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Who to stan? A beginner’s guide to K-pop

Who to stan? A beginner’s guide to K-pop

Who to stan? A beginner’s guide to K-pop
April 22
12:00 2022

K-pop. It could be considered a new phenomenon, but K-pop artists have been making waves in the music industry for decades. Artists like BTS, Blackpink and even PSY with “Gangnam Style” have brought K-pop to the forefront of 2000’s pop culture. 

K-pop is a South Korean musical genre characterized by merging styles of pop, hip-hop, electronic dance and more along with tightly choreographed dances. In the early 00s, K-pop became one of South Korea’s major cultural exports with the industry raking in about $10 billion each year. 

One of the biggest drives for K-pop are idols. K-pop idol culture started after the 1992 debut of hip-hop singer/rappers trio Seo Taiji and Boys. Their fusion of American pop music with Korean lyrics resulted in large popularity in Korea and entertainment companies soon took advantage of the opportunity for profit and created copy-cat groups that copied this style of music. Idols have continued to evolve with second, third and fourth generations of stars debuting each year. 

Idols go beyond the music and are representatives of South Korean fashion, dance and visuals. Potential K-pop idols have extensive training in dance, vocals and foreign languages in trainee systems ranging from months to years where trainees work for the chance to debut either as solo artists or in groups. 

K-pop has so many artists it can be hard to know where to start if you want to listen. Here are some groups and solo artists to check out. 

Boy Groups

  1. BTS 

BTS, also known as the Bangtan Boys, is a seven-member  South Korean boyband who debuted in 2013 under Big Hit entertainment. Arguably one of the most popular K-pop groups, BTS is known for their dance breaks, rap verses and lyrics which focus on themes of mental health, coming of age and individualism. BTS has made waves globally with hits “Butter” and “Dynamite” which both topped the Billboard Hot 100 and have earned the group Grammy nominations. Songs to listen to are “Black Swan” and “Permission to Dance (R&B) Remix.” 

  1. Stray Kids

Formed through the survival show “Stray Kids” in 2018, Stray Kids have been described as K-pop, hip-hop and electronic music. Their music has been labeled as “mala-flavor genre” for their distinct combination of genre and sound. While I’m more of a girl group fan, their song “Maniac” caught my attention. Their sixth EP “Ordinary” topped the Billboard 200 Albums chart, making them the third group to do so after BTS and SuperM. Their second world tour “Maniac” is scheduled to begin in late April with shows in South Korea, Japan and the United States. 

Other boy groups worth checking out are NCT, ATEEZ, EXO and Seventeen. 

Girl Groups 

  1. BLACKPINK

Blackpink is the revolution. Often stylized as BLACKPINK, Blackpink is a girl group formed under YG Entertainment with members Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa. Debuting in 2016, the group was the first girl group under YG in six years. Blackpink is the highest-charting female Korean act on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Ice Cream” peaking at 13, and on the Billboard 200, hitting number 2 with “The Album.” Their music videos for “Kill This Love” and “How You Like That” each set records for the most-viewed music video within the first 24 hours of release. To be on your way to becoming a Blink, listen to “Boombayah” and “Lovesick Girls.” 

  1. TWICE

Twice, stylized as TWICE, is a nine-member group under JYP Entertainment who debuted in 2015. Twice rose to fame in South Korea with their single “Cheer Up.” Most recently, Twice has garnered attention with their first English-language single “The Feels” which became their song to enter the US Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart. Songs to check out are “I CAN’T STOP ME” and “Alcohol-Free.”

There are so many good girl groups, but the six you need to check out, in my opinion, are Itzy, STAYC, Red Velvet, Billie, G-IDLE and I’VE. 

Solo Artists 

While groups may get a lot of attention on social media, there are so many solo artists who have been killing it in the industry for years. Check out singer-songwriter and rapper CL who has been on the scene since 2019. Her single “Lover Like Me” is a song worth a listen or two. Jeon Somi is a personal favorite with songs “XOXO,” “DUMB DUMB” and “Birthday.” Newly debuted as a solo artist in January, Yena is another solo artist to have on your radar with her EP “Smiley.”

Other solo artists to listen to are Jay B, Gray, Hwa Sa and IU.  

K-pop can be intimidating to get into, but pick an artist and give them a listen. 

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas 

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Hannah Johnson

Hannah Johnson

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