Kinds of Modern Korean Music

Angel Zheng and Hanna Yu

  6 Genres of Contemporary Korean Music  

    For most Americans, PSY is the only Korean artist they know, and if there’s any knowledge about K-pop beyond Gangnam style, it might be just “Gentleman” and the latest “Daddy”. Yet modern Korean music goes so far beyond the commonly known crazy songs. For an exciting guide into the abyss of new grooves, here are six types of Korean music we love:

  1. Poster catchy K-pop song

These songs are what you typically expect from K-pop — they are totally mainstream, fun, and most importantly, catchy. They are also often accompanied with eye-catching choreography. Most of the iconic songs come from this category, including “Gee” by Girls’ Generation. The song was released back in 2009 and it is known as one of the most well known Korean songs. “Growl” by boy group EXO is another must-hear. It incorporates a simple melody with a electro beat in the background. Despite its contrast between most colorful mainstream K-pop songs, the song was able to capture the hearts of the general listeners. Other notable groups: Bigbang, 2NE1, Super Junior, SHINee, Girl’s Day, and Sistar.

  1. Ballad

Although some Korean ballads share equal popularity with the mainstream songs, their style and subject are completely different. Almost all ballad singers are solo artists. They usually don’t dance, focusing more on their voice and lyrics. “You Don’t Know Love” by K. Will and “Heaven” by Ailee are both ballads you should check out. K. Will is considered one of the popular ballad singers in Korea. His smooth vocals and flowing songs have the ability to make you feel calm. Ailee’s songs are very powerful and the general public considers her  to be the Korean version of Beyonce. However, Heaven is one of her softer songs. Other notable artists: Davichi, Baek Ji-young, IU, Korean drama OSTs (not an artist but still)

  1. R&B

R&B in Korea has interesting categorization. Many pop artists will use R&B without fully attaching themselves to the genre, while artists who specialize in R&B will be grouped with and rap under one generic “hip hop” genre. Zion. T is an emerging R&B artist with a distinctive voice that makes him stand out among other singers. His single “Yanghwa Bridge” is an emotional song about his relationship with his parents while growing from a child into an adult. Other notable artists: Boni, Crush, Fly to the sky, Boa (recent work), Taeyang

  1. Rap

With hip-hop always comes the age-old question of legitimacy, and no different is it in Korea as it is in America. For the past several years, koreans have been putting rap in pop music, forming hip-hop inspired pop groups, and in recent years, the number of artists in the K-pop industry with origins in underground hip hop, like Zico, Mino, Bobby, and Rap Monster, has been increasing. But even more fundamentally, can a music that originates from the inner cities of the US and tells of the urbans struggles of African Americans ever be legitimate in Korea? Rappers like Tiger JK proves it can. He, with other members of Drunken Tiger, is considered a pioneer of hip hop in Korea. Listen to “8:45 Heaven,” which is a personal rap about his grandmother passing away. Younger rappers like Beenzino have also embraced hip hop with an addition of their own fun and funk; “Aquaman” is sure to get your head nodding up and down. Other notable artists: San-E, Gary, Jay Park, Dynamic Duo, Yoon Mirae, Tablo (Epik High)

  1. Indie

In Korea, there are indie artists and artists who make indie-like music. K-indie tends to be an umbrella term for everything other than pop and hip hop, but here we’ll just suggest what Americans would consider “indie” or folk. “Comes and Goes” by Hyukoh is an example of Korean indie music. Most of Hyukoh’s songs has both a unique sound and vibe to them. Akdong Musician is an example of an indie-sounding group. The group consists of a brother and a sister. Despite being in under one of the biggest music companies in Korea, they were still able to maintain their style of music. If you are searching for something calming to listen to, you should try Akdong Musician’s “Galaxy”. Other notable artists: J Rabbit, The Black Skirts, 10cm

  1. Electronic

Korea’s electronic scene may often be combined with other genres under the above term K-indie, but it is a music distinct on its own. Even within itself, as with all electronic music, it has a lot of variety. Glen Check is a group that has been gaining ground the last few years. Even though the trio tries very hard not to bind themselves to a genre, many of their songs can be described as electro rock or indie dance, something in the likes of Justice. Listen to the energetic “60’s Cardin.” Another group is Clazziquai Project, which incorporate elements of electronic music, lounge, and acid jazz. “Call Me Back” is a light and catchy song with grooving vocals. Other notable artists: Idiotape, Neon bunny, Demicat


It’s evident from the list that, like many other countries, Koreans have been integrating western elements into their music, incorporating their own unique styles with the trends they respect. And just as western music comes in numerous varieties, Korean music has been growing genres. Six genres is limiting; electronic music is extremely broad, we could have gone much deeper in each genre, and some things like trot, rock, and Motown influences didn’t get mentioned. But for an introduction, this will do, and for other types  perhaps there’ll be a part two…