Be honest. If you were asked about Korean pop, you’d probably mention monolithic girl groups, over-elaborate music videos, and Psy. And on all points, you’d be correct.
But look past the rampant guyliner and girls in boyshorts; K-pop’s got a lot of hidden gems. It’s not all manufactured teen idols puppeteered by multi-million dollar companies. Contrary to popular belief, Korean pop is teeming with sounds that are sexy, cool, and soulful.
On the following list, you won’t find stalwarts like Big Bang, SHINee, or Girls’ Generation (and if none of that makes sense to you, don’t worry). The aforementioned acts are certainly relevant as K-pop megastars, but we’re focusing more on artists who are less likely to be on your radar. Here, then, are the Korean pop artists you should know who are doing it right now.
Devoted Complex readers should already be up on CL and her upcoming American debut. Latecomers may have only recently caught wind of her on the track and video for “Doctor Pepper,” featuring Diplo, RiFF RAFF, and OG Maco.
For the uninitiated, let’s quickly rewind: Chaelin Lee debuted in Korea as the leader of the badass four-member girl group 2NE1. That’s the group that put out the anthem “I Am the Best,” which you might have heard on Microsoft commercials and, surprisingly, American pop radio. While the quartet released (and still releases) music about just how much you shouldn’t fuck with them (mixed in with the occasional love song), the group’s obvious choice for an American solo debut was CL. She’s not only relatively credible as a rapper and has an electric stage presence, but she’s also fluent in English and has the support of super-manager Scooter Braun.
It’s important to note that CL’s U.S. crossover is a double-edged sword. On one end she has to break in an American audience unaccustomed to an Asian woman spitting bars, and on the other end she’s got her K-pop fans unaccustomed to her using the words “fuck,” “shit,” and “bitch” in the same verse. Despite this, her debut U.S. album, which will feature Diplo, Skrillex, and Florence and the Machine, will hopefully prove to people she is the “Baddest Female.”
Key Tracks: “Baddest Female,” “MTBD,” and “Doctor Pepper” f/ Diplo, OG Maco, and RiFF RAFF