Step 3: Who is KPop? The Big Names in KPop

Have you had enough of all the theory in this article and want somewhere to actually get started? Here it comes: The Big Names of KPop. Who makes this crazy (not-so) little thing called KPop?

Note: The beginning of this article – yes – is another history lesson, if you want to skip ahead of that – artist names are shown in big letters for you to search via Google/YouTube or read about/listen to right here on our blog!

You know some about the history of KPop already (if you read step 1) and how there were different eras, where different genres and sub-genres of music dominated the industry. It’s time not to ask “which music genre?”, but “who introduced this stuff in the 1st place”? If you recall, you’ll remember that – yes – a number of legendary western artists influenced the Korean music industry (in the long-gone and more recent past), but the music style that has emerged within the last 10 years has finally managed to really create a unique sound, that though similar to some Western music goes it’s own paths and directions and is influenced by different trends.

The Pioneers of KPop

Who changed KPop in Korea

We have mentioned the shift from the “era of ballads” to the up-beat colorful dance-pop that KPop majorly is today. What triggered this shift can be traced back to one significant event: The debut of (then rookie) group Seo Taiji & Boys on the talent show of MBC (one of Korea’s four major TV & radio networks):

seo taiji and boys

Seo Taiji & Boys

They are the group credited with bringing a new sound to the Korean music scene and becoming instantly successful, despite their low score on the talent show. (Fun Fact: Did you know that Papa YG was a member of Seo Taiji & Boys? Also – Seo Taiji, although in his 40s and not having released any music since 2009, is one of the highest paid celebrities, receiving 2,000,000,000 Won (roughly 200,000 US dollar) for an appearance on TV). Anyway, their new sound was not only much catchier and some fresh wind in the South Korean music scene, it also came with lyrics that actually reflected everyday problems of the general public. Other musicians soon followed in their footsteps and the 1st K-Hip-Hop groups and artists were born (e.g. 1YTM, Drunken Tiger).

yg sm jyp big three

The Big 3

In 1995 SM Entertainment was founded. As you can read in Step 2 – most of the groups and singers in the South Korean music market “were born” through an entertainment agency, which gives auditions and picks out youngsters to train for a (potential) life of fame. SM is one of the 1st such agencies founded and remains until today one of the most influential KPop-producing agencies. In the late 1990s YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and DSP Media followed. As the artists they produced bloomed and blossomed (at least sales-wise) these agencies gained so much influence in the music scene, that rather than the groups themselves giving fame to the agencies – it was the other way around! A rookie group would gain attention through the fact that they were produced by a big name company (which remains a major factor in the KPop industry till today).

What allowed the industry to grow over such a short time to such an extend? Well, 1st of all – popular music now sounded differently and more accessible to a whole new audience: Teenagers. Agencies – smart as they were – soon realized the potential of targeting a younger crowd of listeners and just how to do so successfully: Idol groups – young male and female singers, not much older than their audience, doing cool dances and singing catchy songs. The 1st group that emerged and is today considered an “idol group” was H.O.T.

Fin.K.L (Active '98-'02)

Fin.K.L (Active ’98-’02)

Seo Taiji & Boys and H.O.T (and fellow 90s musicians) are listed among the inspirations to enter the music business of many idols we know today. Other successful groups included Shinhwa (a male group still active today) and the girl groups (DSP‘s) Fin.K.L and (SM‘s) S.E.S (Fun Fact: KPop group names always were quite strange… and I mean really really strange. One popular boy group of the 90s was called “Sechs Kies” – which is supposed to be German for “six crystals” – it actually means “six gravel”… gravel being singular (source for this: I’m a native speaker of German). Fun Fact 2: Did you know Lee Hyori was a member of Fin.K.L?)

And the 2nd reason for the rise of who became known as “the big 3”: The popularity of KPop started spreading to other countries. “The Big 3” – SM, YG and JYP Entertainment’s artists caught the attentions of non-Korean audiences at the start of 21st century…

Who spread KPop in Asia
be scared

KPop – born out of the fear of… Anime?

For a long time in Modern History (the last 100 years) it was expected/feared, that Japanese popular culture would not only highly influence the Korean one, but even take it over. Manga, Anime and to an extend J-Pop & J-Rock have gained some international popularity, but in fact today it’s not the Koreans listening to and importing Japanese music, but the other way around. How and why is that?

For a long time after the Japanese occupation South Korea had very strong restrictions put on any imported goods from Japan to prevent cultural influence. Those were lifted in 1998 (possibly as consequence of the 1997 Asian financial crisis) and a new strategy was put into action by the South Korean government to prevent a Japanese cultural invasion. Namely – the Ministry for Culture requested a large increase of budget to invest into the home entertainment industry, to set up departments and create the system of auditioning and training of potential pop stars, as it exists until today.

tvxq in japan


Korean TV Dramas and music videos started to air in China and H.O.T and girl group Baby V.O.X were soon selling out concerts and masses of records in neighbor countries China and Japan, as well as Thailand. Other KPop artists who helped KPop invade fellow Asian countries and teenage minds were solo artists Bi Rain and BoA, along side YG‘s Big Bang and SM‘s TVXQ joining the scene 2003-2006 (all these artists also released songs in Japanese!). Although TVXQ debuted prior to Big Bang, it was the latter group who really shaped to sound of KPop as we know it today by introducing electronica into the musical soup that KPop was and is – taking influences from Hip Hop, R&B, Electronic, Dance and Jazz.

Who brought KPop to the world

In the hopes of attracting a truly world-wide audiences a number of Korean groups and solo artists have tried and released English songs and albums. However none of this caused any actual breakthroughs – what did gain KPop a truly international audience was the emergence of internet platforms such as YouTube. This helped a number of KPop videos to go viral and supported the careers of following groups and artists:

wondergirlsWonder Girls with “Nobody” in 2008


Shinee with “Ring Ding Dong” in 2009 and “Lucifer” in 2010

ggGirls’ Generation with “Gee” in 2009 and “I Got A Boy” in 2013

sujuSuper Junior with “Sorry Sorry” in 2009 and  “Mr. Simple” in 2011

karaKara with “Jumping” in 2010 and “Step” in 2011

2ne12NE1 with “I Am The Best” in 2011

psyPSY with “Gangnam Style” in 2012 and “Gentleman” in 2013

fxf(x) with “Electric Shock” in 2012 and “Rum Pum Pum Pum” in 2013

exoExo with “Growl” and “Wolf” in 2013

These are the biggest acts currently active in the scene – check them out to get some more impressions. 😉

The Stars of  Today

 Who dominates the market right now

Many of the groups and artists mentioned above have maintained megastar status till today and keep touring and releasing music. Due to the growing attention on and audience for KPop, the last 5 years have seen the number of new “rookie” groups debuting sky-rocket. There have been more KPop debuts between 2011-2014, than in the whole time between 1995-2010. Many of these groups vanish after a few singles with mediocre success, as the industry has become something of a battlefield between the veteran and rookie groups. Some newer groups have to be noted though who have gained a certain status in the industry and who have surrounded themselves with an impressively strong fan base in just a few years.

                       B2ST                                                 4Minute
4minute render
B2ST (pronounced “Beast”) is a              4Minute is a 5 member group under   6 member group under Cube                    Cube Entertainment known for their      Entertainment who rose to fame              hit songs “I My Me Mine” and                 with “Fiction” and “Breath“.                      “Volume Up“.
                 MBLAQ                                            After School

mblaqqqafter school render

MBLAQ is a 5 member group               After School is a 8 member group     known for several hit songs                    under Pledis Entertainment who      including “Cry“, “Y” and                         became successful with songs                   “This is War“.                                            like “Because of You” and “Ah“.
             Sistar                                                         Infinite
sistar renderinfinite render
Sistar is a 4 member group under          Infinite  is a 7 member group     Starship Entertainment famous               under Woollim Entertainment who      for several releases  including                   is known for their singles                      “So Cool” and “Alone“.                                “Paradise” and “The Chaser“.
                   Miss A                                                         B.A.P
bap render
Miss A is a 4 member group                           B.A.P is a 6 member group under   under JYP Entertainment                                 TS Entertainment who became     known for their songs                                         successful with their singles              “Goodbye Baby” and “Breathe“.                     “One Shot” and “No Mercy“.

This should be enough to get you started (although there are still many more groups). Feel free to go ahead, watch, listen and enjoy on your own terms. However, if you’d still like to be prepared some more for what you are going to see – or come back later – there is loads more to learn…

Step 4: How is KPop? Idol groups & their structure



Not so interested in Step 4? Maybe you want to skip ahead and read:
  • How to become a KPop idol Coming…
  • Step 5: Who likes KPop? What is this fandom like and who is in it? Coming…
  • Step 8: What’s great about KPop? The Pro’s for starting to listen to KPop Coming…
  • A (longer) list of KPop biggest acts and labels


Dear reader,
  • Have you found a mistake in this article (content or grammar wise)? Feel free to correct us – but be aware that we have not deliberately left out vital information, but have tried to keep this article short and simple as an easy introduction for newbies to KPop. We are also not acclaimed experts in the field of music research and have taken our information from articles of other blogs, internet websites, as well as the best of our memory and our very own reason. Lastly this article was not written by native speakers of the English language.
  • The words and most of the phrasing in this mini-article has been formulated by one of our authors, but feel free to use any information or wording found here for your own blog (or presentation). We’d appreciate it if you state this website as source, but it is not legally required.

7 thoughts on “Step 3: Who is KPop? The Big Names in KPop

  1. Really nice written and with much informations but I have one problem.
    One of the really popular bands is missing.
    What about BIG BANG?
    They’re huge with all the VIPs and their extremely successful ‘Made Series’ now.
    Btw, ich spreche auch Deutsch! Es ist nur schlechter als mein Englisch.

    • Of course I know Big Bang – I’m a V.I.P myself 😀
      Big Bang is mentioned alongside TVXQ and BoA. But you are right, I should do a little redesign of the page to give more attention to their names. They are really big acts and in the current version go a little unnoticed. Thanks for the feedback! 😉

  2. Pingback: 수제트/Blackempressss 🌎

  3. ugh?? What about BTS? ARMY is a really big fandom and bts have won many awards such as the top social artist of the year at the BBMAs! you can’t skip them 😦

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