Have you been a K-POP fan for a long time now? Did you experience second, third, or even first-gen K-POP? Or did you become a K-POP fan recently during the glory of the fourth-gen? No matter when you discovered the genre and vast industry behind K-POP, we are glad to have you here.
There is always something new to explore on a daily basis when it comes to K-POP, so it is easy to get lost. Something anyone is bound to find out or maybe learn about has to be the beginning of this mayhem! How did K-POP start? When or who started it or helped with it taking off? Don’t worry we got you covered!
We already gave you the rundown about all things second gen and the most important groups from it before! So now it is time to focus on first-generation artists and groups that helped lay the foundations for this massive industry that we all have come to love and enjoy so much.
Laying The Foundations
As first-generation K-POP we consider the time frame of 1992-2002 but opinions on that vary! We went with it starting in 1992 as Seo Taiji and Boys were one of the most groundbreaking groups to hit the music scene at the time, and influenced future generations of idols greatly. We picked 2002 as the ending, because then the industry had found its footing debuting more groups in a structural way and experimenting more with concepts and music genres than previously done so. The real birth of idol K-POP groups could be dated back to H.O.T’s debut in 1996 as the first proper idol group, but we can’t help but appreciate the unsung heroes who came before these beast idols.
Seo Taiji and Boys and co were all there when the music industry in South Korea shifted drastically from Trot (traditional Korean folklore music) to more hip-hop and western-focused music. These idols are the reason K-POP is where it is today. They laid the foundation for entertainment companies and the idol music industry. And current idols have never forgotten who has started it all. Songs by these legends are still present today, being covered and reimagined by their juniors. First-generation K-POP we owe you everything. So let’s have a look at some of these legends!
Seo Taiji and Boys (1992)
South Korea was not ready for what Seo Taiji and Boys had in store for them when Seo Taiji, Yang Hyun-suk (yes, the founder of YG Entertainment), and Lee Juno hit the music scene. The group is highly credited for changing the music scene, which before consisted only of solo singers singing Trot music. They were the first act to include rap in their songs with western genres (mainly hip hop) influencing their music while their lyrics dealt with social issues.
Are you a fan of Running Man? Does the name Kim Jungkook ring a bell? If so, we have a surprise for you! The singer, actor, and entertainer had his start in the duo Turbo which debuted in 1995. Kim Jungkook and Kim Jungman were the most popular idols of the time, selling millions of albums in Korea and the rest of Asia. They were highly successful even when Jungman left the group in 1997 and was replaced by Mikey! They all still get along great as they made a comeback as a trio in 2015, which we still aren’t over.
We have reached one of the most legendary groups in K-POP history. SM’s first idol boy group H.O.T. But not only were they SM’s first boy group but they are considered the first idol group in K-POP history. They set the foundation and formula that later idol groups would follow, thus making K-POP what it is today. The group consisted of Moon Heejoon, Jang Woohyuk, Tony An, Kangta, and Lee Jaewon. Some of the members are still active and successful solo artists today. They sold almost seven million albums during the time they were active and have remained legends for all of their juniors.
SECHKIES debuted under DSP Media as a response to SM’s first idol act H.O.T. The group introduced fan culture to the scene and triggered the first rivalry between fandoms from H.O.T fans and SECHSKIES fans. The groups started to associate colors with their brand and the first lightsticks of the time were actually balloons! SECHSKIES is considered one of the most successful groups of its generation. They used to be six, but they are still active today under YG Entertainment as a four-member group.
Shortly after SM dropped H.O.T they introduced their first girl group to the music scene. They were debuted as the counterpart to label mate H.O.T and were also hugely successful, proven by their debut album I’m Your Girl, becoming the second best-selling album by a girl group in South Korea at that time. The girls were challenged by plenty of other girl groups that hit the scene until they disbanded in 2002 when contract negotiations fell through with SM. They did reunite in 2016 for their 20th anniversary though!
It is time we introduce to you the longest-running and still active boy group: Shinhwa! Yes, Shinhwa are still active as a group today in the year 2021 – after 22 years. That surely is a deed to be done in the K-POP industry and should not be belittled. Shinhwa also debuted under SM Entertainment, but are now managed by their own company Shinhwa Company and consists of the six original members: Eric Mun, Lee Minwoo, Kim Dongwan, Shin Hyesung, Jun Jin, and Andy Lee. They first hit it big with their sophomore album T.O.P. in 1999, and it has been a success for them ever since.
It’s time to introduce Groove Over Dose or more commonly known as g.o.d. They first debuted under SidusHQ but have since then moved agencies quite a lot of times. During their time, they were one of the most successful boy groups, being one of the only groups before the digital age to get two certified million-seller albums. They were revolutionary, for perfectly blending r&b music with rap and storytelling lyrics. They have rightfully marked their spot in the list of the first-generation Legends of K-POP.
We couldn’t be talking about first-generation K-POP without mentioning the one and only BoA. If you haven’t heard of this queen, you have to have been living under a rock. BoA debuted under SM Entertainment in 2000 at the young age of 13 and is still active as a soloist to this day. What’s so special about BoA is that she was specifically trained to enter the Japanese market which was until then, closed off to Korean acts. BoA swept the charts and conquered the Japanese market with her debut Japanese album Listen to My Heart being certified a million-seller and topping the Oricon chart. This opened the doors for future generations. BoA also found success in Korea, selling thousands of album units and storming the charts, which she still reigns today.
Epik High (2001)
Shocked to see these legends here? Same, but Epik High have been epic for 20 years now, and their music shows us why. Epik High was formed in 2001 after Tablo returned from Vancouver, and they were most active in the underground hip hop scene of Seoul. But, there wasn’t a place for their complex and lyrical heavy hip hop music in the mainstream K-POP market yet. Epik High didn’t find commercial success until their 2004 album High Society, but they still impacted the industry greatly, inspiring hundred of future generations of idols, and their music still rules today!
We have reached the end of the first generation of K-POP, and who else to end it with than the legendary Rain! Yes, you may remember him from last year’s viral TikTok hit of his old song ‘Gang,’ or you know Rain from the acting roles he has done. What you may not have known is that Rain debuted at the age of 16 in the K-POP group Fanclub in 1998. Unfortunately, due to the group failing to generate success, they disbanded shortly after. But then came Rain’s debut as a solo artist in 2002, and he still remains strong 19 years later. Due to him selling millions of album units throughout Asia, he has been dubbed an international star, and with 19 years of experience in the industry, Rain has inspired many idols to pursue their dreams and has even set up his own company debuting his own idol group.
And that’s it, or some of it, please forgive us! We know there are many more artists who had a hand in laying the foundation of K-POP during the 1st gen. If we named them all this would turn into a dissertation, so to keep it short and easy we created a playlist for you!
So which 1st gen idol group is your favorite? Did you rediscover any forgotten gems? Or are you still (like us) bopping to these tracks on the regular? Let us know in the comments below, @TheHoneyPOP on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Still, craving more K-Pop? We’ve got just the thing!
Featured Image Source: Emily Defoor for The Honey POP.