Kpop Cheat Sheet: The Bands To Know Before They Blow Up

Okay, we're calling it, right here, right now. Kpop is going to be 2012's hottest trend. Straight out of Seoul, these acts are already bringing their edgy, high-end style and infectious tunes all over the world. Asia knows what we're talking about. Europe is already obsessed. South America goes gaga for these multi-talented superstars. And North America? The craze has already started with the hottest Korean acts selling out Madison Square Garden in NYC, the Staples Center in LA, and the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas — just to name a few places. For those of you who haven't yet become ingrained, we're here to present to you a little primer to get in on the action. We're giving you the rundown on four of the hottest Kpop artists that are headed for world domination, the songs you need to hear, and, of course, the styles you're going to want to copy. Big Bang, 2NE1, Shinee, Girls' Generation. Memorize these names, people. Let the obsession begin.
Big Bang

Photo: Via YG Entertainment

The Lowdown — Big Bang has been on quite a journey in the five years since their debut. Starting out as a hip-hop group in 2006 (complete with oversized sweatshirts and some unfortunate cornrows), they've since incorporated their heavy beats into much more lyrical, R&B-influenced tunes that showcase all of the five members' distinctive voices while still not losing their urban bite. Members G-Dragon, Taeyang, T.O.P, Daesung, and Seungri each also have their own successful solo careers, which allow their own unique music styles and aesthetics to shine. But, as good as they are individually, together they are unstoppable — Big Bang recently beat out Britney Spears for MTV EMA's Best Worldwide Act award, which makes a nice addition to the 60+ awards they've already accumulated. And while they haven't had a concert in the US yet, they've already worked with the likes of Diplo and Ludacris. But, just in case you guys are planning to make your NYC debut any time soon, just know that you're welcome to hold your first concert at 30 Cooper Square, okay?
Their Style — Big Bang are Kpop's ultimate style chameleons — they've literally worn (and rocked) it all. You might see them in preppy sweaters and button-down shirts in a magazine, in sharply tailored suits in a music video, neon skinny jeans and puffer vests on a TV show, and in full leather ensembles and piles of jewelry on stage. They've also graced the pages of countless magazines, including Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, and are the faces of everything from The North Face to Calvin Klein in Korea. Big Bang's leader, G-Dragon, in particular is known as one of Korea's leading fashion icons, who is frequently seen in the front row of fashion shows and is maybe one of the best-dressed people to ever go through airport security.

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Their Songs
Tonight — A relaxed, melancholic song that has an addictive beat and a dance-y chorus. The video was shot in Las Vegas, making it one of Big Bang's first projects done in America (though we're still waiting for the tour, guys).

Sunset Glow
This song is playful and upbeat, like something you'd listen to get you pumped up to go on a road trip. Looks like Big Bang thinks the same, as the video sees them rally their fans for a fun-filled day, which ends in an impromptu sunset concert on top of a bus.

Haru Haru — Although Haru Haru is a somber song that deals with the pain of letting go of someone you love, it's by-far a fan favorite and one of Big Bang's most popular songs, ever. The video portrays them as neighborhood roughs fighting over a girl who (spoiler alert!) kicks it in the end.
Photo: Via YG Entertainment
The Lowdown — Forget any thoughts of sugary tunes, frilly dresses, and cutesy looks — the girls behind 2NE1 are badasses and are proud of it. Consisting of CL, Sandara, Park Bom, and Minzy, these girls have already taken the world by storm with their hip-hop infused songs. They've even going so far as to declare "I Am The Best" in their latest hit (which has already racked up numerous awards this year). You might think they're being boastful, but it's kind of hard to disagree — their thumping beats, unique and versatile voices, ability to drop rhymes like the best of them, and their flawless style have already earned them the attention of Will.i.Am, who has produced several of their tracks. The group just won MTV Iggy's Best Band in the World contest, which has earned them their first concert in NYC. But then again, their awards shelf is not exactly empty — they've earned no less than 40 other awards and 74 nominations in the past two years since they made their debut. If any group is poised to take over the world, it's this one.
Their Style — 2NE1's style isn't for the faint of heart. These girls prove that, no, you can't have too many layers of color, texture, and pattern in any given outfit. 2NE1 are usually decked out in leather, patterned leggings, graphic tees, and piles of jewelry — and some sky-high heels to top it all off. They're also not afraid to rock a hairstyle that's a little less than normal — whether it's bright blue, red, or sticking out at an angle we can't compute without a protractor. Designer Jeremy Scott numbers amongst the group's devoted followers, and has even collaborated with them to create a line of his iconic winged kicks. But while their image may be loud and in-your-face, these girls certainly aren't afraid of their feminine side. Every now and then, you'll see them in a sleek little LBD, but rest assured — they might just accessorize with a pointy-shouldered blazer, or a nail-studded bra.
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Their Songs
I Am The Best — With a title like "I Am The Best," the subject of this song needs little introduction — let's just say the lyrics contain Kanye-level boasting. Not that we mind — 2NE1 is kind of the best, and we're totally smitten with how they manage to be both eclectic and totally glam at the same time.
Ugly — "Ugly" showcases 2NE1's refusal to sugar-coat anything. While the lyrics are downright depressing (the chorus, sung in English, pretty much says it all), we appreciate that 2NE1 uses this anthem-like song to dive head first into those feelings of hopelessness and self-loathing that we all feel at one point or another in our lives.
Follow Me — This hypnotic, techno-heavy song features some of the most fantastic fashion 2NE1 has ever done, plus their moves are pretty sweet. Even though we've already bedazzled a pumpkin for Halloween, we're thinking of following CL's lead and bedazzling our faces next year.
Photo: Via S.M. Entertainment
The Lowdown — No Kpop list would be complete without Girls' Generation. While they are by far the most "traditional" pop group on our list, that doesn't mean their songs — or their style — are anything but spectacular. Also known as SNSD (short for their Korean name, So Nyeo Shi Dae), the group consists of a staggering nine members — Taeyeon, Jessica, Sunny, Tiffany, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sooyoung, Yoona, and Seohyun (don't worry if you can't remember all of their names now, there's no test at the end). These girls are all about their sexy image — short skits, stiletto boots, and hot pants that would make Lady Gaga blush. Their songs are upbeat and infectious, with clever hooks that will stick in your head for days. No, really — even if you're less-than-fluent in Hangul, you'll somehow find yourself singing along with each and every word (or its, er, approximation). Plus, they've already toured around the world and have made their US debut this year with their new single, "The Boys."
Their Style — While SNSD has a serious addiction to short-shorts and hot pants, they look just as leggy in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. In fact, it's their ability to go from vixen to girl-next-door in a heartbeat that's just so compelling.

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Their Songs
Gee — This is perhaps one of the most infections, intoxicating Kpop songs of all time. In fact, we're willing to bet that if you take away only one thing from this entire article, it'll be "Gee-gee-gee-gee Baby-baby-baby." Side effects also include shopping for brightly colored skinny jeans and a return to that childhood nightmare where mannequins really come alive when you turn your head. But, at least these ones dance!
The Boys — This song has both a Korean and an English version, which you can check out here. With its electronic effects and thumping beat, The Boys is the perfect club song. The video shows off SNSD's glam side, with long gowns and plenty of bling, but don't worry — hot pants and mini skirts make their inevitable appearance (just in case you were worried).
Hoot — While we love this song for its addictive hook and we're thinking about trying that bow-and-arrow dance move next time we're out (maybe), we're head-over-heels for the mod vibe this video brings. Colorblocked dresses, thigh-high boots, and metallic jumpsuits are very on-trend.
Photo: Via SM Entertainment
The Lowdown — Although SHINee only came onto the scene in 2008, they've already toured all over Asia — not to mention, they've also held packed concerts in London, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles, just to name a few. Members Onew, Jonghyun, Key, Minho, and Taemin are already well on their way to super-stardom, inspiring fans to hold flash mobs of their songs to attract them to hold concerts in their countries (they even participated in one in Russia). SHINee is also particularly well-known for their dance moves, which fans often rush to emulate in contests (and, er, at the office — no judging!). Don't worry, we've provided you with proof — just check out their videos to see that their precision and intricacy definitely makes them some of the best dancers in the biz. And, besides the numerous awards they've won since their debut, they also hold the distinction for being the first foreign artist to have their songs hit as high as #3 on Japan's Oricon music charts. Not bad, considering none of them are over 21 years old yet.
Their Style — SHINee's style often plays into their boyish looks — they're known for their simple jeans-and-T-shirt look, which often include bright, neon colors and high tops. This look in particular has been adopted by many young Koreans and has been dubbed "SHINee-style," cementing their status as fashion icons in their country. Lately, however, the group has upped their edge by wearing more leather, heavier and more stylized outerwear, and big, bold jewelry, giving them a dual image.
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Their Songs
Lucifer — Lucifer is one of SHINee's hottest songs, mixing marathon-worthy energy, and a heavy, dance-y beat. Although we question some of the fashion and haircuts in this video (what exactly is that leather backless vest thing?), we love that it showcases what incredible dancers the SHINee members are.
Ring Ding Dong — This fast-paced song has a relentless drive that's hard to resist. This was also one of the first times Shinee cast off their more casual edge for some sharp suits and enough leather and studs to remind us that they're all (almost) grown-up.
Juliette — One of SHINee's earlier songs, Juliette showcases their playful sound, and the video shows off their boyish looks. We also detect a little bit of a Michael Jackson flair not just in their moves, but also in the song's melody — does anybody else hear a little "Billie Jean" or "Thriller" vibe going on here?

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