Crate Digging is a recurring feature in which we take a deep dive into a genre and turn up several albums all music fans should know about.
Let’s start this off by clearing up a big misconception that must be addressed: K-pop is not a genre. A type of music? Sure. An industry? Yes. A musical scene? Definitely. But not a specific genre. Boom, now we can move forward.
In all seriousness, though, K-pop is more of an umbrella term that encompasses many genres like hip-hop, synthpop, rap, EDM, and pretty much everything else –often mixed together into one single song. For categorization purposes, it’s easier to just box Korean idols and pretty much any Korean artist that has a fan base outside of Korea into “K-pop” and call it a day. But when even in the idol world you have groups as starkly different as the bubbly, happy-go-lucky TWICE and the grungy pop-EDM of NCT 127, and then you add popular R&B soloists like Heize or Crush, while also bringing in rappers like Zico into the mix, “K-pop” as a specific genre moniker just doesn’t make sense.
CedarBough Saeji, a professor in Korean Studies at Indiana University Bloomington known as “The K-pop Professor” on social media, points out that one of K-pop’s most distinctive characteristics is that it is genre fluid. In a recent-ish podcast, Saeji explained K-pop with a recipe analogy. “If you’re gonna make banana bread, then you definitely need bananas in there. And you need to have some flour, and some things like that. So what else is there? You need enough of the ingredients that people recognize as being primary ingredients of K-pop. If you have enough of these key elements that make up K-pop, then [that’s K-pop],” she said.
When it comes to production, K-pop is always shifting; songs that are popular now sound very different to those released just two years ago when the trop-house craze was booming, or even that weird dub-step stint eight years ago. K-pop thrives by either beating the trendy sounds of the day to a pulp or living a few years ahead in the pop future — that’s why K-pop songs either age terribly nostalgic or transcend the boundaries of aging.
Also, as an industry, K-pop focuses more on singles than complete bodies of work — though this is slowly changing — and B-sides often serve as fodder to sell the glitzy main song. However, if you consider yourself a multi-fan (meaning a fan of multiple groups in K-pop lingo), you might be more open to explore the albums of many other groups outside of your faves and expand your K-pop experience.
As aforementioned, time isn’t exactly the kindest to K-pop, and while classic songs instantly come to mind, albums are a tougher task. That’s why instead of focusing on quintessential albums, we’re opting for a range of artists and albums that showcase just how genre diverse K-pop really is.
Click ahead to explore 10 essential K-pop albums.