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Old K-pop - The Beginning of 25 Years Old Global Phenomenon

Updated on August 22, 2018

K-pop has been spreading from the country of its origin, South Korea, to the rest of Asia and the world during almost two last decades. However, wider audience outside of Korea is usually not very familiar with the very first k-pop artists, people who redefined the meaning of Korean pop music, introducing new elements that became integral parts of the genre we know today and therefore made its further development possible.

How do you usually define old k-pop and which artists are connected to it? When we talk about it most of the fans (except the ones who were exploring Korean culture a bit more seriously) don’t know where to draw the line between old and new k-pop. A lot of them think that that line was drawn by the appearance of the groups like DBSK and Super Junior, therefore in 2003. or 2005., and some of the fans think that transition happened in 2008. - with SHINee, 2AM, 2PM or 2009. - with the appearance of more female groups like 2NE1, f(x), T-ara, 4Minute. However, the end of old k-pop or the beginning of 2nd generation of k-pop artists happened in the very beginning of XXI century, when Korean pop scene started spreading its influence outside of South Korean borders, initiating the start of Korean wave (Hallyu/Hanryu), which quickly covered first Asian and then also other continents.

As I believe that the music itself will give you the best grasp on this particular era, I will try to put the examples and just give brief introduction of those “old” groups that now represent roots of Korean contemporary pop music, which is actually a fusion of various elements taken from American contemporary music. Some of the main characteristics of the genre also include artists - idols - teenagers or young people in their twenties who spent years in vocal and dance training before officially stepping onto k-pop scene and audience which is usually consisted of Korean young people - mostly high school students (if we exclude international fandom). And all of that became possible by the appearance of Seo Tai Ji, his group Seo Tai Ji & Boys and their famous hit that we now recognize as the first contemporary k-pop song 난 알아요 (Nan Arayo) - released in 1992. After more than 25 years Seo Tai Ji is still active on Korean music scene - famous for working his way through various genres throughout his long career. However, one of the members of his iconic group moved on from the position of the artist to starting one of the first and most famous entertainment companies in Korea, YG Entertainment.

Seo Taiji & Boys - 난 알아요 (Nan Arayo)

New production companies started blooming in 1995. and they will later become homes of some of the most popular k-pop artists: first SM Entertainment and then YG Entertainment, DSP Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and FNC Music. The trend of making idol groups starts and first extremely popular boyband that came out to Korean scene was H.O.T, debuting in 1996. After 5 years the group split up with most of the members starting their solo careers and still being well-known in the industry. Here is my favorite H.O.T song and big hit of 1999. - 아이야 (I Yah).

H.O.T - 아이야 (I Yah)

Main H.O.T “rival” were SechsKies, who made their debut in 1997. One of their biggest hits was song 커플 (Couple), released in 1998. Last year SechsKies made a comeback after a long period of not being active, so make sure to check out some of their new songs as well.

SechsKies - 커플 (Couple)

In 1998. group Shinhwa makes their debut and today this boyband proudly wears their crown as the longest active k-pop group. Because of their long career Shinhwa surpasses k-pop standards as their loyal fans stopped being teenagers a long time ago, but at the same time these men constantly gather new generation of young fans. Most of the members have successful solo careers as well, while the leader, Eric has been pursuing acting career for years. I had a bit of a hard time choosing a song out of the big pile of their hits, but here it is - 악동보고서 (Yo!), popular Shinhwa song from 1999.

Shinhwa - 악동보고서 (Yo!)

Hip-hop group 1TYM debuted the same year as Shinhwa and today it has the honor of being responsible for bringing hip-hop to Korean mainstream scene. Former member Teddy Park is one of the pillars of Korean mainstream hip-hop music today as well, working as a producer in YG Entertainment, closely working with artists like Big Bang, 2NE1, Blackpink etc. Even though I’m not much of a hip-hop fan I think I would be able to write a whole post only about songs of this group. However, here’s their debut song - 1TYM.


As a representative of, what will later become, the famous big three companies, JYP Entertainment, G.O.D debuted in 1999. and instantly became one of the most popular groups, with their typical R&B sound, making them recognizable to this day. Members of the group gathered again a couple of years ago in order to continue their career together and made a lot of their loyal fans extremely happy. 어머님께 (To Mother) is their debut song.

G.O.D - 어머님께 (To Mother)

It looks like the boy groups have always been more popular than the ladies, but we still need to focus on the girls too. Even though there was not many of them in the end of the 90s, female groups still existed on Korean music scene and, in their own way, helped the further development of Korean pop music.

First group that I’m going to talk about is S.E.S, which was made as female version of H.O.T in 1997. Together with two other girl groups of that time Fin.K.L. and Baby V.O.X this group became extremely popular. After the disbandment of S.E.S all the members continued their successful solo careers and recently gathered up to make music together again. If you like that nostalgic feel of old k-pop already I highly recommend listening to their latest album. One of their well-known songs is Dreams Come True, released in 1998.

S.E.S - Dreams Come True

Group Baby V.O.X also debuted in 1997 and in the beginning of XXI century it became one of the pioneers of Korean wave. During their career members of the group changed, but that didn’t affect the popularity of the group, which received many awards year after year. Amongst many of their hits is song 우연 (By Chance), released in 2002., the best song of music show Inkigayo for several weeks and a song of the year

Baby V.O.X - 우연 (By Chance)

Fin.K.L is the third female group which was very important for this period of Korean pop music. This group with four members - one of them was Lee Hyori, one of the most popular k-pop stars with years long career, debuted in 1998. and was famous for their R&B sound. In 1999. one of the biggest hits was their song 영원한 사랑 (Forever Love).

Fin.K.L -영원한 사랑 (Forever Love)

Another girl group from the 90s was Diva, which wasn’t as successful as the other three, but is important because of their hip-hop sound and popularity they had in some other Asian countries - mostly in China and Taiwan. This is their most popular song from 1998. - 왜불러 (Why Are You Calling).

Diva - 왜불러 (Why Are You Calling)

I hope that this story about the beginning of k-pop was fun to read and listen to. I would like you to tell me how well did you know 1st generation of k-pop idols and do you even like old k-pop or k-pop in general? Comments are always appreciated!


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