Although K-pop has become more and more familiar to Western audiences as of late, like any other, the Korean music industry boasts more than simply pop music.
Certainly, K-pop is easier to market because even within the pop genre there are many styles and sounds that groups can use, but the performative aspect of K-pop is what sets the genre apart, and what has started to establish it internationally. The on-stage performances done by K-pop artists, complete with styled outfits and choreography are captivating and take the music beyond simply being songs.
But other Korean bands, rappers, RnB, indie, ballad, and trot singers create music that, if Western audiences are able to overlook the language barrier (as they have for Psy’s Gangnam Style or Fonsi’s Despacito) would be received well.
Here are a few of my recommendations in different styles beyond typical K-pop.
1. Aseul (아슬)
Formerly known as Yukari (유카리), Aseul is a singer-songwriter who debuted in 2012. She primarily releases electronic pop music but is continually playing with the style and sound of her songs.
Her latest comeback was in 2020 with the album “Slow Dance.” Her song “Bye Bye Summer” from said album won the Best Dance and Electronic song category at the 2021 Korean Music Awards.
2. Crush (크러쉬)
Crush is an RnB and hip-hop singer-songwriter who debuted in 2014, although he had been making music long before. He has been nominated for and won many awards throughout his career so far and many of his songs have become incredibly popular hits in Korea.
His latest release was a collaborative song with AKMU (악뮤), a sibling singer-songwriter duo, in July entitled “Stupid Love Song.”
3. Hong Jinyoung (홍진영)
Although she initially debuted in a K-pop girl group, Hong Jinyoung debuted as a trot singer in 2009 and is considered one of the most famous singers in the genre. She has released hit after hit and is also known for her bubbly, playful personality when she appears on Korean variety shows.
Trot, itself, is an exclusively Korean music genre. Although like all music genres it continues to evolve, its origins are from when Japan occupied Korea in the first half of the 20th century. The style focuses a lot on vocal inflections and relies on repetitive rhythms to create incredibly catchy songs.
Hong Jinyoung’s latest releases are from a Korean show called Match of the Century: AI vs Human where she competed against artificial intelligence in songwriting. She released both the songs “24 Hours” and “Telepathy.”
4. IZ (아이즈)
IZ is a Korean band that debuted in 2017 and is comprised of four members, Hyunjun, Jihoo, Woosu, and Junyoung. Although all four members have the traditional K-pop positions of leader, maknae, rappers, and vocalists, they also play their own instruments. Hyunjun is the lead guitarist of the group, Jihoo is the rhythm guitarist, Woosu is the drummer, and Junyoung is their bassist.
Their latest comeback was this past April with the single “Missing You.”
5. Tiger JK
Tiger JK is a Korean-American rapper who debuted in 1995. Throughout his time as an artist, he was an instrumental part in bringing hip-hop into the Korean music industry. He is a part of a Korean hip-hop group called Drunken Tiger as well as a member of the hip-hop trio MFBTY (“My Fans -are- Better Than Yours”).
He released a single in July called “Love Peace” that was inspired by the racism Asians have experienced throughout the pandemic as well as his own personal experiences when he studied in The United States.
Of course, these are only five of countless Korean artists that make music outside of K-pop, but they provide brief insight into how, just like in the Western music industry, the Korean music industry is filled with many different styles of music. Even if you think that K-pop does not suit your music taste, there is definitely a style of Korean music that you would enjoy.
Stephanie is a writer who received her Bachelor's Degree in English at Vassar College (2020). In her time not working on her WIP novel, she is busy reading, studying Korean and Japanese, or learning new K-Pop choreographies.