In the last few years, Korean music has taken the Western music industry by storm. Whether you’re a total newbie or you’ve already got BTS, Twice, IU and more on repeat, here are 10 amazing Korean artists you need to add to your playlist:
We all know BTS is inspiring millions of people around the world. But have you ever wondered who directly inspired BTS? Meet Epik High, pioneers of Korean hip-hop.
Leader Daniel Lee (also known as Tablo) formed the group when he moved to Korea in 2001, after finishing up his studies at Stanford University (which the Korean public actually refused to believe was true). Meanwhile, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz, who is a producer, engineer and songwriter, rounded out the group.
The trio debuted as Epik High in 2003 and became Korean hip-hop legends with their diverse beats and complex lyrics, covering topics like identity, religion, education, society, etc. Their latest album, "Epik High Is Here 上," showcases that musical diversity well. The Latin-inspired trap beat of “Rosario,” featuring CL and Zico, will have you feeling yourself, while the gloomy “Based on a True Story," featuring Heize, will have you in your feelings.
There’s no better ambassador for the Korean entertainment industry to the West than Nam.
The Atlanta native was originally a business analyst but moved to Korea to pursue music instead. Nam's strong work ethic and affable nature have allowed him to become a universally loved celebrity, creating a long resume in the process as a celebrity reporter, TV personality, activist and of course, musician.
But despite his fame, both within Korea and abroad, Nam's own music surprisingly goes unnoticed. He currently has five EPs and a handful of singles out, in both English and Korean. His beautiful voice lends itself to a wide range of pop sounds, going from charming to seductive to broody in a heartbeat (check out his single "Paradise" to see what I mean).
Through it all, Nam is breaking barriers between the Korean and Western entertainment industries. We simply have to stan.
The first of a couple of Korean rock bands on this list, DAY6 is a five-member group under JYP Entertainment that debuted in 2015, consisting of leader Sungjin, Jae, Young K, Wonpil and Dowoon.
The appeal of DAY6 is the group's sheer talent. Armed with some of the best voices in K-pop and incredible skill on their instruments, DAY6 can dominate any stage.
They’re also masterful songwriters. Korean rock bands, in general, tend to be underrated in the K-pop scene, but with iconic anthems like “Congratulations," “Shoot Me” and "Zombie," DAY6 proves rock bands deserve a spot in the K-pop mainstream.
DAY6 is set to make its comeback on April 19 with the release of "The Book of Us: Negentropy."
KARD is a co-ed idol group formed by DSP Media. The band is made up of four members — J.Seph, BM, Jeon So-min and Jeon Ji-woo — and debuted its first album in 2017.
They’re one of the rare few co-ed groups in K-pop, and they take on that role with gusto. The girls’ sultry high voices cut through the boys’ lower tones to strike a perfect balance.
KARD's songs are a trendy, powerful mix of hip-hop, electronic dance music (EDM) and tropical house — in fact, the member BM once described the moombahton style as "a symbol of KARD." Their music is undeniably catchy, and the performances always pack a punch. Feel free to stream their fourth mini-album, "RED MOON."
Currently, member J.Seph is serving in the military, but we can expect more projects in 2021.
If you’re already a K-pop fan, you’re probably wondering why Loona is on this list. Believe it or not, despite all the calls to “stan Loona” you’ve likely seen, they’re not quite as popular as you might think and not at all as popular as they deserve to be.
Loona is a girl group under Blockberry Creative with 12 members. Each member was revealed periodically starting in September 2016, and all 12 officially debuted together in August 2018.
Loona has everything you could want in a girl group: beautiful vocals, catchy songs with earworm hooks, spotless choreography and a fascinating concept.
Like other K-pop groups, Loona has a storyline in its music videos, known as the “LOOΠΔVERSE,” which is open for fan theories and interpretations.
Loona also traverses a variety of genres with ease — their debut song “Hi High” and their more recent release “Why Not?” sound miles apart. Check out "Star" by Loona, and you’ll see why the hype around them is as loud as it is.
Go Tae-seob, better known as Holland, is an independent singer-songwriter. He debuted in 2018 as South Korea’s first openly gay idol.
Holland is a self-made star. Since no entertainment company wanted to support a gay idol, he worked part-time jobs to fund his own debut. When he did finally debut, he made waves within the international K-pop fandom. He later released a crowdfunded EP called "Holland."
Holland isn't shy about his identity and has openly talked about the heavy bullying and violence he endured both in school and as an idol due to his sexuality. He responds to this trauma with his music, with empowering lyrics that highlight the LGBTQ+ experience.
In fact, he chose the name Holland because the Netherlands, often referred to as Holland, was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage and is one of the most accepting of LGBTQ+ identities.
With his music, Holland creates a safe space for LGBTQ+ people to feel accepted and comforted.
Hoppipolla is by far the most underrated artist on this list. It's a four-member rock band with a twist: a cellist.
The group formed and won the JTBC show "Superband" in 2019. The band’s name means “jumping in puddles,” symbolizing the band’s hope that “people all over the world would be comforted and happy by being immersed in the music of Hoppipolla."
If you’re a fan of soft, alt-rock ballads, Hoppipolla will make you fall in love at first listen (check out "Enough"). Their delicate vocals can crescendo into powerful belts, and the cello underneath will warm your soul.
Think about that simultaneous feeling of melancholy and euphoria you get listening to Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” or literally any of Coldplay’s hits. You’ll feel something similar hearing a Hoppipolla song.
Like Hoppipolla, Lucy is a four-member rock band with a unique string element — in their case, a violin. They also formed on the show "Superband" in 2019 and finished the competition in second place. In fact, the band’s name Lucy comes from the name of a dog that used to visit the band during practice for the show, and it’s also another word for “light.”
“Light” is a good way to explain Lucy’s musical style. Their songs feel bright and youthful, thanks to energetic pop beats with the violin floating on top (check out "Snooze").
LUCKY released the EP "Inside" in mid-February, so be sure to check it out.
Soloist Suran is best known for her award-winning collaboration with BTS’ Suga on the single “Wine.”
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. If you haven’t explored the rest of her discography, you’re missing out.
Suran debuted as a soloist in 2014. Over the years, she’s become known for dozens of features and collaborations with other artists, including some who are on this list. Her songs are typically a smooth blend of pop and contemporary rhythm and blues (R&B), plus a few ballads in the mix, complete with her trademark nasally voice.
Park Ji-min, professionally known as Jamie, is another talented solo singer, songwriter and host for the talk show "After School Club."
Jamie has been pursuing music since she was just 14. She started out as the winner of the first season of "K-pop Star" and debuted under JYP Entertainment.
She became known as “the Korean Adele” for her covers that showed off her soulful voice and her ability to belt out powerful notes.
She began her solo career in 2015 with the single “Hopeless Love.” Since then, she’s dabbled in every genre from pop to ballads to Christmas music. Lately, she’s been exploring a lot of hip-hop and R&B sounds, like on her latest release, “Numbers," featuring Changmo.
Of course, there are many more underrated artists that couldn't be featured on this list. But the point is that the Korean music industry is vast and has something for everyone. Keep exploring, and you'll be a K-pop expert in no time!