In fourth-generation K-pop, idols are trained to be great at all aspects of K-pop, with dancing being just as important as the other aspects of music. However, back in 1995, this was different after Seo Taiji and Boys captured the youth of Korea with their sense of fashion and western inspired dancing. The group inspired not only generations of Korean artists but impacted the aspect of Korean music, giving birth to various Korean genres and K-pop as we see it today. 

This effect would be seen immediately, as just one year after their debut saw the debut of Deux in 1993 and Turbo in 1995 as dance became Korea’s premier genre throughout the mid-90s.

Debut and forming of Turbo

Debuting in 1995 the group was founded to compete with popular dance group Deux, who had seen mainstream success in 1993 and was coming off their most successful year in 1994. Featuring the third album ‘Rhythm Light Beat Black,’ saw the duo topped the music chart shows.

The group consisted of 24-year-old rapper and DJ Kim Jung Nam, as the more experienced member. Placed in charge of handling the rap and choreography, grouped alongside Kim Jong Kook, a baby-faced 19-year-old who had at the time made a name for himself singing in his high school band, joining as the main vocalist.

The two debuted to much success, releasing ‘280 KM Speed’ featuring the hit song ‘Black Cat Nero.’ A song still known and loved by fans to this day and was most recently covered by ATEEZ in a 2020 Halloween performance featuring Kim Jong Kook. The album’s distinctive vocals and Turbo’s style would not only place them on the map but also distinguish them from other Korean acts and as direct rivals to well-established Deux.

However, the rivalry was short-lived, and after the release of the album ‘Force Deux.’ Deux would announce their disbandment a few months later, with each member wanting to focus on their solo careers. Making Turbo the premiere dance group, as they would further establish themselves over the next two years as one of Korean music’s biggest stars.

Remaining busy through various performances. Fans would have to wait one year for the duo’s next album ‘New Sensation.’ Which saw Turbo gain success with ‘Twist King.’ A dance classic that became famous in Noraebang’s (Korean Karaoke bars), and also featured ‘A Jazz bar (어느 째즈바…)’ A song heavily focused on the singing of Kim Jong Kook, in one of his best vocals on a song.

The end of the year saw Turbo’s first Christmas album, ‘X-mas dance party,’ and a successful award ceremony winning various awards through their second album and song, ‘Twist King.’ They would also replicate this success in 1997 as the group would have their busiest year to date, releasing three albums as their third album, ‘Born again’ would once again rack up awards again in an impressive year for the group.

Rearrangement of the group

However, whilst the year saw further success for TURBO, it also saw the group’s first big problem due to problems to do with management and in a move, he would later come out and state regretting, Kim Jung Nam left TURBO leaving Kim Jong Kook looking for a new member.

Looking for a new member, Turbo put out an open audition, receiving over 3,500 participants in the competition, won by rapper Jo Myungik (Mikey). A Korean who moved to the US at a young age with a distinct interest in hip-hop. He became a member at the request of Kim Jong Kook, who insisted that Mikey was the more talented contestant. And just months after the group looked like they would disband, TURBO was back and better than ever.

New beginnings:

Entering 1998, the newly formed Turbo would shine again, releasing the album, ‘Perfect Love’ with much success. And this new Turbo looked just as good if not better than the previously formed duo. 

However, in 1998 the group would be placed in the spotlight. As Kim Jong Kook would be hospitalized with an injured back disc causing the album to be postponed. Which alongside past injuries would live to haunt the star.

Fans would have to wait for Turbo’s next comeback. As they would kick off the 2000s strong, releasing ‘Email my heart’ starting a new direction for the group. Becoming the most successful release of the new pairing the album featured the hit song ‘Cyber Lover,’ the album was the beginning of the end. And after releasing ‘History’ in 2001, an album featuring remixes of TURBO classics accompanied and three new songs, the album saw the end of TURBO this time for good.

Heartache and revelations: 

With his contract expiring in 2001 Kim Jong Kook left the agency. At the time a shocking decision, but in the years following the reason has become much clearer with revelations of the group’s schedules and widespread reports of abuse received by Kim jong Kook from Turbo’s manager. Jung kook even admitted in interviews the main motivation behind starting boxing was to avoid getting beaten. 

Whilst visa expiry saw Mikey return to New York. And the end of his career in Korea during the 2000s.

Return and International fame:

Returning in 2015, Turbo became one of few groups to make a comeback from the ’90s in the 2010s. Joining elite status alongside groups Fin K.L, Seo Taiji and Sechskies as some of the few groups to make the return possible.

The return would come less as a surprise to fans, however, due to performances such as their time on Infinite Challenge. Where both Kim Jong Kook and Kim Jung Nam, accompanied by Running man members HaHa and Yu Jae Suk, performed various of their previous songs via karaoke, signalling a return of Turbo.

2015 would be a truly special year for the group, performing on Episode 800 of Inkigayo alongside fellow first-generation boy group Shin Hwa and girl group S.E.S., seeing the return of Kim Jong Kook and Mikey. 

Before the year saw a first, the first-ever 3-member formation of the group. As for their 20th Anniversary, the new three-member TURBO would create, recreate and collaborate with various artists and personalities in an 18-track album reminding fans of the great ’90s.

Continuing their variety show success, TURBO hit the International stage where once again all three members would perform this time in front of a sold-out KCon LA 2016, where they would not only have the chance to perform classics in front of a live crowd. But also interact with an International audience.

The trio’s last performance came in 2017, releasing their first mini album ‘Turbo Splash.’ The group have yet to announce any news of a comeback or disbandment in the 5 years since.

Careers outside of TURBO:

Exiting the group in 1997, Kim Jung Nam saw success outside of TURBO on TV. Appearing on variety shows throughout the 2010s, getting his major TV break in 2017 through the drama ‘Black Knight: The Man Who Guards Me’ and in dramas until as recently as 2020.

Deporting back to America in 2001, Mikey returned to America continuing his music career in a trio called M3 and moved into insurance. Before having his mini-reunion with Kim Jong Kook in 2011. Collaborating on the single ‘All For U.’

Finally and most successfully, we have member Kim Jong Kook. Most known for his vocal ability and continued musical success. Debuting in 2004 with ‘Evolution’ after a couple of years of struggling to find the right composed songs, his superb voice and style have seen him carve out a long successful solo career, most recently collaborating with RnB artist Mirani in 2022.

The main man has seen himself lead the transition from artist to TV personality. Became most well-known for his role on Korea’s longest active variety show ‘Running Man,’ as well as on shows such as ‘I Can See Your Voice.’ The singer has seen success in acting both in Dramas and films, becoming one of the first and most successful singers to transition to TV. Still innovating Jung Kook most recently saw success creating a personal gym YouTube channel. As the ’90s star continues to transform and innovate.

Influence on K-pop and other groups:

Competing with Deux from their debut, Turbo’s style was unique from that of Korea’s other musical acts. The contrast of DJ Kim Jung Nam and Kim Jong Kook to that of Duex, and fashion pioneers Seo Taiji and Boys helped the group see great success as they would perfectly capture the style of Western popular culture and the youth of Korea. The group was also innovative in terms of their sound. They processed great talent in the form of fantastic ballad-style vocals mixed with the talented rapping and revolutionary infectious dancing of both DJs. 

The group’s resilience to keep going and triumph despite problems with their label and changing members is a testament to their dedication and love for their fans. Their recent comebacks and covers by groups show that the 90s are still alive and Turbo are the Twist Kings.

UnitedKpop’s TURBO-charged musts:

1 – Again (Featuring. Yoo Jae Seok)

2 – Twist King

3 – Black cat Nero

4 – Cyber lover

5 – A Jazz bar (어느 째즈바…)


About Author

Writer and former radio presenter, into Korean rock and indie bands and all things Korean entertainment.