Everyone knows the names BTS and Blackpink, and that’s thanks to the proliferation of K-pop, which has grown far beyond its origins in South Korea to become a true global phenomenon.
What is it about the pop-leaning genre that attracts so many fans of all stripes? Catchy hooks, ear-wormy melodies, synchronized choreography and impeccable production value all lend to the formula. But as much training as some of these future idols do, the X-factor these artists possess is something that can’t be fabricated.
The numbers don’t lie: BTS has racked up 1.5 billion views on YouTube for its 2020 hit “Dynamite,” while the band’s 2021 smash, “Butter,” smoothly glided its way to No. 1, where it parked for eight weeks.
In all, K-pop acts helped generate a whopping $5 billion entertainment industry haul for South Korea.
So who are the next generation of music stars? Ahead of this weekend’s KCON convention, here are 10 K-pop groups who are making a name for themselves.
Formerly known as Mystic Rookies, Billlie is the newest girl group from Mystic Story Entertainment (a subsidiary label of SM Entertainment). Consisting of seven members — Moon Sua, Suhyeon, Haram, Tsuki, Sheon, Siyoon and Haruna — Billlie made an impact with its November EP debut, “The Billage of Perception: Chapter One.” Success continued with second EP, “The Collective Soul and Unconscious: Chapter One,” in February.
Ever since its April 2020 debut with the EP “Season 1. Hideout: Remember Who We Are,” Cravity (pictured above) has broken records and earned the titles of “Super Rookies” in K-pop. Created by Starship Entertainment, the nine-member group — Serim, Allen, Jungmo, Woobin, Wonjin, Minhee, Hyeongjun, Taeyoung and Seongmin — takes its name from an amalgamation of the words “creativity” and “gravity.” This year saw an EP in March and more music slated for September.
The seven members of ENHYPEN — Jungwon, Heeseung, Jay, Jake, Sunghoon, Sunoo and Ni-Ki — take the inspiration for their name directly from the hyphen symbol, which relates to the undeniable bond the guys share as they continue to grow.
The group came into fruition in a survival/competition show called “I-Land,” where they immediately captured audiences with their visuals, choreography and vocal performance. They released their debut album in November 2020, “Border: Day One,” via Belift Lab, a joint venture between CJ ENM and Hybe Corp. (BTS’ label).
IVE means “I have” and serves as the moniker for Starship Entertainment’s six-member girl group — the company’s first since WJSN in 2016. Contrary to most groups who may tell the story of each individual growing together as one unit, IVE portrays a “complete girl group” since its inception, say members Yujin, Gaeul, Rei, Wonyoung, Liz and Leeseo. Their latest, “Love Dive,” is a chart-topper.
Hybe’s latest girl group is the five-member LE SSERAFIM, whose name serves as an anagram for “I’m Fearless.” That ethos is meant to inspire fans to have the power to go after their dreams, as the members of LE SSERAFIM — Sakura, Kim Chae-won, Huh Yun-jin, Kazuha and Hong Eun-chae — did by releasing their debut EP, “Fearless,” in May. The five-track project was produced by Bang Si-Hyuk (BTS’ executive producer and the founder of Hybe, formerly Big Hit Entertainment), and racked up massive sales in May.
NMIXX marks the latest girl group from JYP Entertainment, one of the top K-pop labels, which has popularized such acts as J.Y. Park, Rain, Wonder Girls, 2PM and 2AM and houses the sub-label SQU4D. The group’s seven members — Lily, Haewon, Sullyoon, Jinni, Bae, Jiwoo and Kyujin — came on the scene in February with the album “Ad Mare,” a huge hit that scored the highest debut album sales by a girl group in the history of K-pop, according to JYP, which also boasts an ongoing alliance with Republic Records in the U.S.
Also under the Hybe banner — via independent label Ador — comes rookie act New Jeans. The girl group has five members — Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin and Hyein — whose dance chops made them a standout on TikTok while their song, “Attention,” debuted just last month. New Jeans’ numbers are growing. Their self-titled album has accumulated more than 2 million streams, 226,000 cumulative listeners, and 88,000 followers on Spotify alone, making them among the K-pop girl groups to garner the most momentum this year.
Straddling the genres of hip-hop, R&B and pop, the group P1Harmony is best known for showcasing each member’s individual talents in singing, dancing and acting. Currently on its second EP, “Disharmony: Break Out,” via FNC Entertainment, the six-man act — Keeho, Theo, Jiung, Intak, Soul, and Jongseob — helped introduce itself to the global audience with a feature film, “P1H: The Beginning of a New World.”
STAYC is an acronym for Star to a Young Culture and the title to the girl group’s full-length debut. The six members — Sumin, Sieun, ISA, Seeun, Yoon and J — came together under the Highup Entertainment umbrella and logged their biggest song with “ASAP,” which became a viral phenomenon thanks to a TikTok dance with millions of views.
TNX — for “The New Six” — is the first male group to debut under P Nation, the label founded by Psy (of “Gangnam Style” superstardom). Comprising six members — Woo Kyung Joon, Choi Tae Hun, Jang Hyun Soo, Cheon Jun Hyeok, Eun Hwi and Oh Sung Jun — TNX was also born of a reality competition — the series “Loud,” created by JYP Entertainment and P Nation. The program featured 75 contestants from different countries, all competing for a spot in one of the two groups. TNX made its debut in May with the sampler “Way Up,” topping South Korea’s charts.