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15 Korean Singers Who Have Shaken Up the Music Scene

It’s common knowledge that South Korea has a popping music industry filled with breakout stars and global sensations.

So among the massive lineup, who are the must-know Korean talents that you need to listen to ASAP?

Here are the top 15 Korean singers who have and are continuing to define the current trend of K-music. Chances are, you’ve probably already heard about them or bits of their tunes. Despite their young ages, each person on this list has made a big mark throughout their years in the industry, and each of them have a large, dedicated fanbase both at home and worldwide

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1. IU

Name: Lee Ji-eun
Born: May 16, 1993

Lee Ji-eun may be legendary now, but she isn’t shy to admit that her childhood was a rough one of financial debt and poverty. Such circumstances seemed to inspire her to reach out further to her dream of stardom. She finally made her debut at age 15 with her single “Lost Child” and I’m not even sure if she knew how big she would become after that.

IU chose her stage name because of her wish to use music to connect herself to others. And it seems like she’s accomplished that ten times over with her current stardom. Her wonderful voice and strong musical capabilities have produced chart-topping tunes that earned her well-deserved awards throughout the years.

She’s also well-known as a fantastic actress, having acted in dramas such as “Hotel de Luna” and “My Mister.” Considered an endearing and industrious creative, she’s lovingly known in South Korea as the “nation’s little sister.”

2. Jimin

Name: 박지민
Born: October 13, 1995

As the lead vocalist and head dancer of the mega-hit boy band BTS, Jimin probably doesn’t need much introduction. He’s captured the hearts of fans with his sweet yet impressive vocal range, his gracefully powerful dance moves and his irresistible charm and humility.

But Jimin’s fame isn’t limited to his BTS accomplishments. Ever since he debuted as a soloist in the year 2023 with his album “FACE,” he’s rocketed even further to adoration and acclaim. He became the first soloist in the world to have multiple songs achieve #1 on iTunes charts in over a hundred countries.

3. BoA

Name: 권보아
Born: November 5, 1986

It would be a disservice to just call BoA a singer–she is, by all accounts, a major cultural influence. There’s a reason why she’s commonly referred to as the “Queen of K-pop.”

Since her debut in 2000, BoA has led a long and illustrious musical history. She focused primarily on an elegant blend of pop and R&B and has produced more than a few earworms that fans (such as myself) still have memorized in the recesses of their minds decades later.

BoA is also revered for helping to usher in the phenomenon of K-pop to Japan. She’s sung hits in Japanese as well and has garnered a large fanbase within the country.

As a beloved industry veteran, BoA has been commonly considered a role model and inspiration for both aspiring and successful female Korean singers.

4. Lim Young-woong

Name: 임영웅
Born: June 16, 1991

Lim Young-woong is a bit of a unique addition to the list in that he’s not primarily a K-pop singer. He’s mainly a singer of the Korean trot genre, which is also teasingly known as “Korean grandma music.” Appropriately, he’s considered a heart-throbbing fan favorite among older Korean women.

After winning the hit musical TV competition “Mr. Trot” in 2020, Lim Young-woong has become a singing star with consistent chart-topping hits. His soulful voice, perfect for both heart-breaking ballads and upbeat poppy tunes, has made him a versatile musical force.

Because of his uncanny record-breaking capabilities, even though he’s not focused on more modern mainstream music, he’s amusingly considered a threat by K-pop stans slash rabid enthusiasts. I highly suggest you give him a listen, especially if you’re not familiar with trot music. He may just endear you as quickly as he had with many Korean middle-aged women.

5. HyunA

Name: 김현아
Born: June 6, 1992

HyunA has been a part of various popular girl groups, including Wonder Girls, 4Minute and Triple H. Even as a member, she’s had a unique charm and style that made her stand out from the others. Since her solo debut in 2010, she’s become an independent powerhouse.

It was only a year after that she became the first K-pop female soloist to have a music video garner over 100 million views on YouTube. She exhibits a number of musical talents besides just singing, being a skilled rapper and song-writer as well. With her bold, mature image and sensual visual performances, HyunA has made an electrifying impact on the modern K-pop world.

6. RM

Name: 김남준
Born: September 12, 1994

RM (short for Real Me, formerly Rap Monster) is best-known as the leader of BTS, but all know that he’s a genuinely incredible musical talent by himself. As his name suggests, he is indeed a slick rapper with a knack for lyrical prose.

However, he’s also a gifted songwriter, having written over 150 songs in total within and outside of BTS. As of 2023, at the tender age of 29, he earned from the Korea Music Copy Association the title of being the youngest, second most-credited songwriter.

RM’s skills are acknowledged outside his home country’s borders as well. He’s worked as a collaborative producer for both top Korean and Western artists, including Pharrell, Fall Out Boy and Lil Nas X.

7. Taeyeon

Name: 김태연
Born: March 9, 1989

The terrific Taeyeon first debuted in 2007 as a member of the girl group Girls’ Generation (also known as SNSD). She became its leader and head vocalist, stunning crowds and garnering fans with her stately singing and dancing abilities.

In 2015, she was the first in the group to start a solo career, experimenting in musical styles outside of her standard pop rock. Since then, she’s been a top seller, her songs frequently occupying the top five spots on the charts. She’s easily considered “legendary” for her global renown.

8. J-Hope

Name: 정호석
Born: February 18, 1994

J-Hope, affectionately known as “Hobi” by fans, is yet another breakaway star from the illustrious BTS. His position and influence within the band is nothing to sneeze at–indeed, it’s well-known that his earlier attempts to leave the group made his fellow bandmate Jungkook break down into tears.

He’s considered the second leader of BTS and is the group’s dedicated dance choreographer responsible for much of the highly coordinated physical performances.

While J-Hope is primarily a rapper, he does possess an excellent singing voice that can be heard in several BTS songs and his solo work.

9. Jay Park

Name: 박재범
Born: April 25, 1987

Born in the state of Washington, Korean-American Jay Park made his 2008 debut in South Korea as the leader of the boy band 2 PM. It was clear even in their very first single, “10 out of 10,” that there was something special about Jay. It was made all the more obvious when he started releasing his solo tracks.

He’s been a notable influence to the modern Korean hip-hop scene and has worked as both a musician and entrepreneur for the genre. He founded AOMG, a record label dedicated to up-and-coming Korean hip-hop and R&B artists.

An intriguing fact about his solo work is that he controls and participates in essentially all steps of his music production, a rare feat in the Korean music industry. But it’s because of this that he’s able to craft unique work that is distinctively his.

10. Sunmi

Name: 이선미
Born: May 2, 1992

Another former member of the girl group Wonder Girls, Sunmi has since paved a successful path as a popular soloist, her first single ranking at the top of the charts soon after its release. Listeners are able to pick up on her special singing style and musical quirk, her flexible voice adaptable for songs of multiple genres.

Many of her songs, which are emotional and quite personal in tone, have become viral hits without much struggle. Fans have even acknowledged her music as its own brand, known as “Sunmi-pop.”

11. Psy

Name: 박재상
Born:
December 31, 1977

When he broke into international consciousness with his megahit “Gangnam Style,” Psy already had five full-fledged albums behind him. The singer, songwriter and record producer is known for his catchy beats, funny music videos, irreverent dance moves and otherworldly concerts.

“Gangnam Style” was such a huge success that it was the most watched video on YouTube and became the first one to hit one billion views. The song and its dance propelled the artist to share a stage with Madonna, have a meeting with UN chief Ban Ki-moon and appear in a cameo on “Saturday Night Live.”

12. Rain

Name: 정지훈
Born: June 25, 1982

Rain is one of the brightest Hallyu (Korean Wave) stars. In 2007, he topped TIME’s online user poll of the “100 Most Influential People.”

His third album, “It’s Raining,” topped Asian music charts and cemented his status as an Asian phenomenon, being the complete package—a singer, dancer and actor.

He even made it to Hollywood with movies like “Speed Racer” and “Ninja Assassin.”

13. Ailee

Name: 이예진
Born: May 30, 1989

Ailee is a Korean-American singer who came to Korea in 2010 and created waves in the music industry. A month after her debut, she won awards like “Song of the Month” and “Rookie of the Month” (from Cyworld Music Awards).

She also received the Best New Artist Award at the Melon Music Awards, Golden Disk Awards, Gaon Chart K-pop Awards and the Seoul Music Awards.

In 2013, she released her second mini-album and her single “U&I” soared to the top of Korean music charts in 4 minutes! That same day, record stores were practically running out of copies of her album.

14. G-Dragon

Name: 권지용
Born: August 18, 1988

If you’ve heard of the Korean boy group Big Bang, you’ve probably heard of G-Dragon.

The Telegraph dubbed this Korean rapper as “arguably the biggest Asian artist in the world.”

Kwon Ji-yong, also known as G-Dragon, trained for 6 years under YG Entertainment before debuting as a member of Big Bang.

His “Who You?” and “Crooked” would be ideal for intermediate to early-advanced learners. Early sections of the songs are easy enough to follow and make out the words. If you want to have songs that mimic the pace of spoken Korean, these two would be a good start.

15. Jungkook

Name: 전정국
Born: September 1, 1997

When it comes to popular singers in Korea, Jungkook is a name that cannot be ignored. He’s a member of the world-famous K-pop group BTS, and has become a household name both in Korea and internationally.

“Euphoria” is probably the most popular Jungkook solo song and he made his biggest global move as a solo singer when he performed the song “Dreamers” at the 2022 World Cup opening ceremony.

Jungkook’s songs are often fast-paced and energetic and are full of catchy and memorable lyrics, which can be a great way to practice your pronunciation.

 

Of course, these are just some of the many Korean heralds that prove how music is a universal language all can understand. But if you’re taking your first steps into the world of Korean music, then these folks will give you the proper welcome.

So give their tunes a download and prepare yourself. You won’t be getting any of these singers’ songs out of your head anytime soon.

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