Kpop has come a long way over the years to become globally recognized in 2019. Looking back from the first generation of idols from the 1990s to now, Kpop idols have always had the burden of being adventurous and trend-setting icons.
With the current trend of older Kpop idol groups making a comeback to the Kpop scene, a lot has changed over the decades. In the 1990s when the first Kpop idol groups started emerging like H.O.T, Sechs Kies, Shinhwa and G.O.D, these idol groups experienced much criticism and love for their music while trying to solidify the upcoming genre, Kpop.
Taking a trip down memory lane towards one’s youth or childhood, there are some groups that can NOT be forgotten! The first generation of idol boy groups who not only created what is today’s Kpop fandom culture but also the foundation for the Hallyu wave! While there are many idols that deserve to be considered legends for each decade (1990s, 2000s, 2010s), these specific groups mentioned in this article were selected based on hours of research, personal memory, today’s popularity/activities and such! As a result, many may not agree with the listing or feel some idol groups should have been mentioned. Please note this is solely the opinion of the writer who may be biased with childhood memories of watching these groups in variety shows like SBS’s X-Men (2003-2007), SBS’s Love Letter (2004-2006) etc!
First generation of Kpop boy groups (1990s)
H.O.T (1996-2001, 2018-present)
Finding anyone who doesn’t know H.O.T would be rare in the Kpop scene. H.O.T is considered the first ever Kpop idol group that was formed by SM Entertainment. Even TVN’s hit drama series ‘Reply 1997’ (2012) has many references to H.O.T where the female lead is a die-hard fan of H.O.T’s Tony.
To signify how much importance H.O.T has in Korean culture, H.O.T had their reunion in 2018 through the famous variety show, MBC’s ‘Infinity Challenge’ (2005-2018).
After H.O.T made their comeback in 17 years on ‘Infinity Challenge’, H.O.T went on to hold their comeback concert in Seoul where fans and idols took a trip back to their youth in the 90s.
Secks Kies (1997-2000, 2016-present)
The second idol group in Kpop history, aka H.O.T’s rival, played an important role for shaping Kpop fandom. The power of Kpop fans gave rise to allowing artists to venture into other fields within the entertainment industry. Secks Kies was the first idol group to film their own movie, perform in a musical and perform at the Blue House for the president serving during that time.
Clip of H.O.T vs. Sech Kies fan war from Reply 1997 Kdrama
Secks Kiss also made their comeback in 2016 as guests on MBC’s ‘Infinity Challenge’ through a guerrilla concert. It was reported news of Secks Kies’s reunion was shared only 5 hours before the concert, which still managed to gather 6000 fans.
To really get an idea for what it was like in the 1990s during the reign of H.O.T and Sechs Kies, I HIGHLY recommend watching TVN’s Reply 1997. It is pretty accurate in depicting how severe or passionate Kpop fandom culture already was back then. Not to mention, this drama in addition to the rest of the Reply series (1997, 1994, 1988) are really great dramas to watch whether to understand Korean culture or to reminisce about your past.
The role model of many idols, the longest active boy group in Kpop history, Shinhwa is the idol group who showed versatility to be possible for Kpop idols. It is common for idol groups to keep to their “color” or “style” but Shinhwa has proven the key to longevity to be due to the constant rebranding and continuous creativity among other things. Shinhwa formed their own company Shinhwa Company with Minwoo and Eric as co-CEOs managing their activities as a group confirming the brotherhood among the members.
Shinhwa members are well known for their talents in various areas in the entertainment industry. Not only are they immensely popular for their appearances on variety shows, each member has successfully proven their talents in various areas like dramas, movies, musicals, producing and much more!
Shinhwa is extremely talented and everyone has such a great relationship, it is no wonder the group has made history by being the longest active Kpop idol group! They spend infinite amounts of time and effort for fans, one of the most noteworthy would be that they have a concert every year. In 2019, it will be their 21st anniversary since debut.
JYP’s first idol group G.O.D has never disbanded, however they were previously on an extended hiatus as each member pursed their solo careers. G.O.D is known for their iconic songs that really reflected Korean culture in the early 2000s amassing fans from various age groups. Labeled as the “nation’s idols” that used lyrics described as “storytelling,” many of their songs are still remembered as iconic Korean songs.
G.O.D is considered to be part of the legendary first generation Kpop idol groups among H.O.T, Seck’s Kiss and Shinhwa.
G.O.D’s songs are one of the best songs to sing in karaoke regardless of how old the songs are. The songs are still relatable and relevant amidst the 4th industrial revolution, simply “classic songs.”
Kpop Boy Groups of the 2000s
Super Junior (2005-present)
The iconic Kpop idol group that broke the stereotype by consisting of many members even 13 at one point. Super Junior can be considered to be one of the earliest hallyu idols that paved the path for Kpop to become globally recognized. Not only are they a household name today in 2019 but their everlasting popularity in Korea and abroad is something many idols aim for.
Super Junior can be considered one of the examples of successful subgroups that has proven to create more opportunities for the idols to showcase their talents outside of their group activities. After dominating Asia, Super Junior has proven their reigning power as iconic Kpop idols by their amazing success in Latin America even releasing songs in English, Korean and Spanish!
Super Junior was one of the first idol groups with so many members creating the opportunity to market to so many different preferences. Each member had their own unique remarkable characteristics that would appeal to nearly anyone. Frankly, it was a genius move by SM and now we have idol groups that follow this strategy! (Thank you SM!)
Big Bang (2006-present)
YG’s first idol group aka “Kings of Kpop” and the MVPs for setting the Hallyu wave ablaze internationally, especially outside of Asia, Big Bang is the group who continuously redefined what ‘KPOP’ is by experimenting out of the norm while expressing their individuality.
Big Bang is renowned for writing their own songs which plays a significant role for their success.
Not only is the group incredible for having so many No.1 songs but also their success promoting as subunits and soloists unbelievable that has become something to strive for the following generation of idols. Is there anyone who doesn’t know Taeyang’s Eyes, Nose, Lips or GD’s Coup d’etat?
Just thinking of Big Bang, the concept of swag, hip, fast beats, clubs and parties come to mind. While is it sad to see that most of the members are still serving mandatory military service, it won’t be long before they will be back!
The boy band of SM aka the “Princes of Kpop” who set the standard for live performances with complex dance moves, Shinee contrasts crucially with other groups of the 2000s. Not only is this group experimental with their music exploring various genres, they are also considered the “aesthetic,” “artistic,” “beautiful” group through their choreography, concepts and wardrobes.
With the sad passing of member Jonghyun (RIP) in 2017, Shinee will never be the same. However, Shinee’s songs as a quintet, Jonghyun’s legacy remains as numerous fans continue to love and cheer for Shinee.
Shinee will forever be that scarred part of my Kpop love. They have had to regroup after the unfortunate experience of losing a member, however I fervently hope that they will be able to recover not only for themselves and fans but also for the legacy of JH to not be forgotten in the future.
Kpop Boy Groups of Today (2010s)
With less than 10 months before the end of the current decade, there are so many boy groups who debuted and deserve to be listed as THE boy group of 2010s. While many would want to nominate for their favorite group, I would say based on the past 110 months (2010-2019.2), EXO and BTS are the ones who will be considered the “legends” of 2010s in Kpop history years from now.
Is there anyone in the Kpop scene who doesn’t know EXO and BTS? EXO is the 3rd generation of SM’s beloved idol boy group taking on the baton from their seniors H.O.T, Shinhwa, Super Junior and Shinee. BTS is without a doubt the “titans of Kpop” if my 90 year old grandmother knows who they are because of the Korean news. So many records were broken and so much history was made by these two idol groups during this decade, I personally would like to bet some dough on whether BTS or EXO will show up in the history or business books in the near future. Having heard that UC Berkley is offering a DeCal class on BTS from a friend attending UCB, my odds of winning are very high.
Looking back on Kpop idols from the 1990s, Kpop itself is still pretty young with so much potential for growth. As a passionate Kpop fan who grew up with the first generation of Kpop idols on my TV screen in the 1990s and 2000s, I genuinely hope that there will be a day when Kpop music can be heard on the radio (outside of Korean radio stations) abroad.
Disclaimer: The opinions or views contained in this article may not represent the opinions or views of Kpoplove, The Korea Daily, its employees, agents or affiliates.