K-pop may be the first thing that comes to mind when people think of the Korean music industry, but in addition to pop idols, there’s also a growing scene of K-indie artists. Whether you’re a fan of alt-pop or guitar bands, K-indie is another world for indie fans to dive into — and it’s quickly taking over the globe, just like K-pop.
K-indie often deals with more introspective themes than K-pop, and the beauty and emotion of the music tends to transcend language barriers. Some K-indie artists prefer to work without being associated with any record label, while others choose to work with independent labels that offer more flexibility in terms of creativity and production. But K-pop fans should be excited to know that many K-indie artists do collaborate with K-pop stars, too — which goes to show just how big of a force K-indie is.
We’re rounding up a handful of K-indie artists who are worth knowing about and including in your playlist, from solo singers to rock bands.
SE SO NEON
Since the band’s formation in 2016, SE SO NEON has become one of the biggest and most beloved K-indie bands in the world. Made up of vocalist Hwang So-yoon (who also performs solo music as So!YoON!) and bassist Park Hyun-jin, the band won the Rookie of the Year and Best Rock Song award for their single “The Wave” at the 2018 Korean Music Awards.
Since their debut EP Summer Plumage, the band has experimented with various genres such as pop, rock, jazz, and grunge. With their powerful guitars and relatable lyrics, SE SO SEON creates songs full of emotion.
SURAN is a singer and producer who debuted in the duo LODIA in 2014 and made her solo debut later that same year with the song “I Feel.” The recording artist has a soft, sultry voice that often takes on a more sensual tone to match the track, as in “Devils in the City,” and has become one of the leading voices in K-hip-hop and K-R&B over the years. She’s worked on a K-R&B song with Suga from BTS, producer Slow Rabbit, and rapper Changmo called “Wine,” and has also collaborated with the likes of well-known hip-hop and rap artists such as Primary and Beenzino. In 2021, she even launched her own label, S-TASY.
Epik High, featuring Tablo, Mithra Jin, and DJ Tukutz, is a trio who have been active since 2001 and have become a reference in K-hip-hop, with more than 10 albums and a plethora of collabs with big names in K-pop to their name. Their most recent release is their EP Strawberry, for instance, features tracks with Jackson Wang from GOT7 and Hwasa from MAMAMOO.
Epik High has mastered many different styles over the years, without losing their essence of always aiming to capture the human experience in their lyrics by exploring things like mental health, anger, and self-love. They were the first Korean artists to perform at Coachella back in 2016, showing just how much of a global impact the group has.
Lee Mujin is a charismatic 22-year-old singer-songwriter who has been praised for his emotional and powerful vocals, as well as his ability to write heartfelt lyrics. “Traffic Lights,” in particular, has touched listeners, as it addresses the challenges and anxieties of navigating the uncertain paths of adult life. He blends jazz, rock, and folk, and is undeniably a rising star to watch in the Korean music industry, as fans are already eagerly awaiting more releases and performances.
Colde, stage name of Kim Hee-soo, is one of the members of the duo offonoff. Colde made his solo debut in 2018 with the EP Wave, which manages to perfectly transition between different genres like R&B and hip-hop. But even still, he’s stayed close to his K-pop roots; his latest album Love Part 2 features eight songs, including collaborations with BTS’ RM, EXO’s Baekhyun, and AKMU’s Lee Chan-hyuk. With the way he’s ability to mix genre and his ear for innovative melodies, there’s no doubt he’ll continue to surprise and delight his legion of fans of his solo work across the globe.
Dvwn is a singer and producer who made his first appearance in the music scene in 2017 through SoundCloud. In 2018, he officially debuted with the self-produced EP panorama and began to attract many fans due to his ethereal vocals paired with versatile compositions. He has already collaborated with artists such as Kang Daniel, Chanyeol of EXO, and Eric Nam, proving just how much the indie singer is definitely one-to-watch.
Vocalist and guitarist Kyung Min, guitarist Min Hyuk, bassist Kim Ho, and drummer Isaac make up the band Lacuna, who have been on the scene since 2018 and are influenced by ‘90s Britpop, shoegaze, and fantasy elements. The K-indie band released the Summer Tales EP in 2022, which is a collection of love stories that are easy to connect with, given Lacuna’s direct, endearing lyrics. The band’s creativity and attention to detail are evident in every aspect of their artistry, from their music to their visuals.
The Rose, consisting of members Woosung, Hajoon, Dojoon, and Jaehyeong, formally debuted in 2017 with the track “Sorry,” a soft-rock ballad. The song earned the group a Rookie of the Year nomination at the Soompi Awards and helped put them on the map, considering how many listeners were drawn to their lyrics expressing regret surrounding a broken relationship.
In 2022, the Rose released their first full-length album Heal, which features 10 tracks and was inspired by fan stories and the healing power of music. The release proved that the band has a lot to offer, and their storytelling abilities have the power to make many listeners fall in love with them.