Before Big Bang and partnerships with SnackFever, YG Entertainment was just...YG.
by Rachelle "Roach"
Building a powerhouse entertainment company was just the pipe dream of one of K-pop’s forefathers. Before Yang Hyun Suk became the founder of YG Entertainment in 1996, he was a member of what many consider the first ever idol group, Seo Taiji and Boys. Seo...what, you ask? Great question. Seo Taiji and Boys is a throwback to the early days of K-pop. The three "boys" were one of Korea's first boy groups -- they had an eclectic sound, innovative dance moves, and a style that captivated Korea and paved the way for the K-pop we know and love today. The group came together as leader Seo Taiji, fresh off a stint with a heavy metal band, approached Yang about learning to dance. Yang leapt at the opportunity to work together, and they played around with performance styles and sounds with a third group member, Lee Juno.
From left to right: Yang Hyun-suk, Seo Taiji, Lee Juno. In 1992, the group launched their breakout hit, “Nan Aroyo,” which translates to “I Know.”
Korean music fans didn’t quite know what to think at first, but once the song took off, it took off. It gets credit for launching what we know now as K-pop. The group’s popularity grew over the next four years, and the boys continued to experiment with all types of music on their forthcoming albums.
Don’t think it was all sunshine and kimchi for Seo Taiji and Boys, though. The group received backlash for committing ‘crimes’ like wearing ripped jeans, sporting dreadlocks, and incorporating all kinds of rap, hip hop, rock, and techno beats into their music. Today, Korean artists are similarly often asked to maintain a bit more of a scandal-free facade than many of their Western entertainment colleagues. And yet, YG’s artists are known for some of the characteristics that shocked the country back in the day of Seo Taiji and Boys. Current YG idols like G-Dragon and CL constantly break fashion barriers to worldwide acclaim and release explosive, hybrid music that combines an intoxicating mix of color, street style, and sounds.
That’s in part thanks to Yang’s personal direction. Yang founded YG Entertainment in 1996 after Seo Taiji and Boys broke up, and adopted "YG" from his nickname, "Yang-gun." As the company slowly grew with its first generation of artists like 1TYM, Jinusean, and Seven, Yang tried to maintain a family-like feel of the company (hence the YG Family label). Yang also provided plenty of opportunities to grow within the entertainment world, as we've seen with Big Bang, widely considered to be YG's breakthrough artists. He has also tried to keep a specific vibe alive within his performers and employees. Talent is of course critical, he has said in interviews, but he’s also looking for vibrant personalities and people that understand and thrive in the fast-paced and colorful K-pop universe. Yang, front center, with Big Bang and PSY. Today, YG is one of the leading companies in an Asian music scene dominated by K-pop. The company has expanded into several industries like beauty and fashion, and also gives to causes like disaster relief through its philanthropic division. YG himself is an entertainment personality, too! He's been a judge on the competition show, K-Pop Star, representing his own company, and directed another TV program that led to the creation of Winner. Seo Taiji and Boys might seem like a whole lifetime away from what YG is today. But that’s what YouTube is for.