Butter. | Maxine Mah

When I was in eighth grade, I went on a business trip with my dad to Canada. There, I met another girl my age who I quickly became friends with. After one of our daily adventures, she asked me if I liked BTS, the multi-award winning and globally known Korean boy band, accredited for putting K-pop and South Korean culture on the map. Unfortunately, I was not a fan of BTS at the time, but my new friend had insisted we watch a video on them. The video was titled, “bts in america pt. 2,” and for 13 minutes and five seconds, my friend and I were dying laughing watching a highly edited compilation of BTS doing American interviews. We watched it three more times after the fated first viewing, and when I returned to San Diego, I had gained a new interest in the group.

Almost four years, six albums, and more than ten groups later, I consider myself to be a very large K-pop fan — or a stan, as some would say. Being Korean-American, I never had any negative feelings towards K-pop — listen to what you want to listen to, it’s really not my place to judge. But after watching what must have been hundreds of videos on BTS, I had gained a rekindling to my culture. I had begun speaking more Korean around the house, I had started watching Korean dramas and shows, and I had taught myself to read Hangul — the written Korean language. While I am definitely no expert in my culture, BTS had made me feel more Korean, even if it was just through music. 

What was a new world of “biases,” “ult groups,” “lightsticks,” and “fancams,” quickly turned into a four year journey of becoming a multi-stan. Watching choreography videos even though I definitely can not dance, and praying for variety shows with English subtitles had become normal to me. And I still 100% wholeheartedly believe that anyone who’s open-minded enough can quickly become a K-pop fan in a matter of days. So, in light of BTS’s second American single, “Butter,” being released only a few days ago, here are some groups that have helped me on this journey towards becoming a full on K-pop stan. Whether you’ve been a fan since the 2000s, or just now want to get into it, here are some of my top picks and top groups that can help lead you on your own K-pop journey.

BTS: I can’t start this article off talking about BTS and not have them be first, right? BTS has been a group since 2013, which is eight years of making music. They have nine full albums with more than ten original songs on each ranging from the more 2000s hip-hop sound of Skool Luv Affair, to the delicate ballads from the Love Yourself Trilogy. Personally, the “Trivia” rap-line series, “House of Cards,” and “Airplane pt.2” are some of my favorites from the group. BTS has something for every music lover, and it is no wonder why they are the biggest name in K-pop right now. 

SEVENTEEN: Seventeen is one of my favorite groups, in terms of both music and in members. Like BTS, Seventeen has been in the K-pop industry since 2015, so they too, have tons of music out there. Seventeen has three designated sub-units: performance, vocal, and rap, and some of their songs play off the sub-unit dynamic. Their second album Teen, Age has bops like the rap line’s “TRAUMA,” the vocal line’s, “Pinwheel,” and the performance line’s, “Lilili Yabbay.” Some of my favorite tracks from their first album, FIRST ‘LOVE&LETTER’ include “Pretty U,” and “Hit Song,” both of which never get old no matter how much you loop them. More recently, their Semicolon; EP has songs based on age group and the retro vibe of both their tracks and their performance outfits are sure to induce large amounts of serotonin into anyone who listens. Seventeen is also planning to release a new album in a few weeks, so watch out for a whole new set of bops you can add to your summer playlist.

ENHYPEN: Just debuting a few months ago, Enhypen is the newest group on this list with only two EP’s so far, and I’m really not kidding when I say that all of their music slaps. “Drunk-Dazed” from their most recent EP, BORDER: CARNIVAL, highlights the group’s feelings as they debut and invites a vampire-esque concept. “10 Months” from their first EP, BORDER: DAY ONE, and “Not For Sale” from BORDER: CARNIVAL, are two very cute love songs that can refresh listeners with a hopeful sound. While they are still very new, many K-pop fans are extremely excited for what they’ll bring in the future. Their exhilarating music paired with high-energy performances have already made them one of the biggest names in the K-pop industry.

TWICE: TWICE is one of the few girl groups that I’ve come to love. With no visual hole, and a cutesy concept, TWICE’s music is always upbeat and can surely bring a smile to any listener’s face. “TT” from the album Twicecoaster: Lane 1” is one of their most popular songs. Complete with easy-to-copy dance moves, and fun, singable lyrics, TT has become an iconic track within the K-pop industry. For me, “LOVE FOOLISH,” from the Feel Special album, “I CAN’T STOP ME” from their most recent album, and “FANCY” from the album FANCYYOU, are my favorite from the group and definitely deserve a listen.

THE BOYZ: The Boyz (TBZ) are definitely a more underrated group compared to the previously named ones. They, like Enhypen, are a Gen-Z group, debuting in 2017. TBZ is known for their intricate performances, and their wins on Road to Kingdom, a highly acclaimed dance show for K-pop boy groups. “Giddy Up” from THE START is a fan favorite, along with “The Stealer” from CHASE. For me, “Salty” from REVEAL and “Whiplash” from CHASE prove that The Boyz are the real underdogs of Gen-Z K-pop groups. Not to mention, out of the 11 members, there is not a single non-visual — a true win for all Deobi (The Boyz’s fandom name).

NCT: NCT, standing for Neo-Culture Technology, are another group based on sub-units. While I recommend you check out their Wikipedia page for an in-depth look at their concept, the gist is that they have an infinite number of members who change between units. NCT 127 is the most popular unit with hits like “Superhuman” from their fourth mini album WE ARE SUPERHUMAN, and “Regular” from the album Regular-Irregular. There’s also NCT U which sports more scandalous songs than 127 like “Baby Don’t Stop” and “BOSS” from the album NCT 2018 EMPATHY. I.O.U” from NCT RESONANCE is one of my personal favorites from the group. Finally, NCT Dream is the baby group, with members aged only 21 and under. They recently released a new album titled, Hot Sauce, with tracks like “ROCKET” and “Dive Into You” of which have been permanent adds to my favorites playlist. From Dream, I recommend “BOOM” from We Boom, and “1, 2, 3” from We Go Up. NCT also has a Chinese unit called WayV, and while I’m supposed to be focused on K-pop groups, their single “Love Talk” can show any K-pop fan to the wonders of C-pop.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: In the interest of page length and word count, I had to stop the list after six groups, however, there are definitely some honorable mentions that deserve to be included:

Baekhyun (from EXO): All I have to say is listen to his EP, Bambi. His vocals are just *chefs kiss*.

Blackpink: Another girl group that has won over the K-pop industry, Black Pink has powerful girl crush tracks like “How You Like That?” and “Lovesick Girls.” With their high-energy songs and strong choreography, it’s really no wonder why they are one of the most globally known K-pop groups today.

Itzy: Itzy is Twice’s younger sister in the K-pop world. With motivational, feel-good songs like “DALLA DALLA,” and “Wannabe, Itzy has won over Korean and Western fans alike.

Stray Kids: Stray kids is a self-made group that writes, choreographs, and produces all their own music. They have powerful dance songs like “God’s Menu” and “MIROH,” however their earlier music like “Get Cool” and “Awkward Silence” are some of my favorite tracks from them.

Got7: Although leaving from their production company earlier this year, Got7 is full of powerhouses. Their songs “Lullaby,” “Never Ever,” “Fly,” and “Hard Carry” have grown to be iconic in the industry. Watch out for their solo careers as well, as Thai member, BamBam, is expected to release a solo album in a few days!

Tomorrow X Together: TXT is another fairly recent group and the younger brother to BTS. Songs like “CROWN,” “Blue Hour,” and “Fairy of Shampoo” are extremely popular with fans. They alsu just released a new album called FREEZE, and “Anti-Romantic” has quickly become one of my top songs on Spotify.

Four years ago, K-pop allowed me to grow closer to my culture, and has affected my life in more ways than I’d like to admit. I hope that you’ll take the time to check out the songs of at least one of these groups and open your life up to Korean music.

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