There may have been other pioneers in the Korean music landscape but none had a bigger effect on the K-pop movement as we know it than H.O.T.
H.O.T or "High Five of Teenagers" was formed by SM Entertainment and made their formal debut in 1996. SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo Man changed the direction of the Korean music industry forever. By marketing 5 individuals with varying talents as one performance unit, he essentially introduced the first idol group in Korea. Overnight, Kangta, Moon Hee Jun, Tony An, Jang Woo Hyuk, and Lee Jae Won became nationwide superstars. This was really the first time you saw roles such as visual, leader, dancer, vocal, etc. be established for individual members.
They first debuted under a more gangsta rap influence with "Warrior's Descendant."
Although they had success with this first single they didn't really fit this image all that well. They didn't reach the superstardom sphere until they promoted the cute and adorable song "Candy" in the latter portion of 1996.
If you're a kid that grew up in the 90's like me, "Candy" should throw you back to a simpler time of oversized JNCO jeans, GAP hoodies, Snapple, and chunky discmans that made you deliriously happy if you managed to run the whole CD without a skip. I think I can safely say that this feeling of indulgent nostalgia still secures "Candy" a spot in the "K-pop anthem" list today.
In this day and age of digital downloading, it's hard to imagine an artist selling a million copies of a single album but H.O.T. accomplished this with their album releases. They became the first K-pop idol group to have an album sell more than one million copies and this was when Korea and Asia was going through a financial crisis.
The group broke up in 2001, for reasons that still remain dubious and hazy. Most have attributed the disbandment to a financial dispute between the boys and SM; reportedly, they received a very small percentage for every record sold. There have been numerous rumors stating of a potential reunion over the years but none have actually come to fruition like Sechskies recently accomplished with YG.
Love all your oppas in boy groups today? You can thank H.O.T. for that and hopefully kids of today can recognize some of the trailblazers of the past.