A cheat's guide to K-pop

  • [Monday] 01st Sep,2014
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This month sees YG Entertainment, one of the biggest Korean music stables, bring a host of K-pop royalty to town. But what if you can't tell your Big Bangs from your 2NE1s? Time Out provides a handy guide


When you think K-pop girl bands, you’d be forgiven for thinking all of them fall into the cookie cutter cliché of saccharine ‘aegyo’ princesses. But since launching in 2009, 2NE1 - comprised of CL, Bom, Dara and Minzy - have sought to break that mould with their eclectic mix of pop, rap, bold aesthetics, risqué hairstyles and plain swagger, which has brought them barrier-breaking global success. Their star has grown to the extent that they’ve collaborated with will.i.am and Snoop Dogg, rubbed shoulders with Nicki Minaj, and can number Rihanna among their millions of fans.

Big Bang

Often stylised as BIGBANG, this fivesome mix hip hop influences with electronic and Euro-trash house beats while throwing in occasional English phrases (see smash hit 'Bad Boy' for a classic example). Each of the members - G-Dragon, T.O.P, Taeyang, Daesung and Seungri - have had successful solo careers, but they remain most potent when operating together, both as a musical force and a commercial one (their endorsement deals are reportedly worth millions). 


Capitalising on China's thirst for K-pop, SM Entertainment's EXO boyband consist of 11 clean cut members who are split into two sub-groups (EXO-K and EXO-M) who sing in Korean and Mandarin. EXO originally consisted of 12 performers, but prominent Guangdong-born EXO-M member Kris Wu has been locked in a legal battle in recent months to cancel his contract with SM Entertainment, and the group have been doing concerts without him. 

Girls' Generation

Having topped Forbes' Korea Power Celebrity list for three of the past four years (in 2013 they came second to Psy) and with hundreds of millions of official video views on YouTube, Girls' Generation are certified K-pop royalty. The nine-member outfit deal in saccharine pop ballads and dance numbers and have also built a strong following in Japan, having released a number of albums there.


Does this guy really need an introduction? This video will probably suffice:


Old timer Rain first made his K-pop debut at the age of just 16 in boyband FanClub. He launched his solo career in 2002 and went on to achieve massive success, earning the title of 'King of K-pop' and performing to huge crowds both at home and here in China. After attempting to crack Hollywood - he appeared in a couple of Wachowski films in the late '00s - Rain returned to Korea and undertook his military service in 2011. Discharged in July 2013, he's since been working on his comeback and released a new album at the start of this year.


Since releasing their debut single Replay back in 2008, this R&B boy group have won many awards including the title 'The artist who managed to get in top three for three continuous releases since debut' for the foreign artist category in Japan with their remake of Replay. No one had gained such an achievement since the single ranking chart was established 45 years ago. Their cute images and chic style have also earned them their own reality shows and started the 'Shinee Trend'.

Super Junior

This K-pop group comprised a total of 13 members at its peak. Super Junior are well-received worldwide since the release of their debut single Sorry, Sorry in 2009. Although the past few years have seen them being divided into smaller groups and one of the members Hankyung leaving the group after filing a lawsuit against their agency, the group have won best-selling K-pop artist for three years in a row and were nominated for 'Best Asian Act' in MTV Europe Music Awards in 2012. Now they have 10 active members.

The Wonder Girls

Sure you've seen enough versions of Nobody. Maybe the original from this five-piece girl group is the best?