The Handbook
The Handbook

K-pop has been hot on Gen Z’s lips for a while now, but chances are anyone above the age of 25 has been left in the dark about how South Korea wormed its way to becoming the pop capital of the world. 

Following the successful drop of Netflix’s latest documentary film, BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky, last week, we decided to take a closer look at how K-pop is changing the world of pop as we know it and became an industry worth over five billion dollars.

What actually is K-pop? 

Short for Korean pop and also known as Hallyu, K-pop has been circulating its way around the globe, gracing the ears of anyone who’s willing to listen with energetic refrains, bouncy beats and what can only be described as pure bubblegum fun. It’s lighthearted, amusing and the type of music that’ll make you want to get up and dance from the moment it’s turned on. 

It’s a genre that draws influences from around the globe, incorporating hip-hop, electronic, R&B, dance and the occasional reference to rock and jazz. Slotted alongside smooth, slightly cringe, choreography and a huge amount of money thrown into the production and creation of each track, and you’ve got a lively, polished ear-worm of a hit single.

How did it become such a cultural phenomenon?

The pop culture phenomenon came on the scenes in the early 2000s but slowly came onto the Western scene just a few short years ago and has been building up traction ever since. 

Let’s go back a few years to August 2012, when Psy’s “Gangnam Style” went viral thanks to its intoxicating refrain, catchy beats and humorous music video. It’s since been dubbed a K-pop satire, but back then, it was the Western world’s first real incite into the world of Korean pop. We were obsessed with Psy’s cheeky attitude, with the song quickly becoming number two on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Those hardcore fans that stuck around then peeled open the world of Hallyu and all that it offered. Bands such as BTS became breakthrough artists that helped entice Western listeners in, quickly becoming the first K-pop boy band to have their album debut in the Billboard Charts and now have their own nation of fans, dubbed the BTS ARMY. 

Despite the majority of K-pop lyrics sung in Korean, BTS became the artists on everyone’s lips and helped establish the industry into what it is today. 

Back in 2018, Netflix in their documentary series, Explained, took a closer look at how K-pop became the $5billion industry it is today, but one thing that became obvious: young audiences love an all male or female band. One that they can lust over and a story of inspiration to fans and budding musicians to go out and take on the world, one hit at a time.

Artists you should be adding to your queue


BTS, also known as the Bangtan Boys, are arguably the most popular and well known band to rise from the depths of the K-pop world. 

The seven-member band have sold out arena tours worldwide, including shows here in the UK, and have adorning fans falling at their knees over their catchy lyrics and electro-pop beats. And, their album Map of Soul has become the best selling album in all of Korean history – so you know, they’re a pretty big deal.


You may recognise this iconic girl band from Netflix’s latest documentary that delved into the lives of the Korean Pop sensations – more on that here – but BLACKPINK is the biggest girl group of our generation, boasting a hefty 30million Instagram followers, have at least 1billion YouTube views for individual music videos and have collaborated with the likes of Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez.  

Made up of Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Liza, the famous four are known for their single Ddu-Du Ddu-Du, which is one of the hits to contribute to their insane amount of YouTube views and helped confirm their spot on major arena tours. 

Pop on their 2016 debut, The Album, and expect the catchy refrains to be stuck in your head for the rest of the week. 


Made up of a hefty nine members, EXO is a South Korean-Chinese boy band who have been pumping out the rap, hip-hop, pop and R&B hybrid since 2012.

They’re also known for their bilingual beats, with music released and performed in Korean, Mandarin and Japanese. Either way, their tunes are catchy and are well worth the listen.

Girls’ Generation 

Girls’ Generation, also known as SNSD, consists of eight members and are defined best by their lively, energetic singles. They shot to fame after their 2009 single “Gee” but decided to take a break to pursue their own solo careers.  But this sneak peek teaser says there’s something big on the way…

Want to receive more great articles like this every day: sign up here