What is Kpop? Here is everything you need to know

Last Updated on October 14, 2021 by 90 Day Korean
4 Kpop members waving

What is Kpop? 

Maybe you’ve heard the term and would like to know more about why it’s becoming so popular.

Or perhaps you are curious about South Korea and want to learn more about the music.

This article will answer all the questions you have about K-pop, as well as explain everything you need to know related to this music phenomenon.

Let’s get to it!

4 Kpop members waving

Below is a free PDF guide for “What is Kpop” that you can download and take with you:

What is Korean Pop?

Korean popular music, or most commonly known as K-pop is mainstream music that originated from South Korea. Korean pop music in the country could be thought of as similar to Taylor Swift in the United States.

You may see Korean pop written as K-pop, K pop, Kpop, K-Pop, and KPOP.

What is Kpop music?

The term Kpop includes many different musical elements and genres under its umbrella. Along with Korean pop, it can also include rock, hip hop, and electronic music. Kpop is considered a fairly new form of music. The type of K-Pop music that you’re listening to today was formed around the 1990s. The roots for K-Pop began from the 1950s, however, and have since then already been influenced a lot by different types of Western music and pop groups. American pop culture has especially had – and still does have – an effect on K-Pop.

What was the very first Kpop group?

Unlike other musical genres, contemporary Kpop start can be pinpointed to a certain date: April 11th of 1992, when the groups Seo Taiji and Boys performed their music on TV for the first time. They were active in the mid-1990s and were known for experimenting with many different genres of music. For example, they were the pioneers of integrating rap into South Korean pop music.

This was the driving force that also led to the formation of all your favorite idol groups in the industry, with SM Entertainment being established in 1995, JYP Entertainment in 1997, and YG Entertainment in 1998.

Statue of two golden hands in Seoul

The very first K-Pop idol group to exist was H.O.T., which debuted in 1996. The group has been credited as the group that started the Korean pop culture, a formula that is still followed today. And with the emergence of BoA and TVXQ to the scene in 2003, the popularity of South Korean pop music truly soared.

What is Kpop in Korean?

Earlier, we learned Kpop means Korean popular music. However, Kpop in Korean is 대중음악. This term literally means pop music. But, this term can be a bit formal or literary so many young people use 가요 instead which means song.

Kpop in Korean can also be called as 대중가요.

What is Kpop in Hangeul?

K-pop in Hangeul is written as 케이팝.

What are some distinctive features of K-pop?

A lot of different genres are used to create different K-pop music concepts. Just like how most K-pop groups have a designated rapper, and how English phrases are mixed into the song’s South Korean lyrics. This is said to have started by the South Korean-American idols, like Fly to the Sky, who wanted to showcase their English fluency in their music.

Blackpink Korean girl group

K-pop choreographies mostly rely on hard-hitting, synchronized movements, with members switching positions multiple times in a routine. This is a strategy called 자리바꿈 (jaribaggum), or “formation changing” in English. The movements are also planned to be repetitive and addicting to look at, matching the concept of each song. The term for this is 포인트 안무 (pointeu anmu), or “point dance.”  which made some dances and songs go especially viral.

For example, Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, Super Junior’s “Sorry Sorry”, INFINITE’s “Be Mine”, Brown Eyed Girls’ “Abracadabra”, and Blackpink’s “DDU DU DDU DU” all featured choreography that has made each song incredibly memorable. Apart from this, the groups’ or artists’ eye-catching outfits used on performances and music videos are equally important.

What are Kpop idols?

If you’re still completely new to Kpop music, then think of pop bands such as One Direction, Little Mix, and Fifth Harmony in the West: they’re close to the concept of idols!

Kpop idols are groups and artists formed by various entertainment companies creating catchy Korean popular music and targeting younger audiences. The music groups are formed from a group of people who are all particularly talented in at least one of the following: singing, rapping, and dancing. These idols often enter the entertainment company in their teens and then train hard for years in areas like singing, rapping, dancing, and foreign languages. Then, if they are lucky and talented enough, by the end of their teens they will be picked for an idol group.

3 members of the girl group Wonder Girls

The Kpop groups then periodically come out with music singles and album filled with catchy tunes. Every week they’ll go to many music shows to perform their lead single, for a period of one month to two months. Although the song is important, special care and attention are always put into styling the group members, a well-synched choreography, and a high-quality music video.

This combination tells the story of the chosen style concept for each era. Some could say these entertainment companies work like manufacturers in assembling the perfect idol group outlook and style for each cycle of performing and promoting the music.

Who are some of the most successful Kpop idol groups and artists?

There are new Korean pop idol groups debuting each month and the public’s opinion on which group is the best changes accordingly. It is also typical for idol groups to make music and promote together for up to 10 years, then move onto other careers like becoming a solo artist or an actor.

However, some idol groups have been more successful and longer-lasting. Some groups are so famous that many different generations of Kpop listeners know them!

We’ve listed some of the most popular K-pop groups and artists, along with the most popular songs. You’ll find them in the sections below. These popular K-pop boy and girl groups vary in their genre, the number of group members, image, and generally their style. But they all create quality music, dance, and performance.

Who are some famous Kpop girl groups?

Girls’ Generation is a great example of this. They have had a long career as the top girl group in Kpop, with incredibly catchy songs and concepts. For example, if you listen to the song “Gee!”, you’ll have it on repeat in your head for at least a full day!

Kpop girl group Girls' Generation

Another huge girl group is Wonder Girls. They haven’t been as active as Girls’ Generation and they don’t have as many popular songs, either, but their hit song “Nobody” is one of the biggest Kpop songs ever made.

Girl Groups

  • Twice (트와이스)
  • Blackpink (블랙핑크)
  • Red Velvet (레드벨벳)
  • (G)I-DLE (아이들)
  • MAMAMOO (마마무)
  • Momoland (모모랜드)
  • Girls’ Generation (소녀시대)
  • Wonder Girls (원더걸스)
  • 2NE1 (투애니원)
  • T-ara (티아라)
  • Kara (카라)

Who are some famous Kpop boy groups?

Among boy groups, the two most famous ones in South Korea have always been Dong Bang Shin Ki (also known as TVXQ) and Big Bang. Dong Bang Shin Ki once had the biggest fan club with K-pop fans in the world and is well known on the internet.

The Korean pop group Big Bang has a unique style that is easy to get hooked on, with their music evolving to something new with each album. Now they have paved the way for newer idol groups, but their style and music will not be forgotten for a long time.

And then there is one of the most popular groups of all time, BTS. This idol group has been an even bigger smash hit in the USA and other countries than it has been in Korea.

Monster X performing in Las Vegas

Boy Groups

  • BTS (방탄소년단)
  • iKon (아이콘)
  • Seventeen (세븐틴)
  • Got7 (갓세븐)
  • NCT (엔시티)
  • MONSTA X (몬스타엑스)
  • Stray Kids (스트레이 키즈)
  • Super Junior (슈퍼주니어)
  • Shinee (샤이니)
  • Big Bang (빅뱅)
  • 2PM (투피엠)
  • EXO (엑소)
  • TVXQ (동방신기)

Who are some famous solo artists?

These artists either originally came from a girl or a boy pop group or created names for themselves as solo artists from the start. Either way, they have proved that they produce some of the best South Korean pop music there is!


Solo Artists

  • Taeyeon (태연) of Girls’ Generation
  • BoA (보아)
  • IU (아이유)
  • Taemin (태민) of Shinee
  • Jay Park (박재범) of 2PM

Here’s a list of the most popular songs:

  • Psy (싸이): Gangnam Style (강남스타일)
  • Super Junior (슈퍼주니어): Sorry Sorry (쏘리 쏘리)
  • Infinite (인피니트): Be Mine (내꺼하자 ㅣ naekkeohaja)
  • Brown Eyed Girls (브라운 아이드 걸스): Abracadabra (아브라카다브라)
  • Blackpink (블랙핑크): DDU DU DDU DU (뚜두뚜두)
  • Big Bang (빅뱅): Lies (거짓말 ㅣ geojinmal)
  • Exo (엑소): Monster
  • BTS (방탄소년단): DNA
  • Girls’ Generation (소녀시대): Gee
  • Twice (트와이스): TT (티티)
  • 2NE1 (투애니원): I Am the Best (내가 제일 잘 나가 ㅣ naega jeil jal naga)
  • Wonder Girls (원더걸스): Nobody
  • iKon (아이콘): Love Scenario (사랑을 했다 ㅣ sarangeul haetda)

South Korean pop music has grown so popular since the early 2000s because of the internet and evolution of social media. The more accessible South Korean music has become in the world,  the more popular it becomes. Slowly, they appear not only in social media but in different countries’ local news and television shows.


K-pop’s characteristics which are synchronized dance moves, simple songs with addicting hooks, and the outer beauty of all of the K-pop groups’ members, contribute to this feat. Some of these idols are even popular in dramas as the OST’s singers and the star that played the characters themselves.

Each new K-pop group debuting, and each comeback (the K-pop group or solo artist coming out with new material), is hyped in the media, with a specific concept and hook to get the general population excited to consume the new music. Additionally, it is more common for K-pop groups to do things for their fans like perform in music shows, throw together fan signing events, attend variety shows, and even arrange more private fan meetings than it is for them to hold tours.

How did Kpop become a worldwide phenomenon?

There have been various attempts by different music companies in Korea to break into the international music markets, especially in the United States. Some notable tries are the music groups BoA and Wonder Girls. The world only got to know Kpop when Psy’s “Gangnam Style” hit the radios all around the world in the summer of 2012.

Korean Group BTSMany years ago, if you were lucky, you could maybe attend a small club concert by your favorite Kpop artist if you lived in Asia, Europe, or Brazil. But now you can also see groups like Blackpink perform their music at Coachella!

For a few years, K-pop popularity seemed like a fluke, but now that the world has gone crazy over BTS, we can finally call K-pop a worldwide phenomenon! This K-pop boy group was a big tool with which K-pop became a truly worldwide phenomenon after BTS became popular in the United States.

One of the many reasons why BTS has been explained to have become so popular is because of the message in their songs. Many find them more relatable than some other groups, as their music is more about bullying and mental health than on love.

Also, these performers have used different tactics from different groups. Instead of relying on staying relevant by appearing on South Korean TV shows all the time, each group member has been active on social media to reach their audience all around the world. This has eventually earned them awards and recognitions including having the number 1 spot in the Hot 100 Chart on Billboard multiple times.

Kpop in Television

Some American TV shows and movies have also begun using Korean songs in their scenes. For example, the TV show Lucifer used the popular SHINee song “Lucifer” in one of their episodes. And there is a scene in the DC Comics blockbuster movie Justice League where Blackpink’s music was played.

Why is Kpop Unique?

While Kpop with its idol groups is quite different from Western music especially, it’s easy to see why many people have become addicted to it now. The melodies are catchy, the choreographies are impressive and the group members are beautiful to the eye. There is usually a lot of effort also put into making the music videos look cool and high quality, even when it’s just the group members dancing. The groups have specific styles to help them stand out.

Korean Pop Star RainThere is a special Korean slang term called 칼군무 (kalgunmu) which means “dancing perfectly in sync”. You can use this to describe your favorite Kpop performers.

The word 칼군무 (kalgunmu) is written in Hangul, the Korean Alphabet. If you don’t know how to read it yet, you can learn using this guide in about 1 hour.

What is the Hallyu Wave and how does it relate to Kpop?

Also called the Korean Wave, Hallyu Wave means the increased popularity of South Korean culture globally, specifically in arts and cosmetics, which began in the early 1990s.

K-pop is included as one part of the Hallyu Wave, but it also includes dramas, movies, and, more recently, Korean cosmetics. The Hallyu Wave first became popular in East Asia, but today you can see it impacting present cultures, music and film and television, and the interest and behavioral habits of people all around the world.

How to Become a Kpop Idol?

Typically, to become a K-pop idol or artist, you will have to train with an entertainment agency for years. Although you are expected to have talents in singing and dancing upon auditioning for the company, once accepted, you will spend several hours everyday training those skills.

In addition, you will usually take classes in foreign languages, such as Japanese and English, and be taught other skills. For example, interviewing skills may be among the training programs you will undergo.

Usually, you’ll already become a trainee to a company when you’re still at school age, even before turning 18. During the training period and early on into your idol career, you are expected to live in a dormitory with the other trainees in the company.

How to Get into Kpop?

To get into K-pop yourself, a good place to start is by exploring the most popular and modern K-pop groups and artists. This way, you can find some new favorites, particularly the type of K-pop you like the most. Then, when you have identified that, you can find more groups with a similar sound!

For example, Spotify is a great tool for that, as it offers recommendations on each artist page. Here is a list of the best K-pop groups so that you can get started on your musical journey.

If you enjoyed this, you may want to read about:

  1. Best KPop Groups of All Time
  2. Learn Korean with Kpop
  3. The Best Korean Dramas for Learning Korean
  4. Korean Drama Phrases
  5. Best Korean Movies for Learning Korean

Have you already listened to Kpop before? Let us know in the comments who your favorite idol and idol group are!

    46 replies to "What is Kpop? Here is everything you need to know"

    • Avatar for jsjs jsjs


    • Avatar for kin kin

      Hit you with that ‘ddu du ddu du’
      ‘Light is up like dyanmite’
      ‘Likey likey likey likey likey likey dugeun dugeun dugeun’
      ‘Roopretelcham yeah we are rumble g let move on’
      This lyrics are which kpop group song

    • Avatar for Lessa Manzambi Lessa Manzambi

      It’s interesting how they never mention in articles the HUGE influence african American culture had and still had on kpop. Even idols and companies have said it themselves. It’s facts

    • Avatar for TeeTee TeeTee

      You gotta mention Rain beyond just a pic! That guy’s the King 👑

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