Look Out, World: K-pop Acts Worth Watching

Tianxing Ma

Soy Kim

Years ago, when a K-pop artist released a new song, it was deemed a success if fans at home received the song with open arms. That is not the case anymore. As the clock struck midnight on KApril 12 worldwide, the song “Gentleman,” rapper PSY’s follow-up single to “Gangnam Style,” was released in 119 countries. Within minutes of the single’s release, people began to debate whether PSY would be  a “one-hit wonder” in the Western Hemisphere.

It’s also worth considering which acts may be the ones to follow PSY’s lead in solidifying their presence in America. The “Big 3” Entertainment corporations— S.M. Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, and YG Entertainment—have all shown signs of business ventures in the States. For instance, consider S.M. Entertainment’s partnership with Interscope Records for international projects involving lucrative girl group Girls’ Generation, as well as YG Entertainment’s partnership between Will.i.Am and hip-hop girl group 2NE1 (in fact, the group is featured on the tracklist of his upcoming studio album, #willpower) and Creative Artists Agency’s representation of YG rapper PSY.

While there are numerous sub-genres under the greater umbrella of “popular Korean music” (such as talented ballad singer K. Will, indie-folk group Busker Busker, or rock band CN BLUE), here are a few groups worth watching for a potential breakthrough in the U.S. mainstream market.



In sharp contrast with the plethora of pretty-polished-pop images of many female groups, 2NE1 exudes an edgy persona. From angsty song, “Ugly,” to addictive club hit, “I Am the Best,” the group brings a commanding stage presence and loud personality. The members’ experimental fashion has forged them a relationship with designer Jeremy Scott, who called leader CL his “muse” in a recent interview with ELLE. They have collaborated with Will.i.Am in the track for the Intel Ultrabook  promotional video, and a formal U.S. debut for the group is rumored. In Will.i.Am’s words: “They [2NE1] care about fashion, dope beats, cool melodies—the perfect marriage between their style and my style.” In 2011, 2NE1 took home the MTV Iggy award for “Best New Band In The World.” The organic relationships that 2NE1 have formed with well-known artists, both within and outside the world of K-pop, and their sheer talent are indicative of a potential worldwide takeover.

t윤미래 (Yoon Mi Rae/Tasha Reid)

Native Texan Yoon Mi Rae has established herself as South Korea’s most formidable and talented female hip-hop and R&B singer and rapper. Represented by Jungle Entertainment, Yoon Mi Rae not only performs solo, but has also worked with Korean hip-hop crew the Movement, the hip-hop project group MFBTY, and her husband Tiger JK, another well-respected Korean rapper. She grew up in the U.S., born to a Korean mother and an African American father, and she experienced discrimination growing up. She now vocally serves as an ambassador for multicultural youth, even rapping about her experiences. Her powerful life story, her fluency in both Korean and English, and her talented rapping could successfully capture foreign audiences.


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