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The Guide to Getting into K Pop [The History, Where to Start, and Who Fans Are Obsessed With]

K-pop (Korean Pop). You’ve probably heard of it. Hell, you’ve probably seen the fan-cams on Twitter, too. Brought to the States by the beauty of cultural diffusion, South Korean culture as a whole has taken the West by storm. Cosmetics, skincare, TV, video games, fashion, and of course, music. As you may know, South Korea is an intercontinental force to be reckoned with. They lead the world in internet connectivity, male cosmetics, fast food delivery, and plastic surgery, so it is no surprise that they’ve revolutionized the music industry as well. Does “Gangnam Style” sound familiar? South Korean pop star PSY released this worldwide hit in 2012, and it has since influenced global pop culture unlike anything that’s been seen before. Becoming the first YouTube video to reach 1 billion views, “Gangnam Style (강남스타일)” marked the beginning of the Hallyu (한류) wave, a.k.a. the sweeping global popularity of South Korean pop culture exports.


Fast forward to now, the K-pop boy group BTS (also known as the Bangtan Boys or Bangtan Sonyeondan) could easily be equated to the present-day “Gangnam Style” craze. Their group has reached unprecedented global popularity and have garnered immense exposure in the West, and with their popularity came even more K-pop interest. One Direction and The Beatles level interest. So, what’s so special about K-pop anyway? Doesn’t every country have pop music? Well, yes, but K-pop isn’t a global phenomenon for no reason. Some of the most addicting components of Korean pop specifically include intense (and impeccably synched) choreography, innovative (and sometimes outrageous) fashion, ear-worm inducing lyrics (yes, even if you don’t speak Korean), and an overall energetic wholesomeness that is unmatched anywhere in the world.
No matter your taste, I guarantee that there is a K-pop group out there for you. And when it comes to any K-pop group, you can fully expect to see amazing choreography, danceable and addicting beats, and stunning fashion. All in all, this Hallyu wave K-pop craze is definitely something to look into. The hype is well-deserved, and I bet it will be like nothing you’ve ever seen before. So where do you start? Look no further than the guide below.

An obvious starting point, the golden boys of K-pop

BTS (방탄소년단). As mentioned above, they are trending HARD. Their massive pool of passionate fans is growing every day, and their atomic explosion onto the international music scene has rocked the world. You really can’t go wrong with these guys, just pull up their discography, close your eyes, and point randomly and I’m sure you’ll land on a banger of a song. As an avid “I loved them before they were popular” fan, I will give some humble recommendations.

My song Pick: “I Need U”, 2015
My album Pick: The Most Beautiful Moment in Life: Young Forever (화양연화 Young Forever), 2016
Most Popular: “Boy With Luv (작은 것들을 위한 시) feat. Halsey”, 2019
Most Recent: “Dynamite“, 2020
(Their first English single!)

P.S. Do yourself a favor and listen to BTS leader RM’s emo-in-the-best-way solo album ‘Mono’. *chef’s kiss*


Bubblegum Pop

You want lovable. You want sweet. You want aegyo (애교). For the newbies out there, aegyo is a Korean word for ALL THINGS CUTENESS. Baby voice? CHECK. Pastels? CHECK. Puppy dog eyes? CHECK, CHECK, CHECK. In Korean pop, aegyo lurks in every corner, and you’re hard-pressed to find any group without it. Still, when I think aegyo, I think TWICE and SEVENTEEN. These groups house the real-life anime sweethearts of your dreams.

TWICE (트와이스)


My song Pick: “TT”, 2016
My album Pick: twicetagram, 2017
Most Popular: “FANCY”, 2019
Most Recent: “MORE & MORE”, 2020

SEVENTEEN (세븐틴)


My song Pick: “Happy Ending”, 2019
My album Pick: Going Seventeen, 2016
Most Popular: “Don’t Wanna Cry (울고 싶지 않아)”, 2017
Most Recent: “Left & Right”, 2020


Badassery


Ready to crack open a can of kickass? Or at least bask in the presence of people who you’d probably want to step on you? These groups have just that, with the songs and clothes to boot; smokey eyes, chains, and an above-average amount of leather. This wouldn’t be a badass category without mentioning the worldwide girl-power inspirations, aka “the only gang that run the game in high heels”, BLACKPINK. For the boys, MONSTA X’s hardcore beats and bad boy vibe puts them at the top of the roster. As a bonus, both of these groups have had AMAZING crossover projects with western artists (hi Dua Lipa and French Montana!!)

BLACKPINK (블랙핑크)


My song Pick: “How You Like That“, 2020
My album Pick: SQUARE UP, 2018
Most Popular: “Kill This Love”, 201
Most Recent: “Ice Cream (with Selena Gomez)“, 2020
(YES, THAT COLLAB HAPPENED)

MONSTA X (몬스타엑스)


My song Pick: “RUSH (신속히)”, 2015
My album Pick: THE CLAN Pt.2.5 ‘BEAUTIFUL (아름다워)’, 2017
Most Popular: “HERO”, 2015
Most Recent: “FANTASIA”, 2020


Kings and Queens of Duality

No, you don’t have to pick just one style! These groups can do it all; from cute to sexy and everything in between. Kpop is a genre of duality, so you can find any vibe you can think of in each and every group, but these are some of my favorites. Red Velvet and PENTAGON, the masters of duality!

Red Velvet (레드벨벳)


My song Pick: Russian Roulette (러시안 룰렛)”, 2016
My album Pick: Perfect Velvet, 2017
Most Popular: Bad Boy”, 2018
Most Recent: Psycho”, 2019

PENTAGON (펜타곤)

My song Pick: Gorilla”, 2016
My album Pick: UNIVERSE: THE BLACK HALL, 2020
Most Popular: Shine (빛나리)”, 2018 (ok so there is one fortnite dance in this choreo but please forgive me)
Most Recent:
Dr. BeBe (Dr. 베베)”, 2020


For those of you who don’t speak or read Korean, the world of K-pop can feel like an intimidating and confusing place. But don’t fret, because K-pop is becoming more and more accessible! And trust me, you don’t have to be familiar with Korean language or culture to enjoy K-pop. Don’t shy away from non-English music! It’s such an amazing outlet through which you can expand your worldview, learn about different cultures and languages, and have lots of fun in the process. And in the meantime, we at the K will be here to help lead you down the yellow brick road of K-pop and Korean culture. This is but the first step — there will be lots more K-pop content to come, so buckle up!

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