Now Reading: From Wonder Girls To BTS, How Korean Groups Broke International Barriers


From Wonder Girls To BTS, How Korean Groups Broke International Barriers

December 27, 20176 min read

Long before the days of today’s mainstream music, different countries emerged with language barrier genres that were at first only specified for small target audiences. It wasn’t until increased exposure from record labels that allowed an influence of international artists to take over the world.

Although the formation of K-pop idols can be traced back to the 90’s with groups like H.O.T and Seo Taiji and the Boys, more eventually formed and followed throughout the early 2000’s decade. Groups like Sechs Kies, S.E.S, Fin.K.L, and g.o.d., had great initial success but eventually declined due to the waning popularity of the K-pop genre domestically.

It wasn’t until the late 2000’s decade that more successful K-pop debuts began thriving once again. Super Junior (2005), Big Bang (2006), Girls’ Generation (2007) and Kara (2007) are just one of the few groups that led the second wave of Korean Pop. But the most notable one to make international headway across the pond was K-pop group Wonder Girls.

Wonder Girls’ ‘Nobody’ became a clear indication that K-Pop was ready to cast its waves into international territories. They are the first Korean act to debut on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

When the Wonder Girls were introduced to American audiences, not many expected a wondrous debut. With the aid of boy band The Jonas Brothers and key TV promotional stints on daytime television, the girl group was able to debut on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with their soul-inspired track “Nobody”. The song not only became the first K-pop song to debut in the charts historic run but the group as a whole became the first Korean performers to debut as well. It became a starting landmark and catalyst for the growing spur of Korean Pop music in the Western Hemisphere.

Later in 2011, another Korean girl group named Girls’ Generation (SNSD) debuted in America with an album and single of the same name, The Boys. The single sold 21,000 copies in its first week of release in the United States, prompting it to chart at #5 on the US Hot Dance Single Sales chart and #15 on the Hot Single Sales chart. In addition to the success of the song, the album debuted in international territories such as Spain and France.

Newcomer girl groups like Red Velvet and BLACKPINK, are also expanding their fanbases with moderate success. Red Velvet currently holds the record for the most #1 US World Albums for a K-pop girl group while BLACKPINK’s successful debut year earned them the title of the second best new K-pop group of 2016. ‘As If It’s Your Last’ also charted internationally in territories like Canada, Finland, and Portugal. Nothing is as extraordinary as the current thriving nature of K-pop groups.

Boy group BTS has also followed suit and have achieved even more success internationally. Their studio albums Wings charted in many European territories and at #26 on the Billboard 200 making it the highest charting, best selling K-pop album on the chart at the time with 16,000 copies sold. They also became the first Korean act to chart in the United Kingdom.


BTS is now the highest charting K-Pop group on the Billboard Hot 100 after breaking into the top 40 with “Mic Drop (Remix)”. They follow the footsteps of many past supergroups like Wonder Girls, SNSD, etc.

Their recent EP Love Yourself: Her became an even bigger international hit reaching the top 10 in territories such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, dethroning their own previous record of having the highest charting album for a K-pop act in North America. Korean groups are continuing to achieve massive landings worldwide and it’s not stopping here. In fact, their remix release of ‘MIC Drop’ featuring rapper Designer made international headway as well charting in Spain, Hungary, United Kingdom, Switzerland, etc. They became the first Korean act to debut on the top 40 Billboard mainstream charts and now hold the record for the highest charting single for a K-pop act in the United States.

It’s no surprise that the gradual success of K-pop continues to grow within groups. Internationally, the barrier seems to have finally been smashed to smithereens. But, we can never forget the beginning extremities of earlier groups that were able to aid in the rush of bringing a different language and culture to new borders around the world.

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Dannii Ceniceros

girl group advocate. latino. multi-instrumentalist. self-proclaimed Twitter-ologist @oscahhhhh.

Tagged In:#BTS, #kpop, #snsd, #wonder girls,