Who are the most popular Kpop groups? As Kpop goes abroad, many international fans ask this question. What is actually popular in Korea might not be what is popular in other countries. Kpop groups with a decent international followings might not even be recognized by the Korean public. So what determines who the most popular Kpop groups are? What are the surest ways that prove an idol group’s popularity and what are the things that have little relevance? This article will cover Daesang’s, various awards, concert tours, sales, and other factors that determine a Kpop group’s popularity.
The most popular Kpop groups in 2016, 2015, 2014
The most popular Kpop group right now, in 2016, is EXO. Other idol groups that are considered popular in 2016 include: Twice, GFriend, I.O.I, and BTS. In 2015, the most popular Kpop groups are EXO, Big Bang and Girl’s Generation. In 2014, the most popular Kpop groups are EXO, Big Bang, Girl’s Generation, and 2NE1. We deemed these groups the most popular Kpop groups using the factors explained in the rest of this article.
EXO has accumulated 13 Daesang’s (from the Big 5 award shows) and over 6 million physical album sales in 4 years, making them one of the most popular Kpop groups of all time. 2013 was the year that EXO’s popularity exploded; they sold over one million copies of their first studio album, becoming the first one million seller in Kpop since 2001. In 2014, EXO was still the most popular Kpop group despite two members leaving, as their EP Overdose became the best-selling album of 2014 in South Korea, and tickets for their Exoplanet concert sold out in 1.47 seconds, one of the fastest concerts to be sold out in history. EXO proved that their popularity had not declined by selling over one million albums in 2015 and again in 2016, making them the most popular Kpop group in 2015 and 2016. From 2014 to 2016, EXO also headlined three tours that amounted to over 100 shows across multiple countries. EXO’s popularity still does not wane going into 2017, as there are still no active Kpop groups who can approach EXO’s sales numbers and public recognition.
Read related article: How EXO album sales are calculated
The following factors are good determinants of who the most popular Kpop groups are. They are listed roughly from the most important to the least:
Winning Daesang’s, specifically at the GDA, SMA, MAMA, MMA, KMA (Golden Disk Awards, Seoul Music Awards, Mnet Asian Music Awards, Melon Music Awards, Korean Music Awards), is the best way to determine who is successful and popular. These five are the most respected year-end award shows in Korea. Other award shows are not regarded as highly as these five, and the public does not pay as much attention to the other award shows. No group is considered the King of Kpop or Queen of Kpop without having won at least one Daesang. Daesang is one of the surest proofs of an idol group’s popularity and success. Winning a Daesang establishes a group as a popular and successful group acknowledged by the public. Currently, EXO is the group with the most Daesang’s. They have won 13 Daesang’s in less than 4 years.
Having Concert Tours in Multiple Countries With High Ticket Sales
Having concert tours in Korea and overseas with high ticket sales is a good way to prove a group’s success. If the group can play more than 10 shows in a year with good ticket sales from these shows, it is considered relatively successful with a decent sized fandom. If the group can play more than 20 shows in a year with good ticket sales, it is considered very successful with a big fandom. The most popular Kpop groups play even more shows. Both EXO and Big Bang play more than 30 shows in a year.
Holding Concerts in Big Concert Halls
Holding concerts in big concert halls or arenas is a good way to prove an idol group’s popularity. Only popular groups can hold concerts in big concert halls, so if an idol group is holding concerts in big concert halls, it is at least relatively popular with a decent sized fandom. Being able to sell out big concert halls puts the group on another level of popularity than just having a concert in a big concert hall.
High Digital Sales, Streaming, and Downloading
Girl groups tend to have lower physical album sales and higher digital sales. Having high digital sales is a good way to determine a group’s popularity. Fandoms usually will buy the album, but the public usually will only download. Having high digital sales, streaming, and downloading numbers mean the group is relatively popular with the public.
High Album Sales
Having high album sales is a good way to determine a group’s success. It does not necessarily mean the group has good public recognition, but it at least means the group has a strong fandom that buys well. Exception is when a group sells over one million albums. This is so rare that if any group does it just once, they are deemed one of the most popular Kpop groups of all time and will receive public recognition from all the news coverages that report their success. EXO has done this three times in a row now.
Read related article: EXO albums sales explained for all versions
Charting High and Staying on Charts For a Long Time
Charting high and staying for a long time on Korean charts and rankings such as Gaon, Melon, Olleh, Genie is a good way to determine a song’s popularity. If a song gets certified all-kill (number one in all real-time charts), or perfect all-kill (number one in all real-time charts and weekly iChart), it is popular at least for the moment. Charts and rankings of a song do not say much about the overall success of the group, it does, however, suggest that the group is relatively popular at least during their current promotion period.
Read related article: Differences between Hanteo and Gaon
Partnering with or Promoting Big Brands
Big brands usually like to use popular idol groups as spokespeople. Partnering with big brands usually means the group is relatively popular. Smaller brands sometimes do ask popular idols or groups to promote their products as well, however. In addition, girl groups are usually preferred over boy groups to be spokespeople. So overall, getting CF deals (commercial contracts) is just a suggestion of popularity but not the surest proof of popularity. Partnering with a few big brands says more about popularity than having a lot of CF deals.
Difference between public recognition and fandom support
In general, girl groups are more popular with the public than boy groups are, as the public recognizes more girl groups than boy groups. In contrast, boy groups are less known by the public but have loyal fandoms. EXO and Big Bang are the exceptions; they are the two boy groups that are well known amongst the public. The reason there is a distinction between recognition by the public and the fandom is that the public only cares about what is absolutely the most popular at the moment, whereas the fandom cares about every single comeback of a group. The general public might not be into idol groups and will not have any idea of a comeback by any group unless it is an immensely popular title track, or the group is already known by the public.
The following are things that do not translate into popularity or success:
What about Youtube views and comments?
If the Youtube view count two months after is high, then the video is considered popular in Kpop, as Kpop view counts usually taper off after the first two months of release. Being fast or having high view count in twenty-four hours does not tell you much about overall popularity.
Youtube records of the fastest to reach certain million views or the most viewed in twenty-four hours are not a good way to prove a group’s popularity or success. Having a high view count in 24 hours means there is a relatively high level of interest in 24 hours, but high level of interest in 24 hours does not translate into popularity or success. Being the fastest video to reach certain million views has almost no meaning other than the fact that it has a lot of views. Being fast could mean there is a high level of interest in a set period of time, it could mean Youtube changed their algorithms, it could mean the fandom streams a lot, but none of those translate into popularity or success. The exception would be if the video gets viral, such as Gangnam Style. If that is the case, then the video is considered popular and successful.
Youtube comments about Kpop and comments online about Kpop are not a good way to prove a group’s popularity or success. Having a lot of comments just means their fans have a lot of time to talk about their favorite groups online. It doesn’t translate into popularity or success for the group. EXO and Big Bang are more popular and successful than BTS but BTS has the most comments online because BTS fans are generally younger fans who comment more.
What about trends on Twitter or Facebook?
Being trended on Twitter or Facebook is not a good way to prove popularity or success. It could mean whatever is trending is popular at the moment, but it does not tell you much about the group’s overall popularity or success.
What about charts and rankings in other countries?
If the chart or ranking is not Korean, it is mostly likely regarded as irrelevant. Korean public looks to Korean charts and rankings such as Gaon, Hanteo, and Melon, the public doesn’t care much about foreign charts or rankings. Billboard might be an exception, but for the most part, Billboard is still only seen as an estimation of overseas popularity. It does not tell you much about a group’s popularity or success in Korea.
What about weekly music show awards?
Weekly music show awards give you an idea of what is popular at the moment, but do not give you a good idea of the overall popularity of the group. Weekly music show wins also do not indicate success. They are considered the first step any group must climb in Kpop to become the most popular Kpop Groups. Any group without a first place win is considered unknown to the public. To prove themselves, new Kpop groups strive to win at least one first place trophy on a weekly music show. The Show and Show Champion are not regarded as highly as Inkigayo, Music Bank, Music Core, and M Countdown. If a group wins first place at Inkigayo, Music Bank, or M Countdown, it is considered popular at least for that week. (Note: Music Core doesn’t have a first place winner anymore, but they used to.)
Weekly music show awards are the lowest tier when it comes to awards. Winning any awards at any of the five year-end award shows, GDA, SMA, MAMA, MMA, KMA, instantly puts a group on another level in Kpop.
What about popularity awards?
If a group wins a popularity award without also having a Daesang or at least a Bonsang, then it doesn’t mean much.
At GDA, SMA, MAMA, MMA, the most popular Kpop groups would usually win the Daesang’s. The second tier of prize is Bonsang. Popularity awards and other miscellaneous awards are usually seen as a nice bonus prize, but they are not even as important as a Bonsang. Winning popularity awards or other miscellaneous awards without winning at least a Bonsang is therefore not a good indication of a group’s popularity. It is senseless to declare a group as successful if that group has only received popularity awards or miscellaneous awards but hasn’t won any Bonsang’s or Daesang’s. To put this into perspective, the most popular Kpop groups are the ones who win the Daesang’s at award shows while less popular groups receive Bonsang’s and popularity awards.
Refer to the Kpop Awards Hierarchy section to understand the differences.
Kpop Awards Hierarchy
Important: Only Daesang’s and Bonsang’s from GDA, SMA, MAMA, MMA, KMA are considered, as the other awards are not as respected as these five.
Daesang – Top tier, winning a Daesang basically establishes a group as a successful and popular group acknowledged by the public.
Bonsang – Second tier, winning a Bonsang is better than winning anything else that’s not a Daesang. It means the group is relatively popular and successful.
Other awards at GDA, SMA, MAMA, MMA, KMA – Third tier, winning the other awards at these five award shows puts a group above one who hasn’t, but does not say much about popularity or success.
Any other awards that are not weekly and are not GDA, SMA, MAMA, MMA, KMA – Fourth tier, basically only important to the fans of the group but not to the public. Only the fans of the group will remember these awards.
Weekly music show awards – Lowest tier, winning one just means you have a fan base, without any wins means you are unknown by the public. (This is explained in the article.)
Awards in other countries – Irrelevant unless it is a Grammy, not even considered a tier in Kpop, does not tell you anything about popularity or success in Korea.
Exception to these: I.O.I – IOI is a project group that is only meant to last for a year so even without any Bonsang’s and Daesang’s they are considered popular, since they chart well and have high sales. The success of a group is better measured in a period that is longer than one year.
The most popular Kpop groups in 2017 will most likely still be EXO, the best-selling Kpop group since 2013.
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