Often times when someone says Korean music, people typically think of K-Pop, idols, and BTS. For the uninitiated, the two seem mutually exclusive since K-Pop (and its artists) have found its way onto international music charts, political delegations, and most recently McDonald’s, but they are anything but. Before “Gangnam Style” put an international microscope on South Korea, musicians have been quietly leading a renaissance of rock music.
In a world where the K-Pop craze is at an all-time high, it’s hard to imagine how a genre like rock could ever flourish within South Korea’s music industry. From pop-punk to alternative rock and everything in between here are five K-Bands you should know.
It’s hard to believe the trio behind CNBlue has been making music together since their 2009 debut in Japan. This pop-rock band whose name incorporates initialism and backronyms (CN is Code Name while Blue is Burning, Loving, Untouchable, Emotion), consists of Jung Yong Hwa, Kang Minhyuk, and Lee Jung Shin. When CNBLUE is wooing fans onstage at live events, flexing their acting abilities onscreen, or jamming out producing music in the studio, they are undertaking philanthropy work, including donating part of their yearly income to the needing, creating scholarship funds, and building CNBlue Schools in poor communities.
2010: First music show win for the song “I’m a Loner”
2012: Performed in America for the first time at Los Angeles’ Nokia Theater
2014: Was the only Korean artist to participate in the iQiyi All-Star Carnival in Beijing where they received the “Best Asian Group” award
2015: Released their second studio album, “2gether”
2020: All three members completed their mandatory military enlistment and renewed their contracts, releasing their 8th mini-album, “Re-Code,” in the process
From cycling through a variety of concepts and member changes to various hiatuses and more, the road to fame has not been easy for N.Flying. Since their debut, this five-member rap-rock band produces mind-blowing covers of hit songs, while effortlessly adding a touch of classic K-rock to the final product. The group currently includes original members Lee Seung Hyun, Cha Hun, and Kim Jae Hyun as well as new members Yoo Hwe Seung (2017) and Seo Dong Sung (2020).
2013: Debuted in Japan
2015: Debuted in Korea
2018: Announced a year-long project, Fly High Project to introduce more people to the band’s music and explore the group’s ability to write and produce
2019: Embarked on their first world tour, “Live It Up All Night,” which included stops in Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Paris
2021: Released their first Korean studio album, “Man on the Moon”
With their blend of soft-rock ballads and punk-rock anthems, Day6 has earned their spot as one of the more popular groups in the Korean rock scene since debuting at JYP Entertainment in 2015. This five-member group comprised of Sungjin, Jae, Young K, Wonpil, and Dowoon are not only are all vocalists but also responsible for playing their own instruments.
2015: EP The Day, peaked at No.2 on Billboard’s World Album Chart a week following its release
2017: Launched their year-long Every Day6 project, a series of two singles released monthly on the sixth with mini-concerts before the songs’ release, music video drops, and V Live broadcasts
2019: First music show win for the song “Sweet Chaos.”
Soft rockers The Rose may have debuted in 2017, but fans may recognize vocalist Dojoon and bassist Jaehyeong from their years of busking in Seoul’s Hongdae district. First playing as a duo, this now quartet also includes Hajoon and Woosung. The Rose may have a distinct pop-rock sound, but the raspy vocals of Woosung and introspective lyrics make them a fan favorite.
2018: Won the “Most Promising Artist” award at the International K-Music Awards following their world tour “Paint it Rose” that included stops in Europe, North America, and South American
2020: Members Hajoon and Jaehyeong enlisted for their military service
2021: Announced they won their lawsuit over unpaid wages and lack of trust releasing them for their contract with J&Star
After debuting to moderate success in 2014, Hyukoh skyrocketed to super-stardom, storming the charts following an appearance on the TV program “Infinite Challenge” in 2015, and has never looked back since. This indie-rock band quartet, whose name is a nod to its founder and frontman, Oh Hyuk, includes Im Dong Geon, Lim Hyun Jae, and Lee In Woo. With the ability to transport listeners into a different era and mood from a single track, Hyukoh is in a league of its own when it comes to unique and raw talent.
2015: Became the first act to sign with independent label HIGHGRND, a subsidiary YG Entertainment
2016 & 2017: Won “Best Rock Band” at the 30th Golden Disc Awards
2019: Performed at Coachella
2021: Member Im Dong Geon enlisted for his mandatory military service
Which of these bands is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!