In an era dominated by Boy groups, the late ’90s saw a huge shift in K-pop and Korean music with the introduction of girl group S.E.S in 1997 and the amazing Fin. K.L in 1998 would not only impact the female K-pop industry but change the perception of various genres in Korea.
Their initial impact would be felt on Korean music alongside fellow DSP Media groups Sech Skies who debuted in 1997 and boy group Click-B in 1999. The company would skyrocket becoming one of the biggest entertainment companies alongside the likes of SM Entertainment.
Fine Killing Liberty or more popularly known as Fin. K.L would be recruited individually. Lead singer Ock Joo-Hyun was first recruited after winning a radio talent show, she would later persuade her friend Lee Jin to join the band. This would be followed by Sung Yu-ri who would be recruited whilst singing at her local high school and Lee Hyori who was recruited after being spotted at the mall and chosen for her singing and as the band’s lead visual.
Debuting in May 1998 with their album, ‘Blue Rain’ the band would make an immediate impact with strong vocals and ballad RnB mixed style they would show a different side to the cleanly polished girl group aesthetic, breaking out from the plain white cutesy dresses of previous girl groups and start adapting their unique style. The stand-out performer of the group was lead singer Ock Joo-Hyun whose vocals would stand out; she would tie the song together whilst giving each member the perfect opportunity to shine and stand out in their respective ways.
The band would later release two further hit singles ‘To My Boyfriend’ and ‘Ruby’. ‘To My Boyfriend’ became one the band’s greatest hits and one of South Korea’s most beloved romance songs peaking downloads and often made a ringtone around valentines day for years to follow. In 2021 the song would be named in the top 100 K-pop masterpieces of all time as voted for by a panel of 35 judges alongside Melon and Seoul-based newspaper Seoul Shinmun.
These tracks would be part of the band’s 11 track album ‘Blue Rain’ as they would end the year successfully. Winning multiple awards such as the Golden Disc Awards Rookie of the Year Award for ‘Blue Rain’ alongside 6 other awards with 4 of these being Bonsang awards showing the Nationwide impact the band made in such a short time.
Fans would have to wait around a year for Fin. K.L’s second release with their second album ‘White’ in May 1999. The album would see a change in the group’s music as they would go from strong vocals to further emphasis on the band’s other attributes with more complex choreography, their performances and music videos represent that of girl groups in k-pop still today.
The album would also see a change in style, with one example being at MBC Music Bank, where the girls change up their look completely from their formal blouse and tie formal work look on their debut, to the stunning white dresses of ‘Forever Love’. Their standout look would be during the song ‘Pride’. Dressing in a sporty beach vibe each member had a unique hairstyle, from braided to various types of bobs. It signified the start of the band’s time experimenting with different styles and fits.
Both songs would become some of the band’s biggest and would top the charts for four weeks with the 12-track album would sell over 700,000 copies nearly doubling that of ‘Blue Rain’. The album would be followed by the band’s first concert as they would fill out Seoul with an electric atmosphere and amazing performances. The concert would be a huge success and showed just how far and popular they had come since debut.
They would finish the year strong releasing a 2.5 album ‘special’ a special release which would feature songs ‘To My Prince’ and ‘White’ with both songs topping the charts the 13-track album would sell over 340,000 copies. They would go on to finish the year with multiple Bonsangs alongside two Daesangs as their song ‘Forever Love’ was nominated across all major Award ceremonies cementing the group and the song’s longevity in Korean music history.
Starting the new millennium and Fin. K.L would fully embrace the change of times and carry on their change of style from an innocent girl love image and transform as if following their music narrative the girls became women adapting a style and theme different to anything they had ever released before with the title song ‘Now’ featuring not only strong vocals but also a strong use of sound engineering with a catchy hook and beat, it would be the first song to feature the voice of someone not in the band.
It would also mark the start of a completely different fashion era for the band, as they would make their mark on their choice of clothing and appearances. This would be most apparent in their music video for the song ‘Now’, where they would spot three different semi-formal outfits, which when accompanied by the band dancing, shows how the band had started its hot girl phase, a style similar to that of modern K-pop.
They would release their second half album 6 months later with the special album consisting of remakes of Korean classics of the 80s and ’90s, it captured the hearts and memories of adults across Korea as they would look back on their childhoods and feel nostalgic. The album featured the likes of Lee Ye-rin’s ‘Always Like this moment’ and Hye Eun-Yi’s ‘You wouldn’t know.’ The music video featured recreated scenes from popular movies including scenes from the hit Hollywood 90’s film Pretty Woman alongside clips of each member acting.
Entering 2002 it would mark the end of an era with Fin. K.L’s final studio album. Featuring the title track ‘Forever’ it would top the charts and show a different side to Fin. K.L and their love journey as they talk about waiting for a lost lover much of what fans would experience as they embark on solo activities. The song was the perfect goodbye song for what was at the time a four-year surge to the top of K-pop.
Publicly announced in 2003 the band would pursue solo activities, making it clear that they wouldn’t officially break up leaving the door open to future comebacks. Each member would go on to successful careers with arguably the most successful being Lee Hyori, who would go on an extremely successful solo music career. Becoming one of Korea’s most successful female solo acts she would also become one of K-pop’s biggest fashion statements as she would pursue further opportunities outside of K-pop going into acting both in K-drama and also advertisements alongside some of K-pop’s biggest stars.
Whilst not as glamorous lead singer Ock Joo-Hyun would also see a successful solo Korea, using her powerful vocals broadcasted as part of Fin. K.L transferred into a long successful solo career. Starting with a top 10 debut through the ballad ‘I (Nan)’ she would branch out to broadcasting and presenting both on radio winning the MBC Best Radio DJ in 2005. Making various TV appearances before becoming a Yoga celebrity, opening a yoga studio alongside a range of yoga DVDs, VHS and a book on maintaining a fitness body and mind. However, she would arguably be most known for her time in musical theatre becoming one of Korea’s most famous musical theatre actresses with a career still active to date.
Going straight into a television career after leading the band the majority of which being variety shows member Lee Jin would take her time off the show to focus on her television career with the most noticeable appearances in season 2 of the sitcom Nonstop movie Too fragile to be loved and k-dramas such as The King and I. Another member who would enjoy a successful acting career would be maknae Sung Yu-Ri who would debut in the 2002 drama Bad Girls and get her first lead in 2003 with the k-drama Thousand Years of Love. Before graduating with a Theatre and Film degree in 2005 from Kyung Hee University.
Coming back in 2005 they would release their first digital album ‘Fine Killing Liberty’ which would be featured alongside 2 DVDs of the band’s previous performances, it would not be as big a hit as their previous releases and would once again see the band go on hiatus with each member once again pursuing solo activities.
The band would make odd appearances over the years as they would all leave and join different companies at the end of their contracts under DSP in 2006. Before all performing as part of the Lee Hyori concert in 2008 and joining Joo-Hyun as her first guest on her radio show Gayo Plaza in 2010 the group had always been in the news, posting on social media as they reunite for the band’s anniversary.
The group would fully come back in 2019, as they would get their reality show on JTBC titled Camping Club. The members would fully open up about their issues and the pressures that they faced back in the late ’90s and early 2000s as they would answer fan’s questions they would also perform on stage to the delight of fans as the series would be a beautiful and emotional series with performances showing that they still have it and haven’t lost a step.
The series would be shortly followed with a single ‘Like the song remains’ with the release being the last release of the band (as of 24 October 2022) there have been no further plans of a release as a band since, with each member having continued their activities individually. It is clear that whilst the discography of Fin. K.L might say otherwise this band are a staple of the K-pop scene with their impact still felt today with their music still recognisable to K-pop fans and still ranking in some publications as some of the greatest K-pop songs to ever exist.