As the co-founder of allkpop.com and having been a huge K-Pop fan since the mid-90s, I've seen it all. Thousands of comebacks, concepts, styles and as a side effect, my CD collection has grown tremendously throughout the years (Although the majority of my albums are from the late 90s to early 2000s). Below is a photo of my "old school" collection (new albums don't exactly fit on this type of shelf) and for this article, I went thru each and every album to compile this list, so get ready for a blast back to the past!
So what's with the title? Well, these songs are super old school, which means most likely you've never heard of most of them, making you feel young and leaving me looking ancient. But thanks to programs like Infinite Challenge, perhaps not too ancient ^^. With that said, I had to think really hard to pick the top ten songs that I felt truly defined the era of K-Pop, which laid out the foundations for where it is at today.
Here's my list of songs that really stood out during the "golden era" (at least to me) of K-pop and made an impact not only domestically, but globally. Yes, although not as mainstream as today, these songs did have a significant impact overseas in the US within the Korean-American community at the time. And by significant, I mean, guys were copying hairstyles, clothes, dance moves and more; while girls were buying up photo books, stickers, memorabilia, and proudly flaunting it all over their school binders and planners. Yes, I said planners, they were a big thing back in the analog days!
10. IDOL - BowWow
One of the first generation IDOL's (with the most creative name ever) even before H.O.T and Sechskies came out onto the scene, this duo was picking up popularity rapidly. Unfortunately, once the two majors arrived, this group evaporated into thin air.
Honorable mention: Fantasy Experience
9. UNTITLE - Be Responsible
Another first gen Idol group, this duo was extremely popular, they had a good run with a couple of great songs but then just like IDOL, they disappeared after a couple albums once H.O.T and Sechskies dominated the scene.
Honorable Mention: WINGS
8. Roo'Ra - 3!4!
One of the first co-ed groups ever, they were a force to be reckoned with. Their songs were chic and the melodies were addictive as hell! Roo'Ra went thru multiple permutations throughout their history, with multiple member changes, including the first black member of a K-Pop group. Although many would argue "The Angel who lost wings," is their greatest song, due to the achievements and wins they scored with it. I find 3!4! is the song most associated with the group and most recognized by fans.
Honorable mention: The Angel who lost wings
7. Fin.K.L - Eternal Love
Ahhh... the beginnings of the goddess Lee Hyori. Back in the day, DSP and SM Entertainment were the BIG TWO, and the rivalry between Fin.K.L and S.E.S was massive.
Honorable mention: Pride
6. S.E.S - I'm Your Girl
The girl group from SM Entertainment that solidified the company as the largest and most powerful entertainment company in South Korea. S.E.S debuted shortly after H.O.T and their songs were spunky and catchy. SM Entertainment was known for their highly addictive melodies in the past. Their sound lately though, has been edgier and in my opinion, not as catchy as when Yoo Young Jin was producing the majority of their artists' tracks.
Honorable mention: Oh! My Love
5. UP - Ppuyo Ppuyo
UP first debuted as a 3 member group (2 males, 1 female), they had a decent amount of success and their songs were chic. Unfortunately, they never rose to superstardom, so they later replaced one of the male members, and added two younger members. The group came back with an extremely cute image as a 4 member group comprised of 2 females and 2 males. This is where they took off and their two largest hits, Ppuyo Ppuyo and Bada (The Sea), is still a classic favorite at Karaoke bars all across South Korea.
Honorable mention: The Sea
4. Turbo - Twist King
This is the group that got me totally addicted to K-pop. You may all know Kim Jong Kook as SPARTA, but in his early days, he was the main vocalist for the group Turbo. Their dance genre music was extremely fun and that signature high toned voice of Kim Jong Kook's was music to my ears. Twist King is one of my all-time favorite songs and performances, it is a must watch!
Honorable mention: Love is...
3. COOL - Destiny
Cool wasn't exactly considered a "cool" group, but they were one of the biggest hitmakers of all time. For an Idol group, they probably have one of if not the most amount of hits and albums in K-Pop history. Their discography is extremely impressive, and their catchy, light-hearted songs and melodies will have you singing along all day. I listed two of their hits, but really, every single song they released was a massive hit. I recommend looking into all of their tracks, they are all musical candy. "Aloha" is another must listen to after the two songs below.
Honorable mention: Woman on the beach
2. Sechskies - Couple
Sechskies debuted shortly after H.O.T and they were both massively popular. Depending on which side of the fence you were on, you could easily argue who was the more popular group. Realistically, however, H.O.T always seemed to have a slight edge, due to debuting first, but the fanwars and rivalry was intense nonetheless.
Honorable mention: Chivalry (Watch this one at your own risk LOL)
1. H.O.T - CANDY
You all knew it was coming... These guys were the Kings of K-Pop. The funny thing is, H.O.T was SM Entertainment's first idol boy band ever and was released as a test group, prior to debuting their main idol group "Shinhwa". Shinhwa was supposed to be the real deal, but H.O.T picked up so much popularity so quickly, that they just dominated the entire music market. This was the beginning of the most powerful entertainment company in South Korea, and as stated above, SM Entertainment solidified that title with the debut of their first girl group S.E.S. H.O.T was so popular, that they ended the careers of many of the idols listed above, and many more that were not mentioned on this list. Back in the 90s, you were either an H.O.T fan or a Sechskies fan. Everything else was just to fill the void.
Honorable mention: Happiness
OK... That was extremely hard, like really really HARD. I hope you guys enjoy these songs, as much as I still do, so please leave your thoughts in the comments section below, I'm looking forward to seeing what you all think about the beginnings of K-POP!
P.S. I still feel guilty that I had to leave out at least a dozen other artists, so that could mean only one thing... this list is to be continued. Here's a quick preview of just a few of the artists to come: R.ef, DJ DOC, Goofy, and TaeSaJa.