Most of us probably don’t know much more about K-Pop than, say, Gangnam Style. But Korean pop, or K-pop, is South Korea’s biggest entertainment industry export. In 2008, K-pop exports were valued at just $16.5 million but by 2012, that had increased dramatically to an incredible $235 million. The industry has evolved over the years to become an all-encompassing entertainment form far beyond the musical genre, and now boasts some of the most talented entertainers in Korea including singers, actors, and models. Underscored by unique styles of music, dance, and fashion, the stars of K-pop have been breaking out of South Korea into the international limelight and have garnered millions of fans worldwide.
K-pop is infectious. Not only has it spread through most Asian countries including China, Japan, Taiwan, it has also become widely popular in North America, South America and Europe. Websites like Youtube and digital music stores like iTunes have paved the way for the globalisation of this once-fringe genre, and K-pop stars are reaping the rewards. With success comes wealth, and the following K-pop celebrities are cashing in.
15. Ok Taec-Yeon
Ok Taec-Yeon, also known simply as Taecyeon, is a member of the boy band 2PM. After joining the group he became their main rapper and success has followed him ever since. In 2010 he launched his acting career in the drama series Cinderella’s Sister. He is also a main character in the drama show Dream High. Most recently Taecyeon has appeared in the reality show We Got Married that has become a massive hit in China, Taiwan and Korea.
14. Jang Geun Suk
Jang Geun Suk is worth approximately $6 million thanks to his multifaceted career, having found success in areas like acting and singing. He started modeling when he was only six years old and four years later Jang tried his hand at acting. He was a success on the TV sitcom Selling Happiness and the MBC sitcom Nonstop 4. He made his debut on the silver screen in the horror film One Missed Call.
After he starred in the hit drama series You’re Beautiful, this K-pop star went on to lead in another blockbuster series in 2010. Thanks to his overall success in music and acting he has been dubbed the Prince of Asia.
Singer, dancer, and model, Sara Park, also known as Sandara Park, was part of the girl group 2NE1. She competed on the reality talent scouting show Star Circle Quest and made the final top 10 before she finished in second place. She starred in the 2004 movie Bcuz of U and won Best New Actress at the 21st Philippine Movie Press Club Star Awards. Sara has continued her success with various movies and released two Korean and two Japanese music albums. She is also the first member of 2NE1 to release a digital single.
12. Choi Seung-Hyun
Choi Seung-Hyun is also known as T.O.P, a rapper, singer, songwriter, model, and actor. Like most K-pop stars, he earned his fame in music with the hip hop group Big Bang but he also branched out into solo acts and has appeared and many film dramas, such as I Am Sam, Iris, and Into the Fire. Today Choi works mostly as an actor and won the Rookie Award at the Asia Star Awards in 2013 for his various movie roles.
11. Park Jeong-Su
Park Jeong-Su, also known as Leeteuk, made his wealth as a singer-songwriter, MC, television host, and actor. He is also the leader of the K-pop boy band Super Junior. He is also the leader of Super Junior-T and Super Junior-H. He is one of the most successful singers and general entertainers in South Korea.
JYJ is a K-pop supergroup that formed in 2010. The group is made of Jaejoong, Yoochun, and Junsu, three former members of the group TVXQ. Managed by C-JeS Entertainment, the group released their debut album that topped the Japanese music charts. Their full-length album, “In Heaven,” debuted at #1 on the Korean Gaon Album Chart.
9. Goo Hara
Goo Hara participated in the SM’s youth appearance tournament in 2005 and auditioned to be a part of JYP, but lost out on a spot. She was eventually scouted by talent agencies after her photographs were uploaded to the DSP homepage and she became an online shopping mall model. Hara joined the music group Kara and made the group’s comeback huge with the track “Rock U.” Since her rise to fame, Hara has appeared on the reality show Invincible Youth and collaborated with songwriter Fukuyama Masaharu in 2013.
8. Im Yoona
Im Yoona first appeared as an actress in the 2007 film 9 Ends, 2 Outs. She then joined the girl group Girls’ Generation and has dedicated herself to singing, dancing, and acting. Her band mates are the first to admit that she makes the most money out of them all. Yoona has been the star of 20 ads since 2012 and stars in Love Rain, a daily television show in Korea.
7. Kwon Boa
Kwon Boa is also known by her stage name BoA, an acronym for Beat of Angel. Although originally from South Korea, she is also very active in Japan and the United States. Boa is so successful she has been dubbed the Queen of Korean Pop after she was discovered by SM Entertainment and toured extensively.
6. Lee Ji-Eun
Lee Ji-Eun, also known by her stage name IU, is a South Korean singer who made her debut with the song “Miya” in 2008. Shortly after she released her album “Growing Up” and a sophomore album that includes the hit “Marshmallow”. Since then she has enjoyed tremendous success as a pop singer in Korea and greater Asia and ranked #19 on the The 23rd Annual Independent Critics List of the 100 Most Beautiful Faces. Today she is worth approximately $15 million.
5. Kwon Jiyong
Kwon Jiyong is also G-Dragon, a rapper, songwriter, producer, and model. He signed on to YG Entertainment when he was only 11-years old and later joined the group Big Bang. He was one of the leading composers in the band and wrote the songs “Lies,” “Last Farewell,” and “Haru Haru.” After leaving the group, he released his first solo album and the title track, “Heartbreaker” that became a number-one single in 2009. He was named as part of CNN’s list of 50 Reasons Why Seoul is the Best City.
4. Jung Ji Hoon
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Jung Ji Hoon is the pop star Rain. He reports that he overcame his shyness as a child and began to express himself through dance. Although he fought with HYP management for a shot to be a dancer and actor, Jung was often, allegedly, refused because he was not attractive enough.
However, he released his first solo album in 2002 and went on three successful world tours. He has also starred in both Korean and American films and is now worth approximately $20 million.
2. Choi SiWon
Another member of the supergroup Super Junior, Choi Siwon is a singer, actor, and model. He is one of the first South Koreans to appear on Chinese postage stamps, and one of the first Korean celebrities to gain more than 3 million followers on Twitter. More than a singer, he has appeared in advertisements in countries across Asia such as China and Thailand. Although a self-made pop star, SiWon comes from a very wealthy family who owns the Hyundai Department Store chain. He father is the CEO of Boryung Medience.
1. Park Jae-Sang
Park Jae-Sang, also known as PSY, took over the international music entertainment industry with the hit single “Gangham Style.” It was one of the most-watched videos on Youtube with over 1 billion views — it is also the most ‘liked’ video in the history of Youtube. The song reached number one on iTunes and has been parodied countless times in popular culture.
Since 2001, PSY has released a total of 6 albums. The massive success of his hit single made him a household name in North America where he has appeared on The Today Show and The Ellen Degeneres Show, among others. PSY is one of the richest K-pop stars in Korea, making nearly $8 million from the song Gangham Style alone. Overall, he is worth approximately $45 million.