It's a sad day here in Way Back Wednesday land as today is my final column on a subject I hold very near and dear to my heart: old school K-pop. I've been writing this column for nearly two years and it's been an absolute pleasure because I never get tired talking about the subject. Unfortunately, the rest of my life doesn't agree with me and I won't be able to write on a regular basis anymore. So like all good things, my run with the column is coming to an end.
After thinking about how I wanted to go out, I decided that the best thing for me was to simply write about the songs that meant the most to me over the years and so today's Way Back Wednesday will feature My Top 20 Old School K-pop Songs. This list is purely subjective but it will tell the story of how I got into K-pop and why I'm still a fan today.
Seo Taiji and Boys - "I Know (Nan Arayo)"
When I was younger my exposure to Korean music was basically whatever my parents listened to which tended to be a little older and not really the contemporary sounds that young kids want to hear. That all changed in 1992 when my cousin in Korea sent me a cassette tape of a group called Seo Taiji and Boys. It was a mind blow. Never had I heard Koreans rapping or using these sounds that were very familiar but still new and exciting. It's not a stretch to say that this was the most important song in the history of K-pop.
Genie - "What is This?"
I would not be surprised if very few of you have ever heard this song but back in 1995, it was one of the biggest hits of the year and further cemented my affinity for Korean rock. I liked the song so much that it was one of the first I learned to play on guitar and still a go-to song at the old norebang when I'm out with friends.
Park Mi Kyung - "Eve's Warning"
One of the true, original divas of K-pop, Park Mi Kyung had a very powerful voice that could be used for ballads, dance tunes, and fun, pop songs like this one. The song has been covered by various artists including BoA and Park Jung Hyun but none compare to the original… and that dance is the definition of the word iconic.
Seo Taiji and Boys - "Come Back Home"
This song was another game changer and has to be the group's most successful song. Yes, there were constant accusations of plagiarism given the similar sound to Cypress Hill but I didn't care and defended it vehemently even as my non-Korean friends mocked the song and my out of date Discman (I broke my new one and my dad was MAD). This song not only changed the music Koreans were listening to but also their fashion and attitudes, ushering in a new era of K-pop culture.
Solid - "Holding On to the End of the Night"
My favorite K-pop ballad ever.
Kim Min Jong - "Kind Love"
My second favorite K-pop ballad ever.
H.O.T - "Candy"
"Candy" is easily the second most important song in K-pop. H.O.T ushered in the idol age; a new era of music which would dominate the genre of K-pop for the next sixteen years (and counting). Their success and SM Entertainment's forward thinking is probably the reason many of you are reading this column today. By the way, the same cousin who sent me the Seo Taiji and Boys tape sent me H.O.T's CD… he basically helped change the direction of my life.
S.E.S - "I'm Your Girl"
Oh how I loved the lovely ladies of S.E.S, especially my favorite Eugene. One thing that K-pop does better than American music is creating girl groups and S.E.S was the original. The fun songs, cute dances, and the ever-changing hair… S.E.S set the bar for all girl groups to come.
Sechskies - "School Song"
Even though I was an H.O.T guy, when Sechskies debuted in 1997, I was paying attention. They just had a different vibe, than the bubble gum pop of H.O.T and some fans really liked that. Their songs were a little edgier and they had these really cool dance moves that I had never seen before. Their debut song was not their most popular but I still remember most of the dance to this day. Now, I can't do it anymore because I'm old and will hurt myself… but I remember.
DJ DOC - "Dance with DOC"
While the song "Summer Story" might be the song that defines their career, "Dance with DOC" is my personal favorite. The laid back attitudes, the catchy beats, the incredibly fun dance, this song had it all and my friends and I would listen to it on our way home from school and true story, I was listening to this song when I got my first ever speeding ticket.
Yoo Seung Jun - "Na Na Na"
A dude from Los Angeles hits the K-pop scene and takes it by storm with hyper dance moves, techno beats, and a style fusing the American west coast with Seoul. Yoo Seung Jun was one of the most popular and famous singers back in the day and this song was the one that put him on the map. Don't forget the legendary video featuring actress Choi Ji Woo and the infamous basketball hoop that he was dunking on that must have been like 7 feet tall.
Jinusean - "Tell Me"
This was the song that put Jinusean and YG Entertainment on the map. Everything about this song was catchy; from the Uhm Jung Hwa fueled chorus to the awesome dance that everyone was copying back in the day.
Turbo - "Goodbye Yesterday"
This was the song that brought Turbo back after some time off in the K-pop wilderness. The sound was still based on high octane dance sounds and the singing of Kim Jong Guk but there was a new sophistication to the music that made it even better than their earlier work. I even remember the very first time I heard the song and which road I was driving on when hearing it. How geeky is that?!
UP - "Buyo Buyo"
One day when aliens invade Earth and start going through the wreckage in search of a power source to replenish their giant space craft, one of the extra terrestrials is going to stumble upon my iPod and hear this song playing. They will think that humans were the weirdest creatures in this quadrant of the galaxy… but this song makes me dance every time I hear it.
Cool - "Women of the Beach"
American or Korean, this is my official summertime anthem and will be until summer no longer exists.
Fin.K.L - "Ruby"
One of the many running themes in this column has been the exultation of Hyori. She is probably the most important female K-pop figure ever and Fin.K.L was one of the key cogs that helped to build the K-pop machine. This song showcased all of the girls' talents and made them stars.
Jo Sung Mo - "To Heaven"
The artist without a face concept has been used often in K-pop but when Jo Sung Mo debuted with this classic, nobody knew what he looked like. It didn't help that the music video for the song was the greatest in K-pop history and distracted fans from what the singer might actually look like. Great ballad, revolutionary video, and one of my all time faves.
1TYM - "1TYM"
I still have a video tape of my friends dancing to this song in my college dorm room (those old Sony Handycams were awesome) and trying to copy the moves, the bounce, and the style that these guys were pulling off. We honestly thought they were so cool and the music they were making was just so good and on par with anything you could listen to in the States.
g.o.d - "Lie"
I listened to g.o.d before this song but "Lies" was the one that turned me into a fan. The song was a perfect match for the group and I have to say, J.Y. Park really outdid himself on this one. The smooth vocals and the raps with that groove… I listened to this song for hours and tried to perfect it to impress the ladies… it did not work. By the way, anyone recognize the guy from the video?
BoA - "No. 1"
So I'm walking around the Shinchon neighborhood of Seoul, Korea back in 2002 enjoying the sights and sounds of the World Cup when as I'm walking by a store, a song captures my attention. It's fresh, it's catchy, and it's BoA. I had never really bothered to listen to her earlier music because she just seemed so young but this song was different. It was my anthem for that summer and reminds of the fun I had cheering on the South Korean men's team and partying the night away with friends.
It was kind of tough getting this list down to just 20 songs. My initial list of songs that "I had to include" was at 74 and it took me another two days to whittle it down to these final 20. I chose these songs for many different reasons but the most important were that A) They represented a time in my life and have personal meaning to me and B) I wanted them to be recognizable to most fans. What good is a list of songs if no one recognizes them?
K-pop played an important part in my life and I'm sure in many of yours too which is why it was so much fun to write this column for the past two years. I learned a tremendous amount about the genre from researching online (I've become a master at using Korean portals) and speaking with other fans who love the older songs as much as I did. I'm not an expert on K-pop nor did I ever profess to be; I was just a guy who wanted to share my passion with others.
Before I go, let me thank everyone at allkpop.com for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the site and allowing me the freedom to write basically whatever I wanted to. You have a really smart, hardworking crew and I appreciate all of your help. I also want to thank everyone who's ever read the column and I hope it was as fun to read as it was for me to write. If anyone ever wants to talk K-pop, you can always find me on Twitter @KpopUncleFan.
Hopefully not too long from now, someone with a similar passion will pick up where I left off as the writer of Way Back Wednesday and share their own thoughts and opinions on why old school K-pop really is the best. So until we meet again, have a great holiday season and thank you again for reading. Take it easy and be safe!