From April 13 to 15, lovers of K-pop, K-drama, K-fashion, and K-beauty will be flocking to KCON Japan 2018, the world’s largest Korean culture convention, which stretches over three days at Makuhari Messe. Last year saw almost 50,000 visitors attending, with participation from over 120 companies and more than 500 performers (including idols, actors, comedians, models and YouTubers). This year is expected to be even bigger: alongside the convention, popular music program M Countdown is hosting three concerts featuring many of the biggest names in K-pop right now.
Whether you’re a fanatical K-pop fan and have already got your KCON tickets, or you’re casually curious about the world of K-everything and looking to liven up your spring playlist, here’s our guide to seven of the hottest Korean music acts to look out for this weekend and beyond.
Originally created through the survival TV show Pentagon Maker, CUBE Entertainment’s third boy group (following B2ST and BTOB) debuted in 2016 with 10 members. After a couple of lively dance-pop singles the members began to find their own style, utilizing their own skills in composition, lyric writing and choreography. They released an impressive total of four mini albums in 2017, including their Japanese debut, which was promoted heavily thanks to the group’s Japanese member, Yuto.
Bonus fact: Leader Hui (24) has also composed several songs for other groups, most notably Wanna One’s debut single “Energetic,” which topped each of the Korean charts simultaneously, achieving what’s known as an “all kill” on realtime charts.
Aesthetic keywords: Quirky, creative, boyish, modern, sunrise and sunset, sentimental
Standout songs: “Gorilla,” “Like This,” “Runaway,” “Critical Beauty”
Singer, songwriter and rapper Heize (real name Jang Da-hye) released her first EP in 2014. In addition to her own songs, Heize has frequently collaborated with many of the industry’s biggest names. Her distinct and charming voice is increasingly in demand as she switches effortlessly between breezy, winding melodies and crisp, biting rap. Her music mixes Korean hip-hop with jazz, with witty lyrics conveying an appealing sense of vulnerability with an edge.
Bonus fact: In 2015 Heize participated in the second season of Unpretty Rapstar, a TV competition program focusing on female rappers, making it to the show’s semi final and performing with EXO’s Chanyeol.
Aesthetic keywords: Idiosyncratic, contemporary, edgy and raw, cinematic aspects, city nights
Standout songs: “Don’t Come Back,” “And July,” “Star,” “You, Clouds, Rain”
The seven members of Monsta X were selected through a reality TV elimination show called No Mercy, before making their debut with the aggressive hip-hop EDM mash up “Trespass” in 2015. The group boasts an impressive vocal line alongside the unique and powerful rap duo of Jooheon and I.M. Finally receiving a well-deserved prize on a Korean music show only last year, they have already performed all over the world including the UK, USA and Mexico, and have released three Japanese singles.
Bonus fact: Jooheon has featured on several other artists’ songs and mixtapes, pushing beyond the boundaries of a typical idol rapper, while surprisingly also becoming known for his sickly sweet aegyo (acting cute) charms on variety shows.
Aesthetic keywords: Dark and sexy, post apocalyptic, fantasy, drama, urban style
Standout songs: “Rush,” “All In,” “Beautiful,” “DRAMARAMA”
This 13-member boyband debuted in 2015 and quickly became known for their impressive (and complicated!) choreography, sweet pop melodies and catchy choruses. The group is split into three sub units – “vocal team,” “hip-hop team,” and “performance team” – including Chinese and American members under the guidance of leader S.Coups. Many of the members participate in song writing and production, earning them a solid reputation as “self-producing” idols. “Thanks” placed number one on the iTunes charts in 29 countries, making it their most successful song to date.
Bonus fact: Fans of the group are officially known as “carats.” Why? Because they make the group “shine bright like a diamond,” of course.
Aesthetic keywords: Chic and fresh, pastel colors, neon lights, soft focus, shining diamonds
Standout songs: “Pretty U,” “Boom Boom,” “Don’t Wanna Cry,” “Clap”
Consisting of Korean, Japanese and Chinese members, this nine-member girl group has taken the world by storm with snowballing popularity since their single “Cheer Up” debuted in 2016. Hailing from JYP Entertainment (the same label as Wonder Girls, 2PM, GOT7 and JYP himself) their addictive songs are injected with American pop influences. Their cute and colorful image has attracted millions of diverse fans ranging from elementary school girls to granddads.
Bonus fact: The song “TT” references the Korean emoticon ㅜ_ㅜ depicting tears streaming down a face. Mimicking Twice’s “TT” pose became an SNS sensation across Asia and beyond.
Aesthetic keywords: Cute and colorful, sweet and pure, hyper pop, bubblegum, cheerleaders
Standout songs: “Cheer Up,” “TT,” “Knock Knock,” “Heart Shaker”
This rookie group debuted less than six months ago with their perfect slice of charming idol pop. The group’s goal is for all 12 members to share the “center position” equally, favoring costumes emblazoned with their names and numbers to help fans learn who’s who. Even before their first release, the group secured a number of high profile sponsorship contracts as well as signing with Sony Music for future promotions in Japan, predicting big things to come for The Boyz.
Bonus fact: Due to a leg injury, member Hwall had to undergo surgery and is currently on a three-month hiatus, whilst the remaining 11 members continue to promote their second mini album and await his return.
Aesthetic keywords: Youthful, uniforms, vibrant, boyish, sporty, innocence, pop
Standout songs: “Boy,” “Walking in Time”
Produce 101 was a hugely popular TV show on which 101 teen boys competed to join a new idol unit who would promote together exclusively until disbanding on December 31, 2018. The top 11 were selected by audience voting to debut as members of Wanna One. The group has seen widespread success, earning them an abundance of TV appearances and lucrative advertising endorsements. Number one ranking Kang Daniel quickly became a household name, beloved as much for his sex appeal as his cute, clumsy and down-to-earth personality.
Bonus fact: Many of the original show’s contestants had already worked as idols, actors or models, causing winning members to halt activities with their previous groups in the case of Minhyun (formerly of NU’EST) and Sungwoon (formerly of HOTSHOT). It’s currently unknown what will happen to the members after the end of Wanna One, so we’ll just have to wait and see!
Aesthetic keywords: Sexy, black and gold, team spirit, harmony, uplifting, energetic
Stand out songs: “Energetic,” “Burn It Up,” “Beautiful”
Learn more about about the global rise of K-POP or get some tips for making yourself look as good as a K-POP star with our guide to K-Beauty products and where to buy them.