K-pop, a.k.a. Korean popular music, has taken the world by storm. Over the last decade, South Koreans produced content that enjoyed a newfound appreciation for its creativity and culture. With shows like Squid Game becoming one of the highest viewed shows on Netflix, to Psy’s Gangnam Style being one of the most viewed videos on YouTube – it’s undeniable that Korean content is famous all around the world. In K-pop, bands and individual artists are adored by fans worldwide.
K-pop is infused with traditional Korean sounds while celebrating western influences like hip-hop, R&B, and electronic dance. Since it debuted in the ‘90s, K-pop has produced a wave of successful boy and girl groups during its rise to dominance. Synchronized singing and dancing in a group is the hallmark of K-pop bands, and the flashy visuals and hook come simultaneously. Whether people understand the lyrics or not, you can find people bopping to K-pop songs anywhere. If you want to read about the introduction to K-pop, read here.
Over the years, K-pop bands have captivated audiences and developed massive fan bases with their uplifting and inspiring songs. K-pop artists, also known as idols, are known to work tirelessly and go through years of extensive training before they hit the stage. Their dedication and sincerity with which they produce their art are indeed commendable.
This seven-member boy band is currently the biggest name in K-pop. Originally known as the Bangtan Boys, BTS experienced tremendous success after its 2013 debut. The band had four No. 1 albums and five consecutive No. 1 singles. They also made history as the first Korean band to perform at the American Music Awards in 2017 and became the first Asian act to win the American Music Award for Artist of the Year in 2021.
BTS has performed sell-out arena shows across the US and the UK and has achieved two No. 1 albums in the US. They have sold more than 32 million albums domestically and have 40 million monthly listeners on Spotify (as of writing). The group has an estimated net worth of $100 million, with each idol having around $20 million individual net worth.
Blackpink is probably the Korean equivalent of Spice Girls. Consisting of members Jisoo, Rose, Jennie, and Lisa – they are a four-member K-pop girl group who made history as the first K-pop girl band to perform at Coachella in 2019 and the first highest-charting K-pop girl group in the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard 200. They also were the first-ever K-pop band to join YouTube’s “billion views club,” when their single Ddu-Du Ddu-Du was played more than a billion times on the website.
Known for their fashion, style, and choreography, the group has expanded into sponsorships with MAC Cosmetics and the Calm app. They also even had their very own Netflix documentary. In 2021, Lisa went solo and released her debut.
Super Junior or SJ rose to international fame with the release of their best-selling single Sorry, Sorry in 2009, which was also from their most successful album of the same name. Considered as the biggest K-pop group, Super Junior had 13 members at its peak. Since its debut in 2005, the group ruled the charts many times, with their hit songs Bonamania in 2010, Mr. Simple in 2011, and Sexy Free and Single in 2012.
Their popularity during the late 2000s to early 2010s made them the “Kings of Hallyu Wave” (the wave of popularity of K-pop worldwide).
Known as “The Nation’s Girl Group” in South Korea, Girls’ Generation was the all-female counterpart of Super Junior. They were originally a nine-member group, but they are currently composed of eight members: Sooyoung, Taeyeon, Tiffany, Sunny, Seohyun, Yoona, Yuri, and Hyoyeon. Since their debut in 2007, the band has enjoyed immense popularity with the release of Gee in 2009.
The group appeared in 2012 on Late Night with David Letterman and became The New Yorker’s K-pop focus. In 2013, the group won the Video of the Year at YouTube Music Awards.
Another wildly popular K-pop group with accolades to boot – EXO has scored four number 1’s on the Billboard World Albums chart. The group was formed in 2012 as SM Entertainment wanted to win over the Chinese market, so it became the first Korean-Chinese all-male group. EXO-K targets the Korean market, while EXO-M does the same for China. Their music is a bright, upbeat mix of rap, rock, hip-hop, and R&B. All members are born after the ‘90s, making them a vibrant, young K-pop group.
In 2012, when they released MAMA in both Korean and Chinese, both versions topped the charts in both countries. In 2013, they released XOXO (Kiss and Hug), and it quickly gained the number one spot on Billboard’s World Music chart.
The male K-pop group Big Bang was formed through a TV series called Big Bang Documentary in 2006. For the next years, the R&B-inspired band made waves as one of the biggest K-pop bands in the 2000s and helped spread the Korean Wave internationally. Big Bang was originally comprised of five male members: TOP, Taeyang, Daesung, G-Dragon, and Seungri. In 2019, Seungri departed from the group surrounding scandals.
Big Bang received a lot of accolades throughout their career and have toured 12 countries as a group. Due to the mandatory military service requirement in South Korea, members of the group enlisted in the military in 2017. The group announced that they are making a comeback in the spring of 2022.
Despite what the group’s name suggests, Seventeen consists of 13 members who are each assigned to one of their three sub-units: Hip-hop Unit, Performance Unit, and Vocal Unit. With millions of followers across different platforms and more than ten albums to boast about, this boy band is a force to reckon with.
The band was honored with the Prime Minister’s Commendation in South Korea in the year 2020. They started the year 2021 with a bang coming in as the first group with two No. 1s on the Billboard Top album sales. They were also nominated for the Best K-pop award at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards.
Founded as part of the competition survival television program Sixteen, Twice is an all-girl group formed by JYP Entertainment. The group comprises nine members: Momo, Nayeon, Sana, Jihyo, Dahyun, Mina, Tzuyu, Chaeyoung, and Jeongyeon. They released their debut EP in October 2015, entitled “The Story Begins.”
Their music video for Like Ooh-Ahh garnered 50 million views on YouTube, making them the most-viewed debut music video for any K-pop group. Since their first concert in 2017, they continued to amass big success as they released follow-up albums. In 2021, Twice broke Fifth Harmony’s record as the biggest first week for a girl group EP when they released Taste of Love.
Red Velvet is a four-member K-pop girl group formed and managed by SM Entertainment. In 2014, they released their first single, Happiness. Interestingly since they are named after a cake flavor, their first album was named “Ice Cream Cake.” Their 2017 album “The Red Flavor” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard World Albums chart. They also made history as the first K-pop girl group to have three No. 1 albums that debuted on the World Albums Chart.
Red Velvet’s group members are proud ambassadors for Salvatore Ferragamo Global, Prada, and Tod’s. They also landed endorsements with Converse Korea. Their music is filled with a texture of 90s music, jazz, R&B, funk, and EDM.
The Wonder Girls ran for ten years – from 2007 until 2017 when they officially disbanded. They were known as “South Korea’s Retro Queens” because their songs were inspired by the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Their signature dance moves and catchy tunes put them in the number one spot on Korea’s music charts during their peak.
Their most famous song is their 2008 hit single Nobody, which brought them international recognition. The song made it onto Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles, getting them to perform an English version on their American tour in 2009.