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K-pop (an abbreviation of Korean pop or Korean popular music) is a musical genre consisting of electronic, hip hop, pop, rock, and R&B music originating in South Korea. In addition to music, K-pop has grown into a popular subculture among teenagers and young adults throughout Asia, resulting in widespread interest in the fashion and style of Korean idol groups and singers.

Kpop group, 2NE1 2014

21st Century Rise of the Hallyu (Korean wave)

K-pop music refers to not only types of music but to a ‘musical movement’ that swept South Korea in the early 1990s and continues to dominate. This movement is most recognised as ‘The Korean wave’ which refers to the significantly increased popularity of South Korean culture around the world; it is also referred to as ‘hallyu’, in the Korean language’. Korean marketers started to see a Korea-centric trend flowing throughout Asia, America and even in parts of Europe. They dubbed this flow "The Korean Wave" or ‘hallyu’ to increase tourism and raise the profile of Korea in the world. ‘Hallyu’ began roughly 5 years ago when the rest of Asia discovered Korean soap operas.

Entering the 21st century the K-pop genre began spreading out to other regions of the world, such as the western hemisphere as part of the global Korean Wave.

Music/Talent Agencies

In K-pop these record labels also function as agencies for the artists. They are responsible for recruiting, financing, training, marketing and publishing new artists as well as managing their activities and public relations. Known as the 'big 3' agencies in South Korea, due to their large market share, each agency holds their own style of music and artist.

Big 3 Agencies

SM Entertainment An independent Korean record label, talent agency, producer, and publisher of pop music, founded by Lee Soo-man. Music produced by this company is centred on bubble gum pop and various hybrids of popular music. Producers of artists such as TVXQ, Super Junior, EXO, F(X).

YG Entertainment A record label and talent agency founded by Yang Hyun-suk. This company bases it's music more on [Hip-hop] and R&B Home to currently top artist such as G-Dragon, Big Bang, 2NE1, Psy, Epik High, Akdong Musician, Lee Hi.

JYP Entertainment A record label and talent agency founded by Park Jin-young based in Seoul, South Korea. Producers of artists including Wonder Girls, Joo, 2AM, 2PM, miss A,15&, JJ Project, Sunmi, Got7.

K-pop as an Industry

The Trainee System

The journey to stardom often starts around age 9 or 10, when tightly supervised trainees begin dance and voice classes at night and live together while attending school. Besides singing and dancing trainees are also taught foreign languages, most notably English, Japanese and Chinese


Dance is an integral part of K-pop. When combining multiple singers, the singers often switch their positions while singing and dancing by making prompt movements in synchrony.


K-pop also influences fashion, especially in Asia, where clothes and accessories worn by K-pop stars, as well as their hairstyles and the cosmetic brands they use are sought after by young listeners

Male/Female Groups

male group.
Male group EXO.

One of the most notable aspects of the South Korean Music industry is the mass production of the boy/girl groups. An example of a male group is EXO produced by SM Entertainment who only debuted last year. They are a 12 member boy group who consists of 1 member from Canada, 5 from China and 6 from South Korea, although all members can speak Korean, Chinese mandarin and some English. This boy group is split into 2 sub-groups, EXO-K, the K standing for Korean and EXO M, indicating Mandarin. EXO-K debut their music in Korean language in Korea whilst EXO-M debut and promote the exact same songs but in Chinese mandarin in China.

Elements/Roles of Group members

There is a dynamic structure within boy/girl group, for example in each group there is a leader, a visual, a rapper, a main vocalist, and a main dancer. These roles are one of the key conventions that make up a South Korean boy/girl group, which is quite unique, because each member has their responsibility to effectively carry out their distinctive role within the group. By having this unique group structure, it makes it easier for the audience to get to know each of the group members, because they have specific roles in the group, especially if it was a large girl/boy group. There is great importance that different roles placed within group members that the members responsibly and successfully carry out their roles.

The Leader Most of the time the leader will be the oldest member of the group or at least one of the older members. In other cases not the oldest member was chosen, but a member who was in-between the various ages in the group and thus able to connect both to the older and younger members. A leader is expected to be mature and charismatic and be able to handle the attention and focus that is often on them. Their most important task is to take care of the other members, to motivate the group and to represent them in various ways (speaking on stage/interviews). Many groups actually live together in dorms after debuting and need to get along – thus needing a mediator and someone ensuring group harmony.

Vocalists Members with the strongest vocal abilities get picked to be a Vocalist. Many groups have several vocalists, so there is often an official hierarchy of who gets to sing 1st and how much of a song: The Main Vocalist – member who often (but not always) gets a lot of lines to sing in a song, sings the vocally challenging parts, has the strongest vocal ability, likely to receive solo parts

The Lead Vocalist – during verses usually sings before the Main Vocalist (“leads” into the song), often sings the chorus (backed by the Main Vocalist), substitute for the Main Vocalist in case of sickness/injury/etc.

The Sub Vocalist – supports Main and Lead Vocalist, gets only few lines of the song

Rapper Rappers and Rapping is an essential part of most KPop group’s music. Some might focus on rap and have more of an Hip-Hop orientated style (while other groups will have more singing than rapping . Just like with the vocalists, there is a hierarchy, if a group has more than one rapper.

The Main Rapper Gets most of the rapping parts, supposed to be the one with the best technique and rapping skills

The Lead Rapper Usually begins rapping parts, skills supposed to be good, too, but 2nd to the Main Rapper

The Main Dancer

Is expected to have great dancing skills, focuses less on singing / has fewer parts during songs / might even have only sub-vocal-parts (as breath needs to be saved for spectacular dances), will get solo dance parts

The Lead Dancer – as the whole group dances, the Lead Dancer will lead the group and dance in front, when all are dancing together

Visual KPop emphasizes and sells beauty. There is even a position in most KPop groups, that – who ever has it – must especially take care of their looks – because that’s one important thing they add to the group..When a group introduces themselves on stage or on TV, one member might say “Hello. My name is _____ . I’m the Visual.” The Visual is simply put the member who is considered most attractive and is likely to be the one most often hired to endorse products and appear in commercials and ads.

Maknae Some positions aren’t assigned to you – you are born with them. Like the Maknae, who is always the youngest member of the group. The Maknae does not have a special task – they are just the baby of the family. Of course being the youngest is associated with them being cute and shy, but many Maknaes have made names for themselves by being the complete opposite and even the most charismatic member of their group. Sometimes a group member, who isn’t actually the Maknae might be mistaken to be, when they put on the cute and shy act.

The Sub-Unit A group that enjoys a lot of success might create a sub-unit. The sub-unit will consist of a smaller number of members (between 2-4 people usually) and is often used for more experimental releases or for trying an alternative music style, with members of an otherwise genre-monogamic group. Sometimes a sub-unit is created to release music in a different language (e.g. Mandarin or Japanese). The members chosen for the sub-unit are most likely to be the more popular members of a group, but might also be the two oldest/youngest or people with whose name a funny sub-unit name can be formed. Such a sub-unit might also be made up of members of two different groups