A Beginner’s Guide to Kpop – Seoulistic

A Beginner’s Guide to Kpop

Girl’s Generation

If PSY was your first introduction to Korean Popular music (hereafter referred to only as KPop) then you, my friend, have opened a Pandora’s box of music. Kpop is one of the fastest growing music genres in the world. For the sake of this article, KPop does not refer to Korean Pop music, but Korean Popular music, i.e. the more popular music in Korea right now. To make this easier to digest, we’ve broken things down into subgenres, each with musician/group recommendations for your listening pleasure.

So lets begin our journey!


Idol Singers

The term “idol singer” does not mean someone who won a music contest show. In Korea, it means a singer who has trained under one of the massive talent agencies of Korea. The largest of these agencies are SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment. Idols are normally either a part of boy band, girl band, or a solo singer.

Idol Bands

Idol boy bands are the real money makers of the KPop industry. These are boy bands in the traditional 1990s America sense of boy bands (think N’Sync, Backstreet Boys). They are groups of anywhere from 2 to 12 guys all singing and dancing and looking perfect. Boy bands will typically adopt their own personas.

First, you have the cute boy bands represented by groups like B1A4, FT Island, and Boyfriend. Then there are the cute girl bands like Orange Caramel, APink, and Kara. These guys and gals are more wholesome and produce upbeat, dancey pop music. They’re known for wearing extremely bright clothes and pulling aegyo faces so often that it might give you cavities.

After School

Then there’s the sexy boy bands ruled majestically by groups like Big Bang, 2PM, Infinite, and MBLAQ. These guys are fighting to be just a sizzlingly hot as their sexy girl band counterparts like 2NE1, 4Minute, Sistar, and Miss A. Their music tends to be more club-oriented, with more aggressive beats and darker, sexier concepts. These guys and girls are not above showing off their *a-hem* assets in the most drool-worthy ways.

Now, I know any people with knowledge of KPop are getting your comments prepared for not seeing Girl’s Generation yet, but that’s because I consider them part of the transitional idol bands group. Groups that began as cute groups, but are slowly, and inconsistently, transitioning into sexy groups as their memebers come of age. Similar groups include Be2st (aka Beast), Wonder Girls, After School, and SHINee.

Click next for “Idol Solo Acts”

Margaret has been living and working in Seoul since 2011. Originally hailing from the United States (Maine and Tennessee, to be precise) she’s more than found a home amongst the wonders of Seoul. She eats more kimbap that could possibly be healthy for her and has a bad habit of bursting into KPop songs to which she does not know even 80% of the lyrics. Check out her blog at margarettriesbeing.com for more in-depth (that is to say, rambling) articles on Seoul How-To’s, Survival Tips, and excessive use of animated gifs.


  1. PSY says:

    SoShi was the first group I really listened to, back before their debut I watched GGTS when paying a visit to SK

  2. mup says:

    “Similar groups include Be2st (aka Beast), Wonder Girls, After School, and SHINee.”
    it’s B2ST, not Be2st. lol

  3. Titi says:

    Okay then, where’s Super Junior? 😐 😐 😐 😐 😐 Where’s Shinhwa?! Anyway, thanks!

  4. Spress says:

    People wishing to explore more of Korean music might want to check out EatYourKimchi. It’s a Canadian couple who review music, culture and life in Korea. I was introduced to Kpop via Wonder Girls back in 2008, went and saw them live in San Francisco 2010, and 2012. They’re on hiatus now, but fans are hoping they’ll return soon!

  5. Rora says:

    I think CNBLUE deserves a mention! I normally only like select songs from various artists, but CNBLUE and FT ISLAND are the only two bands that I have all their songs on my playlist. 🙂

  6. Margaret says:

    Thanks so much for the suggestions @Rora & @Titl. Since this was an attempt at a general overview I couldn’t include all of the great bands there are to enjoy. I love both Super Junior and CNBlue but was having a difficult time deciding which sub-genre they best fit into since they’re very unique groups.

    Keep reading and keep commenting! Comments are what make our writing better!

  7. farnaz says:

    Your comment…woooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwww 2pm is realllllyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy best

  8. henny says:

    i think u guys have to review about 1st generation of idol in korea too!^^ like H.O.T, Shinhwa, S.E.S. because i still heard them a lot when i was junior high school (even im not living in korean). and generally, kpop become famous because BoA and Rain’s hardwork. seems they have big contribution bout kpop. =]

  9. Margaret says:

    Oh totally, Shinhwa did a lot to shape how KPop artists present themselves today and they’re still a pretty popular group (“Venus” from last year is still one of my top KPop songs). Rain and BoA then added to that with adding the importance to cross-promote yourself overseas. “Evolution of KPop” would make an interesting article!

  10. P Smith says:

    I lived in Seoul from 2001 to 2005. Kpop sucked then, and it still sucks now. It’s an entire country modeled on Stock Aitken Waterman “music” (see: Rick Astley, Kylie Minogue). Even worse is how it’s exported and taking over – and ruining – the once strong domestic scenes in other countries (e.g. Japan, Philippines, etc.).

    The only good bands in Korea back in the early 2000s were the punk and alternative bands (e.g. Crying Nut, No Brain, Cherry Filter, et al) and they were the only groups writing and playing their own music. It’s no surprise that groups like those are the among the few that have had 10-15 year careers, still able to attract fans today. People want DIY and originality, but they’re not getting much of it from the Korean music industry.

  11. GIM says:

    For foreigners interested in learning the Korean language characteristic of K-Pop, you should include this site:


    Seemile is a site out of Hangyan University in Seoul which specializes in language materials for several Asian languages, especially for Korean. Jenny Lee, who does a lot of the teaching is very pretty, and is a good and interesting teacher.

  12. DavidXian says:

    I recommend LeeSSang!
    They started as a non-idol singers – without big agency but now I think they’re as popular as the idols. (I heard they’re already popular in Korea even before Gil joined Infinite Challenge and Gary joined Running Man though.)

  13. :S Sujin :S says:

    Why didn’t you leave EXO out??? D:

  14. Angie says:

    Is Dynamic Duo still considered underground? If I recall correctly, they performed on music shows like Music Bank when they were promoting their single BAAM BAAM BAAM.

  15. Allie says:

    Some confusing infortions here, han? I think we should be very careful when we label groups without researching enough .__.

  16. Talos says:

    Think you forgot Kasper lol

  17. Baiyo says:

    Don’t forget about EXO 😉

  18. Mrs. Park says:

    I love BTS, just saying 😀

  19. Hannah says:

    I don’t get the whole jizz with Girls Generation. I know their stuff, yet I’m just not a fan. To me, they’re a bit overrated. Now, don’t pound me for it! I respect them, I’m not particularly crazy for them, though. That’s all. I DO love Kpop, though!!!

  20. girl korean says:

    i love korea so much korea y world and my heart ….. i’m really i want boyfriend she from korea

  21. Skylar says:

    i got to hear about a lot of band half of them i already knew but i didn’t hear one mention of The “SUPER JUNIOR”…which is like almost as famous as Girls Generation. and also i didn’t hear a thing about EXO and the BTS!!!
    well that disspoints me a litttle

  22. Bethany Reed says:

    The first kpop group I ever listened to was back 10 years ago which was Big Bang. I think the industry to growing in a good way. I love BTS and their story.

  23. Erica says:

    It’s amazing how all this is relevant even till today and kpop is only still at the beginning stages of growth; I can’t wait to see what its going to be like in 10 years!

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