10. Shinhwa (신화)
Shinhwa means “Korean legend” and the name is well deserved. Shinhwa is the longest running kpop group debuting in 1998. In total the group has released 13 korean studio albums, 1 japanese album, and various other collections of music. While each member pursued individual careers after 2004, the group has managed to stay together and actively release music, even after a four year military service hiatus.
9. Twice (트와이스)
Currently, Twice has been dominating the kpop scene. Twice is known for their viral dances such as the “TT” dance and the “shy shy shy” line from their breakout single “Cheer Up”. The “TT” dance even became part of the campaign song for the current president Moon Jae-In. The group also debuted in Japan in 2017 mounting further on to their universal appeal.
8. Super Junior (슈퍼주니어)
With their smash hit “Sorry” Super Junior cemented themselves into the kpop legacy. While the group shone in performance, their calling was on the small screen. Many members branched out to acting in dramas, hosting shows, guest appearing on variety shows, and participating in game shows. Super Junior changed what it meant to be a kpop star. Today, on top of dancing and singing, a kpop star has to target all of the sections of the entertainment industry.
7. H.O.T. (에이치오티)
H.O.T. was the first kpop idol group. They set the precedence for all the kpop groups that came after them. H.O.T. was significant because of the management behind the team, having music production, choreography, video production, and styling all done under the record label. They were also the first group to have significant fan culture, creating the well known kpop fan culture today. H.O.T. created the successful “idol group” formula that music labels modeled their groups after.
6. Fin.K.L (핑클)
During the late 90’s the kpop was filled with cute, catchy, and simple music. Fin.K.L changed that. Blue Rain, the groups first album, was filled with powerful R&B ballads. In addition to being one of the first girl groups, all the members successfully pursued successful solo careers after the group became inactive.
5. EXO (엑소)
EXO was instrumental in marketing kpop to a worldwide audience. At debut EXO had an equal number of both Korean and Chinese members. They performed music in both korean and mandarin and released their albums in both Korean and mandarin simultaneously. At their prime EXO was an unstoppable continental force which sewed the seeds for the worldwide Kpop boom.
4. Girls Generation (소녀시대)
These girls single handedly shifted the emphasis in the mid 2000’s from male groups to female groups in the kpop industry. Girls Generation made some of the first hits that made it across the ocean to North America. With their breakout out single “Gee”, Girls Generation was one of the most successful kpop groups of all time. Many of their songs blend multiple genres into one song and give it structure with a backbone of bubblegum pop.
3. BIG BANG (빅뱅)
Big Bang was one of the first male groups to spread the kpop brand on a worldwide scale. The group pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be an idol group. While many other kpop groups of the era had a very manufactured sugar coated sound and aesthetic, Big Bang differed by developing more of a darker, mature, hip hop inspired sound and look. They were also one of the few groups who were actively involved with the production of the music. At a time when kpop was becoming too manufactured, Big Bang shaped the industry through pushing the boundaries and experimenting through their music, dance, and style.
2. BTS (방탄소년단)
BTS today is now synonymous with k-pop. They have broken numerous records, achieved ludicrous milestones, and maintained a insanely large fanbase. From speaking at the UN, performing at every american talk show, having a #1 album on Billboard 200, winning Top Social Artist at the BMA’s and racking in billions of Youtube hits, BTS has done it all. We haven’t even seen the peak of BTS and judging by their meteoric rise into worldwide mainstream in the past year there is no stopping them.
1. Seo Taiji and the Boys (서태지와 아이들)
There are icons and there are legends. Seo Taiji and the Boys are literally the godfathers of K-pop. In an era where the Korean music industry was saturated with songs of patriotism and romantic ballads, Seo Taiji and the Boys shook the scene with cutting edge MIDI sounds, rock, rap, and techno. This fusion of the classic korean ballad with western sounds interlaced with dancing gave way to the birth of modern K-pop. One of the back up singers, Yang Hyun-suk eventually went to found YG Entertainment one of the biggest korean music labels today. Debuting in 1992, Seo Taiji and the Boys fundamentally changed the face of popular korean culture and paved the path for the worldwide phenomenon that is the K-pop wave today.