Ten years ago, you couldn’t dream of going to a bar and hearing the DJ play your favorite K-pop song. Nowadays, there’s a K-pop dance night every other weekend! Over the last decade, modern idol K-pop fandom has been splashing over the entire globe like a tidal wave. And thanks to the recent success of K-pop superstars BTS, the Korean Wave has officially flooded American audiences with its distinct, spicy flair.
Modern K-pop originated in the early ’90s and soon gained popularity with teenagers and young adults after introducing its unique idol culture. Influenced by various styles from around the globe, K-pop finds its roots within traditional Korean music and infuses hip-hop, jazz, R&B, reggae, electronic dance, and classical to create a catchy pop music sound. Now imagine all that combined with impeccable choreography, outlandish outfits, outrageous music videos, and gorgeous idols. What more could you ask for?
Here you’ll find a short list of K-pop idol groups you should be listening to right now. From old-timers to up-and-coming acts, this compilation is sure to get you out of that chair and ready to learn some new dance routines! And before you know it, you’ll find yourself obsessed just like the rest of us.
What happens when you mix bubblegum pop, candy culture, rap, and electronic music together? The answer you’re searching for is MOMOLAND. This quirky, all-girl group first debuted in 2016 and is made up of nine members. Their charming innocence mixed with ridiculous antics gives them a special charm, which we can see in the kooky “Banana Chacha” and intoxicating, techno-driven “Baam”. Their sound is heavily influenced by other artists such as Psy and Exid and ropes in listeners with impossibly catchy, robotic beats.
Pentagon is an up-and-coming, nine-member boy band heavily influenced by electronic dance music. The group showcases alluring vocals, captivating choreography, a unique electric swing vibe, and, of course, body rolls worth drooling over. Pentagon’s music ranges from lively, whistle-worthy melodies such as “Naughty Boy” to the bluesy Elvis-inspired rap anthem “Critical Beauty”.
MAMAMOO is the perfect blend of jazz and R&B sung by four feisty ladies I’d love to be in a girl gang with. Their combination of honey-coated vocals and roaring raps leads its listeners on a bubbly wave of electropop beats and sensuous harmonies. This mesmerizing quartet’s repertoire ranges from ragtime piano-inspired tunes like “Piano Man” to Eminem-influenced rap beats such as “1 cm”.
An essential part of K-pop is excellent choreography and body rolls as smooth as jelly, both of which SF9 have nailed. Consisting of nine members, Sensational Feeling 9 is a blend of electronic and hip-hop music that also infuses elements of traditional pop rhythms in melodious songs like “Mamma Mia” and trap-heavy beats such as “Roar”. Since their debut in 2016, they have somehow managed to release six EPs and recently held their first concert earlier this year. I wonder what they’ll do next?
Obsessed with the kawaii aesthetic? Then you need to check out Orange Caramel! This adorable trio was obviously heavily influenced by candy culture and involves an overwhelming amount of cute mannerisms and colorful outfits. Their sound is soaked in bubblegum pop, covered with catchy synthpop beats, and would make the perfect soundtrack for a video game. And just when you think they can’t get any cuter, they come out to play dressed as your favorite fairy tale princesses or various types of sushi. Orange Caramel’s sound is rooted in traditional house techno beats like “Shanghai Romance” and slow, heart-wrenching melodies such as “Love Does Not Wait”.
Commonly known as the “princes of K-pop,” SHINee have been wowing audiences since 2008 with their electronic, R&B, and funk rock infusion. In the last decade, SHINee have blessed fans with bewitching electro dance numbers like “Sherlock” and mesmerizing electro pop numbers such as “Good Evening”. In 2017, the band suffered a major loss with the death of beloved member Kim Jong-hyun, and earlier this year the remaining members were forced to take a hiatus in order to serve their country as part of Korea’s mandatory enlistment. We hope to see their triumphant return in 2022!
Rarely do we ever see mixed gender groups in the K-pop industry, which is what makes KARD so special. Infusing EDM and hip-hop, this unique quartet have dazzled audiences with groovy electro tracks such as “Oh NaNa” and sizzling numbers like “Don’t Recall” since their inception in 2016. 2019 proves to be another exciting year for KARD with the announcement of their fourth comeback and the release of their latest Latin-influenced single, “Bomb Bomb”. We just can’t wait to see what their future will hold.
EXO swept away fans with their unique infusion of trap, synthpop, and hip-hop back in 2012. What makes this group so special is that it’s composed of both Korean and Chinese members, and their music is released and performed in three different languages: Korean, Mandarin and Japanese. How cool is that? And if that wasn’t enough, the nine-member group have continually graced us with impeccable choreography and sensual rain dances. The group even have their own unique mythology, which assigns elemental powers of nature to each member. From beastly electro tracks such as “Wolf” to wavy trap-infused numbers like “Ko Ko Bop”, EXO have made it very clear that they are a force to be reckoned with.
Third generation bad boys MONSTA X slammed into the K-pop world in 2015 with seven drop-dead gorgeous members, hypnotic electronic beats, and enough energy to knock you on your feet. Their sound is heavily drenched in EDM and trap, highlighting intoxicating hip-hop beats in songs like “All In” and fresh rap anthems like “Dramarama”. And as they dance amidst fire and water in the entrancing “Alligator”, you can’t help being awestruck. Be sure to catch these guys on their US tour later this year!
Just when you thought you’d gotten your emotions in check, NCT came and crashed into existence with four separate sub units and 18 members in 2016. Their name, Neo Culture Technology, symbolizes unlimited members, and each sub unit is based in a different city. As a result, NCT synthesizes bombastic trap melodies, captivating harmonies, and wobbly electro beats sung in various tongues such as Korean, Mandarin, and English. NCT definitely packs a punch, and it’s easy to get swept away by boisterous tracks like “Fire Truck” and trap-based echo rhythms like “Boss”. Be sure to catch them on their US tour this month!