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Navigating K-pop: Best K Music Artists to Start With

The Best K Music Artists to Start With

The first step in navigating K-pop’s wildly diverse landscape is finding the artists that speak to you. Here are some of the best k music artists to start with.

R&B singer Yoonmirae embodies Korea’s history of creative restlessness. She blends her biracial heritage and honeyed croon with the club-ready beats of DJ Mustard’s “All I Wanna Do.” The result is an irresistible summer party song.

Lee Mujin

A charismatic singer-songwriter, Lee Mujin is the host of a popular variety show that showcases talented musicians. He has been praised for his powerful vocals and touching lyrics, particularly in his single “Traffic Light.”

He began his career as a contestant on the popular K-pop competition show Sing Again. In 2022, he released his debut album Lisa, which hit number one on the K-pop charts and pushed him into the limelight.

With a sound that blends jazz, rock and folk, his songs are emotional and relatable. His song “Traffic Lights,” about his parents’ divorce, is especially touching and resonated with many people. He also composes soundtracks for Korean dramas. These songs, known as OSTs, usually chart in the top of domestic music charts. They are often catchy and appealing to younger generations.

SE SO NEON

South Korea’s music industry churns out artists and albums faster than you can click ‘skip’ on a shuffled playlist. But among the pristine exterior lies a generation of musicians who are pushing the boundaries with experimental sounds and heartfelt tales of self-doubt. No band epitomizes this more than SE SO NEON.

Founded in 2016 and comprising vocalist Hwang Soyoon, guitarist Gang To, bassist Park Hyunjin and drummer Usu, the band’s debut album ‘Summer Plumage’ was a powerful exploration of millennial hopelessness and hazy ennui. Their sophomore effort ‘Nonadaptation’ was a critically-acclaimed EP that made it to Pitchfork’s list of ‘The 35 Best Rock Albums of 2020’.

The trio’s fans have come to expect big surprises from them, both sonically and live. They have taken their unique sound across the world on massive tours.

BIGBANG

The kings of K-pop since their debut in 2006, BIGBANG has left an undeniable mark on music. They are old pros in the cog-like “idol” industry, beating out newbie boy bands year after year in awards shows and album sales.

G-Dragon, Taeyang, T.O.P, Daesung, and Seungri buck boy band convention with a diverse sound that spans hip hop to R&B. They are among the first Korean groups to produce their own songs, collaborate with Western artists, and win an international award.

They have an impressive discography and eye-catching music videos. Fans and non-fans alike look up to their style and taste. They also have a knack for making the best sneaker releases with Nike and are fashion icons in their own right.

Turbo

In a world of viral memes and carpool karaoke, K-pop acts have become household names. This is thanks to groups like BTS, BLACKPINK and EXO, as well as solo artists like V and VIXX.

These groups and artists have a unique style that is hard to forget. Their dances and movements are synchronized with the music to create a full experience. The outfits that the members wear in their performances and music videos also add to the overall effect.

A producer best known for his cycling, loop-based beats, Turbo has embraced a variety of genres. His country/hip-hop crossover is a nod to his own roots, as his father was a bluegrass guitarist. The Calgary-born artist is also influenced by outlaw country and artists like Colter Wall.

Han Myung-sook

While the list professes to look beyond K-pop’s hitmaking business to “tell the broader history of Korean popular music,” it’s still a cherry-picked selection. For instance, the omission of Shin Hae-chul’s 1988 anthem “To Mother,” which melds groovy new wave with a resounding message about the importance of mothers and widows in Korean society, is glaring.

Pianist Song Young-joo ’01 and drummer Lee Sang-min ’00 are both temporary Korean expats working as jazz musicians in New York, but remain plugged into the Korean music scene back home. They’ve also penned many chart-busting hits for Korean artists. Lee is currently pursuing a master’s degree in film music, hoping to better understand what makes audiences react emotionally when watching movies. He aims to apply his education in the future to his career as a composer and teacher of piano.

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