So, you’re officially the last one to join the K-Pop craze. It’s okay, now is better than never. Joking aside, if you’re looking for a unique and endless form of entertainment, search no further than the magical world of K-Pop. Short for “Korean Pop,” K-Pop is a phrase used to describe popular music from Korea whether it’s traditional pop, rap, hip-hop, indie, rock or anything in between. You don’t necessarily need to understand Korean to love K-Pop — if you’re really curious, that’s when subtitles come in handy — because the genre is more than just the catchy and addictive tunes. It’s also equally about the elaborate visuals, perfectly in sync choreography, sartorial choices and (of course) the hair/makeup looks. K-Pop has increased popularity since the ‘90s when the very first idol group (more on what that means below), H.O.T., debuted in 1996 with popular songs like “Candy.” (They only stayed together for five years due to a disagreement with management, but they recently made a comeback!)
Before we jump in, let’s nail down some of the lingo you should learn when talking about K-Pop culture:
- Bias: It’s just a matter of time when you’re talking about K-Pop where someone will eventually ask, “who’s your bias?” It’s basically how it sounds: a preference for a certain member from a group, which could have up to 21 members (as in the case of boy band group NCT). There are also bias wreckers when a K-Pop star makes you reconsider who your number one is. Then there’s such a thing as an ultimate bias — someone who’s your favorite member out of all the possible K-Pop groups.
- Big 3: The Big 3 comprises the biggest South Korean entertainment companies: SM Entertainment (BoA, H.O.T., Shinhwa, Fly to the Sky), YG Entertainment (Big Bang, 2NE1, SE7EN, CL) and JYP Entertainment (Wonder Girls, Twice, 2PM).
- Fan chant: Fan chants are kind of similar to how every school has their chants during football games. In the K-Pop word, fan chants usually consist of yelling out the names of the group — or it can be about the audience collectively singing certain lyrics of a song.
- Fancams: These are fan-made videos that are zoomed in on an individual of a K-Pop group during live concerts or performances. Sometimes they’ve helped make a song or a specific idol from a group (more on that below) more popular.
- Hwaiting (화이팅): It’s not strictly used just for talking about K-Pop (for instance, it’s often used in sports), but it means “fighting” and used as a term for support or to cheer someone on.
- Killing part (or point): Aka the best part of a song (like when one of the members hits an impressive high note) or the choreography (like a particularly sick move of a dance).
- Idols and idol groups: These are synonymous with K-Pop stars — they are groups of artists who go through an extremely challenging training process to perfect the art of dancing and singing or rapping.
- Stans: If you live, breathe and speak all things K-Pop, you’re a stan (or the ultimate fan).
- Sub-unit: K-Pop groups can be very large so sub-units are smaller groups that break off from the bigger group for fun and to be able to show off their talents that might otherwise get lost in the larger idol group.
What to Listen to
So you’re ready to spice up your work-from-home playlist, huh? Get ready for some earworms.
“Gee” – Girls’ Generation
For many millennials, “Gee” was their introduction to K-Pop back in 2009 when the song first came out. Although they disbanded in 2017, this song is still standing strong as a favorite thanks to its addictive, bubblegum pop chorus.
“Promise” – EXO
Grab a Kleenex, because this beautiful ballad will tug at the heartstrings. After a rough ride in 2014 with a few of the group’s members leaving, fans were feeling abandoned. This song was created as thanks for their fans’ support through challenging times and a promise that they’ll also hold true to their band’s slogan, “we are one.”
“Boy with Luv” – BTS feat. Halsey
No K-Pop list would be complete without including BTS (an acronym that stands for “Bangtan Sonyeondan” aka Bulletproof Boy Scouts), which is arguably the most globally loved idol group right now. This upbeat song features live instruments, a catchy beat and their first collaboration with Halsey who doesn’t just sing in English, but a combo of both English and Korean.
“How You Like That” – BLACKPINK
This song won the “Song of the Summer” at this year’s MTV Music Awards — a for the group and the first time any Asian artist has even been nominated for the category. Needless to say, it was a great moment if you are a BLINK (the name for BLACKPINK fans).
“I Know” – Seo Taji and Boys
When Seo Taji and Boys performed this song during a talent show in April 1992, they actually placed dead last (womp, womp), but the hip-hop song ended up at the top of music charts for 17 weeks. This carved the path for entertainment companies to create our first known popular idol groups of the ‘90s (like H.O.T.).
What to Watch
Some people might wonder if music videos are still relevant ever since MTV pivoted away from them. But then you see a K-Pop music video and you’ll find that there’s very much still an artform to them to help bring their lyrics to life.
Can we go ahead and just officially call this our official anthem every summer? Visually, the music video’s set, outfits and graphics look like Sugar Crush has come to life. Lyrically, the song is pretty much all in English aside from a few rap lyrics from Lisa, so you’ll easily jam to the cheeky double entendres throughout the song. Thanks to the pandemic, BLACKPINK shot their music video scenes in South Korea while Selena Gomez filmed hers in the States, but it still flows seamlessly.
There’s the catchy music, obviously, but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t here for the beauty looks alone: The sparkly crystal eyeliner. The cotton candy hair. The stained lips. We’re also pretty entertained by the fact that fans of the group are called Once and anti-fans are called Thrice.
Every time you watch this video, it’ll feel like summer year-round. “Umpah umpah” is an onomatopoeia for the sounds you make when you breathe while swimming (“um” on the inhale; “pah” on the exhale”). The lyrics tell a story of falling in love with the girls and learning how to breathe regularly through it. The video is set on a beach to complete the swimming theme, but we bet you’ll mostly be distracted by the rad style choices (orange eye shadow, anyone?).
Meet the music video that broke the internet. “Dynamite” crushed the record for fastest music video views within 24 hours with 101.1 million views. This is mainly thanks to their superfans who call themselves the A.R.M.Y., which stands for “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth” — a military nod that BTS is known for implementing into their persona. This is their first song entirely in English in the seven years they’ve been performing and it was inspired by the way they feel the world needs a “positive explosion.”
Who to Follow
There’s no shortage of makeup and hair inspiration when it comes to K-Pop idols, as evidenced by the millions of people who already follow these icons.
Jin from BTS (fanstagram account: @jin.bts)
While the individual members of BTS don’t have Instagram accounts (you can follow their main page, @bts.bighitofficial), over five million followers double-tap on the regular on the fanstagram account made specifically for Jin. His nickname is WWH, which stands for “worldwide handsome.” Could it be because of his killer smile? His ability to pull off every rainbow hair color? His perfect skin? Scroll through to find out.
Lisa from BLACKPINK (@lalalalisa_m)
There are a few reasons why Lalisa Manoban (who goes by Lisa) is the K-Pop idol with the most Instagram followers to date, but our favorite is that she always keeps you guessing with her style. The multilingual Thai rapper is known for her iconic blunt bangs but that doesn’t mean she keeps her hairstyle one note. It’s been long, short, wavy, ombré, pink — and everything in between.
Formerly of girl groups Wonder Girls and 4Minute, she’s been no stranger to experimenting with her beauty looks (think: bejeweled cheeks, thick liner and fun dye jobs). She’s also known for her iconic red lip, which is no stranger to her Instagram feed. She’s the face of a campaign with YSL Beauty and Vogue Korea called “Endanger Me Red” so fans were quick to copy her signature lip.
Ever since rapper CL (formerly of girl group 2NE1) hit the music scene when she was 15, she’s never stopped surprising us with her beauty looks. You’ll frequently see her with a smoky, thick cat-eye, but somehow it always has a slight twist whether that’s extra-long lashes, glitter or pairing it with an unexpected bold lip. As she promotes her new comeback album, we’re sure her feed will serve plenty more inspo.
Jackson Wang from Got7 (@jacksonwang852g7)
Jackson is the definition of eye candy with hair that falls in his face just so and cheekbones for days (case in point: his endorsements as the face of Giorgio Armani Beauty and L’Oreal). He just came out with his own fashion line, Team Wang, so you’re sure to see his feed serving more fierce looks.
When you think about the end goal for your 12-step Korean skincare routine, you think of BoA. The “Queen of K-Pop” is always pairing her dewy and fresh-faced look with something ultra-chic, like rosy cheeks, a stained lip or sultry waves.
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