Unless you spent last year in outer space, you will be aware that Asia’s biggest cultural phenomenon of 2018 was the global breakthrough of South Korean boy-band BTS.
In 2018, the Bangtan Boys surged beyond Asia shores – the traditional market for K-pop – and flooded global charts while infiltrating the global consciousness. Not since Psy with his 2012 hit “Gangnam Style,” has a K-pop act been so widely reported in mainstream Western media.
But while Psy’s hyper-popularity soon withered, the pick-up of BTS’ full body of work indicates that the only Asian band to be compared to The Beatles are not going to be limited to one tune with a funky video.
If you are a long-time K-pop fan, this article is not for you. But if you are a new recruit to the BTS Army, and want to know what else is out there in the K-pop universe – or are simply curious to take a peak at a global trend you simply cannot ignore – here are 10 top acts you might want to look into.
Black Pink became the highest-charting female K-pop act on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 55 with “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du.” At the time of its release, the song broke a record as the most-viewed Korean YouTube music video in 24 hours. Latest gossip? One band member is currently dating a member of red-hot boy band EXO. Speaking of which…
Talk about smart marketing: This band kicked off as two sub-groups: Exo-M and Exo-K, performing in Chinese (Mandarin) and Korean respectively. Their first album XOXO (2013), had their breakthrough hit “Growl.” They won global attention when they performed at the closing ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Talk about manufacturing bands from promising raw material: Wanna One was formed out of the “survival” series Produce 101 which aired on Mnet in 2017. The 11-member act was chosen by an audience vote from among 101 trainees. Alas, you are unlikely to see them live as they disbanded at the end of 2018, but YouTube should ensure they are immortalized for posterity.
Sunmi debuted in 2007 as a member of one of the most promising of the pre-BTS K-pop bands, Wonder Girls, but left the group in 2010 to pursue academic study. After three years, she returned to music with her hit “24 Hours” and is now a star in her own right. This has made her a benchmark for wannabe solo artists.
Twice is a girl group with Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean members that was formed through reality show “Sixteen.” They hit the charts in 2016 with their single “Cheer Up” which became the best-performing single of the year. They have been consistent ever since, with their new singles continuing to dominate charts.
Red Velvet are a massively popular, multiple-award-winning girl group, but their most famous moment came when performed before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang during a North-South concert in 2018. Apparently, the youthful Kim was not too put out by their hit “Bad Boy.” Like Twice, their songs are known for their catchy refrains, but also include social messaging.
Arguably the most famous and influential boy band until BTS, Big Bang boasts an impressive roster of members: T.O.P, Taeyang, Daesung, and Seungri, while core member G-Dragon is a superstar in his own right. Currently defunct as the lads do their mandatory military service, there are high hopes that Big Bang will reform in two years’ time.
iKON was introduced via the reality survival program WIN: Who is Next as “Team B” and went on to appear under that moniker in another reality survival program Mix & Match, which determined the seven-member lineup of iKon. The band is noted for writing their own songs rather than performing manufactured lyrics.
Kim Chan-mi (stage name: Chungha) is an ex-member of disbanded girl-group group I.O.I. As well as producing catchy tunes, in a field of really, really good dancers – nobody trains their moves like K-pop peeps – Chungha is known for her best-of-breed choreography. Like Sunmi, she is also one of the leading benchmarks for solo female artistes.
Anyone watching the news will be familiar with the historical and diplomatic spats that poison Seoul-Tokyo relations, but on the pop cultural front, all is cool. IZ*ONE is a South Korean-Japanese girl group founded through the Mnet reality competition show Produce 48. Following the success of their first single, “La Vie En Rose” they are scheduled to make their Japanese debut next month.