Let’s face it. We all have that friend who, no matter how hard we try, won’t get into K-pop. That’s where our list of the best K-pop songs for beginners comes in. K-pop is a multi-billion-dollar industry that has produced international acts like BTS, BLACKPINK, Girls Generation, Big Bang and 2NE1. Still, there are a lot of people who aren’t into K-pop or haven’t even listened to one K-pop song in their lives, despite the massive popularity of these artists. (Like, come on, BTS has broken about a bajillion YouTube records and is more popular than most successful American acts that we consider “household names.”)
To convince your K-pop-resistant friend to listen to K-pop, we came up with a list of the essential songs to put on a K-pop beginner’s playlist. From throwback tracks like Girls’ Generation’s “Gee” to new songs like ITZY’s “Dalla Dalla,” these are the K-pop songs that will (hopefully) convince your friend to finally become an ARMY, a BLINK, a ONCE or whatever fandom they vibe with. Every K-pop fanatic remembers the moment when they first fell in love with a K-pop, and we hope a K-pop novice out there will have the same feeling with one of these tracks. Ahead are the best K-pop songs for beginners.
“Gee” by Girls’ Generation
More than a decade later and “Gee” by Girls’ Generation is still a banger. For many K-pop fans, SNSD’s “Gee” is one of the first K-pop songs they ever listened to. From the track’s infectious chorus to the simple styling of the music video (white T-shirts and colored skinny jeans were a lewk in 2009), it’s no wonder why “Gee” was the gateway track for many K-pop fans.
“I Am the Best” by 2NE1
No K-pop playlist is complete without 2NE1’s “I Am the Best.” Whether you’re a K-pop fan or not, you’ve likely heard “I Am the Best” before. The track, which is perhaps one of 2NE1’s most popular songs among western audiences, was even shouted out by Emma Stone in a 2015 interview on CONAN. “It’s beyond excellent. It’s the best thing you’ve ever seen,” she said at the time. ‘Nuff said, Emma.
“Fantastic Baby” by BIGBANG
BIGBANG is one of the most successful boy bands in K-pop history. The band, which debuted in 2006, consists of several K-pop household names, such as T.O.P, Taeyang, G-Dragon and Daesung. With a 14-year career, BIGBANG has dozens of songs that one could recommend to their non-K-pop-listening fan. (“Tonight,” “Love Song,” “Monster” and “Loser,” to name a few.) But for many, “Fantastic Baby,” which is one of BIGBANG’s bestselling records worldwide, is the one track that every K-pop newbie should listen to. Watch the video above for why.
“Fake Love” by BTS
There are so many excellent BTS songs to introduce to non-K-pop fans (“Idol,” “Spring Day,” “DNA,” “Run”—the list goes on), but we think a gateway song into the K-pop fandom is one of the band’s newer tracks: 2018’s “Fake Love.” Sure, you could recommend 2019’s “Boy With Luv,” which features American artist Halsey, but “Fake Love” has everything that makes a BTS song excellent: show-stopping choreography, a hard-hitting chorus and a concept that makes you want to watch their music video and performances over and over again. (Shout out to the part where Jungkook flashes his abs.) That said, if “Fake Love” doesn’t do the trick, “DNA” will surely make any non-K-pop fan a believer.
“Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” by BLACKPINK
Since their debut in 2016, BLACKPINK has gone on to collaborate with artists like Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez and Dua Lipa. There’s no doubt that BLACKPINK is a global phenomenon, but which track should you recommend to a friend to make them a full-on K-pop stan? While BLACKPINK’s discography rivals some of the best (“Playing With Fire” still slaps four years later), we think 2018’s “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” is the gateway song for most new BLACKPINK fans. The choreography is catchy. The lyrics are easy to sing along to. And the opening note is one of the most iconic tunes in recent K-pop history. There’s a reason why “D4” was one of BLACKPINK’s first singles marketed in the west. It’s that good.
“TT” by TWICE
TWICE has dominated the K-pop scene since their debut in 2015. The nine-member girl group, formed on the reality competition show SIXTEEN, have broken records with songs like “Cheer Up” and “Likey.” While there are so many number-one tracks from TWICE that we would love to recommend to someone to make them a ONCE, we think, if we had to pick one, “TT” is the way to go. There are so many reasons to love “TT.” The Halloween concept music video. The cute but catchy choreography. The fact that the whole song is inspired by the crying TT symbol. Mind blown.
“Bad Boy” by Red Velvet
Whether their concept is cute or girl crush, Red Velvet always kill it. There’s a long list of Red Velvet song we could recommend to a non-K-pop listener, but “Bad Boy” is one of the catchiest. The song, which is a prime example of a Red Velvet girl crush concept, was released in 2018 and includes one of the catchiest chorus sound effects in recent memory. The band also released an all-English version of the track on their 2018 EP Summer Magic.
“Dalla Dalla” by ITZY
If old-school K-pop like Girls Generation and BIGBANG doesn’t convince your friend to join the K-pop fandom, try one of the genre’s newer tracks like ITZY’s debut single, “Dalla Dalla.” ITZY became one of K-pop’s fastest growing rookie acts in 2019 when they released “Dalla Dalla,” a fun pop song about self-love. Once the song is stuck in your head, you won’t be able to listen to the ding of elevators any other way.
“Crown” by TXT
Another new K-pop track that may convert non-K-pop listeners is TXT’s “Crown.” Managed by Big Hit Entertainment (the same company that created BTS), TXT, also known as Tomorrow X Together, hit the ground running when they debuted with “Crown” in 2019. The track is playful, silly, cute and has everything one needs to be a full-time K-pop listener.
“Sorry, Sorry” by Super Junior
Super Junior debuted in 2005 under SM Entertainment, the same entertainment company that created Girls’ Generation, Exo, Red Velvet and other acts. The band, which had 13 members at its peak, have released dozens of songs that one could recommend to non-K-pop listener. One of the band’s first successes was “Sorry, Sorry,” a single from their best-selling album of the same title.
“Bad Girl Good Girl” by Miss A
Miss A was one of the most well-known K-pop girl groups in the early 2010s. The band, which consisted of members Fei, Jia, Min, and Suzy, debuted in 2010 with their first single, “Bad Girl Good Girl,” which is still one of the band’s most successful songs and was their first track to reach number one on the Gaon Charts, the Korean equivalent to the Billboard Hot 100.
“Lucifer” by SHINee
SHINee, a boy band formed by SM Entertainment, have been called the “Princes of K-pop,” and it’s easy to understand why. Since their debut in 2008, the band has topped the Korean charts with songs like “Sherlock (Clue + Note)” and “Dream Girl.” But a track that’s considered one of their first hits is “Lucifer,” which was released in 2010 and peaked at number 2 on the Gaon Charts.
“Ko Ko Bop” by EXO
Formed by SM Entertainment, EXO consists of both Chinese and South Korean members. The band’s music is eclectic and combines pop, hip-hop, R&B, house, trap and synth-pop for a truly unique sound. EXO, who performs in Korea, Mandarin and Japanese, released “Ko Ko Bop” in 2017. The track went on to reach number one on the Gaon Chart and sell over a million records.
“Be My Baby” by Wonder Girls
The Wonder Girls debuted in 2007 and topped the charts of the K-pop industry for 10 years until their disbandment in 2017. The band, which opened for the Jonas Brothers on their 2009 tour, have multiple number-one hits, but “Be My Baby” is one of their most successful. The track, which debuted in 2011 and has more than 40 million YouTube views, has a retro vibe that will win over any non-K-pop listener.
“Hard Carry” by GOT7
GOT7 is a Korean boy band formed by SM Entertainment. The group—which consists of seven members JB, Mark, Jackson, Jinyoung, Youngjae, BamBam and Yugyeom—debuted in 2014 and have gone on to have international success, with multiple number-one albums and EPs. Needless to say, there are so many GOT7 songs to recommend, but “Hard Carry” is our pick. The track, which has more than 100 million views on YouTube, has incredible choreography, vocals and lyrics that make GOT7, well, GOT7.