K-pop is a musical style from Korea. Korean pop music is upbeat, fun and full of energy, so if you're not convinced, what are you waiting for? With its catchy dance sounds, wildly colorful aesthetics, trend-setting fashion, and million/billion-view videos with perfect choreography, K-pop has become a global phenomenon, ingrained in Korean culture and its celebrities are spreading around the world.
Kpop is part of what's known as "Hallyu," which literally means "Korean wave," used to refer to the colossal and ever-growing impact of South Korean culture, which manifests itself in everything from K-dramas on Netflix to the meteoric rise of K-beauty.
Despite this, K-pop is a cultural export that you may not be very familiar with, even though it is a $5 billion revenue a year in the music industry. In fact, one of K-pop's most popular groups, BTS, sold more albums than Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande in 2020. So we think it's time to know everything about them, because they are becoming more and more important.
But unfortunately, it is impossible to talk about K-pop without being confronted with tragic stories. There is a very high rate of suicides among K-pop idols, including that of Sulli, 25, in October 2019, a former member of the girl group f(x). A month later, Sulli's friend Goo Hara, 28, who played in the group Kara, also committed suicide. In 2017, Kim Jong-hyun, 27, committed suicide, after revealing the immense pressure that comes with the success of his group SHINee. It seems that with the fame of K-pop comes an unbearable standing: that of being perfectly polished, perfectly synchronized and simply perpetually perfect hence the fact that many K-pop stars is resorting to plastic surgery.
"From an early age, Korean idols live a mechanical life, following a Spartan training regime," said Lee Hark-joon, a South Korean journalist. "They rarely have the chance to develop a normal school life or normal social relationships." Mr. Hark-joon also added that K-pop stars are subjected to torrents of online abuse, as their profession is closely linked to social networks. That's why the South Korean government has considered introducing cyberbullying education in schools.
Clearly, there's more to K-pop than its synthesized music and choreography, and it's easy to see why the fascination with this huge genre continues to grow. But for now, what better way to learn about the K-pop phenomenon than through its music? Here we've rounded up the best K-pop bands to get you started on this burgeoning movement. Turn on the Spotify playlist and get ready to tap your feet...
This seven-member Korean boy band has taken the world by storm and is arguably the biggest and most notorious K-pop group. BTS has sold out concerts in the U.S. and the U.K., has hit number one twice in the U.S., has 16 million monthly listeners on Spotify, has sold 16 million albums (Map of Soul is the best-selling album in Korean history), and was the best-selling group at its debut in the 2010s.
According to IFPI's Global Artist Chart, BTS was the second biggest selling artist in 2018 (behind Drake), as well as the only non-English speaking group to chart. The seven members are rappers Suga, RM and J-hope, and singers Jimin, V, Jin and Jungkook.
Composed of the female artists Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa, Blackpink is another girl band born in Seoul that is enjoying huge success. In November 2019, they became the first K-pop group to join YouTube's "billion view club" when the video for their single Ddu-Du Ddu-Du has over one billion views on YouTube.
The only other Korean group to join the club is Psy with Gangnam Style. Blackpink also recently finished their In Your Area tour, which saw them perform in front of about 205,000 of their fans. There are also rumors that the band will collaborate with Lady Gaga for her new album, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
SuperM is the latest K-pop boy supergroup, formed only in 2019, with some of the most iconic artists in the genre. The seven members are part of four successful and still active K-pop groups EXO, WayV, NCT 127 and SHINee.
One of the best-selling boy bands in the world, Big Bang was formed in 2016 and has sold over 150 million records. In March 2019, member Seungri announced his retirement from the industry due to the sex scandals surrounding the Burning Sun nightclub, where the pop star was accused of organizing prostitution, illegal gambling and embezzlement.
5. GIRLS' GENERATION
Known as The Nation's Girl Group in South Korea, Girls' Generation's albums are filled with original electro-pop tracks and in 2017, Billboard crowned them Best K-pop Girl Group of the Decade. The group has eight singers - Taeyeon, Sunny, Tiffany, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sooyoung, Yoona and Seohyun.
Another popular boy K-pop group with top honors, EXO has earned four No. 1 spots on Billboard's World Albums Chart. Formed in 2012, the group performed at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and their music is a brilliant and dynamic mix of rap, hip-hop, R&B and rock.
7. DRUNKEN TIGER
Recognized as one of the pioneers of Korean hip-hop, Drunken Tiger formed in 1999 has won several music awards for their numerous albums. Their first album, Year of the Tiger, was controversial at the time because of its explicit lyrics and deviation from pop culture norms.
8. FLY TO THE SKY
Fly to the Sky is an 1999 R&B duo formed of the artists Brian Joo and Hwanhee. They aren't active anymore.
9. MISS A
Very active girl band between 2010 and 2017, Miss A was formed of singers Fei, Jia, Min and Suzy. Their first track, Bad Girl Good Girl, reached number one on the Gaon Digital Chart, making them the very first group to have a number one debut song on the chart. This song went on to become the top charting song of 2010.
10. SUPER JUNIOR
Super Junior ou SJ a explosé en 2009 avec la sortie de leur single Sorry, Sorry, extrait de leur album du même nom qui a connu le plus grand succès. Leur popularité leur a valu le surnom de "King of Hallyu Wave".
11. NCT 127
This Kpop group formed of 10 men comes from Seoul (hence the 127, the city's longitudinal coordinate) and released their latest album, "Neo Zone,". They are one of the most popular current K-pop groups, with 7.1 million Instagram followers and over 2.4 million monthly listeners on Spotify.
Despite what the group's name suggests, Seventeen is composed of 13 members who are each assigned to a specific sub-unit: "Hip-Hop Unit", "Vocal Unit" and "Performance Unit". Seventeen released their sixth EP You Made My Dawn in January 2019, with the song Home being considered one of their best tracks. Their famous track, Fallin' Flower released on April 1, 2020 is the group's second Japanese single.
Pronounced "tiara," this girl group was active between 2009 and 2017. Their second mini album John Travolta Wannabe (2011) had the first single Roly-Poly which became the most popular and downloaded song of 2011 in South Korea.
14. MONSTA X
Monsta X debuted in 2015 and made great results with its English-language tracks like Someone's Someone and Who Do U Love? In 2019, singer-songwriter Wonho announced he was leaving the group, with Monsta X continuing as a seven-member band. An online petition to keep Wonho in the group garnered over 480,000 signatures.
15. WONDER GIRLS
Wonder Girls group has performed for 10 years, between 2007 and 2017, and are known as "South Korea's Retro Queens" because of their 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s-inspired songs. Their most famous song is probably the single Nobody, released in 2008, which brought them international recognition.
We hope that this top 15 best K-pop groups has made you discover a little more about this growing musical style.