Korean pop music, commonly known as K-pop, has its roots in the early 1990s with the debut of bands like Seo Taiji and Boys. Their innovative blend of Western pop, hip-hop, and Korean musical elements marked a significant departure from the traditional Korean music scene. This paved the way for a new genre that incorporated a mix of singing and rapping, and catchy, upbeat melodies.

The 2000s witnessed a global boom in K-pop, fuelled by social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube. Bands like Girls’ Generation, Big Bang, and later BTS and Blackpink, have transformed K-pop into a global phenomenon, leading to sold-out international tours and a massive worldwide fanbase.


K-pop is heavily influenced by a variety of music genres, including hip-hop, EDM, rock, and R&B. This diversity is a result of Korea’s exposure to Western music and its own cultural evolution. The genre is also deeply intertwined with South Korea’s contemporary culture, which emphasizes aesthetics, fashion, and highly choreographed dance moves, making K-pop a multi-sensory experience.


The sound of K-pop is characterized by its use of electronic beats, synthesizers, and auto-tune, along with traditional Korean instruments like the gayageum, a 12-stringed instrument that lays horizontally on a stand and is plucked with both hands The genre is known for its catchy hooks and repetitive choruses, making the music highly addictive and danceable. The extensive use of visual effects in videos and high-energy, precise choreography also play a crucial role in defining K-pop.


K-pop conveys a feeling of energetic joy and escapism. The music often evokes a sense of youthful exuberance and positivity. This is reflected in the vibrant colours, upbeat rhythms, and the overall feel-good nature of the music and performances. K-pop is not just music; it’s an experience designed to uplift, entertain, and bring people together across cultural boundaries.

H.O.T – “Candy” (1996)

H.O.T is considered a pioneer of K-pop, and “Candy” is one of their most successful songs. The group mainly targeted a teenage audience and was instrumental in shaping the early K-pop scene​​.

Psy – “Gangnam Style” (2012)

This song became a worldwide phenomenon with its memorable beat and iconic horse-riding dance moves, achieving top positions on South Korean charts and gaining international fame for its unique combination of satire and flashy visuals​​.

BlackPink – “How You Like That” (2020)

This record-breaking hit from the all-girl group captivated audiences globally with powerful vocals and dynamic sound, topping charts in various countries and winning multiple awards including the 2021 Golden Disc Award for Best Digital Song​​.

BTS – “Butter” (2021)

This disco-pop track debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and broke several records, including the most streams on Spotify in a single day. It showcased BTS’s ability to produce catchy music that resonates with a global audience​​.

Be sure to check out previous articles in our series, such as Evolution of Shoegaze: A Symphony in a Whirl of Sound and Evolution of Old School Hip Hop.

Written by Tyrus Facey
Illustration by Holly Li