Korean pop (K-pop) is characterized by its multi-member idol groups and infectious sound, which distinguishes the genre from other forms of world music. New fans of K-pop are often overwhelmed by the various groups and the Romanized names of members which differ from idol stage names. K-pop can provide to some of the most rewarding experiences for music fans, leading to lasting friendships for fans who bond over their mutual love of Big Bang or Girls’ Generation. While this list provides only a small scope of some of the best K-pop has to offer, it can serve as a starting point for new fans. Here are ten groups new K-pop fans should learn about.
1) Big Bang
One of the most anticipated releases of 2015 is the upcoming album from YG Entertainment’s Big Bang. G-Dragon leads the hip-hop infused group, whose members consist of T.O.P, Taeyang, Daesung, and Seungri. Big Bang (which can be stylized as BIGBANG) debuted in 2006 with the album Bigbang Vol. 1. The group experienced their breakout hit in 2007 with the G-Dragon composed, “Lies.” One of the signature songs of Big Bang is the song “Haru Haru” from their 2008 extended play Stand Up. Big Bang’s last studio album was the 2012 critically-acclaimed release Alive, which yielded the hit tracks “Fantastic Baby,” “Blue,” and “Bad Boy.”
Fans of Big Bang are known as V.I.Ps. During concerts, V.I.Ps can be identifed by their crown light sticks.
2) Girls’ Generation (SNSD)
Girls’ Generation or SNSD (So Nyeo Shi Dae) is one of the most beloved girl groups in K-pop. Girls’ Generation debuted as a nine-member group, under the management of SM Entertainment, in 2007. The original roster for the group included Taeyeon, Tiffany, Sunny, Hyoyeon, Sooyoung, Yuri, Yoona, Seohyun, and Jessica, who has since departed from the lineup. With their synchronized choreography and unique vocal composition, Girls’ Generation stole the hearts of K-pop fans worldwide. Some of their notable songs include the infectious fan favorites “Gee,” “I Got A Boy,” and “The Boys.”
Girls’ Generation has also yielded the sub-group TaeTiSeo which consists of Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun. The trio is responsible for the 2012 hit album “Twinkle” and released the commercially successful album Holler in 2014.
Fans of Girls’ Generation are called SONEs. These fans can be spotted in the official color of pastel rose pink and generally show their enthusiasm with heart-shaped balloons.
3) Super Junior
Super Junior debuted as a twelve-member group in 2005. The SM Entertainment group consists of Leeteuk, Siwon, Donghae, Eunhyuk, Heechul, Sungmin, Yesung, Kangin, Shindong, Ryeowook, Kibum and Kyuhyun. Super Junior experienced a breakthrough with their 2009 album Sorry, Sorry. The title track was meteoric success, drawing legions of fans to the group. Other dance pop hits from Super Junior include the 2011 title track “Mr. Simple” and their 2012 release “Sexy, Free & Single.” The group continues to maintain their K-pop supremacy even as the members enlist for for their mandatory military service. Their 2014 release “Mamacita” proved that Super Junior can only get better as time progresses.
Super Junior has spawned numerous sub-unit groups including Super Junior-M. Super Junior-M primarily sings in Mandarin for the Chinese-speaking audience. The eight-member unit group consists of Sungmin, Eunhyuk, Siwon, Donghae, Ryeowook, Kyuhyun, Zhoumi, and Henry.
Fans of Super Junior are known as E.L.F.
2NE1, pronounced “to anyone” or “21,” is a four-member girl group who helped to revolutionize the sound of Korean music through their incorporation of heavy electro-pop and hip-hop. The YG Entertainment group consists of CL, Bom, Dara, and Minzy. Prior to their debut, 2NE1 gained attention with the song “Lollipop” which featured their label mates, Big Bang. The quartet went on to debut in 2009 with the dance track “Fire.” However, most new fans will recognize the tracks from their 2011 extended play album which include the hits “I Am The Best,” “Ugly,” and “Lonely.” In 2014, 2NE1 returned to K-pop with their album Crush which was punctuated by the hit EDM track “Come Back Home.” As CL prepares for her U.S. solo release, the group continues to receive widespread media attention for their overall impact on the evolution of Korean pop music.
Fans of 2NE1 are referred to as Blackjacks.
2PM are a six-member group who helped to set the trend of muscle-bound beastly male idols. The JYP Entertainment group debuted in 2008; the current lineup of 2PM consists of Jun.K, Nichkhun, Taecyeon, Chansung, Wooyoung, and Junho. Renowned for exemplifying the New Jack Swing-inspired sound of J.Y. Park (Park Jin Young), 2PM debuted with the soulful track “Heartbeat.” K-Drama fans will recognize members Taecyeon and Wooyoung from the 2011 musical series “Dream High,” which also starred Kim Soo Hyun. Over the years, the group has demonstrated their ability to segue from power ballads like “A.D.T.O.Y” to dance tracks, which like their 2014 song “Go Crazy.”
Fans of 2PM are known as the Hottest.
f(x) is a five-member electro-pop group represented by SM Entertainment. The Korean-Chinese group distinguishes itself from other K-pop girl groups through its use of electronic dance rhythms and unique vocals. Members of f(x) include Victoria, Luna, Sulli, Krystal, and Amber. The quintet debuted in 2009 with singles but made their mark on K-pop with their 2010 extended play Nu ABO. Popular songs from f(x) include their 2012 release “Electric Shock” and “Red Light” from their 2014 studio album.
Fans of f(x) do not currently have an official name.
Infinite set the bar for synchronization in K-pop dance through their complex choreography which is paired with intricate vocal arrangements. The seven-member male group debuted under Woollim Entertainment in 2010 with the singles “She’s Back” and “Come Back Again.” Infinite consists of Sungkyu, Woohyun, Dongwoo, Hoya, L, Sungyeol, and Sungjong. Their standout releases include “BTD (Before the Dawn) from their 2011 extended play Evolution and “The Chaser” from their 2012 mini album Infinitize. In 2014, Infinite released their second Korean studio album, Season 2, which was promoted with the compelling track, “Season 2.”
The success of the group has led to sub-units which include Infinite H, Infinite F, and ToHeart.
Fans of Infinite as known as Inspirit.
4Minute is a five-member female vocal group which debuted in 2009 under the management of Cube Entertainment. 4Minute consists of JiHyun, Gayoon, JiYoon, Sohyun, and HyunA. The group combines strong vocals with a diverse musical catalog that ranges from jazz-infused songs like “Volume Up” to electro-clash on “Mirror Mirror.” 4Minute tried their hand at hip-hop for the title track from their 2015 release “Crazy.” While other girl groups have launched subunits, 4Minute has yielded two of the most musically diverse unit groups, 2Yoon and Trouble Maker. In 2013, Gayoon and JiYoon came together to release the American Country-pop inspired album Harvest Moon. As part of Trouble Maker, HyunA delivers seductive vocals alongside Hyunseung of the male group Beast.
Fans of 4Minute are referred to as 4NIA.
EXO ushered in the new age of K-pop idols when the award-winning group debuted with twelve members in 2011. EXO are unique in that the group was launched by SM Entertainment with the ability to simultaneously promote to audiences in Korea and fans in Chinese-speaking countries. EXO-K currently consists of Suho, Chanyeol, Baekhyun, Kai, D.O, and Sehun. The Chinese language group EXO-M currently consists of Lay, Chen, Tao, and Xiumin. EXO made a strong impact on listeners with their initial singles “What Is Love” and “Mama.” The group became one of the fastest selling K-pop artists in twelve years in 2013 with their studio album XOXO, which yielded the colossal hits “Growl” and “Wolf.” In 2014, EXO captured the hearts of K-pop fans with their album “Overdose.”
Fans of EXO are known as EXO-L.
Sistar (which can be stylized as SISTAR) are often underrated, but the four-member vocal group received well-earned attention in 2014. The group, which debuted in 2010 under the management of Starship Entertainment, is populated by some of the strongest vocalists in Korean pop. Sistar consists of Hyolyn (Hyorin), Bora, Soyou, and Dasom. Their notable songs include the 2012 title track “Alone” whose Crane Leg choreography led to a dance craze for women in Korea. In 2013, the group delivered their second studio album which was promoted through the title track, “Give It To Me.” In 2014, Soyou experienced widespread acclaim for her hit collaboration “Some” which featured Junggigo, while Sistar charmed audiences with their release “Touch & Move.”
Korean drama fans will recognize Hyolyn from her contributions to soundtracks which include “Driving Me Crazy” from “Master’s Sun” and “Hello, Goodbye” from “My Love From The Star.”
Fans of Sistar are known as STAR1.
About the Writer
Adrienne Stanley is a writer for Kpopstarz, KDramastars and a contributing writer at MTV Iggy. Her passions include a love of K-pop and Asian drama. When she is not writing, she is compiling her favorite music videos for Waywire. Follow her on Weibo and Twitter!