The Newbie’s Guide To Kpop: Top 5 Bands Slaying The Korean Pop Scene

For those people who have been die hard Kpop fans for years, watching Korean Pop group, BTS, take home the much coveted Top Social Media Artist award at the Billboard Music Awards last May 2017, elicited the most wondrous sense of triumph. And glee. But for the rest of the clueless people out there— the ones who vaguely equate Kpop with Anime conventions and cosplay, this win came as an extreme shock. Who were these seven random Korean dudes who beat out both Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, and Justin Beiber for the biggest popularity award of the year? Tweets were hashed out, memes were created, and unfortunately, even some racism ensued. But the underlying message to all this, is that Kpop—once reserved for the extreme fringes of the music world—has finally become a global commodity. If I didn’t make myself clear enough— KPOP IS FINALLY RELEVANT. ABOUT TIME. Thus, I feel it is my duty, as one who dabbles in Kpop world affairs, to introduce all the newbs of this world to some of the classic, the up and coming, and the uber lit bands that are slaying it right now in the Kpop scene. Because this is information that is imperative to your central knowledge. You’re welcome.

WARNING: If you are looking for deep, meaningful lyrics filled with vivid imagery and symbolic references to T.S Elliot, please do look else where. Kpop is indeed manufactured music. These Idol groups are strategized up to the smallest detail, from their conceptual image— down to how plastic their noses are. And indeed most of the time, Kpop does sound like plastic. Candy colored, factory processed, plastic music, with a giant MADE IN KOREA logo stamped all over it. However, that is simply the beauty of Kpop, and it is the exact reason why we all listen.

BTS’s attitude to Kpop is almost Avantgarde. They reject the conventional Kpop image of glitter and illusion, and instead focus their words on the grittiness of human emotion. They tackle topics that Korean Pop is quite afraid to speak about— from depression and suicide in ‘I NEED U’, to the aggressive lyrics in ‘Nevermind’— that highlight the dangerous moments of new success, while struggling to come to terms with the opposition and rejection of close friends and family. Furthermore, BTS likes to play with surrealist concepts and metaphor in their music videos. Their single ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ for example, depicts the boys in an almost dreamlike gallery, kissing stone angels with broken wings, downing colorful elixirs, and hanging from the ceiling—their eyes blindfolded. All metaphors for innocence gone slightly rotten. Additionally, because BTS is so active on social media, taking care to acknowledge both their fans in Korea, and abroad— they have gained a tremendously dedicated international fanbase—called ARMY— that has made leaps in bridging the cultural gap between Asia and the West. Also, they pen most of their own songs— which is pretty admirable, not gonna lie.

Look out for their newest album, ‘HER’, released September 18th.

2ne1 exudes the voice of midnight. They are metallic, and raw, and they have this edginess to them that only further emphasizes their extremely strong vocals. Lead singer Park Bom’s voice sounds like roughened velvet, and she emphasizes it by focusing less on choreography and group aesthetic, and more on each member’s individual musical talent. Furthermore, 2ne1’s music video concepts are always so fragmented and surreal—almost like a dystopian film. Their costumes are always gothic, and their eyeliner almost dangerous—yet amidst all the black and white, 2ne1 still manages to retain their sense of a smooth pop persona. I absolutely love their song, “Goodbye”— recently published as a goodbye letter to their fans, after being a group since 2009. Both the vocals, the lyrics, and the smoky symbolic concept behind the music video, display just how beautiful they can be, even amongst all that edge. *Though 2NE1 disbanded this year, I included them in this list as they are a pillar in the Kpop world, and have helped shape what Kpop looks like today. Plus they’re awesome.

Top Song:
I Am The Best

Exo thrives as a group, dancing precisely in motion with one another, almost as if they are one single entity. They focus less on vocals and solo pieces, instead choosing to emphasize the band’s visuals as a group, how each member contributes his part to create the mesmerizing whole. These guys also happen to be some of the best dancers I have witnessed in any country. They move their bodies like a well oiled machine— as if they don’t run on muscle, but on gears. Indeed, Exo possesses a finesse that most boybands we know would be extremely envious of. Their single, ‘Monster’, especially displays how they can each entrance the audience on their own, but when melded together, produce something One Direction wouldn’t have even known how to begin.

Top Songs:
Call me Baby

MonstaX sounds like an experiment. They like to take bits and pieces of sound, as if rummaging through a junkyard, and build them into their songs to create the music. They have a very strong EDM influence, and emphasize it in their music through various strains of dubstep and electronic sound. They also like to experiment with the human voice, incorporating various vocal noises—even shrieks—into their songs, that push the boundaries as to what constitutes music. However, MonstaX then combines their experimentation with verses full of smooth pop vocals, and even chunks of rap— so that you end up with a collage of various genres, almost roughly sewn together.

Top Songs:

Perhaps the most promising band to watch on this list would be BlackPink. Unlike groups such as BTS or Exo, who have already established themselves as international superstars, BlackPink has only been around since August of 2016. However, their music videos have already garnered millions of views on youtube, as well as an international fanbase, called “Blinks”. BlackPink have also made a name for themselves through their stylistic versatility. Though singles like ‘Boombaya’ dazzle with too-bright colors and edgy House undertones, softer singles, like ‘Stay’, reveal a natural, pastel-like side to the group that embodies the “Pink” within their name. BlackPink is indeed a paradox. Both edgy and girlish— BlackPink masters the ability to flip from dark to light—even in the same music video.

Top Songs:
Playing With Fire
As If It’s Your Last

Need to satisfy your (possibly newly acquired) KPop thirst? Check out just one of many playlists on Spotify below:

Bee Dueck

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Great minds. Great music.