K-Pop, the unique blend of pop and electronica that hails from South Korea, has been around for decades. But over the past 12 months, some of K-pop's biggest names - 2NE1, Psy, Wonder Girls, Girls' Generation and IU -- have set their sights on the U.S. and helped the genre amass what is slowly becoming a cult-like following in the States. Here's a look at 20 key moments that have helped K-Pop achieve a massive growth spurt over the past year.
Psy's "Gangnam Style" Goes Viral
Psy's "Gangnam Style" video broke the 40 million mark in just a month on the strength of a catchy beat and his openness to show his hilarious personality in a series of ridiculous scenes. It's captivated viewers all over the world and been featured on major media outlets like CNN and ABC News, but the song was was already topping the K-Pop Hot 100 when the video went viral. Its success has led to Psy releasing a female version of the track (with 4Minute's Hyun-a) and rumors that Justin Bieber's manager Scooter Braun is very interested in him.
Wonder Girls Get Their Own TEENick Movie
Wonder Girls made a big mark on American culture with their full-length feature "The Wonder Girls." The movie, which showed off the quintet's English-speaking skills, allowed American audiences to get to know each member individually as we see the girls sightsee, rehearse, and make funny jabs at American culture. R&B/Soul singer Angie Stone even has a part in the movie as Betty, a veteran Motown singer who plants the idea to play at The Apollo in the girls' heads.
K-Pop Hits the Billboard 200
K-pop invaded the Billboard 200 chart in early May when a Girls' Generation sub-unit debuted at No. 126 beating incredible odds. Made up of three members Tiffany, Taeyon, and Seohyun, the splinter group Girls' Generation- TTS (also known as TaeTiSeo) made a dent with their digital "Twinkle" EP. The feat becomes all the more impressive when you consider the set was released on a Saturday with no American promotion or even any tracks in the English language. BIGBANG also appeared with a No. 150 entry on the Billboard 200 in March.
SISTAR's New Singles, New No. 1s
SISTAR claimed the inaugural K-Pop Hot 100 No. 1 with their hit "So Cool" on August 25, 2011. The track and video showed SISTAR as all knew them to be at the time: cheerleader-esque charm with high-energy Euro-dance productions. SISTAR shook things up in the spring with new single "Alone." The slow disco track was not only a sonic change, but a visual one with SISTAR playing seductive femme fatale roles. The concept worked and SISTAR claimed another No. 1 on the chart which would go on to the No. 8 biggest song of the year. Fast-forward to the summer, SISTAR threw fans for a loop going funky with summer single "Loving U" giving them yet another huge hit. The reign of "Loving U" is still going strong as it sits in the Top 10 today in its seventh week on the chart and No. 15 of the top K-pop songs of the past year.
K-Pop Dominates In Japan
Many groups struck gold in Japan. Girls' Generation and T-ara both earned No. 1s on the Japan Hot 100 with singles
Billboard Korea's KPOP Master Concert Makes History
The very first K-pop concert in Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena was the Billboard Korea KPOP Masters concert on Nov. 25 and 26, 2011. The show included some of South Korea's finest -- including Brown Eyed Girls, G.NA, Beast, and 4Minute. The past year included several K-pop shows on the East and West Coast but the Las Vegas show not only saw a new location for K-pop to colonize, but stands as one of the most unique shows of the year with its line-up including artists from major and smaller agencies.
Google Streams K-Pop Concert To Masses
Korean broadcast company MBC, Google, and YouTube joined forces for a May concert that was streamed to over one hundred thousand viewers online. The line-up included KARA, MBLAQ, Sistar, f(x), Girls' Generation, Wonder Girls, Super Junior, with TVXQ finishing the show. While TVXQ was the final act of the night, online attendees may have spoken the loudest with the night's highest viewership (115,000) during Girls' Generation. Perhaps, appropriate though, as the girls do have the most-watched K-pop videos of all-time on the site with the 82 million views.
Western Superstars Jump On The Korean Wave
Some of the Western World's biggest names in the industry collaborated with some of K-pop's biggest names this year. Girls' Generation saw EDM genius Steve Aoki remix their hit single "Mr. Taxi" and hitmakers The Cataracs and Dev created a half-English, half-Japanese dubstep version of "Bad Girl." Snoop Dogg also lent several bars for a remix of "The Boys" which appeared on their Interscope-backed album of the same name. The Wonder Girls have a new English single "Like Money" that features Akon. 2NE1 found fans in will.i.am who confirmed he is featuring the group on his new solo disc as well as in The Wanted member Jay McGuinness who called them talented (amongst other adjectives) on Twitter. Nelly Furtado showed herself to be a K-pop fan revealing that she had hoped to feature BIGBANG member T.O.P. on her single "Big Hoops (Bigger The Better)." Far East Movement released a remix of their Justin Bieber-assisted single "Live My Life" with veteran hip-hop acts Tiger JK and Yoon Mi Rae.
IU's Huge Comeback Sets K-Pop Chart Record
IU can be likened to a Korean version of Taylor Swift: she's adorable, she's a talented singer/songwriter/composer, and music fans of all ages love her. It's no wonder that her late 2011 comeback single "You and I" was a runaway success. The orchestral pop number combined classic production with a modern 808 beat that perfectly accompanied IU's sweet vocal approach. The track went on to top the K-Pop Hot 100 for five weeks -- a record unmatched so far.
K-Pop's Hot, Hot Summer
Lots of groups spent time promoting overseas this year, but when summer came, it felt like almost every group wanted to be home. The market was saturated with acts releasing hit tracks and promoting their songs with impressive stage performances. Some groups had full-fledged comebacks -- After School's
Girls' Generation Hits International TV Screens
For their first international single, "The Boys," Girls' Generation got a huge platform to bring K-pop directly into American and French homes. The girls took their impressive stage performance to "The Late Show with David Letterman," "Live! With Kelly" and France's "Le Grand Journal." The ninesome nailed each performance, making its fanbase (known as Sones) proud. An English language album is said to be coming this year, which means that we could be seeing SNSD back on U.S. television screens in the near future.
GLAM Debut With Gay-Friendly Song
It's not easy to get noticed in the world of K-pop, with established idols constantly topping the charts. Yet new girl group GLAM made a statement to remember with its debut track "Party (XXO)," an upbeat song about genderless love. The track was definitely a risk in conservative South Korea, where coming out has proven to be a huge burden on some artist's careers, yet GLAM created a catchy dance track and fun music video that was more safe and accessible, easing the conservative mindset. With lyrics like "Can I kiss ya baby girl?," the message is unmistakably similar to Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl."
Rookie Groups Impress
Several rookie artists have been able to make their mark in the K-pop world by releasing top-notch material. Standouts have included Hello Venus, with their colorful and cute concepts in singles like"Venus" and "Like A Wave"; SPICA, who showed off impressive vocals in their single
SHINee Releases "Hybrid Remix" Single
Popular five-member boy band SHINee made a game-changing move with the release of their single "Sherlock." The song is a combination of two tracks "Clue" and "Note" from their new EP. "Sherlock" combined two separately impressive tracks together to create a certified hit; the track peaked at No. 3 on the K-Pop Hot 100. The move was a particularly interesting acting way for SHINee to promote two album tracks and perform both live.
2NE1 Rock Live Animals On Comeback Stage
2NE1 is known for their fearless attitudes when it comes to performing confident singles like "I Am The Best" and "Can't Nobody." Yet when they released their 2012 comeback track "I Love You," fans wondered what other surprises would be in store. Per usual, the girls did not disappoint with their comeback sage on entertainment show "Inkigayo" including live animals. Leader CL kicked things off with a fierce rap section in English with a parrot perched on her shoulder, and when the foursome performed their new track, the stage included a pond with swans. Following the performance, their agency did offer an apology to the animal lovers made uncomfortable by the theatrics, but did ensure everything was set after consulting with animal experts. Regardless of controversy, the comeback was one to remember.
Idols Break Out Of Their Video Sets
Psy's "Gangnam Style" has proven to be a huge hit this summer, but viewers may find it interesting just how unique his video is to K-pop. The world of idol K-pop music videos is defined by glossy and expensive sets, yet the past year saw some of the biggest stars shying away from the controlled set to the real world for some refreshingly different visuals. Wonder Girls turned an outdoor mall into a flash mob dance party in the video for "Like This,"  which has collected 11 million YouTube views. SISTAR frolicked in the beaches of Hawaii for the "Loving U"  video (3.5 million views) and Beast hit up New York for "Beautiful Night"  (5.1 million). While this year saw a 15-minute video from T-ara and an almost 7-minute video from Girls' Generation with Japanse single "Paparazzi," sometimes simpler clips proved to be refreshing -- and successful.
Sunny Hill Makes Socially-Minded Pop A Hit
While GLAM debuted with the theme of universal love on "Party (XXO)," Sunny Hill has always been a group to bring social issues into their music. With provocative concepts in the past (check out their commentary on the K-pop industry in "Midnight Circus" ), Sunny Hill made the most universal track of its career with "Is The White Horse Coming?" The song urges listeners not to judge others about their appearance, job, family, or material possessions, and instead focus on one's emotions to choose a partner. Sunny Hill says that this generation compares choosing a soul mate to making a product investment. Yet this track sounds like so much fun, its serious nature is almost deceptive.
K-Divas Make Big Chart Moves
Girl and boy groups seem to saturate the K-pop market, and as exciting as these groups are, the past year saw solo female acts making a big splash on the charts. IU earned the top song of the past year with "You and I," while Lyn is at No. 3 with "To Turn Back The Hands Of Time." The breakout star of girl group 4Minute, Hyun-a, is just below Lyn with her collaboration with Jang Hyun Seung, "Trouble Maker," further upping her status as a K-diva. Even rookie singer Ailee earned everyone's attention with her single "Heaven," the 16th biggest song of the past year. Don't forget about BoA ("Only One"), G.NA ("2Hot"), Ivy ("Torn Heart"), and NS Yoon-G ("I Got You"), who all successfully charted this year, too.
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