No matter how hard you’ve tried not to, you’ve probably already heard a K-pop song.
Unless you managed to somehow escape the 2012 mega-viral popularity of Psy's “Gangnam Style” unscathed, you, my friend, have already been touched by the K-pop gods. Or more accurately, K-pop god: YG Entertainment, one of Korea’s “Big 3” labels. (S.M. Entertainment and JYP Entertainment are the other two.) Still, though being signed to these labels has its perks, it doesn’t guarantee fame, and other outlier labels that have found success and even surpassed the triumverate.
Tonight, Monsta X will perform as part of KDWB's Jingle Ball; they're the first K-pop act to be a part of the annual IHeartRadio winter showcase, signalling how much the music has broken through with American audiences. K-pop tracks have ranked on American charts as early as 2009, and ever since, K-Pop artists have had brief but successful stints in the U.S.
Then 2017 happened. BTS won Top Social Artist at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards, beating Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, and Shawn Mendes. That win put K-Pop on the radar of English-speaking media in a major way.
K-pop is a tricky genre to define. As Suga of the group BTS describes it, it’s “‘integrated content.’ K-pop includes not just the music but the clothes, the makeup, the choreography. All of these elements… amalgamate together in a visual and auditory content package.”At its core, K-pop takes inspiration from Western music and constantly genre-bends, so there’s a group or a song for most everyone. Here’s a quick primer to get you started.
Who: Monsta X
What: Jingle Ball’s bid to seem hip to the K-pop loving youth
Members: Shownu, Kihyun, Minhyuk, Jooheon, I.M, Hyungwon, and Wonho
For fans of : Hip-hop/EDM hybrids, THEY, Calvin Harris
Biggest hit: “Jealousy”
“Jealousy” is the heavy hitter on the group’s sixth “mini-album,” The Connect: Dejavu, with seamless transitions, elements of EDM, and a bridge that might just remind you a little of the hook from Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison.”
Writer’s recommendation: “Shoot Out”
The most popular track on the group’s latest album, Take.1 Are You There?, “Shoot Out” is a great example of Monsta X’s high-energy electrodance sound.
Who: NCT 127
What: The perfect act for when you want to feel like you’ll never learn all the members’ names
Formed : 2016
Members: Taeil, Johnny, Taeyong, Doyoung, Yuta, Jaehyun, Win Win, Jungwoo, Mark, and Haechan
For fans of: Hip-hop/R&B, Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign
Biggest hit: “Regular (KR Version)”
“Regular,” an exciting Latin-tinged trap track about working hard, living lavishly, and “going higher... like Kanye,” is the lead single from of the group’s first album as a sub-unit.
Writer’s recommendation: “Regular (English Ver.)”
The same track as above, but the English language lyrics might help you ease into the group’s other songs.
What: Everything you want in a girl group—plus two rappers
Members: Jenni, Lisa, Rosé (pronounced: Rose), and Jisoo
For fans of: Poppy hip-hop, Dua Lipa, Little Mix
Biggest hit: “Ddu-du Ddu-du ”
A trap-influenced summer track off the group’s third EP, not only did “Ddu-du Ddu-du” ddo-do really well in Korea, it also hit #55 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Writer’s recommendation: “Kiss and Make Up” (with Dua Lipa)
If you’re looking for a gateway song, “Kiss and Make Up” is perfect. It’s about just what it says, and it transcends the language barrier, with the singers singing in their native languages.
What: "THIS IS THE MOST UNDERRATED JYP ARTIST EVER. THE NEED ATTENTIONNN” – YouTube commenter.
Members: Jae, Young K, Wonpil, Dowoon, and Sungjin
For fans of: 5 Seconds of Summer, the 1975
Biggest hit: “You Were Beautiful”
This sad yet endearing song has captivated MyDays, as Day6’s fans are known. Slow and smooth, the track reminisces about the good times of a relationship without wanting to go back.
Writer’s recommendation: "Shoot Me"
One of the punkier tracks in Day6’s discography, “Shoot Me” is strategically decorated with synth sounds. It’s about a relationship where one partner’s words become more and more piercing, and for the sake of the relationship, the other partner accepts it.
What: That one K-pop group that’s E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E
Members: Jin, RM, Suga, Jungkook, Jimin, V, and J-Hope
For fans of: Justin Bieber, Pharrell.
Biggest hit: “Fake Love”
A No. 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (and No. 2on the U.S. iTunes Chart), “Fake Love” talks about the difference between perception and reality in a tainted love affair. It’s from the group’s third studio album and fuses hip-hop and rock.
Writer’s recommendation: “Waste It On Me”
Technically a Steve Aoki song, with RM, Jimin, and Jungkook lending vocals. The group’s first song entirely in English, it debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. iTunes Charts.
Who: Red Velvet
What: Coming soon to a city near you… well, Chicago, anyway.
Members: Irene, Wendy, Seulgi, Joy, and Yeri
For fans of : Ariana Grande, Fifth Harmony.
Biggest hit: “Bad Boy (KR Version) ”
Produced by the Stereotypes, known for their work with Bruno Mars (“Finesse (Remix),” “That’s What I Like,” “24K Magic”) this is concoction of melodic perfection. Influenced by ’90s R&B, the song offers both soothing vocals and delightfully unexpected turns.
Writer’s recommendation: “Bad Boy (English Ver.)”
Once again, for those who prefer to be eased into music sung in a foreign language, the English version does a great job of maintaining the magic of the original.