A group picture of the seven members of BTS from their concept photos for Map of the Soul: Persona
A group picture of the seven members of BTS from their concept photos for Map of the Soul: Persona. HYBE https://dbkpop.com/2019/03/31/bts-map-of-the-soul-concept-photos-hd-hr/

16 Most Popular K-Pop Groups of All Time

Incredible amazing shotstopping spectacular.

I think we can all agree by now that K-Pop is truly a global phenomenon, with the Hallyu bringing the sprawling South Korean entertainment industry to every corner of the world

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Of course, out of the dozens of K-Pop acts that debut each year, there are some that ride that wave a little bit higher, gaining recognition, fame, and love from fans of every latitude. It’s something that has been going on ever since the Hallyu was just starting to gain traction and the so-called second generation was dominating the music scene—and that only got stronger when the third and now fourth generations made their debut.

So here’s a rundown of eleven of those groups, the ones that stand out among their peers as true household names in their native country and abroad. I’m sure you’ll know most of them— they are those groups that immediately pop into your head whenever you think about K-Pop, whether you’re a long-time fan or a casual listener. 

The 2nd generation

Girls’ Generation

Also known as SNSD, Girls’ Generation most definitely deserve a spot on this list. They were one of, if not the, blueprint for the K-Pop Girl Group™ and the legacy they have left in the industry has made ripples all throughout the generations that followed. 

Girls’ Generation debuted as a nine-member group—consisting of Taeyeon, Sunny, Tiffany, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sooyoung, Yoona, Seohyun and Jessica—in 2007 under SM Entertainment with the by-now legendary “Into the New World”. Throughout their career—which continued as an eight-member group once Jessica departed the project in 2014—they have won awards left and right, and have been dubbed “the Nation’s Girl Group” of South Korea. 

BIG BANG

Like Girls’ Generation, BIG BANG is also one of those acts that have left their permanent mark on the industry and on all the boy groups who have come after them. The group debuted as a five-piece project in 2006, consisting of members G-Dragon, T.O.P., Taeyang, Daesung and Seungri, who retired from the industry altogether in 2019, as a consequence of his involvement in the Burning Sun scandal.

Known for their experimentation and overall unmistakable stage presence, BIG BANG has put their signature on several songs that have risen to the status of pop culture staples in South Korea and among fans worldwide like “FANTASTIC BABY” and the ever-iconic “BANG BANG BANG”.

Super Junior

Another group hailing from SM Entertainment, Super Junior originally debuted as a 12-member project in 2005 with members Leeteuk, Heechul, Yesung, Shindong, Sungmin, Eunhyuk, Donghae, Siwon, Ryeowook, Han Geng, Kibum and Kangin. They added a thirteenth member, Kyohyun, to the lineup in 2006—and three members then left the group in 2011 (Han Geng), 2015  (Kibum) and 2019 (Kangin).

Super Junior has dominated the K-Pop scene—both a whole group and divided into subunits or individual acts—for years, receiving accolades in every major entertainment award ceremony throughout Asia and contributing to the rise in popularity of the Hallyu.

2NE1

Active from 2009 to 2016, the 2NE1 quartet—consisting of members Bom, CL, Dara and Minzy—debuted under YG Entertainment after a promotional single, “Lollipop,” made with label mates BIG BANG. In their career, which consisted both of group projects and solo acts, they have released so many iconic bops—like “I Am The Best” and “FIRE”.

Like so many second-generation groups they are, once again, a blueprint for all the groups that came after them—and particularly when it comes to the girl crush concept, one of the most successful in the industry. So many groups owe their style and success to 2NE1 and the more experimental image they presented as opposed to the bubbly and colorful one portrayed by Girls’ Generation.

SHINee

The “Princes of K-pop” and overall vocal legends SHINee were formed by SM Entertainment as a quintet made up of Onew, Key, Minho, Taemin and Jonghyun. The group debuted in 2008 with the single “Replay”, followed in 2009 and 2010 by the hits “Ring Ding Dong” and “Lucifer” that helped establish their foothold in the South Korean music scene.

Their career has not been without tragedies: Jonghyun’s death, in 2017, was obviously a terrible blow for the other four members, fans all around the world, and the industry alike. Onew, Key, Minho and Taemin have continued making music both together and as solo acts, while also branching out into other ventures like acting.

The 3rd generation

BTS

RM, Jin, SUGA, j hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook, the seven members of BTS, really need no introduction. The septet debuted in 2013 as complete underdogs when it comes to industry standards; take their label, still Big Hit back then, that was definitely not as influential as the so-called Big Three. 

Still, the group managed to rise to a level of global fame that is hard to describe, with a dedicated fanbase all over the world and cities lighting up purple whenever they arrive to perform one of their sold-out shows. BTS is definitely one of the most popular and recognizable K-pop acts, even now that members are slowly starting to get ready for their mandatory military service.

BLACKPINK

The four girls of BLACKPINK—Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa, sometimes known as “the Pinks”—debuted under YG Entertainment in 2016 and have since then become the most successful girl group in the world, despite their relatively short discography that has by now become infamous in K-Pop fandom spaces. 

Breaking records left and right with every comeback, BLACKPINK have very much made the girl crush concept their own—and that’s in no small part thanks to the members’ role as well-established and immensely influential high fashion ambassadors, something that has definitely helped raise their global fame.

Twice

The new “Nation’s Girl Group” following right along the steps of Girls’ Generation, Twice is a nine-member group that debuted in 2015 under JYP Entertainment, after having formed its lineup—consisting of members Jihyo, Nayeon, Jeongyeon, Momo, Sana, Mina, Dahyun, Chaeyoung e Tzuyu—through a survival show called Sixteen.

Throughout their extremely prolific and very much still-in-progress career, they have released a multitude of iconic bops and have also managed to pull off a very convincing and immensely satisfying concept switch, moving on from the bubbly tunes of their debut to the more mature vibe we’ve seen in their latest comebacks.

EXO

EXO debuted in 2012 under SM Entertainment with twelve members—Suho, Baekhyun, Chanyeol, D.O. Kai, Sehun, Xiumin, Lay, Chen, Kris, Luhan, Tao—divided into two subunits, one aimed at the South Korean market and the other at the Chinese-speaking world. They ended up as a nine-member group after 2015, once Kris, Luhan and Tao left the group, and proceeded to skyrocket to dominate the industry.

Recognized throughout South Korea and the rest of the world as one of the pillars of third-generation boy groups, winners of awards and accolades everywhere, EXO also performed at the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Red Velvet

Also from the ranks of SM Entertainment are Red Velvet, who debuted in 2014 with four members—Irene, Seulgi, Wendy and Joy—and then added a new final member—Yeri—a year later. 

Undisputed queens of the double concept, which is summarised by their name—with “red” songs being more fun and light and “velvet” songs taking on a more girl crush-y vibe—Red Velvet, who are recognized as some of the best vocalists in their generation, have been steadily topping the charts with their releases ever since their early days and received awards and nominations for their work at almost every major ceremony throughout Asia.

NCT

SM Entertainment is known for its love of experimentation, and it shows very well when discussing the lineup of a group like NCT— which currently consists of twenty-three members and is always open to the possibility of gaining new ones.

Of course, not all members perform at the same time—NCT works by subunits, namely NVT U, NCT 127, NCT Dream and WayV. Their unique lineup and the great variety of music that having so many members divided into four subunits allows for helped them gain massive global recognition ever since their 2016 debut.

MAMAMOO

MAMAMOO is one of the staples of the third generation and have been active in the industry for a long time—their debut, under Rainbow Bridge World, was in 2014. The group is made up of four members—Solar, Moonbyul, Wheein and Hwasa—who have all started successful solo careers alongside their activities with MAMAMOO.

In the almost decade they have been active, MAMAMOO have established themselves as some of the strongest vocal performers in K-Pop—often prompting fans to say that the four members probably don’t even know what playback is—and have dabbled in all sorts of concepts, often defying several strict South Korean conventions about gender norms, beauty standards and typical idol behaviour.

The 4th generation

(G)I-DLE

Sort of bridging the gap between the third generation and the fourth—even though most fans place them with the latter—(G)I-DLE, often known simply as “Idle,” is a quintet that debuted in 2018 under Cube Entertainment. Its five members—leader Sohyeon, Miyeon, Minnie, Yuqi and Shuhua—were originally joined by a sixth, Soojin, who left the group in 2021 after a pretty big bullying scandal.

One of the most successful groups currently active, (G)I-DLE is known for producing a lot of its own music, something that is not as commonplace within the K-Pop industry and that fans always look favourably on. The member that’s most involved in this process is Soyeon, but Minnie and Yuqi have also contributed to several tracks.

ATEEZ

ATEEZ is another group that debuted at a time when the K-Pop industry was still firmly in the third generation but grew to become a staple of the fourth, so much so that they have been named “4th Generation Leaders” by none other than the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. 

Under KQ Entertainment, the group consists of eight members—Hongjoong, Seonghwa, Yunho, Yeosang, San, Mingi, Wooyoung and Jongho. They are known for their explosive, incredibly engaging performances—something that is not new to the K-Pop scene, of course, but that ATEEZ seems to have mastered particularly well.

ITZY

JYP Entertainment’s first venture into the fourth generation, ITZY debuted as a quintet at the beginning of 2015 with members Yeji, Lia, Ryujin, Chaeryeong and Yuna. They garnered immediate recognition and success even as so-called “rookies”—meaning groups that are less than a couple of years old—so much so that they collected all the awards available for new artists at the end-of-the-year ceremonies for 2019, a sort of “Rookie Grand Slam” they were the very first girl group to achieve.

They are particularly known for their complex choreographies, something that is usually associated with boy groups rather than girl groups but that has by now become a staple for the entirety of the fourth generation.

Stray Kids

Like Twice, Stray Kids are a group under JYP Entertainment that was formed after a reality show during which the eight members— Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, Han, Felix, Seungmin and I.N.—were discovered and prepared for debut in 2017. There was actually a ninth member, Woojin, who left in 2019 for still officially undisclosed personal reasons.

Another pillar of the fourth generation, Stray Kids are also considered a “self-producing” group involved in the creation process of their (very distinct) music—particularly Bang Chan, Changbin and Han, part of the group’s rap line and known collectively as sub-unit 3Racha.

(featured image: HYBE)


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Author
Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.