How K-Pop Artists Are Expanding Their Sound

Eight songs that prove how the genre is playing with some truly inspired genre-bending

Words by Samantha Lui

Whether you’re a fan of BLACKPINK or BTS, there’s no denying that K-Pop is a global sensation that’s only getting bigger as it continues to find mainstream western success.

Part of the reason why K-Pop has been able to tap into new audiences is its ability to explore different genres from around the world. While much of the genre’s early beginnings in the 1990s and 2000s can be traced back to hip-hop and R&B, more recent releases showcase a more experimental style when it comes to influences in sound and concepts.

From hip-hop to reggae, disco to house, screamo to pop-punk, K-Pop performers are continuing to prove their versatility and excel in a variety of different styles. Below, we breaks down some of our favorite recent singles:

“Black Eye” by Seventeen’s Vernon

As a member of the group Seventeen, Vernon has often been known for his role as a rapper. One of Seventeen’s charms is its ability to explore different genres as an entire unit or in different sub-groups with three to four members teaming up on different songs. And while Vernon has proven many times that he is a talented vocalist in ballads and more pop-heavy tracks, his solo debut “Black Eye” was a pleasant surprise for many of his fans. Straying away from trap beats and hip-hop, two genres he has often gravitated towards, “Black Eye” sees Vernon taking the pop-punk route. Opening with a melodic guitar tune, and complemented with the beat of a snare drum and steady cymbals and hi-hats, Vernon’s track is reminiscent of the pop-punk icons that were popular back in the early 2000s, such as Blink 182, Green Day and Sum 41. After all, in an interview with NYLON, Vernon revealed that he’s a longtime fan of pop punk, and even performed a cover of Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8ter Boi” for a festival during his school days. Rock on, Vernon!

“Shut Down” by BLACKPINK

In essence, BLACKPINK’s “Shut Down” is not a big departure from its other singles. As a group, BLACKPINK has often been known for exuding confidence and badass vibes in its music and concepts. And “Shut Down” follows a similar theme, with the members clapping back at their haters with sassy lyrics.

What’s interesting about the track though is the fact that it starts off strong, with a classical music sample of Niccolò Paganini's second violin concerto, “La Campanella,” then merges with a trappy hip hop beat. It’s an inspired choice for Blackpink, as a common complaint of their new releases often sound too similar to their past singles. While “Shut Down” is not revelatory music-wise, Blackpink’s play on mixing classical and hip hop is a fresh direction for the group.


(G)I-DLE’s “TOMBOY” is a departure from the bright, bubblegum pop concepts many K-Pop girl groups are known for. “TOMBOY” is a pop-rock track with the sound of electric guitars slamming throughout it. It’s powerful, confident and fierce. Plus, it truly comes to life the moment the chorus hits with the lines, “Yeah, I’m fuckin’ tomboy!” while bleeping out the swear word. Lyrically, the song also serves as an anthem for the girls, with rapper Soyeon rapping about how she’d rather film a TikTok video over experiencing misogyny and discrimination. This song is not only fun, but spreads a social message. And at a time when K-Pop has historically strayed away from touchier topics, (G)I-DLE has managed to say quite a lot with “Tomboy.” 

“Antifragile” by LE SSERAFIM

“Antifragile” is an intense Afro-Latin-style pop song with elements of reggaeton throughout. The track sets the tone early right in the intro, with the lyrics “Anti-ti-ti-ti fragile, fragile” getting stuck in your head. The song is named after a concept developed by Lebanese American essayist, mathematical statistician and author of The Black Swan, Nassib Taleb. He defines antifragility as a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, mistakes, attacks, or failures.

Given this definition, it makes sense why LE SSERAFIM would choose to pack a punch with a fierce single like “Antifragile.” This is their first title track as a five-member group since the departure of Kim Garam, after the 16-year-old singer found herself facing bullying allegations last year. “Antifragile” is a way to redefine who LE SSERAFIM is as a group, and it shows the K-Pop girl band has no plans of stopping soon despite past controversies.

“Ditto” by NewJeans

While it hasn’t even been a year since NewJeans debuted as a K-Pop group, the quintet have already established themselves with their distinctly early 2000s pop sound and as the queens of Y2K fashion. As a track alone, “Ditto” is a reinterpretation of the Baltimore club genre, which can be described as a blend of hip-hop and house music. It fuses elements of lo-fi, pop and electronic music to create a dreamy atmosphere for the listener. And while it is sonically laidback and chill, “Ditto” is an absolute earworm that grows on you slowly.

“Guerilla” by ATEEZ

Recent releases from K-Pop groups are beginning to explore more hard-hitting and aggressive tones when it comes to their songs. ATEEZ’s “Guerilla” is no exception. The song fuses choppy synths, coupled with a guitar heavy instrumental. The track truly comes to life in its final minute, as the ATEEZ boys go into full screamo mode. And while some may consider the noise music genre too disruptive with its heavy beat drops and distortion, “Guerilla” is an absolute banger that will have you head banging, screaming, and singing along. 

“After LIKE” - IVE

Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 song “I Will Survive” is widely considered to have marked the beginning of the disco era. And while many would consider it a risky move to sample such a well-known song, IVE manages to create something fresh and unique by interpolating Gaynor’s iconic track during “After LIKE’s” instrumental break. By adding elements of EDM, pop and house into the sound, IVE’s “After LIKE” is a modern take on the disco genre. The track is euphoric, and the sampling of Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” only makes the song more addictive with each listening experience.

“Rover” by Kai


While Kai’s “Rover” has already become quite the popular TikTok trend since it was released on March 13, the song is actually a remake of Bulgarian singer DARA’s “Mr. Rover.” “Rover” is a dancehall song featuring heavy bass, marimba, bells, and autotune. While Kai’s previous tracks like “Peaches” and “Mmmh” are slower and more R&B-focused, “Rover” is much more intense. It’s seductive and sexy, and Kai also showcases his vocal range and rapping skills. As a member of the group EXO, Kai has often stood out for his dancing and stage presence. This is the kind of genre that allows him to showcase all of those skills, but also reveal a different side to him as a solo artist.

Published on April 12, 2023

Words by Samantha Lui

Samantha Lui is a culture writer and radio producer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Complex Canada, VICE, NBC Asian America and ELLE Canada. She previously spent a summer interning at Hong Kong's English daily newspaper, South China Morning Post. A fangirl at heart, she spends her free time watching K-pop videos on YouTube and Asian dramas. Follow her on Twitter at @samanthalui_.

Art by Ryan Quan

Ryan Quan is the Social Media Editor for JoySauce. This queer, half-Chinese, half-Filipino writer and graphic designer loves everything related to music, creative nonfiction, and art. Based in Brooklyn, he spends most of his time dancing to hyperpop and accidentally falling asleep on the subway. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanquans.