10 K-POP & J-POP BANDS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT
As music obsessives, we're obsessed with novelty. When you hear so much music in any given 24-hour period, sounds have a tendency to run together. So many indie bands, electronic artists, and underground styles tend to blur, looking and sounding so similar it's almost impossible to tell them apart. Burnout is inevitable, along with the boredom that follows.
The constant connectivity of the Internet remedies that problem for us, however - provided you can weather the inverse burn-out of data overload. Luckily, we here at We Are: The Guard, tirelessly seek out new and novel sounds from every corner of the globe. In the last 10 years, many of the most interesting and exciting sounds and styles have been emerging from Asia, particularly Korea and Japan.
J-pop and K-pop have been on the rise since Psy's "Gangnam Style" went viral in 2012. It makes sense why "Gangnam Style" was so popular, with its candy coated club beats, choreographed dance moves, and an earworm that burrows into your subconscious and takes up permanent residence.
J-pop and K-pop take Pop Music to its furthest reaches. The Cult Of Celebrity reaches its absolute zenith with The Idols, whose fans sometimes operate as de facto patrons, supporting their favorite Idols in exchange for special favors and incentives. J-pop and K-pop live events are a whole new definition of spectacle, as well, with die-hard dedicated fans celebrating their beloved bands with branded light sticks - a much more stylish and day-glo take on the lighters in the air of the hair metal arena days.
Black Pink is ensuring that K-pop is taking over the headlines this week, as fans furiously clamor for a long-hinted reunion. The moment is nearly at hand, it seems, with the band setting the Internet into fits with the mere tease of their new light stick.
Black Pink is the perfect embodiment of K-pop. The group were founded by a South Korean company, YG Entertainment, who also engage in talent management, event promotions, even golf management. Black Pink were assembled via auditions in Thailand, resulting in the iconic lineup of isoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa. They're the image of glamour, radiating star power. Jennie was put forth as the de facto leader, at first, but each girl has come into their own, with their own fandom, over time.
They’re the highest-charting K-pop band of all time, with "As If It's Your Last," coming in at #15 on Billboard's Social 50 charts. They also hold records for having the most #1 digital downloads. Several of their music videos have hundreds of millions of views. It's no wonder, with brilliant colors and bangin' Soca beats breaking out into full-bore K-pop club bliss.
They've done all of this in two years time. It's kind of intense to have such a furious demand for a comeback for a band that only got together in 2016, but such is Black Pink's fandom. They've got their own social media network, where they discuss fashion tips and how to be better fans. There's even Black Pink fan fiction, on ArchiveOfOurOwn. Fans might be a bit obsessive, but they put their powers towards good. And worshipping confectionary, addictive K-pop.
PRISTIN is more of an army than a pop group. They've even got sub-units, a kind of Special Ops of bubblegum K-pop. They've even got iconic tattoos, each girl with her own style.
There are a staggering ten members in PRISTIN. If one of the principles of pop groups is having a member to relate to, to see yourself in, then pretty much anybody on Earth could find a reason to obsess over this super troop.
PRISTIN have only been together since 2016, as well. Like many K-pop bands, the group came together as a result of a competition, the tv show Produce 101. Two of the girls detoured into I.O.I., and PRISTIN made their proper debut in early 2017.
The group is not merely stage props, however. They impressively write their own material and stage their own choreography. The ability to come to a consensus with 10 members is award-worthy alone, let alone with such snap.
PRISTIN fall near the cotton candy flavor of the K-pop spectrum, as opposed to the more harder-edged hip-hop vibes of Black Pink. If you're looking for bright, colorful pop music that you won't be able to get out of your head for three days, you should put PRISTIN on your playlist. And watch their videos over and over again, if only for the fashion tips alone.
Pretty girls are not a prerequisite for a K-pop band's success. There's plenty of pretty boys out there, as well, as the Korean version of the boy bands in the U.S. of the early 2000s.
Korean/Chinese K-pop boy band EXO is like the masculine version of PRISTIN. They have even more members, clocking in at an epic twelve musicians! They also have sub-unites, with EXO-K and EXO-M, to promote the band in both Korea and China. Their name comes from the word 'exoplanet,' a planet outside of the normal orbit. EXO could be considered outliers of the K-pop scene, being an all-guy group and focusing on a wider pallet of sounds, ranging from trap music to EDM to house music and synthpop.
Drawing from this expanded stylistic pallet makes EXO one of the most likely candidates for true Global crossover success.
NCT 127 are the Seoul-based sub-unit of South Korea's NCT. They're also a K-pop boy band. They have even more members than Exo, with a staggering 18 musicians!
Like they sing on their big single "Cherry Bomb," "I'm the biggest hit on the stage." We don't doubt that's true, with a truly compelling mixture of trap rap and smooth, catchy pop choruses. For those looking to get into K-pop/J-pop but are having a hard time getting past the kawaii aesthetics of some of the more pop idol-focused groups, you'd do well to check out NCT 127. They sound downright aggressive, at times, copping from Dirty South and stainless steel trap beats. Style and edge are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
BTS may well be the biggest K-pop band on the planet. So much so that they've ranked on Forbes' Korea Power Celebrity list. They're also infamous for their social media presence. The South Korean 7-piece have one of the largest Twitter followings on the planet, as well as the most engagement. They've earned a Guinness world record for most Twitter engagements, in 2018. Their posts regularly get more likes and retweets than Donald Trump and Justin Bieber combined.
BTS are so beloved on social media they've even got their own emoji on Twitter.
Their popularity isn't restricted to viral posts, however. BTS holds the record for the highest ranking K-pop album of all time, with 2016's Wings peaking at #26 on Billboard. Their crossover appeal has allowed BTS to work with some huge name international artists, like Desiigner.
As we get more K-pop band crossovers and break-outs, it's only a matter of time until we have giant K-pop arena spectacles, with light sticks and choreographed dance moves, before you know it!
Red Velvet are more of a traditional K-pop band. They're comprised of five stylish pop idols from South Korea. They have the synchronized choreography, the styled look. Their sounds leans towards the polished, plastic club pop of Katy Perry or Meghan Trainor. It's no wonder their albums have been so well-received, ultimately culminating in being named Best Female Group of 2017 by the Mnet Asian Music Award.
Red Velvet are also unique in the K-pop world. Their name is in reference to the two sides of their musical personality. The Red part refers to their light-hearted, playful side, as you can see in the music video for "Red Flavor." Velvet refers to their more elegant, refined, mature aspect. Between them both, there's something for every Pop music lover in Red Velvet.
Wanna One are another up-and-coming K-pop boy band from Seoul. They also rose from the ranks of Produce 101, like PRISTIN. Several of their members were already seasoned entertainers, with numerous child actors and some of their members have performed in previous groups.
This mixture of style and chops is probably why they so immediately caught the attention of YMC Entertainment, who had previously managed Produce 101's previous winner, I.O.I.
Wanna One are a classic example of a K-pop boy band. Their music leans towards the hyperclean, polished Top 40 Pop of Justin Bieber, as does their manicured good looks. Add in some slick dancing and you've got Seoul's answer to the Backstreet Boys.
Twice are another example of a classic L-pop group. The 9-piece girl group was brought together via a competition show, as usual, coming out of the show Sixteen. They came out of the gate swinging, with one of their earliest singles, "Cheer Up", debuting at #1 on the Gaon Digital Charts. It would go on to be the best-performing single of the year.
Their first compilation, #Twice, sold 136,157 copies within seven days. Plus, they ranked #3 on the Recording Industry Association Of Japan (RIAJ) in 2017.
Twice are about to set out on the road with their Twiceland Zone 2 tour. Keep your eyes peeled for lots of eye-bursting visuals on social media.
Dreamcatcher are relative newcomers on the K-pop scene. The 7-piece rose from the ashes of Minx, a previous girl group, becoming Dreamcatcher in 2017.
They are darker, moodier, rockier than most K-pop you'll hear. They sound similar to another J-pop icon, Baby Metal, with a similar blend of crunchy distorted guitars and stylish, choreographed music videos.
Dreamcatcher's "Chase Me" sounds like the soundtrack to an angsty gothic anime. The video looks like Park Chan-wook directing The Shining. Dreamcatcher prove that K-pop isn't merely for candy ravers, and that darkness, catchiness, and style need not be mutually exclusive.
We conclude our list with the smallest grouping. TVXQ might be only two people, but you'd never know it. Their electro-infused synthetic pop is lavish and full, as big and larger-than-life as any Arcade Fire record. TVWQ's music shimmers with HD clarity - the audio version of anime hair - while still holding true to some of the more adventurous sounds coming out of underground music in the last few years. TVWQ's funky machine grooves owes an allegiance to the avant-garde soul/funk of Rhye to the cybernetic r&b of Autre Ne Veut to the electro rock of Polica.
Like most of the best K-pop, TVXQ have a killer style and fashion sense, as well. Watch their videos, like "The Chance Of Love", and get some ideas on how to truly rock a Yacht Rock look.
As the globe continues to shrink, as we become more interconnected (and interdependent), we're only going to see more and more of K-pop and J-pop. It will be interesting to see how the bright colors and sugary beats translate to other countries and cultures, as well. What might a Southern Rock/J-pop crossover sound like? What about Chicago drill music? At this stage in American culture, as it stands, we wonder if it's possible to have such a widespread, monolithic musical culture, as society is so segmented and siloed. Perhaps that's a lesson we could take from our Korean cousins, learning to celebrate the group while still celebrating individuality.
However it shakes out, We Are: The Guard will be watching. And listening. And reporting back with daily updates from the indie music underground.