A Beginner’s Guide To K-Pop

  • Marie Claire is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.
  • Everything you ever wanted to know about K-pop (but were too embarassed to ask)

    Ever wondered what K-pop was all about? We’ve got you covered…

    Even if you don’t know Korean pop (or K-pop as its more commonly known), there’s no doubt you probably heard that earworm Gangnam Style in 2012. With 1 billion views and counting, Psy’s viral hit became a global sensation and thrust the South Korean music industry into the spotlight.

    So if you’re tired of hearing the same old music on the radio everyday, and are looking for something new and exciting to listen to, you could do worse than check out the bubbly, bright and downwright groundbreaking music from our Asian neighbours.

    Not sure where to start? Check out our handy-dandy guide to South Korea’s biggest export – K-pop…

    What Is K-Pop?

    The term given to South Korean pop music, Korean pop (or K-pop, as we know it) is a musical genre and subculture that has been developing in East Asia since the 90s. Integrating Western influences with South Korean cultural tastes, K-pop music generally refers to the fusion of dancing, fashion and music to create a sound that represents South Korea, as well as just being really great to listen to (scroll down for an audio-visual introduction).

    Who Are The Artists?

    Unlike western artists, who become popular through hard work, connections and sheer force of will, K-pop stars (or ‘idols’ as they’re lovingly referred to) are developed through a rigorous training system, where they audition, train for several years and then ‘debut’ under an agency. JYP, SM and YG Entertainment represent the three biggest agencies in South Korea.

    Trained? What’s That About?

    It does seem a little strange, but South Korea believes that singers aren’t found, but rather created. The country’s agencies act more like an employer than an agent, providing accomodation, meals and lessons on singing, dancing, acting and media training before artists ‘debut’ to the public.

    All The Lyrics Are In Korean, How Can I Understand It?

    You don’t have to! That’s what makes K-pop great. The visuals, music and choreography are so infectious, you don’t need to even understand the lyrics. Trust us. And the best part? Koreans love to incorporate English into their songs, which means you can always sing along to the chorus. That’s what we do.

    Are Koreans Conservative?

    Yes. Unlike western markets, K-pop stars aren’t allowed to be too sexually provocative in their music and performances. When anything is considered too risqué, idols usually have to rework lyrics and choreography to appease television standards and be able to promote a song. So… No twerking then.

    Why Are There So Many Groups, And Why Are There So Many Members In Them?

    While boy bands and girl groups have gone the way of the dinosaur in in the west – Little Mix and One Direction are the rare exceptions – they’re basically the norm in South Korea. With all the money agencies spend on training and marketing, having a large group with several members allow fans a variety of people to root for, and obsess over in case one membe decides to leave.

    Case in point, EXO, South Korea’s most popular boy band which had 12 members when they first debuted. When three members left a year later due to poor working conditions, the group’s popularity didn’t suffer. In 2015, the group even earned the record of the biggest sales of a K-pop group, EVER.

    It’s All About The Choreography

    N*Sync’s Bye Bye Bye dance may be a distant memory, but in South Korea complicated dance routines are the bread and butter of K-pop groups. With more and more artists saturating the market, a recognisable dance routine that fans can copy is necessary for any artist to crack the A-list.

    We mean, how can you forget Gangnam Style?

    Source: AwesomeGifs.com

    Why Don’t I Hear K-Pop On The Radio?

    Good question. And it’s one we ask ourselves on a daily basis. While we’re not sure why K-pop isn’t played in the UK, it may be that no K-pop artists are currently signed to UK labels, making it more difficult for them to release music nationally. Instead, idols focus on releasing music around Asia, with China, Japan and Thailand being major financial markets.

    The A-List Are Fans

    They’re Ready To Take Over The West

    Source: Instagram.com/ChaelinCL

    Other than Psy, K-pop hasn’t really cracked the Western market, with K-pop considered a subculture rather than a real movement. But South Korea does have its sights set on breaking America, and it’s best hope? Rapper CL from feisty girl group 2NE1.

    Judging from Chaelin Lee’s official Instagram, she’s teamed up with Justin Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun for her first solo album to be released in the US in 2016. With Hello Bitches being released as her first single, and Jeremy Scott counting as one of her best friends, CL is well on her way to becoming Kpop’s next big thing…

    We can’t wait.

    5 K-Pop Music Videos To Get You Started…

    F(x) – Four Walls

    Girls’ Generation – Gee
    Hyuna – Bubble Pop!
    EXO – Overdose

    4Minute – Crazy


    Reading now