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10 K-pop Groups You Need to Add to Your Playlist

While “Gangnam Style” brought K-pop to the global forefront, there’s a much bigger world of artists and genres worth diving into

Riddhi Chakraborty May 26, 2017
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[L-R] BTS' Rap Monster, Black Pink's Lisa, Big Bang's G-Dragon and EXO's Sehun. Photos: Love You Too Much; F28STAR; Nicole Voon; Excentrique; all courtesy Wikimedia Commons

[L-R] BTS’ Rap Monster, Black Pink’s Lisa, Big Bang’s G-Dragon and EXO’s Sehun. Photos: Love You Too Much; F28STAR; Nicole Voon; Excentrique; all courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Although South Korean producer Psy’s massive success with his 2012 viral hit “Gangnam Style” brought K-pop to international audiences, most people didn’t realize that it was a satirical take on the industry. While many went on to explore and discover a pool of talent, style and aesthetic under the umbrella of ”˜K-pop,’ there remained hesitation among audiences, likely formed by the caricature-ish follow-up Psy singles “New Face” and “I Luv It.” Those songs may be hilarious and catchy, but Psy’s work is not representative of Korea’s music scene as a whole.

Earlier this week, boy group BTS made waves after becoming the first Korean act to win a Billboard Music Award, prompting a flurry of Internet searches about their music.  Solo artists like Dean and Jay Park have gained attention recently for bringing the burgeoning Korean R&B scene to the forefront while Keith Ape, CL and Zico are a few examples of rappers who are stepping into international waters. The Korean music scene is manifold and exciting; there are several artists we couldn’t fit into one list, so perhaps a second part is warranted someday. For now, here are the 10 groups we recommend you add to your playlists immediately.

1. Big Bang

Known as the ”˜Kings of K-pop,’ this five-member group was named the highest-selling band of 2016, beating Maroon 5 by millions of dollars. Big Bang are veterans in the K-pop industry with a career spanning more than 10 years and 140 million records sold. The group initially gained recognition due to their ability to fuse hip-hop and R&B with dance and pop, and continue to bend genres today. Their 2016 magnum opus M.A.D.E. features victorious dance anthems (“Bang Bang Bang”), Nineties-reminiscent pop ballads (“Last Dance”) and generous doses of rap (“Zutter”). Leader Kwon Ji-Yong, aka G-Dragon, is known for his formidable skills as a songwriter and producer, as well as for making waves in the fashion industry.

2. BTS

As the first K-pop group with a Billboard Music Award under their belt, the Bangtan Boys are social media monsters and all the rage in the global music scene today. The seven-member group is known for their involved music videos (almost every video from 2015’s “I Need U” onwards is part of a running storyline), detailed choreography (“Dope”) and powerful lyricism that addresses  issues like politics, depression and female empowerment (“21st Century Girls”). Member Suga, who also produces and raps solo under the pseudonym Agust D, voiced several personal struggles like social phobia, depression and anxiety on his 2016 debut eponymous mixtape, a rare occurrence amongst K-pop idols.

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3. K.A.R.D.

Although they haven’t officially debuted yet, K.A.R.D. has already made a splash across social media as one of the very few co-ed K-pop groups in existence. The quartet consists of two guys, J.seph and B.M., and two girls, Jiwoo and Somin. In addition to the distinctly dancehall sound on their tracks, the group’s signature ”˜hidden’ concept has earned them a large following; after each release, K.A.R.D. reveal a variation of their tracks, either with a temporary guest member (“Oh NaNa” featured label mate Heo Young-Ji) or in a new language (“Don’t Recall” has an English version.)

4. EXO

One of the most globally renowned K-pop acts, EXO was the first to have a Korean unit as well as a Chinese unit within one group. The band gained popularity thanks to their choreography and knack for blending R&B with electronic music; their 2013 track “Growl” from their debut album XOXO propelled them to international fame and paved the way for EXO to become one of the highest-selling Korean groups. Over the past few years, EXO has seen the departure of three Chinese members, bringing the group’s lineup down from 12 to nine, but they continue to produce music in both Korean and Mandarin. Their 2016 studio album Ex’Act proved to be one of their strongest, the dark, trap-influenced single “Monster” acting as a channel that introduced new audiences to the genre diversity within K-pop.

5. Super Junior

In contrast to their name, Super Junior is the most senior group on this list, having made their debut in 2005 under S.M. Entertainment. Consisting of 11 members, the group found global success with the release of their 2009 single “Sorry, Sorry” and are credited with introducing the K-pop boy-band craze to foreign audiences. They have numerous sub-groups designed to cater to specific demographics and are particularly known for their vocal harmonization and exploration of jazz, soul and old-school R&B. After going into hiatus for mandatory military service and solo work post 2015’s Devil, Super Junior will make a long-awaited comeback as a group in the latter half of this year.

6. Girls Generation

Also under S.M. Entertainment, eight-member group Girls Generation or SNSD are often considered the female counterparts of label mates Super Junior due to their seniority in the industry. They initially gained popularity with their 2007 track “Gee” before launching into international success with 2011’s “The Boys.” Although primarily categorized as bubblegum pop, the group explored aspects of retro jazz, hip-hop, R&B on their 2015 studio album Lion Heart. While they are currently on hiatus, several members, including leader Taeyeon, have made successful solo debuts since 2015.

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7. Seventeen

With a total of 13 members, Seventeen are the largest group on this list and one of the youngest, having debuted only in 2015. Dubbed the ”˜self-producing idols,’ Seventeen play a huge part in the writing and production of their own music and are divided into three sub-units: vocals, hip-hop and performance. The group is also responsible for crafting the majority their choreography and gained recognition for their crisp dance formations and synchronicity in the music videos for “Very Nice” and “Mansae.” The release of their latest music video “Don’t Wanna Cry” was followed by the launch of their fourth EP Al1 on May 22nd.

8. Vixx

This six member group’s highly symbolic and dark music videos have earned them the nickname ”˜concept kings.’ Each album, video and live performance is designed around a certain theme; the group’s past thematic ventures include vampires, Jekyll and Hyde, and voodoo puppets with 2013’s “Voodoo Dolls.” The group also drew inspiration from Greek mythology with 2016’s trilogy of albums named after gods: Zelos, Hades, and Kratos. On their latest EP, titled Shangri-La, the Vixx explore their interpretation of East-meets-West; the title track blends seductive R&B with the gayageum (a Korean traditional string instrument) while the music video is a floral, inter-dimensional marvel of aesthetic.

9. Black Pink

As the first girl group to debut from YG Entertainment in seven years, Black Pink has proved to be a force of nature. Reminiscent of their senior counterpart, the now disbanded 2NE1, Jennie, Lisa, Rose and Jisoo stand out amongst their peers due to the focus on a darker, more R&B and hip-hop centered sound on their 2016 debut single “Whistle” than the bubblegum pop that most girl groups build their brand around. The group’s rapper Lisa is from Thailand and is the first non-Korean artist to be signed by YG Entertainment.

10. Shinee

This quintet is one of the most diverse groups in K-pop. Post their 2008 R&B-based debut with “Replay,” Shinee’s five members Onew, Jonghyun, Key, Minho and Taemin developed a habit of adding several new genres to their repertoire with each new release. So far the group has dabbled in forms of electro-pop (“Lucifer”, “Ring Ding Dong”), alt-R&B (“Tell Me What To Do”), hip-hop and dance music (“View”). Sounds on their 2015 studio album 1 of 1 gave off a distinctly late Eighties/early Nineties vibe, bringing in funk, new jack swing and R&B reminiscent of Michael Jackson, New Edition and H.O.T.

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