If people were to ask seasoned fans of Korean music when K-pop started to become an international phenomenon, most will probably say between the years of 2007 to 2009. During that time, three K-pop groups -- Super Junior, Wonder Girls, and Girls' Generation -- rose to prominence, forever changing the genre. This was done with hits like "Sorry, Sorry" (Super Junior), "Nobody" (Wonder Girls), and "Gee" (Girls' Generation). It is because of these three, other K-pop acts had more of an opportunity to showcase their talents to the world. It became even more so with Psy releasing "Gangnam Style" followed by Big Bang releasing "Fantastic Baby."
The K-pop acts mentioned above were huge influences in the Hallyu Wave, a neologism that refers to the increase of popularity for South Korean culture since the late 90s. However, fans wonder which K-pop acts are the leaders, ever since the Hallyu Wave was established. Thanks to a cultural study, it is now recognized that Big Bang, TVXQ, and Girls' Generation hold such a title among each other.
The results of the cultural study were found by the Korean Cultural Contents Agency (KOCCA). Established in May 7, 2009, KOCCA has made it their mission to make Korea the global content leader. They provide production support, overseas expansion support, CT convergence content, human resources training, and infrastructure establishment management all for the goal of making K-pop, K-dramas, K-movies (K-anything actually) into a worldwide entertainment and cultural business.
With that said, KOCCA recently analyzed years of data from entertainment insiders to figure out which K-pop acts were the most influential over the past 20 years since the Hallyu Wave was initialized. According to KpopStarz (in which it was originally published on KdramaStars), the results of the study were published in Korean news outlet Sports Biz in which Big Bang, TVXQ, and Girls' Generation were recognized as K-pop's most influential acts. Kwon Boa (BoA) and Park Jae Sang (Psy) rounded out the top five.
KOCCA also included in their study which Korean shows influenced the Hallyu Wave as well. The top four spots were taken by K-dramas with period drama Jewel in the Palace ranking number one on their list. It was followed by Winter Sonata, Autumn In My Heart, and My Love From The Star (much to the delight of Kim Soo Hyun fans). However, some were surprised that the fifth show rounding the top five is Running Man, the only K-variety show to make it on the list.
To be frank, it should not be a surprise the three K-pop acts in the top three spots are the most influential in K-pop. Starting with Girls' Generation, their hit song "Gee" made the most impact during the uptick in the Hallyu Wave back in 2007 to 2009. However, the one song that probably had the most impact for the Hallyu Wave overall was "Fantastic Baby" by Big Bang. As a matter of fact, both songs were respectively ranked as number two and number one by WatchMojo for the top ten iconic K-pop songs of all time.
For TVXQ, they are influential for the Hallyu Wave not because they have phenomenal songs just like other chart-topping K-pop groups but of their influence outside of South Korea, especially in Japan. The fact they started to blaze the charts, outperforming established Japanese acts made popular mostly through anime was a feat on its own. TVXQ aside, it is often said K-pop was the primary reason why J-pop experienced a sharp decline in popularity.
As for what status K-pop has in the future, as long as K-pop acts keep doing what made the genre a worldwide phenomenon in the first place, it will be just fine. And with groups like Apink, GFriend, EXO, and Red Velvet (in which the latter is actually beating Girls' Generation with "Dumb Dumb" right now), the future is surely in good hands.