KKpop is now a global phenomenon. Its unique sound, dance moves, fashion, and culture were brought to the mainstream by mega groups like Blackpink and BTS. However, who were the Kpop icons that started it off? Who were the ones that paved the way for Kpop stars of today?
K-Pop can trace its roots back to the 1990s when Korean music companies began to produce and promote their pop stars. At the time, K-Pop was heavily influenced by American and Japanese pop music, and the industry struggled to find its unique voice. This is where we will start as we showcase some of the top Kpop icons of all time. To be considered a Kpop Icon, they must be first-generation idols, meaning they came out from 1990 to 2000. This means Kpop Idols such as Rain and BoA will not be on this list.
H.O.T. was a five-member boy group that debuted in 1996 under SM Entertainment. The group consisted of five members – Moon Hee-joon, Jang Woo-hyuk, Tony An, Kangta, and Lee Jae-won. The group’s name means “High-Five Of Teenagers.” Their debut song, “Candy,” quickly became a hit. H.O.T. was unique in many ways, and they were the first group to employ a fusion of Western and Korean music styles in their songs. They were also the first Kpop group to hold a concert at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena, a significant accomplishment at the time. Over 10,000 fans attended the show, marking a turning point for the Kpop industry.
H.O.T. disbanded in 2001, but the group’s impact on the Kpop industry is still felt today, and their influence can be seen in present-day K-pop groups.
SHINHWA is a six-member South Korean boy band that debuted in 1998. The group members included Eric Mun, Lee Min-woo, Kim Dong-wan, Shin Hye-sung, Jun Jin, and Andy Lee. SHINHWA is known for its unique music style, which blends hip-hop, R&B, and rock genres. The group is also known for its synchronized dance routines and distinctive fashion sense.
SHINHWA has released numerous albums and singles over the years. The group’s musical achievements are impressive. SHINHWA’s debut album, “Resolver,” was a commercial success, selling over 300,000 copies. Moreover, the group’s second album, “T.O.P,” was a commercial success, selling over 400,000 copies. SHINHWA has won numerous awards, including the Mnet Asian Music Award for Best Dance Performance.
SHINHWA’s influence on fashion in the Kpop industry cannot be overstated. Furthermore, the group’s fashion sense was unique and distinct from other Kpop groups. SHINHWA’s fashion style was a mix of streetwear and high fashion.
G.o.d. is a South Korean boy band that was formed in 1999. The group members include Park Joon-Hyung, Son Ho-young, Yoon Kye-sang, Danny Ahn, and Kim Tae-woo. G.o.d. was known for its unique blend of R&B, hip-hop, and pop music. The group’s debut album, “Chapter 1,” was a massive hit and sold over a million copies. In addition, G.o.d. went on to release several more successful albums, including “Chapter 2,” “Chapter 3,” and “Chapter 4.”
G.o.d. was one of the first Kpop groups to incorporate R&B and hip-hop into their music, becoming a genre staple. Therefore, many K-pop artists cite g.o.d. as one of their main inspirations, and the group’s music continues to be popular with fans of all ages. G.O.D.’s legacy also extends beyond the music industry. The group’s members have become successful actors, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists.
S.E.S. (Sea, Eugene, Shoo) was a South Korean girl group formed in 1997 by SM Entertainment. They were the first female Korean idol group to incorporate elements of Western music into their music and performances. Therefore, they were marketed as not just singers but also as fashion icons, and their music videos and live performances were carefully choreographed to showcase their talent and charisma.
S.E.S. was also the first Kpop group to achieve success in Japan. They debuted in Japan in 1999 and quickly gained a large following. Moreover, this helped to establish Kpop as a viable export and paved the way for other Kpop groups to follow in their footsteps. Before S.E.S., girl groups were not as popular as boy groups in Korea, but their success helped to change that. Their impact can be seen in the success of later female K-pop groups such as Blackpink, TWICE, and (G)I-DLE.
Fin.K.L. was a South Korean girl group formed in 1998 under DSP Media. The group consisted of four members: Lee Hyori, Ock Joo-Hyun, Lee Jin, and Sung Yu-ri. The group’s name was “Fin Killing Liberty,” representing the members’ desire to break free from societal expectations and express their individuality through music.
Fin.K.L.’s debut was a turning point in the Korean music industry. Their debut album, “Blue Rain,” sold over 300,000 copies, and their follow-up album, “White,” sold over 400,000 copies, cementing their status as one of the most successful girl groups in Korean music history.
Fin.K.L.’s success paved the way for 2nd generation Kpop girl groups, such as Wonder Girls, 2NE1 and Girls’ Generation. Their impact can still be felt in Kpop today, with many current girl groups citing Fin.K.L. as one of their inspirations.
Lee Hyori, the leader of Fin.K.L., is considered one of the most influential figures in Kpop history. She was known for her bold fashion choices, unique personality, and outspokenness. Now she is not just a Kpop icon but also a cultural icon and a role model for many young women in South Korea. She used her platform to advocate for animal rights, environmental issues, and social justice and remains one of the most respected and beloved celebrities in Korea today.
Fin.K.L. disbanded in 2005 but has reunited several times, including a highly-anticipated performance at the 2019 Mnet Asian Music Awards.