Opinion Piece

K-Pop Artists Today Owe Much of Their Success to These 17 Groups

K-Pop has exploded in popularity over the past 3-years. K-Ville Entertainment began making charts in January 2014, back when K-Pop was still quite unknown outside of Asia and didn’t have anywhere near the amount of groups that are around today. From what I have observed and learned, these are the 17 Groups that contributed the most to the boom of popularity in K-Pop since 2012 (in no particular order).


Before we jump into the groups that helped shape K-Pop into the powerhouse it is today, we must acknowledge the man responsible for the most exposure it has ever gotten. PSY is the single biggest thing to have happened to K-Pop. . . ever! Like him or not, much of the accolades goes to him.


They have been called the ‘Kings of K-Pop’, ‘Gods of K-Pop’, and just about every other prestigious title you can imagine. BIGBANG were one of the most versatile, unique, entertaining groups to emerge from the mid-2000s era. They grew to spectacular heights in 2012 with their immortal song, ‘Fantastic Baby’, and from there continued to break records with hit after hit.


There is no disputing the fact that Girls’ Generation are the most successful girl group in the history of K-Pop. Simply listing their accomplishments would fill up a book (no exaggeration). They were trend-setters and record-breakers that took Asia by storm with their infectiously catchy songs and jaw-dropping visual concepts. Their most notable singles would have to be ‘Gee’ (2009), and ‘I Got a Boy’ (2013). 


Another group that has smashed records and taken the world by storm, Super Junior are responsible for much of what is popular conceptually by K-Pop boy groups today. You cannot mention “catchy K-Pop songs” and not include Super Junior in the discussion. They are the kings of songs that would never leave your head no matter how hard you tried. If you don’t believe me, try listening to their two most notable songs: ‘Sorry, Sorry’ (2009), and ‘Mr. Simple’ (2011).


One of my personal favourite groups, 2NE1 reinvigorated K-Pop girl groups by bringing a strength, style and attitude that simply wasn’t present at the time. Having a strong “don’t care” vibe about them is something that truly resonated among fans who could not relate to the squeaky clean bubble-gum pop that was K-Pop at the time. Their versatile fashion sense and incredibly personal music changed the game for K-Pop girl groups.


My words cannot do justice to exactly how much TVXQ shaped what K-Pop is today. They were everything. For a long time they were hands down the most popular group in the K-Pop industry, with legendary songs and concepts that groups today still try their best to emulate. The song that truly changed the game was ‘Mirotic’ (2009), which I think is arguably the greatest K-Pop song of all time.


I would consider Wonder Girls as having one of the most impressive accomplishments in this history of K-Pop. On top of dominating the charts in Korea and at times over Asia, they even managed to be the FIRST Korean group to break into the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in the USA. That was a feat that would not be surpassed until 3 years later by PSY. It was with their immortal song ‘Nobody’ (2009) that they helped K-Pop become what it is today.


Another legendary group from the company SM EntertainmentSHINEE released a string of songs that catapulted them up the top with the all time greats. Their fearless fashion and absolutely addictive songs were integral in shaping K-Pop over the years. Their most notable hits were ‘RingDingDong’ (2009), and ‘Lucifer’ (2010). 


Catchy. Sexy. Cool. KARA stepped it up and became the single most popular K-Pop group in Japan, as well as one of the most popular acts across Asia. Their evolution and discography is one of the finest you’ll find, along with the unforgettable choreography that accompanied them. For their Japanese fans, ‘Mister’ (2009) would be the song to recommend. However, I present to you what I consider to be one of the finest songs and music videos in K-Pop history, ‘Step’ (2011). 


Now there are a lot of groups from the 1990s that deserve to be on this list. However, the group that managed to last and continue building on their massive success the most was none other than the legendary SHINHWA. Their success was immense, their music extremely versatile, and their accomplishments are many. The groups on this list themselves owe a lot to SHINHWA, who helped pave the way for them. Their song ‘Perfect Man’ (2002), remains one of the most beloved songs in K-Pop.


‘Bo-Peep’ (2009). ‘Roly Poly’ (2011). ‘Lovey-Dovey’ (2012). ‘Sexy Love’ (2013). These are just four T-ARA songs. These are four of the most successful songs in K-Pop history. These four songs are just a drop in the ocean of amazing T-ARA songs. They have one of the most incredible discographies in the world. Their music videos covered just about every cinematic genre you can think of, some spanning over 15 minutes in length, some with multiple different versions. If I keep going I’ll end up writing an essay about T-ARA’s contributions to K-Pop, so instead I will leave you with their song ‘Bo-Peep’. 


Boom! You hear that? That’s the sound of a boy group outside of YG Entertainment and SM Entertainment giving them a huge fight in terms of success and popularity. That’s right, 2PM helped launch JYP Entertainment into the BIG 3 Entertainment Companies alongside label-mate Wonder Girls (and others). They were a breath of fresh air, somehow containing the qualities fitting of ‘bad-boys’ yet appearing to be good enough to bring home to your parents! They had a string of smash hits, but the one that remains most popular today is ‘Hands Up’ (2011). 


Unique. Aesthetic. Weird, and wonderful. f(x) certainly changed the game for girl groups with their visual flare alone. They took so many risks with their concept choices for not only their music, but also their music videos. No one sounds like f(x), nor looks like them. To this day, groups cannot even come close to emulating the image they built throughout their years as one of the top tier girl groups. For this article, I suggest their song ‘Electric Shock’ (2012), as it’s probably their most beloved song.


Now known as HIGHLIGHT since leaving Cube Entertainment, BEAST was a group that managed to climb their way up to the top tier of K-Pop groups and hold their own (even surpass) the great groups that came before them. They were one of the most consistent groups back in this golden-age of K-Pop, releasing smash hits one after the other. Having a sound that was completely unique to them, it’s no surprise to me that they were (and still are) one of the most successful groups in K-Pop. Their song ‘Fiction’ (2011) remains their masterpiece for the ages.


For years there were three girl groups that would be mentioned as the all time greatest. Girls’ Generation. 2NE1. And SISTAR. Yes, that’s right. Their success as a four-member girl group was astounding at the time, ushering in an era that would see four-member groups explode in number. Their sexiness and mature concepts were unmatched. They pushed the boundaries of what a girl group could do, making their contribution to K-Pop today immeasurably important. While not their best song, one of their biggest songs that exemplifies what I’ve written is ‘So Cool’ (2010). 


The story of INFINITE is one of the most uplifting in K-Pop. Coming from practically nothing (with their first music video being filmed near their manager’s house I believe), they defied the odds and became one of the most notable and unforgettable groups in K-Pop. They were a group that started off quite slow but managed to grow into a tour de force that took over the charts and the hearts of many people in Asia. I place them on this list not only for their accomplishments, but as an example that you don’t need to be from a huge company to be legendary. The song I recommend from them is none other than ‘Paradise’ (2011), which I consider to be one of the all time greats.


Alongside 2NE1, 4MINUTE led the charge for girl groups to be more than simply pretty and colourful. They stormed into K-Pop with a fierce attitude that enraptured people across the world. Their versatility saw them delve into many different concepts and succeed in every single one of them. It’s hard for me to decide which of their songs should be featured as each one displays a completely different side of them (the versatility I was talking about). In the end I’ll have to go with their debut hit ‘Hot Issue’ (2009). 


My last entry on this list is probably the one I feel most passionately about. Not for how good their music is. Not for their fashion/concepts, or their accomplishments (which were many). Brown Eyed Girls were so much more than all of these things. They were ‘freedom’ personified. Freedom to have Sex. Freedom to be Angry. Freedom to be Depressed. Freedom to Love. They defied what was accepted, challenged the rules, and pushed boundaries that weren’t even there yet. The song that represents all of these things and more is none other than, you know the one, ‘Abracadabra’ (2009).