I’ve been watching a lot of Asian dramas recently. On the train, in breaks at work, late into the night; I can’t stop watching them. They’re cute, serious, ridiculous or all of them at once. One, Strong Girl Bong-Soon, has a great little soundtrack that got me thinking; what the heck is K-Pop?

K-Pop is a multidimensional experience that incorporates Korean music, movies, TV, food and culture. It’s become a huge thing in the West, coming over on what is called the ‘hallyu’ or Korean wave. There are thousands of K-Pop fans all over the world who dedicate themselves to idols, bands or shows, but when did westerners start taking an interest?

All the way back in 1989, the year that Home and Away made its way to the UK, S.M. Entertainment, one of Korea’s most successful entertainment companies to date, was formed. Flash forward to 1992, when Korea’s first k-pop band, Seo Taiji and the Boys, emerged. They shook things up with their use of American style rap, rock and techno elements blended with heavy choreography. They even got those frosty tips and baggy sportswear going on. Seo Taiji and the Boys were basically the NSYNC of Korea. This combined with their TV exposure spread their influence all over South Korea. From here on out, more and more popular bands and idols formed and forged the way for K-pop as we know it today.

Then we get to 1998, where S.M.’s boy band H.O.T. tops the Taiwanese charts. This, along with the export of Korean music and television, caused K-Pop to get noticed internationally. H.O.T were a group of five teens who made music aimed at their demographic and paved the way for more boy and girl groups. K-Pop’s international appeal continued to grow as in 2001 they broke into Japan, who remains the biggest international consumer of K-Pop. Finally, the invention and popularity of YouTube in 2005 gave K-Pop the final push to international fame.

But what sets K-Pop artists aside from others? For starters, they can be scouted as young as 11 years old and put through many years of vocal, dance and English and Japanese training before even being allowed a chance to debut. They work constantly every day to achieve a dream which may never materialise. Then there’s the fact that band members range from two to ten, which means that balance and competition are key elements. This combined with the heavy choreography and performance element makes for some pretty interesting stuff.

Now, this is all well and good, but with the literal decades of music to dig through, how do you know which ones are any good? Well, a lot of that will be personal choice, however I’ve checked out the charts and here are some cool and popular bands from over the years.

Seo Taiji and the Boys

Debut: 1992



Debut: 2000



Debut: 2002



Debut: 2003


Super Junior

Debut: 2005


Girls’ Generation

Debut: 2007



Debut: 2008



Debut: 2009



Debut: 2010



Debut: 2011



Debut: 2013


There you have it. What do you think? Are you a convert riding the K-Pop hallyu? Or is it not your thing? Let us know!