K-pop 101

A guide to Korean pop culture lingo for noobs


Graphic by Ferry Baylon

Let me school you, boys and girls, about the bizarre and fascinating world of K-pop and why you need to be brought up to speed about this fascinating musical industry that seems to be blowing up out of nowhere.

Western music is a constantly evolving artistic phenomenon with artists who are one step ahead of every new trend. But sometimes, something unexpected happens that catches people off guard.

Global phenomenon Psy rewrote Korean pop (K-pop) history by setting a record of more than two billion hits on YouTube. For many Westerners, it was so unbelievable that an artist like Psy, who was not as popular as Beyonce, Kanye, or Britney Spears worldwide, could break YouTube’s viewing record.

This mentality proves how little most Westerners know about K-pop itself. K-pop is an industry so vast and powerful that it rivals anything the Western world has managed to construct.

If you are new to the K-pop world or might need a refresher on what the heck everyone’s talking about, don’t be scared if there are certain words you’ve always wondered about – so many other people are in the same boat as you.

Ferry is here to help! I’ve put together a list of the ten most important K-pop terms you’ll ever come across, so you’ll be ready to plunge right into Korean pop culture using this dictionary!

First of all, what the heck is K-Pop?

It is a musical genre consisting of a hip-hop, electronic, R&B, pop, and rock music originating in South Korea. In addition to music, K-pop has grown into a popular subculture among teenagers and young adults throughout Asia as well as other parts of the world like Europe and the United States, resulting in widespread popularity and interest in South Korean fashion and style of idol groups and singers.

Now let’s get on to the juicy and informative stuff….

Bias – This is your absolute favorite idol group or member of an idol group. A bias is the one who you will support no matter what their project is; you will buy their songs and albums on all music sites like iTunes, Spotify, CD, MP3, 8-track and vinyl, and watch their music videos repeatedly on YouTube all day, every day.

“G-Dragon of Big Bang is my ultimate bias. I’m gonna marry him someday!”

Comeback – Whether a group or performer is out of the limelight for years, months, or just a couple weeks, you can bet that when they return with a new song it’ll be called their comeback.

“EXO’s most recent comeback stage on Inkigayo was so amazing! Their vocals and dance moves really improved!”

Concept – When a group makes a comeback, they also change their image to fit their new album theme, termed a “concept.” Concepts can vary wildly over the course of a group’s career – for example, the girl group Black Pink debuted with a girl crush concept for their songs Whistle and Boombayah, but for their latest comeback with their song As If It’s Your Last, their concept was cute and girly.

“For Winner’s latest album, their concept is very mellow as it focuses more on tropical house music.”

All-kill – The oddly savage term used for a K-pop song or album that reaches the top spot on all the major music charts.

“OMG! I’m so proud of BTS!!! They just achieved a perfect all-kill for their newest song, Mic Drop.”

Shipping – Derived from the word “relationship.” It is a term that refers to putting idols together as a couple but it can also be used to show support for the friendship between two idols.

“I’m seriously shipping Jennie of Black Pink and V of BTS! #Taennie is going to make beautiful babies someday.”

Maknae – In every K-pop group, there is a youngest member. That member is referred to as the group’s maknae and is often playful with the face of an angel aka innocence.

“Minzy is definitely my most favorite maknae out of all the K-pop girl groups.”

Oppa – Korean word meaning “older brother” used by females to address an older male who is still generally in their age range. Also used in a romantic sense.

“Siwon oppa‘s abs are really popping, especially after he came back from his military service.”

Noona – Korean word meaning “older sister” used by younger males. Also refers to a female in a relationship with a younger male.

“Dara of 2NE1 is G-Dragon’s noona but they look really good as a couple… I hope they’ll start dating and eventually marry each other in the future.”

OTP – OTP is an acronym that means “One True Pairing.” It is usually used to describe your favorite combination or “pairings” of people.

“Lee Min Ho and Suzy of Miss A used to be the ultimate OTP until they broke up earlier this month. I’m so heartbroken!”

Sasaeng – Obsessive “fans” who are known for their outrageous and often dangerous behavior towards idols and actors. They are known to stalk idols and even break into their homes, chase them down in cars and taxis, and send creepy, disgusting, and unsanitary gifts.

“During Taeyang and Min Hyorin’s wedding reception, a sasaeng crashed the party and cops had to be called in because of all the ruckus that occurred.”

And we are done!!!! Go out into the world, be free and spread your newfound K-pop knowledge to impress your friends who are new in the K-pop world or even those who are K-pop veterans. Don’t forget to use these terms in the proper way!