Meet Your New Seoul Models: K-Pop (케이팝) On The Come Up

My obsession started back in 2007 during my first trip to Asia. Aside from discovering a million other things while traveling around, I was most fascinated with the music. The high production value, the voices, the dancing, the mix of Western styles with Eastern culture make some of the most incredible experiences with every detail on point.

America permeates so much of the rest of the world in music, but somehow parts of Asia remain a bit more immune to this than Europe. K-Pop comprises all genres of “popular music” within South Korea, but the term is more often used in a narrower sense to describe a modern form of South Korean pop music covering a range of styles including dance-pop, pop ballad, electropop, R&B, and hip-hop music.

At the end of 2015, iTunes added a K-Pop section which is when I knew things were definitely starting to change.

Now, a few artists that you should definitely explore below… and as Rihanna’s “Work” has proven this year, you don’t need to be able to understand lyrics to love a song.


Anyone looking through K-Pop videos on YouTube will find themselves going through an endless rabbit hole of amazing upbeat songs and sick styles. For a few years 2NE1 stood out to me. They reminded me of something like a Korean version of TLC – rapper CL (Chaelin Lee) included. Eventually CL started to do a bit of her own thing with 2013’s “The Baddest Female” which quietly spread under the radar (3oM views to date) and CL just released the debut single, “Lifted” from her upcoming English album.

The album will be released on Diplo’s Mad Decent label, and CL is under management from Scooter Braun, who’s known for his work with Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. There is no official release date for the EP yet.

I discovered Heize this summer after overhearing “And July” below at a coffee shop in Korea Town. I was catching the end of it and spilled my matcha in an effort to shazam this. “And July” is the perfect groovy rap that fits almost every occasion. Heize has risen up as one of the contestants of the popular rap contest Unpretty Rapstar 2.

She’s fan of American rapper Angel Haze and really liked how the word “Haze” sounded. She looked up the word “heize” because she had changed the spelling to match her pronunciation. It means making something hot or turning something red-hot in German which perfect because this girl is fire.

Sik-K aka Young Hot Yellow (Kwon Min Sik) is a South Korean rapper that officially debuted last summer, though he has been active underground since 2013. He is a member of the YM crew “Yellows Mob” (not to be confused with Lil’ Wayne’s Young Money).

SiK-K’s notoriety comes from competing in rap-survival show “Show Me The Money”. “Rendevous” is one of the hottest tracks from Flip which debuted this summer. With that R. Kelly “Ignition” vibe, you can’t listen to this and not want to romantically kick-it.

Nell is a Korean indie rock band formed in 2001. They’ve been around for a good minute and are known for their gloomy and psychedelic sound. The band is heavily influenced by numerous British bands such as Radiohead, Placebo, Travis, and Muse. They also performed number of covers of Muse, Coldplay, Sting, and Bob Dylan during their gigs.

“C” is the 7th Album recorded by Nell released this summer.

NU’EST, an acronym for “New, Establish, Style, Tempo,” is a South Korean boy band formed in 2012. The group consists of JR, Aron, Baekho, Minhyun, and Ren. Thumbs up for hot Korean guys born in the 90s. This is dance-pop / electro-pop wonderment with the visuals to match.

They released their fifth mini album Canvas and the accompanying single “Love Paint (Every Afternoon)” on August 29.

BLACKPINK are an upcoming South Korean girl group formed by YG Entertainment’s sub-label, The Black Label.

The Black Label held auditions during 2015 and 2016, but these four girls have been trainees at YG for 4-6 years, and were finally selected. This is what comes out of K-Pop boot camp, so play close attention. I can’t get “Whistle” out of my head.

Both this track and”Boombayah” debuted on top of Billboard‘s World Digital Songs last month. The group is less than 2 months old and is only the seventh K-pop act to hit chart this high. The group now joins the company of PSY (who has four No. 1s on the chart), BIGBANG (with three) plus 2NE1, EXOCL, BTS, plus G-Dragon and Taeyang (all with one).