H.O.T. is the group that started the first generation of K-pop idols and the Korean Wave. The group has paved the way for the current idol industry and established their identity as an idol group. Their debut song, “Warrior’s Descendant,” includes lyrics that criticize the educational system and thus created a large fanbase of high school students.
2. S.E.S. – Dreams Come True
S.E.S. was the first team to make their debut as an idol girl group. The group was strategically planned from the prep stage. For instance, first, the main vocalist, Bada, is incredible at singing. Secondly, the group’s center and main dancer, Eugene, could speak fluent English. Lastly, the member with the cute image, Shoo, could speak in Japanese. “Dreams Come True” is the song that shares the typical otherwordly universe of SM Entertainment. Moreover, it is the first song that began the history of ‘Song Camp’ (a.k.a writer’s camp) and sought collaboration with composers from other countries.
3. g.o.d – Lies
g.o.d. is the first idol group that gained nationwide popularity. The group was huge among not only teenagers but also adults. The group became so famous thanks to g.o.d. ’s Baby Diaries , the reality TV show with an unfamiliar concept to many at that time. The title track, “Lies,” in their 3rd album was the culmination of their music career, and with the song, they had hit their best sales record among all male idol groups before BTS .
4. BoA – No.1
BoA is an artist who plays a large role in Korean pop music culture. At the young age of 13, she made her debut with incredible skills and made a successful foray into Japan. Thus, she is still considered a role model for many younger singers. “No.1” is a song she released in Korea after her success in Japan, and it saw the highest sales record among all BoA’s domestic albums. With this song, BoA won the Music Awards as the youngest singer ever.
5. Lee Hyori – U-Go-Girl
Lee Hyori debuted as a solo artist with the release of “10 Minutes” in 2003 when Fin.K.L. was on hiatus. Her solo debut was so successful that the term “Lee Hyori Syndrome” became part of a common language. To this day, Lee Hyori is told to be one of the best singers with unmatchable star quality. The title song, “U-Go-Girl,” from her 3rd full-length album, brought Lee Hyori into her third golden day as a singer again. By releasing the song with the rookie composer team, E-Tribe, she showed her great sense of trends in pop culture. With the success of this song, she ultimately brushed away criticisms from her live performance and her previous unpopular song, “Get Ya.”
6. BIGBANG – Lies
BIGBANG is considered one of the most successful second-generation K-pop boy bands based on hip hop. With their talent and popularity, they had a significant influence on young adult’s taste in music, fashion, and trends. “Lies” is a song that opened the heyday of BIGBANG. It dominated the music charts for a significant amount of time and swept major music awards. G-Dragon wrote the lyrics and music by himself, and it eventually made him overcome the prejudices against idols who are often judged as ‘puppets who cannot make music of their own.’
7. Wonder Girls – Tell Me
Wonder Girls is the team that marked the beginning of the second generation of K-pop girl groups. As “Tell Me” recorded an unprecedented hit, it quickly became a popular girl group. “Tell Me” is the song that became famous thanks to UCC, a popular content at the time. With UCC, many started covering and uploading the dance moves of their favorite singers, and a lot of secondary content was created.
8. Girls’ Generation – Gee
SNSD is a girl group that led the second generation of K-pop along with Wonder Girls. They are also the only girl group that received both the music and album awards. Their major hit song, “Gee,” is a Euro-pop dance song that gained popularity among all ages and genders with the members’ various facial expressions, stable live performances, catchy sounds, and addictive dance moves. It topped the charts for nine consecutive weeks in a music show and crushed the ‘Melon’ charts in the 2000s.
9. IU – Twenty-three
IU is a female solo singer popular among the general public who also has a large core fan base in the current K-pop market. “Twenty-three” is the song that opened the new chapter in IU’s music career along with “Good Day,” a song that brought her to the attention. As a female artist, she made a fresh attempt with the song by mentioning her age in the song’s title and telling her personal story within the lyrics. Because IU had gone through a lot while climbing up to the summit at a young age, the song had a strong delivery.
10. BTS – Dynamite
BTS is a team that is constantly breaking the history of K-pop. BTS’ first English song, “Dynamite,” lives on and provides comfort to many lives affected by the pandemic. Unlike their previous albums, it is light disco music with easy-to-follow dance moves. With this song, BTS became the first K-pop group to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Since then, “Life Goes On,” “Butter” and “Permission To Dance” all toped the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Editor Yoon: I love music, especially K-POP, and I dream of becoming an A&R person, lyricist, artist, etc. I will cover various articles, including song reviews, artist reviews, and K-pop market analysis.
Translator Cho EK: I’m a big fan of Korean dramas and movies.