Long before BTS and Blackpink dominated the airwaves, the first generation of K-pop stars hit the stage producing hit singles – the ’90s was undoubtedly one of the greatest decades of K-pop music evolution. Three decades later, we’re still jamming to some of the quintessential tunes that have shaped modern K-pop today. It’s time to go down memory lane and jam up to some of the catchiest throwback K-pop songs from the ’90s!
H.O.T – “Candy” (1996)
H.O.T (High Five of Teenagers) is considered to be the pioneers of K-pop. This sensational K-pop boy band had fangirls crying and stalking, while many fanboys replicated the colorful baggy clothing and the distinct hairstyles of the members.
They still have many fans celebrating their debut anniversary even till today and have sold over 6.4 million records during their career. Their hit song “Candy” has been covered by countless artists and you could say it’s thought of as the essential K-pop song.
Fin.K.L – “Eternal Love” (1999)
Under the label of DSP Media entertainment group, Fin.K.L. (핑클) had four angelic girl members: Lee Hyori, Ok Joo-hyun, Lee Jin, and Sung Yuri. Fin.K.L was one of the most popular K-pop girl groups of the late 1990s and early 2000s, alongside their rival girl group S.E.S. Their song “Eternal Love” (영원한 사랑) is still very popular and sung by many Korean fans today.
S.E.S. – “I Love You” (1998)
S.E.S. is the acronym for each member’s first names: Sea, Eugene, and Shoo. Under SM Entertainment’s label, and alongside the sensational K-pop boy group H.O.T., S.E.S. had almost every girl in Korea following their iconic gelled hair bangs. This 3-member girl group directly rivaled Fin.K.L. throughout their singing career in the late ’90s and early ’00s.
Uhm Jung Hwa – “Poison” (1998)
Known to be the Madonna of South Korea, Uhm Jung Hwa had numerous awards for her catchy disco-vibe songs, produced mainly by Joo Young Hoon at the time. She remains a sexy icon even today. You can see Uhm Jung Hwa in recent K-dramas and movies.
Kim Hyun Jung – “Break up With Her” (1998)
Kim Hyun Jung was notorious for her strong vocals, long model-like legs, and upbeat breakup songs. As a direct rival of Uhm Jung Hwa, both artists were infamous for their style of music as single female artist.
Lee Jung Hyun – “Wa” (1999)
Lee Jung Hyun reminds us of today’s iconic, yet quirky artist Lady Gaga. Known for her techno and futuristic style, Lee Jung Hyun’s eccentric outfits and choreographies still blow our minds today. Her “out-of-the-world” concept truly captured many fans at the time and Lee Jung Hyun still remains iconic today. Despite her small physique, she filled the stage with her enormous energy, unique outfits, and large dance moves. Her “pinky-mic dance” will never be forgotten!
Koyote – “Pure Love” (1999)
Koyote, a South Korean co-ed group formed in 1998, made numerous hits in music charts for their upbeat pop songs. Their songs are still widely sung in karaokes today. While Shinji, the main female vocal singer, remained in the group throughout the band’s music career, the male vocal singer and rapper had changed a few times. However, this did not cease their popularity.
Fun Fact: Though in the past Kim Jong Min, the male sub-vocal, used to be popular for his handsome looks and fluid grooves, he is now on Korean TV shows known more for his comedic figure.
DEUX – “In Summer” (1994)
The duo male dancers, DEUX, were very popular for their hip-hop grooves. DEUX was amongst the first to incorporate hip-hop into Korean music. Serious dancers and fans at the time looked up to DEUX for their advanced, pop-and-lock grooves and catchy song tracks. Unfortunately, one of the members, Kim Sungjae, died, and there were much conspiracy of how he passed away. Check out BTS‘s dance version of Kim Sunjae’s single release “As I told You” here.
Fun Fact: Did this song “In Summer” by DEUX sound familiar? If so, you’ve probably heard it from SSAK3 by Hyori, Rain, and Yoo Jae Suk from the Korean TV show How Do You Play.
Check out their other hit: Turn Around and Look At Me.
Turbo – “Black Cat Nero” (1995)
Another popular male duo in the ’90s was Turbo. They still remain popular for their catchy songs and dance moves. Kim Jong Kook, the main vocal of Turbo, also won many awards as a single ballad singer.
Fun Fact: Kim Jong Kook still remains popular for his “mosquito-like” high-pitched voice juxtaposed to his buff upper torso. You can see him in many Korean TV shows alongside MC Yoo Jae Suk.
DJ D.O.C. – “Summer Story” (1996)
DJ D.O.C. is a South Korean hip-hop trio consisting of members Kim Chang-yeol, Lee Ha-neul and Jung Jae-yong. DJ D.O.C. stands for Dream Of Children. They weren’t your average “pretty-boy” group, but they were renowned for their extremely catchy songs and for their next-door-brother looks.
Sechskies – “Couple” (1998)
Debuted in 1997, Sechskies disbanded shortly after three years in 2000 due to contract disagreements with their label. However, during these three years, their popularity was “to the moon” that they were able to reunite in 2016 to replay and perform their ’90s songs to older fans who remained loyal throughout the years.
Steve Yoo – “Passion” (1999)
Steve Yoo, also known for his Korean name Yoo Seung Jun, was one of the first Korean-American singers who became sensational in Korea for his dance skills and “American style.” He debuted with his first single in 1997, West Side, and had girls roaring over his handsome looks and finesse. Unfortunately, Steve Yoo’s singing career ended in 2002 when he was accused of evading the mandatory South Korean military service and was immediately banned to enter back into Korea.
JINUSEAN – “Tell Me” (1997)
Korean hip-hop duo, JINUSEAN, signed with YG Entertainment and debuted in 1997. They rose to fame with their single, “Tell Me” featuring Uhm Jung Hwa. JINUSEAN is a combination of the duo’s names Jinwoo and Sean; stylized and shortened to JINUSEAN.
COOL – “Woman on the Beach” (1997)
Like Koyote, COOL was another co-ed group that debuted in ’90s. They were known for their catchy summer-vibe tracks. Just like listening to Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles during a summer road trip today, COOL’s songs are repeatedly played during a nice sunny drive down the beach.
S#arp – “Tell Me, Tell Me” (1999)
Like Koyote and COOL, Sharp (stylized as S#arp; Korean: 샵) was another popular co-ed group active from 1998 to 2002. The group had swapped out members a few times, and later quickly disbanded due to ongoing conflicts between Seo Ji Young and Lee Ji Hye. Despite the girls’ conflicts, S#arp was very popular for their catchy pop songs.
Baby V.O.X – “Killer” (1999)
One of the first generation K-pop girl groups, Baby V.O.X, formed in 1997 and were active until 2006. Most recognizable as the youngest member of the group, Yoon Eun Hye continued her career in the entertainment industry as an actress and rose to stardom in the 2000s for her main female roles in popular K-dramas like Coffee Prince, Princess Hours, and more.
Jo Sung Mo – “To Heaven” (1998)
Jo Sung Mo debuted in 1998 as a single male pop ballad singer. He initially debuted without showing his face. His song “To Heaven” became so popular that he soon performed on stage revealing his face and went on to release many all-time best-selling albums in South Korea.
Shinhwa – “T.O.P. (Twinkle of Paradise)” (1999)
Under SM Entertainment’s label, Shinhwa became the successor boy band of H.O.T. in 1998. Their debut song Eusha! Eusha! captured many fan girls and Shinhwa became sensational throughout South Korea. Their popularity remained so strong that they regrouped under a different management and still continue to perform for their longtime loyal fans today. Shinhwa is often paralleled as the Korean NSYNC and Backstreet Boys.
Baek Ji Young – “Burden” (1999)
Also known as Baek Z Young, she made her debut in 1999 with the release of her album Sorrow. She was loved by her fans for her wide range of vocal skills. Baek Ji Young won numerous awards including Mnet’s Best Female Artist for several years.
Kim Gun Mo – “Wrongful Encounter” (1995)
Unlike many of his fellow Korean singers at the time, Kim Gun Mo stood out for his quirky dances, nasal-y but addicting voice, and uncle-like facial looks. He became the most successful singer-songwriter in the ’90s, and his song “Wrongful Encounter” made the Guinness World Record for the best-selling album of all time in South Korea at the time.
Roo’Ra – “The Angel Who Lost Wings” (1995)
Roo’Ra was a 4-member co-ed hip-hop and dance-pop group from South Korea that became very popular in the ’90s for mixing sounds of reggae into their K-pop music. Fans all over Korea followed their “hip-tap dance, Ssaba Ssaba” from “The Angel Who Lost Wings” choreography.
Fun Fact: You can see Lee Sang Min, the main rapper and singer-songwriter of Roo’Ra at the time, in many Korean TV shows today, especially on the long loved show (Knowing Bros) Men on a Mission.
Check out their other hit: 3!4!
J.Y. Park – “Don’t Leave Me” (1995)
JYP! Most know him as the producer and massive entertainment owner who brought many singers to their stardom. Some of the notable artists he groomed are: Rain, Wonder Girls, 2PM, 2AM, Miss A, GOD, Got 7, ITZY, TWICE, Stray Kids, and many more. J.Y. Park, known for his Korean name Park Jin Young, was extremely popular in the ’90s for his catchy self-produced songs and choreographies. JYP was also discussed a lot amongst the Koreans for his elite academic background from Yonsei University and his eccentric looks.
Clon – “Kung Ddari Sha Bah Rah” (1996)
Possibly the most sung song from karaokes in the ’90s, “Kung Ddari She Bah Rah” by Clon was extremely popular in South Korea and even other parts of Southeast Asia, like Taiwan. Unfortunately, one of the members, Kang Won Rae, became paralyzed after a severe motorcycle accident and left fans leaving sad for their sudden halt. The bald member, Koo Jun Yup, continued his music career as DJ KOO.
Country Kko Kko – “Gimme Gimme” (1999)
Country Kko Kko was a comical singing duo, with members Tak Jae Hoon (탁재훈, lead vocal) and Shin Jung Hwan (신정환, rapper). They made many hits with their fun yet catchy music and dance. Tak Jae Hoon continued his career in the entertainment industry as an actor, whereas Shin Jung Hwan continued his entertainment career as a TV personality until it ceased due to numerous scandals of his illegal gambling.
Check out their other hits: Whole heart, Kiss, Oh My Julia
Seo Taiji & Boys – “Come Back Home” (1995)
Seo Taiji & Boys, a South Korean music group active from 1992 to 1996, was a 3-member group that experimented with many different genres of popular Western music. This group was extremely successful with their movement in pioneering South Korean music industry with the use of rap in K-pop music and utilizing social critique, despite pressures from ethics and censorship committees. They remain as one of the most influential K-pop artists in history.
Fun Fact: One of the “boys” (dancers) was Yang Hyun Suk, who we all know today as Yang Goon, the founder of YG Entertainment. Yang Hyun Suk stepped down from CEO in 2019 due to drug and sex scandals involving his artists.
Let us know in the comments below if we missed any of your favorite K-pop songs from the 90’s!