Despite only gaining international popularity in recent years, Kpop has a long and impressive history. From its roots to the present day there have been numerous Kpop acts that have surpassed expectations and established themselves as legends of the industry.
In the early days it was groups like H.O.T. and S.E.S. that everyone was talking about, and there have been a steady stream of talented artists that have made a name for themselves ever since. While you may not have heard of these groups, you likely know who BTS and EXO are and how they (and others like them) are breaking boundaries and records alike. But who came before them?
I’d like to introduce you to some artists that I believe have been most inspirational for the current generation of Kpop. I’ve chosen groups that are still fairly current – the sunbaes or seniors of the modern era – as many of them are still releasing music today. If any of them are new to you and catch your attention, I would encourage you to check them out!
With a name that means “Legend”, it’s almost as if Shinhwa knew from the beginning that they would have an impact on the Kpop world. Although they started out in a similar fashion to other boy groups, Shinhwa has climbed the ladder of success from simply putting out music all the way up to owning their own company and rights. Most impressive of all, they hold the title for the longest-lasting male group at an astounding twenty years since their debut.
Sometimes known as DBSK, this five-member group turned duo has had its ups and downs, but remains strong despite the changes. The two current members, Yunho and Changmin, continue to impress with new releases that feature their smooth vocals at their finest. Mirotic, their biggest hit and the song that started it all, is still unforgettable, and sounds just as good today as it did on day one.
A highly successful solo artist, Rain quickly became a role model for many by pioneering the well-rounded approach that is a given for most groups today. He excelled at all aspects of being an entertainer, including singing, rapping, dancing, acting, modelling, and beyond. The iconic choreography for his hit Rainism is still beloved, and is often performed to this day by amateurs and professionals alike.
Although SHINee is the youngest group on this list at a mere ten years of activity, they have a lot to show for it. With eleven studio albums, as well as numerous variety show appearances and solo work in music, acting, hosting, and more, SHINee has established themselves in each facet of the Kpop industry. Their success alone is enough to garner respect, but their genuine passion and kindness has endeared them to the hearts of both fans and their fellow artists.
Super Junior (슈퍼주니어)
As the creators of one of the most iconic Kpop songs of all time, Sorry, Sorry, you will find Super Junior on most (if not all) lists of influential Kpop groups. However, this blockbuster single was not the only motive for Kpop fans to learn the names of all thirteen members. Super Junior mastered the art of featuring each member at their best and used their chemistry as a whole to produce one amazing song after another, proving that they were more than a one-hit wonder.
Girls’ Generation (소녀시대)
Whether you know them as Girls’ Generation or SNSD, they are arguably the most recognizable girl group in Kpop, and certainly one of the most successful. With songs like Gee and I Got A Boy having over 200 million views on YouTube, it’s clear that their upbeat musical style resonates with a broad audience. From catchy singles to memorable dances and exceptional performances, Girls’ Generation truly led the way for those to come.
Big Bang (빅뱅)
This dynamic five-member group achieved the Kpop dream by transforming their early success into superstardom, becoming household names in Korea and expanding internationally. In case there were any doubts about their talents, each member has gone on to enjoy a celebrated solo career while still being active in group activities, and duos from the group have also released hit songs together. Big Bang’s record-breaking Fantastic Baby remains one of the most well-known Kpop songs of all time.