The success of films like Parasite and Crazy Rich Asians has shown that entertainment isn’t limited by geography, culture, or even language anymore. Nowhere is that clearer than in music, where Korean artists such as BTS and Super M have become worldwide stars with rousing, inventive and damn catchy tracks, while leading a charge of K-pop acts into the mainstream.
BTS’ success these days can make it hard to recall that they were once considered the underdogs of the K-pop industry. The seven-piece group didn’t come from a big management firm, and at the time of their debut, they stood out for not sounding (or looking) overly packaged or produced. Instead, BTS were built by their fans — the “Army” — who rallied behind the group. This month, the Army’s influence has extended beyond music and into social justice, when the loyal fanbase helped to match the group’s $1 million donation to Black Lives Matter. That followed a coordinated campaign by K-pop fans just days earlier, when fans came together to drown out the racist #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter by spamming it with irreverent memes and fan cams.
For anyone who still thought K-pop was a passing fad or a niche subset best left to the “world music” fringes, the recent rallying of the fandoms (not to mention a host of spirited new releases) has underlined the fact that K-pop is more than just another overseas import — it’s officially a global force.
Now that we’re stuck at home, there’s never been a better time to give K-pop a listen. Here are 12 of the best recent songs from the genre, as part of our weekly “Music at Home” playlist series. Even if you don’t quite understand the words, these tracks rip and roar with an energy, joy, and vigor you won’t be able to deny.
The most popular group in K-pop delivers a pump-up jam worthy of its place in the spotlight, with some of the boy band’s most aggressive lyrics to date and a chorus you’ll be humming back after one listen. The record label released a remix with Sia, but this original version packs a pretty punch all on its own.
Super M, “Jopping”
When you’re jumping and popping, you’re “jopping.” Super M is a supergroup comprised of members pulled from four existing K-pop bands, and their debut single is a frenetic, high-energy ode to coming together, letting loose and dancing — nay, jopping — your troubles away.
Monsta X (ft. French Montana) “Who Do U Love?”
The first all-English single by a K-pop group in almost a decade, this certified bop will get your head nodding and shoulders swaying 20 seconds into the track. Come for the shout-it-out chorus; stay for French Montana rhyming “Gordon Ramsay” with “Monica and Brandy.”
GOT7, “Not by the Moon”
For the lead single from their eleventh(!) Korean EP, Dye, the veterans on this list showcase their signature K-pop sound on a mid-tempo track, alternating between hard and soft, tender and aggressive, as the guys trade verses about holding onto love.
TWICE, “MORE & MORE”
A sweet, summery track that sounds like something Fifth Harmony could have recorded — if Fifth Harmony had nine members, sang in multiple languages, and managed to all get along.
Cravity, “Break All the Rules”
An anthemic track from the K-pop rookies that combines 808-style riffs with the melodic sensibilities of early-2000s boybands (extended dance break included).
Originally released as the six-piece girl group’s debut single in 2018, “Latata” returned in an all-English version in May. The dreamy, Kygo-esque track fuses elements of tropical house with dance pop, with a cheeky chorus that’s just begging for a TikTok dance.
TOMORROW X TOGETHER, “Can’t You See Me?”
The self-professed younger brothers to BTS deliver a synth-driven summer jam that goes down easy with sunsets and soju.
Korea’s first openly gay K-pop idol fuses elements of disco, house, and electronica into a laid-back, Troye Sivan-worthy club track that’ll make you want to get up and move. Hey, you’re home alone — who’s going to stop you?
NCT 127, “Punch”
Hey, we ballin. The nine-piece boy band gets rowdy on this futuristic track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a video game soundtrack or alongside a car chase scene in the next Fast & Furious flick.
Agust D, “Daechwita”
BTS’ lead rapper Suga made headlines in May when he hit number one on the iTunes chart with his alter-ego Agust D, topping new releases from groups like Florida Georgia Line and the 1975. This song pays homage to the daechwita style of Korean military music, mixing wind instruments, gongs, and military callouts with big, moody beats and Suga’s signature chopper rapping style. If BTS is showing off what K-pop sounds like now, Agust D represents where K-pop could be headed in the future.
Lady Gaga ft. BLACKPINK, “Sour Candy”
When one of pop’s reigning queens recruits a K-pop group for her latest album, you know the genre’s gone global.