Make way for the ladies! If you’re just getting into the genre, here are some K-pop girl groups you absolutely must know.
Even if you’re a casual fan, you know that K-pop girl groups are often at a disadvantage in the industry. Fans often complain about repurposed concepts (either bubbly or femme fatale, rolls eyes), and the scarce opportunities for expansion. Not to mention the unwarranted hate that women in K-pop face for what are often perceived offences.
Despite this, there is no scarcity of K-pop girl groups who have gone against the tide and won. Whether it’s through their concepts or an unabashed control of their art and personality, these K-pop girl groups have become the epitome of the forward march of the genre and personal inspiration.
So make way, people, let the K-pop girl groups introduce themselves. Here comes trouble!
No conversation about K-pop will ever be complete without mentioning the former nonet Girls’ Generation. After a stream of consecutive male idol debuts, their 2007 debut made girl groups cool again. Their vast oeuvre swings from bubblegum pop to EDM to R&B, all held together by their delicate balance.
With signature tracks like ‘Gee’, ‘Mr. Mr.’ ‘Run Devil Run’, and ‘I Got A Boy’, Girls’ Generation proved that K-pop girl groups could be unconventional and boundary-pushing.
Not only have they left a string of broken records in its wake, but also influenced numerous active acts. Making consistent appearances on Greatest K-pop Girl Groups and Essential K-pop charts, “The Nation’s Girl Group” is still going strong, albeit with five members now.
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Ah, thinking of “South Korea’s Retro Queens” still leaves us with a heavy heart. Despite line-up changes and member departures, Wonder Girls were a consistent presence on charts with their retro-inspired music. Songs like ‘Tell Me’ and ‘Nobody’ were some South Korea’s early viral hits, a streak they maintained throughout their career.
In fact, any mention of K-pop global expansion is empty without Wonder Girls. In 2009, ‘Nobody’ entered the Billboard Hot 100, making them the first South Korean act to do so.
While 2016’s ‘Why So Lonely’ was their last viral release, fans find comfort in the members’ present solo careers.
Do we really need to say anything about this quartet except that they are the best? 2NE1 might have been shortlived as an act, but their stint remains legendary nonetheless.
Since their debut with ‘Fire’, the quartet became the stencil for empowered K-pop girl groups. With their take-no-shit attitude and luxurious hip-hop sound, 2NE1 became a benchmark for girl-crush concepts that inspired numerous acts.
Between vulnerable tracks like ‘Lonely’ and power anthems like ‘I Am The Best’, 2NE1 boasted a nonpareil range in K-pop. Before they disbanded (too soon), they were considered one of South Korea’s most successful K-pop girl groups.
Another short-lived act who set themselves apart from their peers through their experimental electro-pop sound and proclivity for LPs. Until f(x) came into the scene, full-length albums in K-pop were a rarity.
The cohesive sonic landscape of their albums, however, proved that an industry dependent on ever-evolving concepts could still deliver on longer, more focused works.
The focus on tightly-knit artistry gave their music a unique mold, one that still remains to be filled. Unfortunately, this unique quartet released only 4 albums, with their last one being in 2015.
Apink are often touted as one of the most steady and consistent acts of the so-called second generation of K-pop. Their veteran status, however, isn’t just by virtue of their constant presence in the industry. Despite their ‘senior’ status, Apink have successfully reinvented themselves in an industry that is almost always saturated with new acts.
Their nascent years were the epitome of bubblegum-pop, with catchy singles like ‘Mr. Chu’ and ‘NoNoNo’ skyrocketing their popularity. In 2018, however, nearly 7 years after debut, Apink returned showcasing their darkest sides yet with ‘I’m So Sick’. All we could say was: ‘cultural reset.’
The sexier, more mature streak continued with ‘%% (Eung Eung)’ and ‘Dumhdurum’, achieving something massively tough in K-pop: a successful reinvention. ‘I’m So Sick’ wasn’t just the blaring entrance of their second innings: it was a polished veteran almost showing off. It was as if Apink were telling us that evolution is the mark of true artistry.
Of all the earworms that plagued our dreams in 2017, Twice’s ‘TT’ was probably the most common one. The Halloween-themed music video gave us shivers, celeb covers, and the iconic ‘TT’ step, certainly not their first viral moment.
The nine members (goddesses) of Twice were put together by JYP Entertainment CEO, Park Jinyoung, through the reality show Sixteen. Almost immediately, Twice swept the charts with their signature sound, becoming synonymous with a bright and happy image.
If it looked like they could fall into K-pop’s bubblegum trappings, 2019’s ‘Fancy’ put that to rest. Not only did they successfully spin towards a sultrier image, but they also became the best selling K-pop girl group of all time in the process.
Unofficially known as the ‘K-pop’s B-Side Queens’, Red Velvet is an act treading a delicate line and doing it well. Their concept and name are an amalgamation of two polar opposites.
The ‘Red’ side is quirky, delicate, and feminine; the ‘Velvet’ sensual, dark, and unforgiving in their transactions. Together, they make a sonic and visual mix that is equal parts alluring and downright chilling. It’s that grey area, however, that makes them so captivating. Despite the dangers lurking beneath the bright pastels of their music videos, sisterhood is everything.
It’s for this reason that Red Velvet has consistently delivered some of the most exciting K-pop music in recent years. From the quirky, upbeat tunes of ‘Dumb Dumb’ and ‘Ice Cream Cake’ to the occultist extravagance of ‘Peek-a-boo’, we never know what Red Velvet will do next. We sure as hell are going to enjoy it, though.
Before we begin, let us all congratulate ourselves for waiting so long to see BLACKPINK in our area. Even if you haven’t heard of K-pop girl groups before, you have heard of BLACKPINK. Oh you know, the group who broke Youtube’s record for most viewed online videos in the first 24 hours not once, but twice? The group whose latest release set multiple new Guinness records?
All this without a full-length album under their belt. This one’s going to be rectified in October with their first full-length release. There is no doubt, however, that with their current pace, they are going to keep eating records for breakfast.
What do you get when you make a group out of some of the most talented vocalists in the industry? Only one of the best K-pop girl groups of our generation, that’s what. Every year, this expansive and multifarious quartet is one that fans wait for with baited breaths.
It’s not just their diverse discography featuring sounds from funk to jazz to R&B, but also their take-no-shit attitude. The members have repeatedly called out haters for trying to police their clothes and their makeup, making it clear that no matter what society throws at them, they will always be ‘hip’.
It’s been just a little over two years since their debut, but (G)I-DLE have quickly positioned themselves as one of the strongest front-runners of the fourth generation of K-pop. From their unabashed and diverse choices of themes to the control they have over their production, (G)I-DLE displays wisdom far beyond their rookie status.
Part of the credit goes to leader Soyeon, who oversees almost all of the production and songwriting. But holding the group together is a brutal honesty that reflects in their music, whether they are talking about heartbreak or claiming their throne or flirting with sin. Safe to say, we’re going to remember these girls for a long time.