4TH GEN LEADERS
K-Pop 4th Gen Leaders: Who's The Top?
Blu Brown, Reporter
September 28, 2022
In the K-pop world, there’s usually arguments about who the 4th gen leader is, specifically around the 4th generation of K-pop itself. Is it Stray Kids? Is it ATEEZ? No one really knows, but amongst the debates it’s usually around the top groups that make it from the hierarchy. The six groups I’ll be focusing on are Stray Kids, ATEEZ, TXT, ENHYPEN, P1Harmony & The Boyz I’ll be focusing on eight categories: vocals, rapping, dancing, music production, concepts, stage presence, popularity/reputation and lyrics.
Stray Kids formed from one of the Big 4 companies, JYP Entertainment, alongside going through the survival show, Finding Stray Kids. The eight members consist of Bang Chan, Lee Know, Hyunjin, Changbin, Seungmin, I.N, Felix, and Han; their former member being Woojin, who left in December 2017. They’re mainly known for their EDM construction noise type music and catchy music, such as Thunderous and Miroh, but the group has gone through lots of controversial scandals too.
ATEEZ (pronounced Ay-Teez) were formed by KQ Entertainment, which were also home to Block B, another big group during the 3rd Generation. The eight members consist of Seonghwa, Hongjoong, Wooyoung, Yeosang, San, Yunho, Jongho and Mingi. This group is known more for their rapping skills, but also for their former Pirate concept that gained popularity throughout the years.
Speaking of concepts, TXT is next up on the list. The group is the younger brother group to BTS, the biggest and most popular group to date, and was formed by HYBE Entertainment, formerly named BigHit Entertainment. The five members are Yeonjun, Beomgyu, Soobin, Taehyun, and Hueningkai. This group was very big on its lore and was more on its bright side of things before they recently had a concept change to become more darker and punk rock with their title track “Good Boy Gone Bad."
ENHYPEN, also coming from HYBE Entertainment, had been formed by their own survival show “I-LAND,” with the final seven member lineup being six Korean members Heeseung, Jay, Jake, Sunghoon, Jungwon, Sunoo, and one Japanese member Ni-ki. This group was known for their lore towards their vampire concept, which even got them to get their own Webtoons comic called “Blood Moon.” Surprisingly, not a lot of people didn’t like their change in music quality after the end of their dashed albums, an example being one of their best title tracks from their debut being “Given-Taken.” As for the last two groups, they’re more known for their numbers in members which tends to give fans more choices in members for a bias, but unfortunately takes a part in favoritism and solo stanning.
The first group we’ll get into out of the two is The Boyz. This group was formed from IST Entertainment, formerly known as two entertainment companies; Cre.ker Entertainment & Play M Entertainment.
There’s a surprising 11 members in the group; Sangyeon, Jacob, Younghoon, Hyunjae, Juyeon, Kevin, New, Q, Juhaknyeon, Sunwoo, and Eric with their former member being Hwall, who also left in December 2017.
P1Harmony was formed in FNC Entertainment. The lineup consists of six members, Keeho, Theo, Jiung, Intak, Jongseob, and Soul. The group is also known for their rapping, but also for their vocals from Theo and Keeho. The group even had their own movie after the group debuted.
#6 – The Boyz
As much as I appreciate The Boyz, unfortunately they’re at last place. For vocal quality, they’re mid-par but they’re around idol quality so you can’t really expect much unless it’s a typical teeny bop K-pop song. As for rapping, they’re OK but only Sunwoo tends to stand out well apart from the other few rappers in the group such as Juhaknyeon and Eric, but they’re very good at dancing. They have very difficult choreography to dance to, such as Stealer and Bloom Bloom, but they do pretty well. For music production, they used to be pretty good during their debut days according to most of the Deobi’s (TBZ’s fandom name). As for now, they seem to have gone from pop to all the way EDM, then to pop again. This was ok for me, not too preferable in the long run if I tend to listen to their songs too much. Then again, their songs aren’t too good to listen to for a long time. In almost every song, the lyrics tend to focus more about love, being some sort of villain or hero, or something else along those lines. Their concepts are a bit confusing, but they have done a variety of them which shook a lot of Deobi’s time to time before it became predictable, formerly going from bright and peppy to dark and mysterious.
The group could use some work on their stage presence. Unfortunately, the group isn’t too popular since they come from a more unknown company. They do tend to get attention when it comes to their music, unless it’s from shock. Their fandom on the other hand is very kind and welcoming to new people when it comes to learning about the group or even supporting them. They’re known more well internationally than domestically in Korea.
#5 – P1Harmony
P1Harmony is also one of those groups that have so much potential that tends to get very overlooked. On vocal quality, they’re very good, but they usually get unseen and get overshadowed by other groups. As for rapping, it’s a bigger advantage for the group with Intak and Jongseob taking the reins, with Soul and a few of the other members hopping out to join them occasionally. They’re dancing is also done pretty well, but it’s not too outstanding for some standards. Their music production does a pretty fantastic job, but it’s not too intense or too plain. We can get a pretty significant arrangement of songs on their discography, such as the cozy typed mood of “If You Call Me” to the hype beats of “That’s It” or “Reset.” Their concepts aren’t too bad, but in a general circumstance it’s unclear. The group does seem to have a ‘break the rules and find your way’ type of concept though, so that’s pretty good to me.
Stage presence to the group isn’t too big, but if they do tend to keep up the good work, they’d get pretty far in my standards. They’re a pretty new group, so they have time to improve. P1Harmony’s lyrics on the other hand are also pretty memorable, but not to the point where the lyrics make them go mainstream. The lyrics would be towards the self-love and exploration type that most groups do these days. Though they’re a bit on the sort of popular side, they aren’t too well known talent wise, as the group is sadly labeled as one of the “funny” groups. And as one that relates, it’s always the talents and efforts that a group puts in more than their looks or their humor. They’re also one of the many nugu groups that are known more internationally than domestically.
#4 – ENHYPEN
ENHYPEN is currently one of the most popular 4th gen groups out right now. From looking through the vocals, they’re very good but mainly Heeseung tends to stand out from the rest of the group. They do tend to do ok though, mainly from their ballads as it seems to be more vocal and dance based. Rapping on the other hand? Not so much. It was only until their recent comeback with their title track “Pass the Mic,” where Jay and Ni-ki had their chance to rap. Dancing is definitely one of one the group’s biggest strengths. The main dancer Ni-ki is one of the best dancers to date, despite him debuting at the very young age of 14. He can learn dances in under 30 minutes and tends to help his members when practicing different dances.
For music production, it seemed to have changed greatly from their debut until now. During their debut, “Given-Taken” was very heavenly once you’d be able to hear the strums of the harps in the background all the way to the beats. It seemed to have stayed that way until “Pass the Mic,” where it focuses more on a hip-hop type of sound apart from “Blessed-Cursed,” which had more of a punk-rock type of sound. Their concept was very focused on the boys being vampires, even attending a school for their supernatural abilities until it had slightly changed during their recent comeback. Stage presence is very on par, and almost as if they’ve performed for years. Their lyrics are sort of good too, but it could use some work for a few members since some of them help out with songwriting behind the scenes. Their popularity is no big joke, apart from being part of one of the big 4 companies and being the youngest brother group to the two biggest older brother groups possible, mainly BTS. They did have some controversies though, which hasn’t really done them well. They’re known well both internationally and domestically, since Sunghoon was one of the national ice skaters of South Korea before he became an idol.
#3 – TXT
Now that we’re on to the top three groups, or the group that I call “The Holy Trinity of the Big 4,” TXT is up to 3rd Place. Their vocals are astounding and noticeable. Whether it’s Yeonjun showing off his all-rounder skills or Taehyun, the group is definitely known to have you think about their vocals and melodies. Yeonjun is a stellar rapper despite not coming from an underground rapper background, or doing anything too extreme in the rapping field. One of his popular raps is in the song “Cat & Dog” and “Good Boy Gone Bad.” As for dancing, they’re definitely shown to be one of the excellent groups filled with dancers, especially when they have a few difficult choreos to dance to such as “Blue Orangeade” or “Crown.” Their music production has been amazing non-stop since their debut with their bubblegum pop songs with few ballads, but it has changed a lot from their current comeback. They found a new sound in being a edgy punk rock beat, just like I mentioned with ENHYPEN’s “Blessed-Cursed.” Not many MOA’s (TXT’s fandom name) seem to be at peace with it. As someone who formerly had a big rock and screamo phase back in middle school, I was completely in love with how well they fit with it, especially since other groups these days seem to be getting into it. The same thing can be said for their concept change, that not only completely shocked me but other MOA’s too, apart from their last comeback that was more alternative like. As for why, I’m assuming they wanted to ditch the bubblegum pop image after their Blue Hour era or to continue on with their own lore as almost every group in HYBE does. Their stage presence is more charming than most groups, mainly from their certain songs that they’ve performed such as Blue Hour. They even show their cheery and bubbly side all the way to their more edgy bad boy side the more you take a look into their discography.
Lyricism with TXT doesn’t disappoint. From expressing heartbreak to comfort, they always get the theme and message of their songs that they want to express and probably make the song even more meaningful to themselves. As the group is once again considered “The Holy Trinity of the Big 4,” the group is for sure to be around third place when it comes to popularity. The fandom may be big, but at times they don’t seem to reach many fans, except when they tend to get mentioned as “the younger brother group” of BTS and “the older group” of ENHYPEN. The group, however, is giant both internationally and domestically.
#2 – Stray Kids
Stray Kids is in second place. As they’re another part of the trinity, they’re a force not to be reckoned with, mainly from their fandom. On vocals, they do well but it’s not something that they’re too well known for. Individually though, it’s a different story. Rapping is the complete opposite for the group. The main foundation for them is alongside a sub-unit called “3Racha” that showcases Han, Bang Chan and Changbin’s rapping. Han is the rapper that focuses with the rhythm and beat of his raps, sometimes mixing in with the other guys. Changbin is the more speedier rapper of the trio, handling most of the harder pieces of the raps that some of the members can’t do, whereas Bang Chan is the rapper that focuses more on wordplay and catchy parts of the raps. With the trio together, they’re pretty much indestructible but they’re also pretty good solo. As for dancing, they’re completely professionals. The main members Hyunjin, Lee Know and Felix for sure tend to gain attention when dancing alongside the group, and can dance to almost any choreo that they learn, whether if it’s from a girl group or from a song by a Western artist.
Music production for Stray Kids is basically the same music quality that they’re known for: EDM, noisy construction music which is a controversial topic music wise in the K-pop world. Notably, it seemed to have gained a sound growth towards other groups that either hit or miss when using the EDM noise music field, but not for the Stray Kids who are the poster boys. If you like that type of sound, then this is one of the many groups that are right for you. They have extraordinary lyricism when it comes to their songs, many talking about school life while others talk about struggles with mental health and other such things related to their concept. Speaking of such, they don’t seem to have a specific concept or show their “wild side” against the world, hence their group name. Their stage presence makes them seem as if they’re a group that seems to have already made their own mark on the stage, as most of the members take their time to get comfortable around the stage and to capture the hearts of fans.
Onto their popularity, it’s no joke how big of a name they’ve gotten over the years. Apart from having Big 4 company privilege, they’re one of the top groups that have their albums sold out in seconds. They’re a bit too toxic and dangerous for their own good though, since they’re known to be very defensive over the group towards certain controversies and they have a nature to be invalidating to POC fans too, mainly Black fans. Though I have left this group due to the many scandals and controversies the group put upon themselves, I do respect them but tend to stay away from them for my own sake and to protect myself from getting torn to shreds from the fandom in case another scandal pops up. Fortunately, they sometimes have good music that I listen to, and as many people claim them to be the leader of the 4th generation, it’s completely untrue.
#1 – ATEEZ
Last but not least, ATEEZ comes in first place. Although the group comes from a lesser known company, they’ve always been putting in the hard work and effort that they needed to get themselves to the very top. Vocals are one of the main assets that the group uses to the fullest. Their main vocalist Jongho is a powerhouse when it comes to his ability on reaching any high note. With him, anything is possible when it comes to any song and making perfect harmony alongside his other members, whether it’s Seonghwa or Mingi. Their ballads are a perfect example of showing how beautifully their tones and ranges blend in together to make the most perfect melody and emotion for that type of song. When it comes to rapping and dancing, they go hand in hand with each other This has gained the group to be considered monster rookies ever since day one. With Mingi and Hongjoong’s perfect rhythm, beat, and flow, they always know when to hop in or when to let the other finish within their verses. Their recent title track “Guerrilla” even switched things up a bit to give things a little flair. For the more dancer focused members, San is one of the most professional dancers I’ve ever seen and the man is giving his all 24/7. Some of the stans also joke around about how ‘possessed’ or ‘rabid’ he gets when he tears up the dance floor.
The music quality, lyricism, and production within their songs never misses since there’s a different genre within the songs for everyone. Whether it gives ballads, sci-fi tunes, or even a rock anthem type of sound, the group never ever has a bad song. The lyrics within their songs for sure define the songs as its own story or movie, or just overall sets the whole mood. The concepts that ATEEZ brings on to the table doesn’t disappoint either. Once I saw their pirate concept from debut all the way to Wonderland, I was for sure getting the message that the group was one to keep an eye and support throughout their years. Even their rock concept is one of many that suits them and brings in so much more possibilities for them, just as much as their bright concepts that tend to make me surprised but happy. When stage presence is mentioned, they’re instantly the number one group that gets called out first, not because they’re popular and known for how they tear up the stage, but why and how they give their all into every single performance that they do regardless of certain conditions. When tearing up the stage, they give that impression to people new and old that they’ve been performing for years when the group has been active for around 3 years.
What surprises me the most about them, is how fast they’ve grown and how they’re still making their importance in the industry today. The first time the group went booming was when they used to be known as “KQ Fellaz.” They released performance videos, which racked up millions upon millions of views. Only then they’ve gotten massive over their constant bops of songs and different concepts that they group rocked with everytime. ATEEZ is popular both internationally and domestically.
After reviewing all of these groups, who truly is the leader of K-pop’s 4th Generation? Though not many people would for sure agree on an answer, my verdict is ATEEZ.