Korean pop music (known in the West as K-pop) is an umbrella term for pop music originating from South Korea, usually similar in genre to pop in the United States. However, the material performed/produced by K-Pop artists covers a wide variety of genres, from EDM-inspired music to rock to softer ballads, and everything in between. Usually known outside the country for the numerous Idol Singers and idol Boy Bands and Girl Groups in the industry. K-pop and other Korean based entertainment such as Korean Dramas first became very popular throughout Asia in the 2000s, in a phenomenon that has been nicknamed the "Hallyu" or "Korean Wave". Like many things in South Korea, the talent agencies managing the singers are mostly based in Seoul.
Outside of South Korea, K-pop is most popular in Indochina, Central Asia and Latin America, particularly in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Peru and Argentina.
The term "K-pop" is somewhat controversial, however. Its legitimacy (since it originated in Western media) and its exact meaning are still debated to this day - in and outside of Korea. Does it refer to all Korean pop music, or just idol music? Is it a genre or an industry? Does the "K" in "K-pop" denote the Korean identity and unique aspects of Korean pop, or is it just otherizing it away from so-called "main" (that is, Western) pop? Notably, even some Korean artists are reluctant to describe it as a music genre rather than an industry or a dance/music/visuals package with a diversity of music genres. This is all complicated further by its use in Western media, with music platforms labeling Korean music of any kind as "K-pop" (even indie artists), with Minority Show Ghetto implications.
A stage musical inspired by the phenomenon, KPOP, played Off-Broadway in 2017 and is set to open on Broadway in November 2022. The Broadway cast includes a number of Real Life Korean pop stars.
Notable Korean Pop artists:<!—index—>
- Seo Taiji and Boys: Highly influential Hip-Hop/pop/rock trio from The '90s, led by mastermind Seo Taiji. Widely considered the Trope Maker of Korean Pop music as we know it today. Massively popular and critically acclaimed, they challenged the Moral Guardians of the time by working independently from TV stations, including social critique in their lyrics, and mixing Western and Korean music genres (including, most notably, rap) in what became the Genre-Busting sound that would later characterize what we know as K-pop. Seo Taiji is still active as a solo artist after the group's disbandment, while fellow ex member YG would go on to create YG Entertainment, one of the three most powerful Korean music companies known as the Big Three.
The Big Three
The three biggest and most powerful agencies/labels in the Korean music industry (at least for part of the Turn of the Millennium and most of The New '10s).
- See SM Entertainment for more details.
- Girls' Generation
- Girls' Generation-TTS note
- Oh!GG note
- Jessica note
- Tiffany Young note
- Sooyoung note
- Seohyun note
- The Grace
- The Grace - Dana & Sunday
- H.O.T: Considered the first Kpop idol group and Trope Codifier for the Korean idol formula.
- Billlie (managed under Mystic Story Entertainment, a subsidiary label of SM Entertainment)
- LUCY (managed under Mystic Story Entertainment, a subsidiary label of SM Entertainment)
- NCT U
- NCT 127
- NCT Dream
- Red Velvet
- Red Velvet - Irene&Seulgi
- Super Junior
- Super Junior-M
- Zhou Mi
- Super Junior-T
- Super Junior-M
- Super Junior KRY
- Super Junior Happy
- Super Junior-D&E
- Super Junior-M
- JYJ note
- The Blue
- Kangta & Vanness
- S.M. The Ballad
- Younique Unit
- S.M. The Performance
- Jun. K
- Baek A Yeon
- JJ Project
- J.Y. Park
- Stray Kids
- 2020 - Eyes Wide Open
- 2021 - Formula of Love
- Wonder Girls
- XDinary Heroes
- 2NE1 (disbanded in 2016)
- Akdong Musician
- Hi Suhyun
- Big Bang
- GD & TOP
- Seungri (former)
- Epik High (former; they left the company in 2018)
- iKON (former; they left the company in 2022)
- Lee Hi (former; left the company in 2020)
- PSY (former; left the company in 2018)
- 2012 - "Gangnam Style"
The Black Label (subsidiary)
- 8eight (inactive)*
- 2017-18 - LOVE YOURSELF Series
- SUGA (also known as Agust D)
- GLAM (disbanded in 2014)*
- Homme (officially disbanded in 2018)
- Lee Hyun
SOURCE MUSIC (subsidiary since 2019)
- GFRIEND (former; left in May 2021)
- Kim Sowon
- Le Sserafim
PLEDIS Entertainment (subsidiary since 2020)
- After School (inactive)
- After School REDnote
- After School BLUEnote
- Orange Caramelnote
- Pristin (disbanded in 2019)
- Pristin Vnote
KOZ ENTERTAINMENT (subsidiary since 2020)
BELIFT LAB (founded jointly with CJ ENM in 2020)
- Hanbin (former; left the company in 2021)
ADOR (founded in 2021)
HYBE LABELS JAPAN
- Kyungmin (left the company before debut)
WM Entertainment (subsidiary since 2021)
- Oh My Girl
- Lee Chaeyeon
DSP Media (subsidiary since 2022)
High Up Entertainment
- WJSN (Cosmic Girls)
- WJSN The Black
- WJSN Chocome
- Mad Clown
- Monsta X
- Sistar (disbanded in 2017)
- Hyolyn (former; left the company)
- Soyou (former; left the company)
- Hello Venus
- Ong Seongwoo
- Weki Meki
- Coed School
- F-ve Dolls
- T-ara (former; left the company in 2018)
- T-ara N4
- Shannon Williams
- Eric Nam
- SG Wannabe
- Jay Park
- Simon Dominic
- Lee Hi
- Bang Yongguk
- Nine Muses
- Nine Muses A
- Moon Hyuna
- ZE:A (Children of Empire)
- ZE:A J
- ZE:A 4U
- ZE:A Five
- Teen Top
- Dal Shabet
- Girl's Day
- AA (Double A)
- A.Kor Black
- BBde Girl
- Berry Good
- Bonus Baby
- The Boss (aka DGNA)
- Brown Eyed Girls
- Clazziquai Project
- Crayon Pop
- Strawberry Milk
- BÉBE YANA
- DASONI (aka SoljiHani)
- GI (Global Icon)
- Girls Girls
- Honey Popcorn
- Kang Daniel
- Kim Beom-Soo
- Kim Gun Mo
- Ladies' Code
- LedT (aka LED Apple)
- Lee Jung Hyun
- Lee Sora
- Lim Kim
- LOONA 1/3
- ODD EYE CIRCLE
- Lee Hyuk
- NS Yoon-G
- Oh Hyuk
- Park Jung-Hyun
- BP Rania
- Cosmic Girl
- Alex Reid
- Rolling Quartz
- Secret Number
- Son Dam Bi
- Sunny Hill
- The Rose
- XENO-T (aka Topp Dogg)
- Kim Jong-Kook
- Ulala Session
- Weki Meki
- Wonder Boyz
Positions and roles assigned to idols in the Kpop scene:
Most Kpop groups tend to have assigned positions and roles for their members. These positions often come with a main and a lead, based on their skills and abilities.
It's important to note that not all groups have these positions with the same strict criteria and rules. Some groups may forgo all these roles and have a more flexible arrangement (or even start out with assigned positions only for these to lose relevance later on), while others may have well-rounded idols that can assume different roles at once.
Positions and roles commonly found in Korean idols groups are:
- Vocalist: There are at least 2-3 vocalists in a group and the more members a group has, the more vocalists they would have.
- There are three 'levels' or types of vocalists: the main vocalist, the lead vocalist, and the sub vocalist or simply a vocalist. The main vocalist has the best singing skills and technique out of all the members, which is what earned them this position. They usually have the most lines and/or the hardest notes (highnotes, adlibs, etc.). There is usually only one main vocalist per group.
- Dancer: Similarly, there are two levels under this position; main dancer and lead dancer.
- Main dancers are, again, the members with the best dancing skills and technique in the group. They're often in the front of the group's formations or take center stage during the choreography, especially during dance breaks. Meanwhile, lead dancers are only a level below the main dancers in terms of dancing, basically the second best.
- Rapper: Likewise, rappers follow this same pattern as well. However, many groups only have one primary rapper because the genre and style of the group doesn't allow for much space for rap in their songs. Some groups don't have rappers at all.
- The majority of idols in this position get called "idol rappers", because they don't really write their own raps and are assigned this role by their companies regardless of their rapping skills (a.k.a not "real" rappers). However, there's plenty of idols who still write their own raps, particularly found within groups with a Hiphop and Trap focused sound - with some even coming from the underground rap scene before joining the group.
- Visual: Simply put, they are the best looking/most attractive member of the group.
- Precisely speaking, however, they're the member with features that fit all or most Korean beauty standards (sharp jawline, pale skin, double eyelids, etc.). Many idols with a visual position move into acting and get offered sponsorship deals and acting roles because of their looks (this is not to say that they solely get cast based on looks alone and not talent. However, having good looks still gives them an advantage).
- Leader: The member in charge of guiding the group. They're often the bridge between the members and the company, as well as the spokesperson of the group when promoting.
- The way this role gets assigned varies from one group to another. Sometimes it's decided based on age — where the eldest gets the position, and sometimes it's based on experience — the one who has been in the industry the longest gets the position. Other times groups decide to not have a leader at all.
- Maknae: The youngest member of the group. While not an official performative position, the age-based hierarchy of South Korean culture makes it a point to identify the youngest. It's worth noting that despite its fame as a "K-pop term", it's not unique nor original to K-pop - it refers to the youngest in any kind of group in Korea, though it's become better known in the West through its use within idol groups.
- Additional roles may include:
- The center: which, as the name suggests, is the member at the center of the group during performances and formation.
- Face of the Band: The most famous member and the group's representative, who gives them exposure through appearing in TV programs and public events. This is the member whose face first comes to mind whenever the group is mentioned. This is not a separate position, and it is usually given to a member who already has one of the above roles.
Tropes associated with the K-pop scene include:
- Animal Motif: It's quite common for idols to have animals that represent them as motifs, with cats, bunnies, and puppies being the most popular animal motifs that either resemble the idols' look or a trait they share with the animal (bunny teeth, clingy like a cat or a koala, etc.).
- Bathtub Scene: Usually seen in girl groups' music videos with soap foam or sometimes clothes covering their bodies.
- Catchphrase: Almost every Kpop group has a unique phrase they say when they introduce themselves to the public.
- Censorship Bureau:
- Due to South Korea's conservative laws, censorship reaches ridiculous heights sometimes on music programsnote . Plenty of songs and videos were initially banned by TV networks, most notably, MBC, SBS, and particularly KBS who's notorious for placing bans on almost everything, for merely using slang or vaguely referencing brand names. To solve this, most entertainment companies usually alter their artists' songs and videos and re-release them. However, some agencies refuse to change their content in any way and choose to promote it in other programs instead.
- Female artists are frequent victims, especially when they go for a sexy concept. Expect many of their dance moves, lyrics, and clips to be banned for being provocative.
- Teen Idol: A good number of idols have started their careers at young ages, with some as young as 12 or 13. This is because there's a clear preference for young and fresh faces to cater to Kpop's young demographics, with older idols often ditching this image and going for a mature and serious persona, some moving into the acting field as they grow older.
- Contractual Purity: The K-Pop scene is notoriously strict about behavior that isn't child-friendly or could ruin an idol's image. For the most part, when in public, idols can't smoke, can't swear (outside maybe their song lyrics), can't get a tattoo, and can't date.note Not all of this is about micromanaging an idol's public image; some of it's just a question of different social norms in Korea, like a longstanding stigma against tattoosnote . This might be why most idols can openly drink and endorse alcohol; it's ingrained in the culture. While pressure comes from both the company and the public, enforcement can depend on the company and the individual circumstances. Enforcement is not universal, and some K-Pop stars will push the limits, but even then, fans, anti-fans and paparazzi can be so obsessive that even if the contract allows an idol to date, they won't do it in public.
- Cool Car: This is a must-have element or prop for any cool Kpop MV to look even cooler and trendier.
- Crowd Chant: Numerous kpop songs are made in a way that allows fans to sing along, which is known as fanchants. Kpop fanchants can be very, very loud and enthusiastic, or used as a surprise project for the idol(s).
- Dancing Is Serious Business: Although not obligatory (instrument-playing bands and some soloists don't incorporate dance moves in their performances), dancing is an essential element that defines Kpop. Kpop choreographies generally have three fundamental elements: intricacy, sharpness, and intensity. Though again, not all choreographies are like this. Additionally, many idols incorporate incredible and elaborate dance breaks into their choreographies to show more of their talents. Plus, lots of them take great pride in dancing and join dance competitions (i.e. Hit the Stage) even after debuting to showcase their talents and improve themselves.
- First-Name Basis: Technically a "given name basis" due to Korean naming order putting the family name before the given name, as opposed to Western naming orders having it the other way around, but the majority of idols use only their given names or variations of them professionally, and the ones that don't will use Stage Names instead (that are usually still mononyms). It's rare for an idol to use their full name professionally in the K-pop industry.
- Groupie: Female idols have dedicated, passionate male fans (though female ones exist too), while male idols have similarly passionate female fans/fangirls (they rarely have male fans). When female idols go to perform at military sites, loud and enthusiastic cheering can be heard in the background alone.
- Groupie Brigade: Nearly any time an idol goes outside without covering their faces, fans will swarm them, asking for pictures, autographs, or just wanting to be seen by them. Some fans try to defy this image by giving the idols space and being level-headed during their interactions, and even greeting them from afar.
- Idol Singer: Well, that's what they get paid to do.
- I Have Many Names: This is due to idols using Stage Names and nicknames given by fans or other members.
- Kaleidoscope Hair: Kpop stars frequently change their hair color when a comebackExplanation is approaching. The idols' concept may determine which hair color said idol will have during a specific promotional era.
- Multiethnic Name: This is an inevitable phenomenon with the increasing number of racially mixed/diaspora idols in the industry. Expect an idol to have an English given name (which is also their stage name) but a Korean surname.
- Multinational Team: Dozens of groups market themselves as multinational groups with members from all around the world. This also makes it easy for the group to promote in different countries and for companies to break into other markets like Japan's, China's, and the much-favored USA by having members who speak their language.
- Ode to Youth: A frequent topic in boy group songs more than girl groups, but several groups make songs regarding youth as it's the age range the groups themselves are typically within and to relate to their equally young audiences.
- Officially Shortened Title: Doubles as Fun with Acronyms. A slew of groups has long names that are shortened to easier and catchier ones. Some of them include BTOB an acronym for Born to Beat, TEEN TOP = Teenage Emoboy Emotion Next Generation Talent Object Praise, and BOA = Beat of Angel/Best of All.
- Paparazzi: A group of reporters/photographers tend to follow idols and wait for them in airports when they are traveling to an event, snapping endless photos of them at near and close distances. Korea Dispatch, an online media outlet, is infamous in the Kpop community and scene overall for having paparazzi who specialize in catching celebrities on their secret dates and reporting rumors. Korean stars sometimes make Take That! jokes about Dispatch.
- Pelvic Thrust: A common sexual dance move in male groups and soloists' choreographies, that usually acts as fanservice for their female fans. A few girl groups do this move as well when doing sensual or "masculine" choreographies.
- Scatting: Lots of Kpop songs include scatting such as the frequently-used "la la la" and "na na na" and so on. See here for a prime (and humorous) example/parody.
- Self-Empowerment Anthem: Another common topic in upbeat and feel-good Kpop songs, where idols encourage listeners to think better of themselves and remind them that they're all unique in their own way.
- Selling the Show: Sometimes when idols go on Variety Shows, they are given opportunities to complain about their CEOs and their managers. So, idols will list things like how their CEOs and managers can be intimidating, strict, stingy, Explanation bossy, etc., but it's all in good fun and not in an insulting manner. On a more serious note, some idols come out and talk about all the hardships their companies made them go through and the normal things they banned them from doing, especially after they leave these agencies and aren't held back by their contracts.
- Silly Love Songs: Countless Kpop songs have cheesy descriptions of falling in love and focus on teenage romance. Kpop idol music is known for being full of such silly love songs.
- Teen Idol: Many Kpop idols have big teenage fanbases because they aim at and appeal to teenagers and young adults. However, idols that have been in the industry for a long time had their teen fans grow up with them and become older now.
- Vocal Tag Team: Plenty of groups have at least two or more vocalists who trade vocals together on their songs. Harmonizing is less common, since for many groups the focus is mainly on giving every member their own spotlight to showcase their skills and persona.