Five K-pop groups you need to follow now you know BTS and BLACKPINK
When K-pop exploded into western culture in the later half of the 2010’s, the music world as we knew it was shook. Acts like BTS and BLACKPINK smashed the Billboard charts and broke YouTube records. They’re performing at major US and UK awards shows and festivals like Coachella, selling out arenas, collaborating with massive artists, and winning over millions of fans with their unstoppably catchy genre-defying mix of pop, hip-hop, EDM and more.
Who are these flawless creatures who can sing, dance, rap, and act, and all at the same time? What is going on in South Korea, and why is their music so damn catchy?
The world of K-pop is vast, and complicated. And with new groups debuting every week, finding the best groups and freshest tracks can be a hyper-real YouTube nightmare too overwhelming to dive into. So here’s five noteworthy groups that are a must-listen for any discerning new K-pop fan looking to dive a little deeper.
EXO aren’t in any way newcomers, but are a must-listen if you’re interested in K-pop. They debuted in 2012 and have 7 albums under their belt, not to mention live albums, Japanese albums, and multiple subunit side projects, solo releases, and collaborations. They were also named power celebrities by Forbes Korea every year from 2014 – 2018, have multiple massive endorsement deals, sold out the Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul five nights in a row (for reference – that’s the equivalent of 21x Rod Laver Arenas), and have sold literally millions and millions of records.
Featuring leader Suho, and current members Xuimin, Kai, Chanyeol, Baekhyun, Sehun, Lay, D.O., and Chen, the group are one of the biggest K-pop groups of all time, and aren’t showing signs of slowing down. Their latest album, Obsession, was released at the end of 2019 and marked not only a new concept of dual personalities, darker visuals, complex emotions, and hyper-real imagery of the members as good and evil doppelgängers, it also is the first album the group have released with members missing from promotions due to mandatory 21-month military enlistment (Xuimin enlisted in May, D.O. will in July).
Dark and sexy, the title track is predominantly EDM and hip-hop based, with warped and distorted vocal effects playing off their dual personality concept, layers and layers of samples, and a heavy dance beat.
And what’s a K-pop video without the visuals? Exo are famous for their choreography, and their key dancers (particularly Kai) show off what makes them so damn good. Sharp lines, flawless synchronisation, popping and locking weaved into smooth body rolls and contemporary moves. The clip finale above culminates in an intense world-class dance battle between the good and evil doppelgängers. What’s not to love?
Originally debuting as a quartet in 2014, and now featuring five members, Red Velvet are regarded as one of the most popular girl groups currently active. They’ve had nods from Billboard and Time Magazine, and received several awards for their music, choreography, and popularity. The group are also hailed as one of the country’s most talented idol groups and considered a major contributor to the initial worldwide explosion of K-pop, according to the director of the Korea Foundation for International Cultural Exchange.
Featuring members Irene, Seulgi, Wendy, Joy, and Yeri, Red Velvet have released two studio albums, one reissue album, one compilation album, and nine EP’s. They were the first Korean girl group to hit the top spot of the US iTunes Album Chart, and went on to top the chart again 3 times in a singular calendar year.
True to their name, Red Velvet have a unique sonic duality which often combines sensual, colourful, powerful and sophisticated concepts. Through their lyrics and aesthetics they have come to epitomise the image of modern, strong, elegant and complicated young women, an element that was missing from K-pop concepts before their debut. Their music also ties in to the theme, as they sing about a wide spectrum of topics and emotions, and merge together genres – predominantly pop and hip-hop with 90’s RnB.
Their latest release ‘The ReVe Festivale’ Finale (the third part in a release trilogy) gave us lead single “Psycho” in December last year, complete with an uber-glamorous video filled with elegant and dark costumes and smooth, sultry dance moves as they croon about the emotional ups and downs of a relationship.
Dozens of rookie K-pop groups debut every year, but not many have made such an impressive first steps into stardom as Ateez. The 8-member group only debuted at the end of 2018, but in two short years they have proven to be ranked among the greats for their dramatic concepts, flawless and powerful dance routines, and catchy AF singles.
Making their first live appearance on M Countdown with single “Pirate King”, the group went on to win a wash of Rookie awards, along with the Fans Choice award At Mnet Asian Music Awards, Next Generation Award at Golden Disc, and Best Performance at Soribada. They also embarked on their first ever world tour – taking them across Europe, Asia, Russia, and even Australia. For a group so young, this is an incredibly impressive feat.
One of the stand-out remarks for Ateez has always been their intense and powerful performance. Blending powerful hip-hop elements and melodious electronic dance music sounds, members Hongjoong, Seonghwa, Yunho, Yeosang, San, Mingi, Wooyoung and Jongho utilize their unique knack for blending huge pop hooks with passionate chants in an almost call to arms for any listeners to come join in on their one-of-a-kind music intensity.
Recent single “Answer” comes off their Treasure Epilogue : Action To Answer EP, marking the band’s fifth release together after just 15 months. The song puts an emphasis on irresistible top line melodies and heart fluttering pre-choruses while still staying true to the band’s tribal-like verse and chorus chant deliveries. The video is downright cinematic, with beautifully bleak scenery, multiple costume changes, synchronised dance moves, and a healthy serving of bonus hip thrusts.
If Red Velvet are the sultry, sophisticated older sisters of K-pop, Twice are the bubblier, brighter, more bubblegum younger siblings. Don’t think that makes them any less powerful, Twice are the best-selling K-pop girl group of all time.
The group is composed of nine members: Nayeon, Jeongyeon, Momo, Sana, Jihyo, Mina, Dahyun, Chaeyoung, and Tzuyu and debuted in 2015 after being formed on reality show ‘Sixteen’. Within their first year, the group had already topped the GAON Digital chart and won “Song of the Year” at two major music awards. Within 19 months, Twice had sold over 1.2 million units of their four EPs and special album.
Praised for their polite media presence, teamwork, and unique and individual charms and personalities, Twice quickly became household names among the Korean and Japanese public, with four members being ranked in the 2019 list of top 20 ‘favourite’ Idols.
Their bright and catchy music which leans heavily on energetic pop, electro-pop, and dance music influences, along with charismatic point choreography (many of which have gone viral as memes, Tik Tok dances, and even imitated by other celebrities), as well as consistently killing the matching outfit game, has poised Twice as a group difficult to match.
2019 single “Feel Special” is the title track off their Eighth EP, and was their 12th music video to reach 200+million views (let that sink in). Highlighting their vibrant and uplifting aesthetic, with groove laden bass and quirky synth, the track weaves between soaring atmospheric verses and perky pop raps, all wrapped up in a glittering hyper-colour music video showcasing each members distinct personalities in their own individual sets and concepts.
Brought together from auditions held in South Korea, Thailand, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong, Got7 debuted in 2014 from one of the more eclectic mix of backgrounds and circumstances, and consists of seven members: JB, Mark, Jackson, Jinyoung, Youngjae, BamBam, and Yugyeom.
Describing themselves in the beginning as predominantly a hip-hop group, they drew instant attention for their live stage performances, which often included elements of martial arts tricking, b-boy styles, and street dancing. Their first album shot straight to #1 on the Billboard world charts. But by the end of that year, the group began to move slightly away from their martial arts and b-boy style choreography beginnings, and Got7 as we know them now was born.
Their more recent releases also incorporate delicate aesthetics, haunting ballads, modern concepts, and flawless pop vocals. They really are the epitome of K-pop at its best: bringing together a wide range of influences and styles and merging them together into something brand new and unique.
Since their debut, Got7 have not slowed down. From topping charts, to touring the world, to launching sub-units, solo releases, and collaborations, not to mention members finding the time to act in wildly popular K-dramas, Got7 ended 2019 by winning their first ever Daesang (Grand Prize) at 4th Asia Artist Awards for Performance of the Year, and at #4 on Billboard’s Year-End Social 50 Artists Chart.
Flip to 2020, and they have arguably released their best work to date. Single “Not By The Moon” off their eleventh EP Dye is a permanent pledge of love. Mournful, romantic, and powerful, the single layers classical instrumental elements with cascading synth and building drum beats as the song struggles between the light and the dark. Complete with a Romeo + Juliet themed video as princes donning iron masks and feathers, and contrasting outfits of black and white, Got7 continue to enchant their fans seven years later.