We've covered the first generation of K-pop pioneers, and the second generation of acts that took the exciting and vibrant genre outside of Korea. Finally, we've arrived at the third generation – a generation where today's most popular K-pop idols were born.
This generation of artists took K-pop to a whole new level, where the world saw acts like BTS and BLACKPINK breaking an array of records, paving new roads for Asian music, and making a name for themselves globally. Many "temporary groups" were also formed in this generation, such as WANNA ONE and I.O.I due to the popularity of survival shows where K-pop groups were created.
Without further ado, here are the idols from K-pop's third generation.
Prior to their debut, quintet EXID was originally named WT (Who's That) but changed their name to an acronym for "Exceed In Dreaming". And the group's name was definitely apt, for they exceeded everyone's expectations once they cemented their place in the scene. Their 2014 single 'Up & Down' became a viral hit after a fancam of member Hani made waves online. 'Ah Yeah', 'Hot Pink', and more are just some of the chart-toppers EXID have produced, alongside a string of Chinese and Japanese tracks.
In 2016, it was announced that leader Solji would be taking a break due to her hyperthyroidism. The group continued as a quartet until their fourth EP, Full Moon. While the group announced their hiatus in 2019, they've since dropped a Japanese album titled B.L.E.S.S.E.D.
EXO was unique from the start as they were already separated into two sub-groups from the moment they made their debut. Starting with the aim of targetting both the South Korean and Chinese markets, EXO was split into two groups – EXO-K and EXO-M. In 2013, the group decided to make a comeback as a whole with their first studio album XOXO. Along with the release of a repackaged version of the record, EXO begin to make a name for themselves in the scene.
Since then, they have continued to achieve greater milestones, including performing at the 2018 Winter Olympics and selling out the Seoul Olympic Stadium. In June this year, the group made a seven-member comeback with an EP titled DON'T FIGHT THE FEELING, their first comeback as a group since 2019.
Short for Born to Beat, BtoB originally comprised seven members until the departure of member Jung Ilhoon in 2020. After their debut in 2012 with the eponymous EP Born to Beat, the group released an Asia Special Edition of the record, followed by a string of EPs. Their fourth record Beep Beep was arguably what catapulted them to success – it was their first album to top Korea's Gaon Album chart.
In 2018, they were even named the ambassadors for the Korea Tourism Organization, signifying their achievements and influence in the K-pop scene and beyond. After numerous albums, concerts abroad, and the military enlistments of several members, a sub-unit comprising members Eunkwang, Minhyuk, Changsub, and Peniel called BtoB 4U was formed. As a six-member group, they recently unveiled a Japanese EP titled Outsider this year.
Prior to their official debut, NU'EST had already left an impression on K-pop fans. The group made appearances in the music videos of their fellow Pledis Entertainment labelmates, such as After School Blue's 'Wonder Boy'. Originally known as Pledis Boys, the group also dropped a music video for a song titled 'Love Letter'.
They made their official debut in 2012 with a track titled 'Face', before releasing their own reality show. Some of their greatest hits include 'Bet Bet' and 'Love Me'. They recently released their second studio album, Romanticize, which spawned the addictive single 'Inside Out'.
These days, when one thinks K-pop, global phenomenon BTS instantly comes to mind. They have conquered markets globally, and are known in almost every corner of the world. In fact, one might say that they are the biggest music act today. The group first made their debut in 2013, but it was in 2017 that they managed to break into the global music scene.
Their track 'I NEED U' gave them their first music show win, which was when their Korean audience first started to notice them. After their 2016 hit 'FIRE' as well as collaborations with Western artists such as Halsey in 'Boy With Luv', they began to see themselves amassing a massive fanbase beyond the region.
BTS are South Korea's best-selling artists of all time and are also the first Asian artists to sell out iconic venues such as Wembley Stadium. They have even been nominated for a prestigious Grammy award. The 'Butter' act recently released a collaborative track with British band Coldplay, and will soon be performing four sold-out shows in Los Angeles this December.
Beyond performing, BTS have also been credited for South Korea's cultural impact across the world. From promoting Korean music to local art on a global scale, the group have been a significant figure in promoting Korean culture all over the world – consequently gaining them the opportunity to address the United Nations several times throughout the last few years.
From the overall success of the group to the individual achievements of each member, it's almost impossible not to have heard of GOT7. Making their debut in 2014, the group immediately stood out with their focus on hip hop. They cemented their place in the scene right from the beginning, with their debut EP debuting at number two on Korea's Gaon chart and topping Billboard's World Albums chart.
In 2019, a sub-unit comprising JAY B and Yugyeom named Jus2 was formed. The duo released an album and even embarked on an Asia tour. Individually, the members have earned immense success in avenues outside of music, venturing into acting, fashion, business, and even e-sports. In 2021, they announced that they had left JYP Entertainment after seven years with the label.
The seven-member act's last release was a single titled 'Encore' this year.
Despite initially debuting as a quartet, it seems almost impossible to imagine Red Velvet without Yeri, who joined the group a year after their debut. Each member plays a significant role in the group, from their impressive vocals to the act's outstanding choreography.
Their first single 'Happiness' was only the beginning of the girl group's imminent success, landing the act the achievement of being the first K-pop girl group to land a spot on Billboard's World Digital Songs Chart. The 'Umpah Umpah' act later went on to hold concerts across the United States and Canada, released soundtracks for K-dramas, and clinched numerous awards over the years.
This year, Red Velvet released Queendom, their sixth EP which landed the second position on the Gaon Album Chart upon its debut.
The uniqueness of MAMAMOO is evident just from the act's name. According to the group, the word "mamamoo" resembles the sounds that babies make and is symbolic of their aim in wanting their music to organically connect with their listeners. Apart from their name, their music is an exclusive mix of jazz, pop, and R&B – making them stand out amongst other K-pop acts. All their albums and EPs have received spots in the top ten on Korea's Gaon Music Chart.
The group's members have also made their solo debuts, with Moonbyul being the first in 2020. MAMAMOO's latest release was in August this year, with a compilation album of revamped versions of their greatest hits.
Bubbly and bright, it's hard not to be charmed by nine-member girl group TWICE. They made their debut in 2015 with an EP titled The Story Begins, but their breakout track was a song called 'CHEER UP' from their second mini-album. The song topped Korea's Gaon Digital Chart and snatched several "Song Of The Year" awards that year.
They further cemented their place as one of the acts to look out for with the release of the addictive 'TT', a viral hit that broke the record for being the most-viewed music video by a girl group at the time.
The 'More & More' act recently dropped their first English single 'The Feels,' earning them their first entry into the Billboard Hot 100 chart. TWICE are set to embark on their fourth world tour in support of their new album Formula of Love: O+T=<3 later this year, kicking off in Seoul before heading to the United States in 2022.
Entering the scene after appearing on reality survival series Mix & Match, iKON is a six-member act that was formed in 2015. Making waves even before their official debut, the group opened for the second-generation act Big Bang on their 2015 Japan tour, and they were listed as one of the Top 5 K-Pop Artists to Watch in 2015 by Billboard.
Their first album, Welcome Back, debuted at number one on Korea's Gaon Music Chart – a significant feat for a K-pop group's very first release. Since then, they've gone on to release another album titled Return, as well as a Japanese album, New Kids, in 2019. Their latest release was a single in March titled 'Why Why Why'.
Pop-rock band DAY6 was initially a sestet, hence the "6" in DAY6. The JYP Entertainment group debuted in 2015 with an EP titled The Day. The EP spawned the hit single 'Congratulations', and also landed the second spot on Billboard's World Album chart. Alas, member Junhyeok left the group in 2016 due to personal matters, leaving the group a five-member act.
Nevertheless, Junhyeok's departure did not affect the group and they only went on to achieve greater success. Since then, they've released numerous albums, held several fanmeets, and embarked on tours across Asia, Australia, and the United States. In 2020, the first sub-unit Even Of Day comprising Wonpil, Young K, and Dowoon was also announced.
MONSTA X made their debut in 2015 through the reality survival series No.Mercy. Recognized for their meld of hip-hop and EDM, their first release was an EP titled Trespass in 2015, followed by a second EP in the same year titled Rush. Since then, they've seen great success with each of their releases, such as their latest mini-album One Of A Kind which sold more than 300,000 copies in its first month.
In 2019, it was announced that member Wonho would leave the group after allegations about the singer involving the use of marijuana surfaced. MONSTA X then continued activities as a six-member act.
They were the first South Korean act to be included on the Jingle Ball concert lineup in the States. The 'One Day' act is set to return to the Jingle Ball stage in December this year, with their tenth EP slated for release in November as well as their second English album The Dreaming to be released in December.
Why would a group of thirteen members be called SEVENTEEN? SEVENTEEN's name comes from the sum of their thirteen members, the group's three sub-units, and how they come together as one group. Formed in 2015, the group is divided into three sub-units according to different areas of craft – hip-hop, vocals, and performance.
The act is also known for being one of the few groups in the scene who are highly involved in the making of their songs, apart from the singing of the tracks. Some of their biggest hits include 'Don't Wanna Cry' and 'Home'. SEVENTEEN recently dropped their ninth EP Attacca in October, and are slated to release a Japanese single in December.
SEVENTEEN are also recognized for being "quadruple million sellers" after their albums Your Choice, Heng:garæ, Semicolon, and An Ode all sold more than a million copies.
This quartet needs no introduction. Undeniably one of the largest acts not only in the K-pop scene but also globally, BLACKPINK are multi-talented artists who have made a name for themselves in music, film, fashion, and more. The group has two studio albums under their belt, with a slew of collaborations with some of the biggest names in music including Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, Dua Lipa, and more.
A few of the many records they have broken include being the only female K-pop group to headline a stage at indie festival Coachella, having the most followers for a girl group on Spotify, and more. The members also have their own individual records, with each member having made their own solo debuts.
In 2021, they unveiled a docu-film titled BLACKPINK: THE MOVIE which was released and screened in theatres worldwide.
Made up of 23 members, NCT is one of the largest K-pop acts in the scene. The group is divided into different units – NCT U, NCT 127, NCT DREAM, and WayV, all boasting their own unique concepts and a long list of achievements.
For example, NCT 127's latest album Favorite is SM Entertainment's best-selling album of all time, while NCT DREAM have been included on Billboard's 21 Under 21 list several times.
As a whole, the group has released two albums – NCT 2018 EMPATHY and NCT 2020 RESONANCE, and will be releasing their latest record UNIVERSE in December 2021. Earlier this year, it was announced that a new sub-unit based in America, NCT Hollywood, was in the works.