The Hallyu Wave of K-Pop

[ 한류 … The Hallyu Wave – a tidal wave of Korean culture that is rapidly flowing to other countries!]

Note: the term “K-pop” is a blanket term for Korean music, whether it’s rap, rock, ballads, trot, boy bands, girl bands, or truly pop music.

My Top 3 Korean Idols/Groups

One thing you’ll notice in Korean culture is their love of singing – and everyone is expected to sing no matter what your talent is. You’ll often see a karaoke bar in an American Korea-town, and in a K-drama, the characters almost always wind up in a noraebang (노래방).

In any given K-drama, you may even recognize one of the actors as a member of one of the many popular boy or girl bands. Oftentimes, these musicians and singers (referred to as “idols” in Korean) will stretch their wings into other media. In fact, this is exactly how I discovered Korean music – watching the K-drama Iris, and seeing T.O.P (Choi Seung Hyun) as the villain. And if they don’t pursue a career in acting, they likely will wind up on the TV variety show, Running Man. I had only watched a few K-dramas before my passion for K-pop was ignited.

Here are three groups that keep me busy, especially when I want to work out (I have different play lists for different lengths of time). I chose these three because I listen to them on a daily basis. There are many more I could add, but we’ll start here.

REMEMBER if you watch the YouTube videos to change your settings to display English subtitles!

Lee Hong Ki & FT Island (alternately “Lee Hong Gi”)

You may also see the name Hongki where there is no space; Lee is his surname.

My bias is Lee Hong Ki, lead singer for FT Island. As of September 30, 2019, Hongstar (his nickname) enlisted in the military for his mandatory service, so I will have to wait 18-24 months for him to return (although he keeps jumping on social media to giggle at his fans).

His raspy, powerhouse voice and vocal range give me goosebumps (the American kind, not the Korean kind, LOL). And his variety of songs from ballads to rock just make me happy. I have an entire workout play list saved on YouTube!

Lee Hong Ki’s “Do or Die” is a great workout song
and it’s from one of his K-dramas Modern Farmer

For my birthday back in 2015, I purchased a ticket to the FT Island Concert in NYC when they were wrapping up their World Tour. They were stopping in New York and Los Angeles before heading back to Korea. My biggest heartbreak was having to cancel my travel because of a blizzard two nights before the concert, and it was expected the concert would be cancelled. When I saw Hongki post a photo of the band at Times Square in the snow, I was so bummed – I even tried to fly to LA for his other show the next day, but I couldn’t get that worked out.

Hongki, master of the crowd, with his band from a 2013 concert
leading the crowd in singing their popular ballad “I Hope”

Hongki also acts in K-dramas, namely Modern Farmer, Bride of the Century, and Hwayugi, but his most popular role was that of “Jeremy” in the 2009 all-star teen romance You’re Beautiful. Days before leaving for the military in 2019, he briefly make an appearance in Melting Me Softly.

Lee Hong Ki (left), Lee Seung Gi, Oh Yeon Seo, and Cha Seung Won in Hwayugi

Clearly I’m that fan, so if you see a North Carolina license plate with “Hongstar” on it, wave at me!

Yoo Hwe Seung & N Flying

Supplementing in his absence is relative newcomer Yoo Hwe Seung who has an incredible set of pipes that will bring tears to your eyes. He was a later addition to the rock band, N Flying (who are hoobaes, 후배, of FT Island), who had a tough time breaking into mainstream culture as a rap band. Since Hwe Seung joined the band, they’ve been climbing the charts.

The band opened for FT Island during concerts, and when their song Rooftops was released, they became part of everyday K-pop culture.

N Flying’s Rooftops

In 2019, after FT Island lead singer Hong Ki left the military, N Flying members became a temporary backup band for FT Island’s bass guitarist Lee Jae Jin in his solo performance “Love Like the Films.” Of note, when one band member goes on military leave, the remaining bandmates start solo careers before the band can regroup.

Lee Jae Jin (center) with his single Love Like the Films” with N Flying backing up their hyung. I love watching Jae Jin shine in this, and what an extra treat to watch drummer Kim Jaehyun schmooz the camera (my fave move at the 2:50 mark). These guys are having a great time!

DreamTeam = Hongki + Hwe Seung collaboration

I have to say when Lee Hong Ki and Yoo Hwe Seung collaborated on a song that showcased the best of their talents, I was quite happy. I always get chills starting at the 2:52 mark of Still Love You when Hwe Seung climbs the scales singing “saranghae” (사랑해) (“I love you”), holding a 22-second note.

A fantastic pair of pipes – Lee Hong Ki and Yoo Hwe Seung


Think British Korean Invasion. This is not your ordinary boy band. If you haven’t heard of BTS by now in 2020, you’re living in a dead zone. At the top of the Hallyu wave, the Bangtan Boys have taken the globe by storm. Yes, they are the modern day version of The Beatles.

Read my article on How BTS has Taken Over the World

In 2019, BTS – short for Bangtan Sonyeondan (방탄소년단) or Bulletproof Boy Scouts – sold out their three U.S. concerts in 5 minutes, were on Jimmy Fallon, presented an award to H.E.R. on the Grammys, and helped bring in the 2020 New Year at Times Square in New York with Ryan Seacrest. Even legendary rock icon Queen has given a nod to the boys for their positive message through music.

Their economic impact to South Korea? In December 19, 2018, it was reported that “K-pop sensation BTS is forecast to generate 56 trillion won (US$49.70 billion) in economic benefits over the next 10 years, outpacing the 41.6 trillion won impact of this year’s PyeongChang Winter Olympics, according to the latest report of Hyundai Research Institute.” Personally, I think that estimate is way off, especially since their tidal wave has reached mainstream American late night, morning shows, and celebrities who are anxious to collaborate with the group.

Whether Bangtan are dressed in bad-ass street clothes rapping and dissing their competition or dancing in modern silky shades-of-pink kimonos, this group of 7 young men dominate the stage. Their wide range of costumes and imagery along with their “visuals” (the term for good looks in Korea) are undefinable. In fact, if you ask Jin about his looks, he’ll reply in his limited English, his nickname is “Worldwide Handsome!” [Google #Worldwide Handsome, and you’ll see for yourself] to which the other members roll their eyes or hide their faces while they giggle. They’ve earned their sass – the group debuted in the summer of 2013 and had many hurdles and mountains to climb from haters, anti-fans, stalkers, disrespect from fellow musicians, no money, no food, sleeping in one room, working til 6am on their music and dance … it was a long and winding road, for sure, and their lyrics speak of their journey. I gotta give them Mad Respect!

But don’t try to “define them” or recognize them by hair color either as that changes in the blink of an eye – literally, on their videos there will be several versions of them in different styles jump-cutting from scene to scene. (Many Americans asked, “Who is the blue haired one?” during the Grammys… it was V, real name Taehyung).

Early BTS with their rap-style We Are Bulletproof – in the still above center-stage is Worldwide Handsome himself! They would eventually veer away from just rap to mainstream music.
BTS in April 2019 with “Boy with Love” – the same song performed at the 2020 Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve at Times Square where Jimin’s jacket got stuck on his head while dancing – #JiminsJacket was trending at the top, worldwide for days.


BTS Fans (ARMY is their official name) are head-over-heals in LOVE their boys, and the boys love their fans. At any award show, BTS will promptly thank and credit ARMY for their overwhelming success. But be warned, if you post something even remotely anti about any of the members, ARMY will take a stand and fight for their boys.

William Shatner learned this lesson when he tweeted a joke August 31, 2019 when ARMY flooded Twitter to wish Jungkook a Happy Birthday. Knowing nothing about BTS, Shatner had seen the posts that ARMY essentially was responsible for the temporary Twitter outage, and declared:

ARMY responded to Captain Kirk, and an exchange occurred that would put a period at the end of the sentence. In a nutshell, Shatner had suggested to ARMY that they do something “useful” instead of posting about a band member’s birthday – they should do something good for the world – like feeding the needy.

ARMY couldn’t wait to share with Shatner all of the events ARMY had already planned worldwide in honor of BTS – from the group formally organizing a clean-up Chicago day, planting trees in another U.S. town, sending bags of rice to Korean orphanages, donating supplies to a kindergarten in Peru … the list went on and on.

Post after post came in on Twitter, and Shatner finally succumbed. ARMY had won because it would be unusual for fans of American artists to organize charitable activities in honor of the stars they love. Shatner has since shared his affection for BTS while making the talk-show rounds.

Shatner, to this day, remembers his lesson… and when RM’s birthday came up September 12, 2019, he posted:

Because this is often heard in every song, I want to make a note about Korean language and a sensitive subject in America:

  • The word for “I” in Korean is “naega” (내가), pronounced “nay-gah.”
  • The word for “you” in Korean is “neega” (니가), pronounced “nee-gah.”

Korean is a beautiful and lyrical language. The artists are aware of the similarity in sound of their pronouns to the American racial slur. When Korean idols travel to America and perform on TV, they may altar their language so they are not misunderstood while singing to American audiences so they don’t accidentally offend Americans.

So, let’s work together to appreciate one another’s culture without looking to be offended where no offense is even considered. 🙂 Remember the BTS motto: love yourself and love each other.

That’s it for now with My Top 3. There are so many more talented singers and groups I could list, but when you find one, you’ll get suggestions from YouTube on other similar artists.

If you want to discover another world of fantasies, old history, new cultures, dramas, comedy, and other entertaining videos, read my post on Top 10 K-Drama to Watch for Newcomers.