What is K-pop?: everything you need to know about the Korean music explosion
Staff writer - May 31, 2018

What is K-pop?: everything you need to know about the Korean music explosion

Featuring essential music videos and a guide to the best K-pop groups
BTS: V, Suga, Jungkook, RM (Rap Monster), Jin, J-Hope and Jimin

Let’s start right at the beginning, just in case you’ve been living in a cave on another planet...

K-pop is short for “Korean pop” and has been hugely popular in South Korea since the 90s, although the Korean wave (or Hallyu) has only been an international sensation in recent years.

Essentially, it’s pop music from Korea, but it’s fair to say that K-pop has evolved into a genre that’s far more than just its country of origin.

While it’s not easy to pin down exactly what defines K-pop, catchy pop beats, perfectly choreographed dance routines and a LOT of colour is a good place to start.


One of K-pop’s earliest global breakthroughs was Wonder Girls hit ‘Nobody’ (more below), which made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2009.

And you probably remember YouTube sensation Psy bursting onto the scene with ‘Gangnam Style’ in 2012. Give it another watch below, it’s only had 3.1 BILLION views...

A big part of K-pop’s international success has been how effectively the artists are able to build huge social media followings.

In fact, BTS - arguably the most successful K-pop group of all time - won a Billboard Music Award in 2018 for Top Social Artist.


A post shared by BTS official (@bts.bighitofficial) on

K-pop now has a huge international fanbase, with regular meetups, flash mobs, and Change.org campaigns demanding K-pop tour dates in their countries. There was even a K-pop episode of hit US comedy-musical show ‘Glee’.

K-pop contributes heavily to South Korea's impressive $5 billion music industry and Time magazine has branded the genre as "South Korea's greatest export".

Who are the top K-pop groups?

With new K-pop groups emerging every week and some huge lineups (some bands have as many as 13 members), it's tough to know who's who in the world of K-pop.

So to make your K-pop initiation simpler, here’s your handy guide to some of the best K-pop bands... 


BTS - who drove K-pop fans around the world crazy when they announced their 2018 tour - are the first K-pop band to top the US album charts (with new album ‘Love Yourself: Tear’).

There are seven members of BTS: V, Suga, Jungkook, RM (Rap Monster), Jin, J-Hope and Jimin.

They are probably the best-known K-pop group and are responsible in large part for the current worldwide K-pop fever.

MORE: BTS UK tour 2018: London dates & everything else about the K-pop giants


Exo are a Korean/Chinese K-pop group and have nine members: Suho, Baekhyun, Chanyeol, D.O., Kai, Sehun, Xiumin, Lay (the only Chinese member) and Chen.

If you think nine is a lot for a K-pop group, imagine what it was like trying to fit the original lineup of 12 on stage!

All members have had solo careers and a three-piece version of the band Exo-CBX was formed with Chen, Xiumin and Baekhyun.

Big Bang

With only five members, Big Bang's G-Dragon, T.O.P, Taeyang, Daesung, and Seungri are a bit easier to keep track of than some K-pop groups.

Their best-know hit is probably ‘Fantastic Baby’ (above), which has had more than 350 million views on YouTube.

Wonder Girls

Wonder Girls were the first big K-pop success story. Their hit track ‘Nobody’ made it into the US charts (they did an English version) which lead to them opening for the Jonas Brothers’ world tour.

However, the group broke up in 2017 due to unsuccessful contract renegotiations.


Got7 have been going since 2014 and were recognised for the martial arts-style flips and kicks they pull off when performing live.

The popular K-pop group are Mark, JB, Jackson, Jinyoung, Youngjae, BamBam and Yugyeom.


Not the 17-strong k-pop group you might have been expecting, Seventeen actually has a mere 13 members...

To keep this many K-pop idols in line, the band is broken into three separate units: the hip-hop unit, vocal unit and performance unit.

Unlike many K-pop bands, Seventeen write and produce a lot of their own music.

Girls’ Generation

Eight-piece K-pop group Girls' Generation (originally a nine-piece before Jessica left in 2014) shot to fame with 2009 hit ‘Gee’.

Taeyeon, Sunny, Tiffany, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sooyoung, Yoona, Seohyun have been performing together for almost 10 years, with hit albums in both Korean and Japanese.

What other K-pop bands should I check out?

There are so many up-and-coming K-pop groups, as well as a long list of bands that have helped shape the genre.

Complete your K-pop education and check out Red Velvet, Twice, Wanna One, Monsta X and Shinee

That should keep you going for a while…

Stay tuned to LineUp for more about K-pop, including the announcement of more UK tours.