Are you a K-pop novice but dying to know what all the fuss is about? Maybe you’ve stumbled upon some BTS memes and are genuinely confused. Is your teen really into Blackpink and you just want to find common ground? Then you’ve come to the right place. If you aren’t already listening to this genre of music, you totally should be — and we can help get you started on your journey! K-pop, or Korean popular music, is part of the “Korean wave” — aka Hallyu. This term refers to the movement of Korean pop culture — music, movies, and television — that is gaining notoriety in Asia and worldwide.
We’ll give a brief rundown of who the most established K-pop bands are, where they got their start, and how to start listening if you’re interested. We’re also going to share some notable K-pop songs so you can see for yourself how insanely talented these artists really are. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that each song is basically an earworm.
Let’s get started.
What is K-pop?
K-pop is music originating in South Korea, with a sound influenced by many musical styles from all over the world — gospel, rock, jazz, hip hop, R&B, funk, country, electronic dance, classical, and more. Of course, most prominently, you’ll hear sounds inspired by traditional Korean music.
K-pop is not just a style of music; it’s full-on performance art. The artists’ instrumentals, choreography, and wardrobe all speak to the level of work they put into their craft. And while K-pop may have Asian origins, it is now a global phenomenon.
How did K-pop get its start?
Most people agree that K-pop got its nascent start in 1992 when Seo Taiji and Boys performed their debut single, “Nan Arayo (I Know),” at a televised talent show. It was the first time pop music had been blended with South Korean culture. According to the scoring panel, the performance was a bust, but then the song went on to top South Korean music charts for an unprecedented 17 weeks — the longest No. 1 streak in the country’s history for fifteen years after that.
When Seo Taiji and Boys disbanded in 1996, they paved K-pop’s path to success and for other emerging Korean artists. Another K-pop group, a boy band aptly named H.O.T., made their grand entrance shortly after. By 1999, after being asked to perform at a benefit concert with Michael Jackson, H.O.T. was a worldwide sensation. From there, thanks to the rise of media and the internet, K-pop has steadily grown in popularity and is now a mainstay in pop culture all over the world.
K-pop Songs to Get You Started
“Boy With Luv” — BTS
BTS is one of the most popular K-pop groups in the world. You’ll see them mentioned more than once on this list. Here’s a song from 2019, “Boy With Luv.” It’s upbeat and catchy, and though you may not understand all the lyrics, you’ll quickly find yourself humming along.
“How You Like That” — Blackpink
Blackpink is an all-girl ensemble, every bit as popular as BTS. Their song, “How You Like That,” will have you up on your feet dancing in no time. The women that make up Blackpink are incredibly talented singers, dancers, and all-around performers.
“Call Me Baby” — Exo
With smooth beats and dancing reminiscent of boy bands popular in the ’90s and early aughts, Exo’s “Call Me Baby” feels like a callback to simpler times.
“Dynamite” — BTS
Another fan favorite by BTS, “Dynamite,” is performed in English, with catchy lyrics you’ll be humming all day long.
“Love Scenario” — iKon
Though performed in Korean, “Love Scenario” is captioned in English, making it easy to follow along. You don’t need captions, though, because the video tells a beautiful story all on its own.
K-pop Girl Groups
Want to know more? Here is our comprehensive — and growing — list of the most popular K-pop girl groups today. Dive into the sublime discography of each and dance your days away.
- Cherry Bullet
- Fromis 9
- Purple Kiss
- Rocket Punch
- Secret Number
K-pop Boy Bands
Love BTS but want even more boy band jams? Here’s a list to get you started.
- Stray Kids
- Wanna One
- Monsta X