The first generation of Kpop was an exciting time, setting the sounds and common Kpop markers that we still see today.
If you’ve never delved into the world of first gens prepare yourself for wild hair styles, gigantic clothes, and maybe most surprisingly, SM mvs with real narratives.
If you think Kpop group name acronyms today are unusual then meet: Highfive Of Teenagers; Groove Over Dose; Fin Killing Liberty (fin is end in French); New Radiancy Group; and Baby Voices of Xpression.
Lets get ready to reminisce with low quality mvs but tracks that are just as great today as they were in the 90s and early 00s …
1. Seo Taiji and Boys – I Know
Seo Taiji is one of the most prominent icons in South Korean Music, and it was his group, Seo Taiji and Boys the group YG’s CEO Yang Hyun Suk featured in, that really changed the Korean music market. I Know stayed at the top of the charts for a record breaking 17 weeks, not being beaten for some 15 years until BIGBANG’s Lies took an 18th week.
It was I Know’s popularity and originality that paved the way for Kpop’s success from there on, and undoubtedly for more successful hip hop acts like Drunken Tiger to emerge.
2. H.O.T. – We Are The Future
H.O.T. were the first group built and launched under the apprentice scheme that is now standard practice in the industry. Unsurprisingly the group came from entertainment giant SM. We Are The Future came from H.O.T.’s second album, but was the first widely accepted and popular song, with previous releases causing controversy and even being banned.
Following this track H.O.T.’s popularity skyrocketed, making them the first real idol group to make waves in South Korea.
3. S.E.S. – Love
Upon their release S.E.S. quickly became successful, the second jewel in SM’s first generation crown.
Their biggest success was their third album Love, selling approximately 780,000 copies the album still holds the record for biggest selling girl group album in South Korea. In fact S.E.S. hold six spots on the list of top ten best selling girl group albums (#7 in this playlist, Fin.K.L, hold another three spots, only Girls Generation have ever compared to the two first gen groups regarding sales).
The mv for Love was one of the most expensive Kpop mvs of its time, being set in NYC and costing over £500,000.
4. Sechs Kies – Road Fighter
Sechs Kies got off to a great start, with awards galore. Road Fighter came from their third album, the first time rapper Eun Ji Won had produced an album, it combined elements of hip hop and electronica and was a welcome development in the Kpop scene.
As a bonus, Eun Ji Won of Sechs Kies teamed up with four other first generation idols (two H.O.T. members, a member of NRG, and one g.o.d member) to participate in a variety show reminiscing about first generation music, they even made a project single together.
5. NRG – Hit Song
NRG, though popular from the start, didn’t get their first number one until 2003, with Hit Song. The song, written and composed by member Myung Hoon had them pick up awards such as Singer of the Year and Most Popular Song.
The group dedicated all their music show wins and awards to member Hwan Sung whom had died in 2000 aged just 19.
6. Shinhwa – Yo!
Shinhwa is a name many will know, the group still active today, and members even managing young idol groups such as Teen Top.
The group have their own label now, but started out as an SM group, the company hoping to cash in on the success of H.O.T. and S.E.S. once more.
Yo! came from their second album T.O.P., and abandoning their cute image for an edgier look got them attention. T.O.P. peaked at number 3 and stayed in the chart for 24 weeks, and even won them a Best Music Video From a New Male Pop Group award from MNet.
Shinhwa are now in their 16th year, and are the longest active first generation group, in fact the longest active group in the history of Kpop, only taking time out for their military service.
7. Fin.K.L – Blue Rain
If you don’t know Fin.K.L chances are you know at least one of their members, Lee Hyori. One of the two most successful first generation girl groups, Fin.K.L showed off their strengths both in pop and other genres, some of their most successful songs have R&B sounds.
Their initial success came from their R&B ballad strength, setting them apart from the catchy and cuter styles of H.O.T. and S.E.S..
8. g.o.d – Dear Mother
g.o.d were created by two entertainment CEOs, Park Jin Young (JYP) and Jung Hoon Tak (SidusHQ), a partnership that would eventually break up and cause much tension. Despite all the problems encountered by the group they became one of the most successful first generation groups.
Their first release, Dear Mother, caught the attention of the country, as unlike SM’s groups their lyrics were relatable, speaking the stark truth of the depression South Korea was pulling itself out.
As a bonus g.o.d have returned this summer, both to celebrate their 15th anniversary and with the intention of making music for the foreseeable future.
9. Baby VOX – Missing You
Baby VOX had a rough start. Their edgier style, which could be likened to that of the Spice Girls, didn’t sit well with the times, and the initial group was plagued by rumours of conflict. The company replaced a number of members to get their final five members.
After more training, an image overhaul and a final member change their real success came with their third album. Killer even beat H.O.T. in the charts and brought them a Top Excellency Award.
Their third single from the album Missing You is considered to be the best ballad the group ever released.
10. 1TYM – 1TYM
If you haven’t heard 1TYM you could probably guess their genre of choice as they technically are still a YG group, though haven’t been active since 2005 when members went into military service.
The group won a number of hip hop awards, and really set in stone the YG style that would continue to this day, partly because member Teddy is now one of the main YG producers. Though the success of 1TYM undoubtably set up the mainstream acceptance of the hip hop branch of Kpop.
You might even recognise the face of Danny, he hosts his own show for MNet America – Danny From LA.