The stormy success of South Korean-pop bands like BTS took us by surprise. These bands were always there but what caused this massive exposure of Korean bands that the whole world listens to them now? This is a question worth finding the answer to.
But one thing is undeniable, the music and energetic performance of the K-pop bands make them more and more desirable. So if you like South Korean music or want to get into K-pop for the first time — this list is for you. Here is what we think are the top 20 most popular k-pop groups in the world in 2021.
The number one band on the Billboard Global 200 chart doesn’t need an introduction. In the past few years, BTS has broken multiple records including being the fastest band to have four US number one albums, a record which was previously dear to The Beatles. The group of seven Korean boys including Jin, Suga, V, and others is dominating the world with fans in almost every country. BTS is the first K-pop group to get certified by the RIAA, reach the first position on the Billboard Hot 100, and a Grammy nomination.
BTS has broken various records in 2021, earned the most Youtube views (108,200,000) and most-streamed single with almost 11,042,335 hits on Spotify in just 24 hours. This comes after their “Butter” released, making BTS the best K-pop group as of today.
EXO is often called the biggest boy band in the world and marked as the King of K-pop. Well, these tags are there for obvious reasons. Consisting of 9 musicians, the boy band made it in the Forbes Korea List five times back to back. Seven albums released in three languages — Korean, Chinese, Japanese, the band is effectively multi-lingual. EXO’s highest success in the US is “Don’t Mess with My Tempo,” which peaked at 23rd position on the Billboard 200 chart.
The girl groups aren’t behind in the race. The 9-girls band started their journey in 2015 with the EP The Story Begins. After that they have already released 8 albums, almost all of them garnering domestic and international fame. The band is popular in Japan, made it to the Canadian Hot 100 chart, and recently to the Billboard 200 chart with their More & More and Eyes Wide Open. The famous South Korean band set the record of topping both Billboard World Albums and World Digital Song Sales simultaneously.
Blackpink is the female K-pop band mostly known for its 2020 breakthrough into the US market. The musician quadruplet Lisa, Jisoo, Jennie, and Rose made their Billboard debut with the song “Ice Cream” which charted at 13. In the same year, Blackpink’s The Album surprised the pundits by peaking at number 2 on the Billboard 200. They have been acknowledged and certified by several international associations such as the RIAA (US), BPI (UK), ARIA (AUS). “How You Like That” music video is placed in the Guinness World Records for its mind-boggling performance.
NCT or Neo Culture Technology is the umbrella term for all the NCT subunits out there. With a total number of 23 members, the group is divided into different parts like NCT U, NCT127, NCT Dream, etc. The band set off their journey in 2016 with their singles “The 7th Sense” and “Without You”. NCT by itself has released only three albums; the two-part NCT 2020 Resonance album garnered huge attention with global sales of 2.6 million copies. The boy band is reaching for the US market as they plan to launch NCT Hollywood.
GOT7 is JYP Entertainment’s one of most successful launches. Popular K-pop stars like Jay B, Mark, BamBam, and a few others launched the group in 2014. Since then, they have been rolling out successful albums like Moriagatteyo and Present: You. The band’s first EP Got it? was a huge hit as it peaked on both the Gaon Album chart and Billboard Global chart. GOT7’s Flight Log trilogy EP sold more than 300000 copies worldwide. The record was broken in 2020 when their 11th EP Dye sold over 450000 copies.
Seventeen, not the women’s magazine, is a popular boy band in the K-pop genre. The group was formed in 2015 and since then they have released three albums and 11 EPs. Although the group is not as popular as above outside Asia, it has had its fair share of success in South Korea and Japan. They made it to the Billboard best K-pop Albums chart and won the Seoul Music Awards. In 2021, the 13-members group released the Japanese single “Not Alone” which sold over 500,000 copies and earned a double-platinum certification from RIAJ.
8. The Boyz
The Boyz was formed in 2017 with a bunch of rising talents of K-pop under Cre.ker Entertainment. They released their first EP The First in the same year. As the performance charts kept rising, the group released the second EP The Start which was another success. The band won the prestigious Rookie Award twice within the same year. The Boyz’s third EP The Only came out in 2018 subsequently winning them the Best New Male Artist Award at the Melon Music Awards.
One of the best new K-pop groups of 2016, according to Billboard, the group did hold on to the title after five years. Astro has released 10+ albums and EPs winning a bunch of accolades and a massive fanbase. The creator of albums like All Yours, Autumn Story, Dream (2 Part) the group has a long way to go.
10. Stray Kids
The Stray Kids band got together and started their journey from a musical reality show of the same name. Under JYP Entertainment’s label, the eight-member K-pop group started their journey in 2018 with their EP Mixtape. The official debut EP came out a couple of months later when Stray Kids released the EP I Am Not. Like many other South Korean bands, this group too attended a lot of Reality shows over the years including Finding SKZ, Mysterious Kitchen, etc. The boy band released their debut album Go Live in 2020.
If you have ever listened to the beautiful It’z Different album, you know ITZY. The famous K-pop girl group started their journey in 2019 with this album. Given the massive performance of their first release, the five-piece group earned the Rookie Award and Best New Female Artist award in the same year. Following their success, ITZY toured the US, a rare chance for bands at such an early stage. The group’s EP It’z Me opened atop the Gaon Digital Charts and on number five on Billboard World Albums Chart.
Starting from 2017, the group has successfully launched five EPs and an album. Each one of them performed quite well in the country and in Japan. Following the release of their EP, the lead single ON/OFF separated the team into two parts — ON and OFF, each of them having separate leaders. The boy band released their first album ONF: My Name in 2021. The 11-tracks album peaked at number 7 in the Gaon Digital Albums chart. They later added three more tracks to modify the album and earned a few more chart positions.
TXT made a huge entry into the K-pop industry in 2019. Their debut EP The Dream Chapter: Star debuted atop the Goan Digital Albums Chart and Billboard World Albums Chart. The EP also made it to the Billboard Hot 100 at number 140. The lead single “Crown” got placed in some Billboard charts too. As a result, in the very first year, they got two Rookie of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Best New Male Artist. TXT released another Korean album named The Chaos Chapter: Freeze and a Japanese album Still Dreaming.
14. MONSTA X
Monsta X debuted in 2015 when they released their first EP Trespass. It took them another two years to come up with the first studio album named The Clan Pt. 2.5: The Final Chapter. The group has been successful on both the Korean and Japanese front as the RIAJ certified four of their singles as gold. Also, the Korea Music Content Association has certified their albums as platinum. Monsta’s primary focus is on hip hop and EDM and the audience loves their aggressive music.
SuperM is an internationally known K-pop band consisting of members from several other music groups. Their first release was the EP SuperM which peaked at number 1 in Billboard 200. Needless to mention a massive achievement, making them the first Asian band to so. In 2020, the group held an online concert that made over 2 million dollars just from ticket sales. In the same year, SuperM released their debut album Super One. The group entered the Billboard 200 chart for the second time as they collaborated with Marvel on a project.
Unlike most of the other bands we covered, SHINee has been there for over a decade. Originally started with five members in 2008, the group got intertwined with the generations as a trendsetter. SHINee’s debuting EP Replay got people’s attention and with the release of the studio album The Shinee World, they won the Newcomer Album of the Year. Since then, the K-pop band has released a total of 12 albums, five of them being in Japanese. It wouldn’t be too much to say that SHINee is one of the most popular K-pop bands in the world.
17. Red Velvet
Red Velvet debuted in the K-pop world in 2014 with their single “Happiness”. The R&B-influenced K-pop band is known for the experimentative nature of their music and that’s why the audience loves them. So far the five-piece girl group has released a couple of albums and a bunch of EPs. Singles like “Russian Roulette”, “Rookie”, “Peek-a-Boo”, “Bad Boy” peaked at the top five of the Gaon Digital Chart. Red Velvet has won a significant number of accolades including the Korean Music Awards for Best Pop Song, Mnet Asian Music Award for Best Female Group.
ATEEZ made a spectacular entry in K-pop with their first EP Treasure EP.1: All to Zero. It won them the Next Generation Award and Worldwide Fans’ Choice at the Mnet Asian Music Awards. The boy band has so far released four albums, three of them being in Japanese and six EPs. ATEEZ is hugely popular in the US, a survey showed that in 2020 they were the 5th most-tweeted-about musicians in the US after musicians like BTS, Drake, Beyonce.
Mamamoo is a popular girl group in South Korea. They started their journey in 2014 with the single “Mr. Ambiguous”. Arguably, it was the most successful debut of 2014 as per some critics. Since the formation of the band, they have released two Korean albums and one Japanese album so far. The Korean album duo performed extremely well in the Gaon Digital Charts and peaked at the Billboard World Albums chart as well.
ENHYPEN is a freshly released band that formed in November 2020. The group debuted with the EP Border: Day One. The EP debuted atop the Goan Digital Charts and second on the Oricon Albums Chart selling around 300,000 copies. For a group just starting out, the numbers are pretty impressive. The boy band’s second EP Border: Carnival sold over 450,000 copies worldwide and topped the Japanese album chart. It also peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200 making it an international success.