The 3rd Generation K-pop Groups That Are Awesome

Who are some of your favorite 3rd Generation K-pop Groups?

While K-pop had a foundation with 1st and 2nd Gen, what we know as the “Hallyu Wave” (the influx of K-pop and Korean culture in social media) started during 3rd Gen, when more and more people found K-pop. Most likely, this is when you discovered K-pop as well, thanks to huge hits like PSY’s Gangnam Style! So let’s dive into all of the 3rd gen K-pop groups that helped make Korean pop so special and beloved worldwide.

3rd Generation K-Pop Groups to Obsess Over

EXO

EXO’s impact on the K-pop industry is legendary. Starting with their debut song Mama in 2012, the group has won award after award for Rookie of the Year and Best Song every year. The boys hail from EXO Planet and each has superpowers of their own such as control of the elements, super speed, telekinesis, and time control to name a few.

Starting with a whopping 12 members, the SM Entertainment group was divided into two 6-member sub-groups, EXO-K (Korean) and EXO-M (Mandarin). To make use of the Chinese members as well as to expand K-pop to new countries, each album until 2016 had a Korean and Mandarin version with EXO-K and -M overseeing their language respectively.

Since 2014, three of the Chinese members (leader and rapper, Wu Yi Fan better known as Kris Wu; lead vocalist and dancer, Lu Han; and lead rapper and maknae, Huang Zi Tao better known as Tao) left EXO-M with individual lawsuits to end their contracts.

More about their departures are linked above. Now the group consists of 9 members including Lay Zhang who no longer actively promotes with the group due to the conflict between China and Korea concerning their artists and music.

While members have departed, new sub-units have appeared including EXO-CBX (members Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin) who promoted in Japan before terminating their contracts with SM Entertainment and EXO-CS (members Chanyeol and Sehun) which is a rap duo. Most of the members have successful solo careers as well.

The song that tops charts once a year every year is from their Miracles in December album (2013) titled First Snow, which is a lovely winter song that expresses the feelings of love during the first snow of the season. 

My favorite song by EXO is Sweet Lies. It is a b-side track off their 2017 repackage album of The War titled The Power of Music. This R&B inspired track is a heart-wrenching song about a lover telling his partner sweet lies to keep them happy despite knowing the truth.  It’s songs like these that make EXO one of the best 3rd gen K-pop groups in my eyes.

BTS (Bangtan Sonyeondan)

If you ask any current K-pop fan, the likelihood of them listening to BTS is very high. For many, this is the group that started it all. I even met my best friend through a chat related to their 2015 “The Red Bullet pt. 2” Tour!

In 2013, BTS debuted with No More Dream under a small company called BigHit Entertainment. This debut was a strong, hip-hop-inspired track and their image matched it perfectly. The road wasn’t always easy as they faced challenges learning about the roots of hip-hop and the culture it is derived from as a team in their 2014 reality show American Hustle Life.

The boys were slowly gaining popularity due to their powerful rappers and talented vocalists and in 2015 everything changed. Their leading single I Need U from their 2015 album The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt.1 saw a drastic change in the group’s appearance as they began their story about the trials and errors of teenager years. Rather than the rough hip-hop tracks, the vocalists were given more room to showcase their talents, leaning more towards R&B influenced back tracks.

From then on, BTS was winning music show awards and gaining more recognition in Korean media. Fast forward to today, they are global artists inspiring younger generations to continue in their footsteps and their company has expanded to HYBE Labels. Since 2022, the group has officially announced that they will be focusing on solo projects (all successful) while each member fulfills their military service.

My favorite BTS song is Coffee from their 2013 album O!RUL8,2?. It is hard to choose a song, so really this is my favorite album, but Coffee compares a past relationship to coffee, the beginning sweet like the beginnings of Caramel Macchiatos and ending bitterly like the aftertaste of Americanos. While the melodic tune of this track is sweet, the lyrics reflect the heartbreak people feel after a breakup.

GOT7

The group GOT7 has an interesting past. Debuting in 2014 from JYPEntertainment with their leading song Girls Girls Girls, this 7-member group drew in fans with their powerful and fun dancing as well as integrated acrobatics. Each comeback saw a new side of the boys. Really, they were everywhere always cracking jokes on reality shows and making friends in the industry.

Their lineup was unique due to their Thai member professionally known as BamBam and Chinese member Jackson. (Usually if groups had a foreign member, they were Chinese or Japanese.) Bambam and Jackson made waves for being bold, never afraid to speak their mind.

As they began to propel towards stardom, the group started facing challenges with their company to the point fans started claiming mismanagement allegations. While GOT7 wasn’t as active as they used to be, the group formally left the company in 2021. While each member is currently signed to a different company to promote successful solo activities, they are still active as a group under the same name.

My favorite song by GOT7 is arguably one of their most popular songs titled Just Right from their 2015 mini album under the same name. The music video is bright and colorful with fun lyrics. The opening of the video shows a little girl crying because she does not feel like she is pretty.

The boys appear as miniature versions of themselves around the little girl’s room to encourage her to believe in herself and that she is just right. This song is light-hearted and supportive. The boys always look like they’re having a good time performing it, so that song really stuck with me.

NCT (Neo Culture Technology)

NCT is one of the biggest groups (literally) in K-pop right now with a whopping 20 members under SM Entertainment. There are three subunits within the group: NCT 127 (9 members), NCT Dream (7 members), and the Chinese unit WayV (6 members).

Rapper Mark & vocalist Haechan are in both 127 and Dream accounting for the extra members if you try to do the math, haha. NCT U is another subunit with rotating members. Initially NCT U debuted as a 5-member gorup with 7th Sense in 2016.

The dream of NCT was global domination creating a group that would eventually represent every country on the map. After a few honestly confusing years where the other subunits appeared, the group expanded, and members switched places, NCT U is now where all the members come together to compose the group’s yearly full length album creating a sense of family blending voices and styles together that fans could only dream of.

The group just released their 2023 album earlier this month consisting of the single Baggy Jeans, which sung by the original members of NCT U: leader and rapper Taeyong, vocalists Doyoung and Jaehyun, Thai member and all-rounder Ten, and rapper and maknae Mark.

While many of the overall group are from varying countries such as Canada, the US, Thailand, Japan, and Germany, the company no longer wishes to expand NCT. The upcoming Japanese unit will be the final unit of NCT.

My most memorable song from NCT is NCT 127’s 2018 English track Regular. This song holds a lot of memories for me since I attended a lot of events in LA to see NCT perform. The song itself is unique in both the video and dance. The group even created a challenge (before TikTok) for the fans called “The Regular, Huh” challenge. Embarrassing but fun!

Twice

Twice is a powerhouse 9-member girl group leading the 3rd generation under JYPEntertainment. Members include the leader and vocalist Jihyo (who just had a solo debut), Japanese dancer Momo, vocalist Sana, and vocalist Mina (who have a subunit called MiSaMo), Taiwanese vocalist Tzuyu, Korean rappers Dahyun and Chaeyoung, and lead vocalists Nayeon (also has had solo activities) and Jeongyeon. 

They girls debuted from the survival show Sixteen with the title track Like Ooh Ahh in 2015. The track shows the girls captivating the hearts of zombies that have plagued their school and changing their back into humans. They are very popular in Japan and have successful Japanese tracks.

My favorite song by Twice is one of their English songs titled Moonlight Sunrise. This sultry pop track is mature and depicts the desires women have of their partners. While this is a new image for Twice, they still showcase their synchronized dancing and look fantastic doing it. Each stage looks well-coordinated and fun. The dance itself is hard, but the girls make it look so easy!

BlackPink

One of the top YG Entertainment artists right now is 4-member girl group, Blackpink. One of the few K-pop acts to be invited to perform at American festivals, Blackpink is a well-know name in Korea and abroad. Leader Jennnie, rapper Lisa, and vocalists Rose and Jisoo captured fans around the world with their debut songs Boombayah and Whistle in 2016.

Clearly following the footsteps of their sister-group 2NE1, the group released some backlash for their debut starting so close to 2NE1’s disbanding date. Their promotions were unique in that they only released two songs at a time and different versions of those songs over the span of a few years. Fans were disgruntled for not receiving a full mini album or a full album after 3 years of promotions.

Finally in 2020, the full English album titled The Album was released with tracks Ice Cream featuring Selena Gomez and Bet You Wanna featuring Cardi B. Also in 2020, Sour Candy featuring Lady Gaga was released a single. The girls have completed a very successful world tour beginning in Seoul in 2022 and ending in Australia in June of 2023 as well as their 5-show encore tour here in the States in August.

My favorite song by Blackpink is the 2017 single As If It’s Your Last. The tune is upbeat that matches the lyrics of a burning young love where the speaker wishes to treat this love like their last. The dance of the chorus is fun with island influence. This is one of the only songs that I can sing in Korean without ever looking at the lyrics (just the chorus though).

Monsta X

Monsta X is a group that I hold very dear to my heart. They debuted in 2015 under Starship Entertainment after a grueling survival show. In the end, the 7-member boy group emerged with the debut song Trespass on the mini album of the same title. The album showcased the power of rapper duo Jooheon (now known as Joohoney) and I.M as well the smooth vocals of leader Shownu, Wonho, Kihyun, and Hyungwon.

The group has developed a strong fanbase both in and out of Korea due to their Clan series whether they touch on same sex relationships, broken families and bonds forged through friendships. They began winning music award shows for their self-produced title tracks starting with Dramarama in 2017. In 2019, member Wonho faced backlash for a false allegation and left the group for the sake of their image.

The now 6-member continues to succeed on music shows with each comeback. Joohoney, Kihyun, Wonho, and I.M (who is no longer signed with Starship Entertainment) have successful solo careers while Shownu and Hyungwon have recently debuted as a subunit with Love Me A Little. Shownu has completed his mandatory military service while Jooheon, Kihyun, and Minhyuk have all started their service earlier in the year. Wonho is also currently in the military.

My favorite song by Monsta X is the 2017 title track Beautiful from the The Clan pt 2.5 [Beautiful]. The video for this song is clean cut and fancy. With an addictive into and captivating beginning rap, the song tells a story of someone wanting the affections of a person they can’t have and shouldn’t want.

The breakdown after the first chorus is so satisfying with choreography that hits every beat and flows so well. Beautiful is a fan favorite but did not receive any awards at the time.

KARD

Not the first of their kind but certainly the most impactful is KARD a co-ed 4-member group consisting of BM, Jiwoo, J.Seph, and Somin under DSP Entertainment. Their highly anticipated debuted finally came in 2017 with their EP Hola Hola.

The group had been releasing “K.A.R.D Projects” showcasing their vocal, rap, and dance skills in 2016 prior to their debut; these projects include the island influence track Oh NaNa, the smoother track Don’t Recall, and the heavier rap focused song Rumor.

As the group gained more popularity, they began experimenting with more sounds inspired by hip-hop and Latin American pop sounds. Thie most recent comeback Icky has gained considerable attention. KARD has had 3 tours since debut gaining new fans each time.

KARD may not have much music under their belt due to their hiatus during J.Seph’s mandatory military service, but their songs are recognizable and addictive. 

My favorite song by KARD is Icky. It’s so addictive and bold. The lyrics are mature and suggestive. The beat is danceable even if you don’t know the choreography! The stages showcase how well they work as a team showing that monogamous team can exist in today’s world.

B.A.P

B.A.P was a group that made waves when they were active. Under TS Entertainment, the 6-member boyband had a strong debut in 2012 with Warrior. What captivated fans besides their talented singers and rappers was their powerful dancing and identical hair and outfits. While confusing when learning individual names, the image made an impact and is still referenced when newer groups do the same thing.

B.A.P was known for their movie-like music videos, the most memorable being One Shot where member Youngjae is beaten and held hostage by a rival gang. When a ransom letter is sent to the rest of the band, they prepare to get their boy back only for a shootout to happen. If you haven’t seen it, the real ending is a twist that no one suspects!

After a few silent and challenging years, B.A.P decided not to renew their contracts with Entertainment and have been officially disbanded since 2018. Former leader Bang Yongguk recently had a tour in the US following the release of his latest album Colors of Love.

So many of B.A.P’s songs are memorable. 

My favorite song by B.A.P is No Mercy from their 2012 EP of the same name. The whistle and strong bass get stuck in my head all the time. The lyrics are simple and state how they are the “best absolute perfect” (that’s what their name stands for!) and won’t show mercy to the competition. There’s a dance break towards the end of the song that incorporates traditional dance styles to coincide with the traditional instruments woven into the beat.

Red Velvet

Red Velvet is a 5-member girl group from SM Entertainment. When they debuted in 2014 as a 4-member group with Happiness and electronic pop-based track. The song was a hit and showed how bright future for the girls. Around the same time, the girl’s promoted Be Natural, an R&B-based track featuring Taeyong of NCT before his group’s debut!

The dual release what meant to show the meaning of their name: red being their pop tracks and velvet being the smoother R&B tracks. A 5th member was added in time for their first EP Ice Cream Cake. Since then, the girls have shown the world they can tackle different concepts and look great doing it. In 2020, members Irene (leader) and Seulgi (main dancer) formed a subunit and released their EP Monster. The track showcased Seulgi’s vocal abilities as well as Irene’s rapping skills.

All of Red Velvet’s title tracks are fun and catchy while their b-sides are memorable for their soothing undertones. The song Red Flavor is the song of the summer. When that plays, you know the season has started. 

My favorite Red Velvet song is Be Natural. When I first saw the black and white video, I immediately fell in love with the simplicity of the set and the choreography. The song also introduced me to Mr. “TY on the Track” and in the end NCT, so it holds a special place in my heart.

Seventeen

A misleading group, this 13-member boy group from Pledis Entertainment is making history. Debuting with Adore U from their first mini album 17 Carat in 2015, the group started with light and fun concepts. The term “boys will be boys” comes to mind.

The love for this group started long before they had an official lineup on “Road to Seventeen” where viewers could get to know the boys while they trained for debut. The group is divided into 3 subunits: hip-hop unit (4 members), performance unit (4 members), and vocal unit (5 members).

In their nearly 10 years of activity, some of the members have had solo debuts as well the creation of the Leaders subunit, which is made up of S.Coups, Hoshi, and Woozi who lead their units mentioned previously respectively.

Each unit is given a track on the albums showing the groups versatility and gave everyone a chance to be heard. This split has developed into different members pairing together for future albums along with the unit songs and title track. Seventeen’s sound has matured as the group has grown in popularity, but they still have the same energy that they did during debut.

They are known for synchronized choreography and this song really showcases that aspect of the group. After recently completely a world tour that lasted for a year, they released was their 10th mini album FML with the title track Super, a powerful, face-paced track with traditional drums. 

My favorite song of Seventeen’s is 2Minus1, a pop-punk influenced English track performed by rapper Vernon and vocalist Joshua from their 2021 mini album Attaca. The song is about a breakup where one partner has moved on and the other is convincing themselves that they are also fine.

For a full group song, Rock with you from the same album is one I can put on repeat and never get tired of it. It’s fast-paced and about needing to be next to someone. To be honest, it’s a fairly basic love song, but that’s the appeal. The way they perform it with passion elevates the track to a whole new level.

Astro

Astro was a 6-member boy group from Fantagio Entertainment. They debuted in 2016 with their EP Spring Up performing their track Hide & Seek on music shows. They showed a bright image of young boys just having fun. Their fanbase slowly grew as the years went by. Some of their most popular songs are Candy Sugar Pop (2022) and Crazy Sexy Cool (2017) which moved the groups image away from teenage youth.

Cha Eunwoo made his acting debut in 2014 before joining the group but continued his acting roles between comebacks. Leader and rapper Jinjin and lead dancer and rapper Rocky started a subunit (Jinjin&Rocky) in 2022 with their EP Restore. Dancer Moonbin and maknae Sanha also started a subunit (Moonbin&Sanha) in 2020 with their EP In-Out which lead to two more Eps in 2022 and the last one in January 2023.

In February 2023, main dancer and rapper, Rocky, announced his departure from the group. The group was to continue as a 5-member group until Moonbin passed away from health complications in April devastating the K-pop community from artists to fans alike. The group has been on hiatus since.

My favorite song by Astro is Cat’s Eye off their debut EP. The song will always cheer me up. It’s about a crush and the video takes place in a high school. It’s really cute and relatable. The choreography incorporates cat movements and is just overall fun to learn.

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