Finding the best performers in K-pop is much harder today than it was in the late ’90s, when bands like S.E.S. and H.O.T. ruled the scene. Considering that more than 100 new K-pop groups debuted in 2015, the industry has become saturated with newcomers shooting for stardom.
Luckily, some jewels in the genre continue to shine despite all the competition. Here are 10 of the all-female bands—both established and new—that simply must make it onto your playlists.
1) Red Velvet
After their 2014 debut under S.M. Entertainment, Red Velvet quickly made a mark on K-pop with its Europop-inspired debut single “Happiness,” favoring a whimsical approach in their visuals. The five-member group has won close to a dozen awards in the past few years, and their most recent mini-album showcases an R&B sound to exhibit what great singers they are. We expect these gals to just keep getting bigger.
When K-pop was starting to explode in America in 2012 thanks to Psy‘s “Gangnam Style,” f(x) was one of the female bands helping define K-pop’s now-signature electropop sound. It was also the first K-pop act invited to perform at Austin’s SXSW festival. Member Amber Liu maintains a successful solo career on the side (read our interview with her here). The group’s 2015 album, 4 Walls, showcased only four members after Sulli left to pursue a full-time acting career, but the other girls are still going strong.
3) Girls Generation
One of the longest-running female ensembles in K-pop (comparable to Big Bang in stature), Girls Generation (also known as SNSD, an abbreviation of their Korean name Sonyeo Sidae) has been around since 2007. Of its eight members, several have successful solo careers today, such as Taeyeon and Tiffany. The girls always put out solid, enjoyable singles and continue to woo today just as much as they did when they debuted.
Fans aren’t sure if they’ll ever hear a new 2NE1 song again, as leader CL has been long at work on a solo career and their last single, “Gotta Be You,” was released over two years ago. However, the group’s influence on K-pop since their 2009 debut has been key to the genre’s development. 2NE1 favors a harder sound than the typical girl group, thanks to CL’s hip-hop flavored lead. Member Minzy departed in 2015 at the end of her contract term, and label YG Entertainment has not yet announced 2NE1’s next move.
5) Wonder Girls
Wonder Girls are pretty much the definition of a legendary K-pop group. Their song “Nobody” broke ground on Billboard‘s U.S. charts before anyone in America had even heard of Psy. Their sound was clearly influenced by songs from previous decades and R&B classics. The member lineup has changed several times since their 2007 debut, but they’re still making top-notch tunes. The recently released “Why So Lonely” has touches of reggae and makes for a perfect jam for your summer drives.
EXID takes elements from innovators like 2NE1 to craft a style all their own. EXID quietly debuted in 2012 but didn’t hit their stride until 2014, when they released the popular single “Up & Down.” The catchiness of the songs, as well as unusual concepts in their videos, have put them on many “to watch” lists over the past few years. After the release of their first full-length album, Street, in June, we expect the girls of EXID to find a comfortable spot in many a K-pop fans’ playlists.
Mamamoo’s recent appearance at KCON New York further cemented them as one of the hottest new up-and-coming girl groups in K-pop. Since their 2014 debut, Mamamoo have not only proved they are great entertainers but also appeal to fans who love jazz and R&B. Their first full length album, Melting, debuted in 2016 and has had K-pop fans nodding their heads ever since.
After debuting in 2010, Sistar quickly earned the reputation of being one of the most consistent hard-hitters when it came to great singles. Their 2011 single “So Cool” debuted at no. 1 when it was released on Korea’s Billboard charts, proving that the group had major star power. Managed by Starship Entertainment, the four-member group released their latest single in June, “I Like That,” to great success.
While most K-pop groups aim to have a solid member lineup, AOA stands out for being what they call “7 + 1.” Member Youkyung only participates in a subunit of AOA that management company FNC Entertainment calls AOA Black (and there are two other subunits called AOA White and AOA Cream). It seems confusing, but you’ll quickly forget that once you hear the girls’ fun, modern sound. Member Jimin also made her solo debut this year with “Call You Bae.”
If you love the cutesy approach in K-pop, Apink brings it in a way that’s adorable but never overly saccharine. The five-member group favors the style of early idol groups like S.E.S., with an innocent pop sound that’s perfect top 40 material. Active since 2011, the group did a North American tour in 2015 and recently celebrated their fifth anniversary with a song dedicated to fans called “The Wave.”