Beyond PSY: 5 Essential K-Pop Tracks

Five songs that define one of the world's most lively musical genres

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Isaac Brekken / Getty Images

Psy performs onstage during the 2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Sept. 21, 2012.

The other bit of big news coming from the Korean peninsula, one not involving nuclear-tipped missiles, is the release of the follow-up single to “Gangnam Style” by PSY—listen to the song, “Gentleman,” here. The song will be performed live for the very first time this weekend at Seoul’s World Cup stadium—the show will also stream on YouTube. But “Gentleman,” for all its global-hit potential, is just another track to spring forth from one the world’s most dynamic musical genres: K-Pop.

As you’re probably too busy working on your horsey dance to comb through past  Billboard‘s K-pop Hot 100 charts, we’ve selected five songs that, together, form a mini-history of K-Pop’s sonic delights.

1. Seo Taiji and Boys, “Nan Arayo”

This track doesn’t exactly sound like the K-pop you may hear today—it’s definitely from 1992—but it’s thought by many to be the beginning of K-pop. In this clip from a TV competition, you can see the band get low scores while changing Korean pop music.

(MOREK-Pop Star Rain Faces Military Punishment After Rendezvous with Actress)

2. Wonder Girls, “Nobody”

In 2009, this track—here in its English version—became the first modern K-pop song to break into the Billboard Hot 100.

3. Super Junior-T, “Rokkugo”

One of the more unusual characteristics of K-pop is the proliferation of spin-off groups, and super-siezed boy band Super Junior is no exception. Their group-within-a-group Super Junior-T is worth listening to because their focus is on adapting the Korean pop genre known as “trot,” an older form of Korean pop music that took shape in the early 20th century that some see as the precursor to K-pop.

(MORETrend Alert: K-Pop Meets Country Music (and New Jersey))

4. Big Bang, “Bad Boy”

Big Bang scored the top-selling K-pop album of 2012 with the EP Alive, featuring songs like “Bad Boy.”

5. Girls’ Generation/SNSD, “

…and the top-selling girl-group album was Girls’ Generation’s The Boys. The group also scored two of the top five K-pop music DVDs of the year.

(MORE: Can the New Single from K-Pop Stars Girls’ Generation Challenge ‘Gangnam Style’?)

56 comments
NikySho1987
NikySho1987

Okay... No to SNSD on this list!! Girl's Generation makes really irrelevant music, they have never made a song that actually represents the complexities of South Korean people, their music is really superficial and if we're being honest.. so are they.. Mostly teenagers listen to them and they aren't really good singers. If you were trying to make K-pop attractive to novices you just warded them off with that song and group, they sound like screeching chipmunks. Try better next time- TIME!!

MeowMeow
MeowMeow

I agree this list does no one justice. I like B.A.P's song 'Badman' they bring a mix into Kpop that I like.

ZaagYaaj
ZaagYaaj

Wow, I'm a little disappointed too. If Seo Taeji and Boys were number one, number 2 should have included BoA. She is amazing and started when she was only 11 and is now one of the biggest female artists in Kpop!! Whoever wrote this report should know more about Kpop BEFORE making an effort to name a few names. 

summerdragon
summerdragon

A little disappointed. I am thrilled to see Nan Arayo on there, but Big Bangs contribution should have been Lies. It was the next Nan Arayo and a defining song for the Kpop genre. Super Junior T was an interesting inclusion and I won't argue that on the basis that Korean music historically is Trot. SuJu have done well incorporating it - but it is not what Kpop is today so I would have it as an interest piece only. Wonder Girls inclusion makes sense, as does SNSD - but I wouldn't have used The Boys simply because there is an English version. Gee really does define that form of Aegyo girl group that SNSD represents.

Finally, I wouldn't have used YesAsia charts for the report. GAON is considerably more reliable for the genre.

naylorfriend
naylorfriend

This list seems designed to make an uninitiated person hate K-Pop. These may be historically important and interesting songs, but it reads like a librarian's list of books you need to know. That's probably unfair to librarians. 

If you want to give K-Pop a fair shake, the emphasis needs to be on "Pop" - disposable, catchy musical cotton candy/crack with sharp choreography. K-Pop knows what you really want and shows it to you, like a mirror unto your shallow soul.

Here's a better, still imperfect list, from someone who actually likes the music. Go Youtube: 

1. Girls' Generation: "Oh!," "Tell Me Your Wish," "Mr. Taxi," "The Great Escape," "Gee," "Trick," "Telepathy," "Express 999," and for a softer touch, "Sunflower," "Lost in Love." The latter is a duet featuring Kim Taeyeon, who has a great timbre and is generally acknowledged as one of the best singers in K-Pop. See her solo recording for a TV soundtrack, "I Love You." 

2. 2NE1: "I Love You," "I Hate You," "Kiss," "Scream," "Go Away," "I Am The Best," "Don't Stop the Music." 2NE1 is probably the most daring and innovative of popular groups, although much of K-Pop's appeal lies in its conservatism. 

3. Psy: "Right Now."

4. Hyuna: "Ice Cream," "Troublemaker," "Time."

5. Orange Caramel: "Lipstick," "Not Yet," "Funny Hunny."

6. T-Ara: "Roly Poly," "Lies," "Why Are You Like This."

7. Wonder Girls: "Tell Me," "This Fool," "Headache," "Like This," "So What," "You're Out," "Stop," "I Wanna," "This Time."

8. Kara: "Step," "Jumping," "Speed Up," "What is This," "Love Is," "Magic," "Secret World," "Break It," "Mister." This group almost never puts out something you can't listen to.

If you can't find something new in this list to like, you need to take yourself a little less seriously. There are no boy groups on this list. Who wants to hear some boy sing? 

jin
jin



There are no Korean people who do not know Cho Yong-pil. Every Korean can probably hum one tune out of his numerous hit songs.

Since debuting with "Please Come Back to Busan Port" in 1975, all his albums have become hits -- Cho has won the jackpot for 30 years. Every broadcast, event and fan praises Cho and he has enjoyed the “era of Cho Yong-pil” since his debut.

Cho led the recent Korean pop culture boom in neighboring Asian countries. He has appeared in Japan's popular song program, in which even popular Japanese singers can get a chance to appear perhaps only once, four times. He has sold 6 million copies of his albums in Japan. Organized fan clubs called “oppa budae” (literally meaning “a unit for brother,” which refers to a male celebrity) were first set up by Cho's fans.

read =>http://english.kbs.co.kr/society/people/1351324_11774.html

jin
jin

Please search for Cho Yong Pil who kicked "gentleman" of Psy off.   

Cho Yong-pil is one of the representative figures in the history of Korean popular music. Many people call him “the truly national singer who wrote a new chapter in the Korean pop music history,” “the emperor of Korean pop music,” “the immortal legend of Korean pop music” and “the musician for all time.” Just as his brilliant career in the music industry shows, Cho Yong-pil has been contributing to the development of Korean pop music with endless efforts and passion for more than 30 years.

read =>KBS world radio new:http://rki.kbs.co.kr/english/program/program_artist_detail.htm?No=10277


If Michael Jackson was the king of the pop, Cho Yong-pil is the king of Korean pop. His songs have been widely heard, loved and sung over many decades. Maybe it's because his songs convey more than music. Indeed, they are not just for the ears, they touch the heart.

read=>http://www.hancinema.net/king-of-korean-pop-celebrates-45th-year-54660.html

sj_oso
sj_oso

Man, SeoTaeji!!!! Glad that 로꾸거 became "a mini-history of K-Pop’s sonic delights," but actual trots could have been a better fit placing it before SeoTaeji as trot was also one of the pop-trend in Korea in history. Anyways, this is a very interesting mini history of K-pop...

HirooNakamura
HirooNakamura

why use The Boys, one of girls' generations worst songs lol. So many better songs from them that are more "essential"

CeciLau
CeciLau

One very important thing to mention.........YG Entertainment's establisher (Bigbang's boss XD), Yang Hyun Suk is one of the guys wearing green shirt in the first video. He used to be the member of  Seo Taiji and Boys.

Jaydee6teen
Jaydee6teen

Reading other's replies, I think this article needs to be polished with a clearer focus. Take only one between "K-pop history" or "Top recent K-pop hits unknown to western audience."

Jaydee6teen
Jaydee6teen

Speaking of Big Bang, Time shouldn't miss "Lies", their first nation-wide platinum hit in 2007, which would open the post-Seotaiji era, in a real sense, as they sing, rap, dance, and make their own music. Some may find it interesting to know that Big Bang was teamed up by YG (Yang Hyun-suk), a member of Seotaiji and boys. Anyway, the enormous success of this song "Lies" which has a strong and easy-to-remember melody with easy-to-follow dance moves in the refrain, generated hundreds of thousands of "hook songs" and the followers in Korea, and which would make the mainstream of K-pop trends even now. With "Lies, Big Bang became the first idol group (unless Seotaiji and boys count as "idol" group) whose song was loved both by fan girls and the public. And it was after the success of Lies that other competing K-pop companies began to invest more money on the music rather than looks, dances, and fans. I like Big Bang's Bad Boy, which probably gets closer to the "global standards" than Lies, but if Time wants to focus on the history of K-pop, I think Lies can't be missing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5etURL3W4GE

JikSul
JikSul

Makes me laugh how you can't even research properly. Alive didn't even sell half-million. Most sold album of 2012 was Sexy Free and Single, you know, by the group that sold over half-million two years in a row ==...;

Jaydee6teen
Jaydee6teen

As a Korean who went through all this history, I think just 5 tracks are too few to explain K-pop. If K-pop is narrowly definied as a teenpop by Korean idol groups, the beginning should trace back to 1996 when H.O.T, the first generation idol dance group, debuted to domestically gathered a huge and fanatic fandom. On the other hand, if K-pop is roughly characterised by the combination of three components, which are dance performance, rap, and melody, and if K-pop stars are getting more and more expected to write and produce their own songs like Big Band and Psy, here is Seotaiji and boys providing the prototype of K-pop because they not only created their songs and dance choreographies but are the firstK-pop group who tried to adapt the phonetic traits of the Korean language into the rapping. Listen to their second(Hayeoga) and third album (Come back home), which showed their efforts to bring in Korean traditional sounds while not lagging behind the Western pop scene. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbpfvVi0JS0

theenergylab
theenergylab

3 of these 5 songs seem random??and make no sense. Big Bang should be on the list as they appeal more to Americans than SJ. Beast's Beautiful Night and one of many by 4minute also better for USA.

colesash
colesash

can't believe hyuna isn't on this list

SariRainMJ
SariRainMJ

Cue K-pop fans coming to complain how their bias group isn't on the list -__- 

JoshWest
JoshWest

The best Kpop was in the 90s. All these new Kpop heads just don't know! :)

hyukki
hyukki

I don't know who this person, Lily Rpthman, is but she NEEDS to study plenty before opine!

momobear152
momobear152

this list doesn't make sense...I'm ELF but rokkugo?  this song is not typical. it should be sorry sorry instead

and btw, SJ is the most selling group in 2012 (plus 2011 and 2010 too), not BB. do some research please. 

Yoojihyukstan
Yoojihyukstan

seriously, u should listen to SORRY SORRY. THAT IS THE FIRST BREAOUT KPOP SONG TO THE WORLD.

artsysilver
artsysilver

Rokkugo, an interesting choice for SJ. Though I guess it's good that it was mentioned because of how SJT tried to reach another audience by doing trot, and I feel like maybe the person liked it because the song/MV is so random and funny, like Gangnam Style lol. But who knows. If anything, I expected Sorry Sorry if SJ was gonna be on the list.

Kidemona
Kidemona

Og all the Super Junior songs you chose "Rokkugo"...?  -.-

HHmin1226
HHmin1226

Super junior's other songs are good. take listen it !

GiselleMoura
GiselleMoura

Super Junior T doesn't make any sense in this list, but the rest is ok. It's just 5 songs anyway.

UpdatingSJpolls
UpdatingSJpolls

gaon chart and hanteo chart in korea ..both super junior is the top selling kpop album of 2012 actually since 2010.. please do some reasearch

UpdatingSJpolls
UpdatingSJpolls

correction please...  i think Big Bang is not top selling kpop album of 2012.. its super junior

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

All of these songs are lame.

flamingkazin
flamingkazin

I know a lot more about jpop than kpop but here's my 5 essentials list

Psy - The End (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BymQkua7Ddc)

G Dragon - Crayon (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3ULhmadHkg)

Girls Generation - I Got a Boy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wq7ftOZBy0E)

2NE1 - Scream (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Cg7XNbNt_c)

Epik High - Up (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EIYWmRkeRE)


(a random song I've been listening to a lot that sounds more like Japanese rap)

Vanda - 기억 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhuU6tNGqzE)

Jaydee6teen
Jaydee6teen

 I do, along with the other half of the people on earth. :) Take out Psy and your list can make a decent history of "idol girl groups" in 2006 to 12, some of whom like T-Ara and Wonder Girls are already becoming the past. In fact, the trend favoring girl groups has been over in Korea. Choosey and easy-to-get-tired-of Koreans now are paying more attention to singer songwriter type of solos and groups, while showing growing preference for accoustic sounds.

ZaagYaaj
ZaagYaaj

@HeatherHassan-Seo you're right! BoA, SHINHWA, H.O.T., G.O.D., S.E.S., FIN.K.L, etc. I'm "tsk-ing" at the person who wrote this report! SHAME ON THEM FOR NOT KNOWING THEIR K-POP!

Jaydee6teen
Jaydee6teen

I don't know based on what sources you're talking but SFS either didn't sell a half million (about 0.3M according to Gaon Chart). And interestingly, any songs in SFS sold online was listed within top 100 chart of 2012 while 4 songs in Alive ranked 5th, 10th, 59th, and 98th. I think it's absolutely weired and is a proof that only fans buy SFS in the album format, which is why it is awkward and embarrassing to say SFS is the 2012's best seller in Korea.            

HirooNakamura
HirooNakamura

@JikSul doesnt SFS reach half a million only when you count the repackaged albums?
Also, their source lists alive as the biggest selling album of the year on Yesasia.com

Jaydee6teen
Jaydee6teen

Sorry, a typo's found. 6th line from the top Big Band --> Big Bang

Jaydee6teen
Jaydee6teen

Well, I think it would be fair to say at least the word "hook song" came out and became a fixed-expression like a name of sub-genre after the success of Gojitmal while being analyzed by critics about the cause of the success and how it influenced and changed the trend of K-pop.

sj_oso
sj_oso

@Jaydee6teenJiksul didn't mention anything about SFS selling half a million, while HirroNakamura did mention half a million including repack. SFS + repack sold about half a million. SFS(356,431)+repack(124191) = 480,622. And I'm sorry you're feeling embarassed and awkward about certain people's preferences. By the way you mean none of SFS not any...or any with negative predicate....

sj_oso
sj_oso

@HirooNakamura @JikSul SFS still overtops BB's even without repack, check out Hanteo/Gaon Chart for 2012 for the Best Selling K-pop album in Korea 2012. Anyways, the reporter should have clarified that BB's was Best Selling Album in Yesasia.com not Korea. Yesasia.com is a website for people outside Korea,Japan and China to get stuff from Korea,Japan and China. Meaning, stuff sold in Yesasia still counts in Gaon but all the sales in Korea are not counted in Yesasia.com. Therefore, Most sold K-pop Album of 2012 was SFS.

Jaydee6teen
Jaydee6teen

Maybe. FYI, Sorry Sorry came out way after Lies

Jaydee6teen
Jaydee6teen

I see you perfectly express your opinion in English but I have to doubt about your reading skills as you seems to have missed Jiksul's second sentence "by the group that sold over half-million two years in a row". Thanks for the calculation although I think counting repack is almost a deception or self-deception. Note that 0.48M is still below a half million like I said, which is different from what Jiksul said (over the half M).

FYI, Super Junior has been better known in Korea through their presense in variety shows rather than their songs (except Sorry Sorry) over the last 7-8 years of their entertainment career. I don't have hard feelings against Super Junior. I rather find them fun and talented in entertaining others. But I believe that embarrassment and awakwardness (and unexpected surprise) is a general perception among the Korean public that Super Junior is even mentioned here as if they represented K-pop.