 40. He worked with an international array of artists, including BoA, Kim Gun Mo and JYJ.  Chong recognizes his that years in the industry provides insight. In a recent podcast, Chong noted: “Most people that listen to Aziatix, a lot of them were born after Solid, or they were like, you know, still in their diapers….a lot of our fanbase back then are now in their mid-twenties, approaching their thirties or even in their mid-thirties” (“All Day With Jae!”). That’s right: not only are K-Pop artists and producers over 30, so are fans.

If you are listening to K-pop and are human, you too will eventually become “old.” So perhaps we should lay off all the criticism of K-Pop’s elders. Let’s not break out the walkers and canes just yet.

Is your favourite K-Pop artist/group over the age of 30? Tell us what you think about the central youth theme in K-Pop. Is it writing out the old K-Pop idols?


  • Image: Shinhwa Cosmopolitan, Lee Hyori Marie Claire
  • Video: [ENG] ShinHwa Broadcast EP 13 wit SHINee[part-1] 9th of June, YouTube
  • ACAST Episode 7: All Day With Jae!, Aziatix
  • Kang, Myeong-Suk. “[Interview] Record producer Yoo Young-Jin, Part 3,” Asiae
  • Leesa86, “YG Entertainment to debut SuPearls & new girl group 2012 comes to a close,” allkpop
  • McCurry, Justin.  “K-pop stars: the lowdown on South Korean pop,” The Guardian
  • Tiger JK, “[OP-ED: Guest Post by Tiger JK]A simple suggestion on Racial Prejudice,” allkpop


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