K-Pop Before H.O.T. – Personal Favorites of 90s K-Pop Singers

Ever since reaching the age of “over the hill,” I often find myself reminiscing and longing for days when life was more innocent and carefree. This happens more often the older I get and especially when this time of year comes along. Music has been a prominent part of my whole life; I grew up eating and breathing K-Pop ever since I could talk. I remember sitting in front of the television set watching “Gayo Top 10” dreaming of singing and dancing onstage, mesmerized by Kang Susie and Yang Soo Kyung. I would put on my prettiest dress and sneak into my mom’s make-up drawer for some blush and lipstick and sing into my pretend mic: a hairbrush. I’m too old to dream about becoming a superstar now, but those songs I used to sing and dance to are still a significant part of my life. So without further ramblings about my childhood, I would like to introduce all of you Soompiers to some K-Pop artists I grew up listening to. This list specifically consists of singers, who debuted between 1990-1995, whom I consider the “sunbaes” of 90s K-Pop that paved the way for today’s idol stars.

 Disclaimer: This list is 100% my personal opinion. By no means am I a music expert or have any intentions to offend anyone.


Before H.O.T came a mixed group named Cool. The group originally debuted with four members in 1994, but soon underwent member changes and wounded up as a trio consisting of two guys and a girl. Most of Cool’s title songs had a cheerful and happy melody despite singing about heartbreak. Cool’s songs were entertaining and relatable at the same time.


Kang Susie was one of those singers I loved so much that I wanted to be like her. When I first watched her on TV singing “Violet Fragrance,” I thought I was watching an angel. Many singers who came after her remade her hits, and she paved the way for Korean singers to enter the J-Pop market gaining much success through her Japanese debut in 1995. Although she retired from singing, she continues to make appearances in Korea.

Violet Fragrance

Next…Bet you already know which CEO became infamous for his plastic pants.

I’m sure many of you already know Shin Seung Hoon. He is the infamous singer who sang “I Believe” for the movie “My Sassy Girl.” However, his list of hits is quite extensive since his debut in 1990. Famous for his tender and mellow voice, he is known as the “King of Ballads.”

Shin Seung Hoon

Here’s a snippet of Shin Seung Hun’s episode on JTBC’s “Hidden Singer Season 2” Try to guess who the real Shin Seung Hun is. The song starts at 0:53.

Park Jin Young, perhaps more familiar as JYP, made his debut in 1992. He was known for his provocative style in fashion and his controversial lyrics. Perhaps some of you already know about his plastic pants in which he wore onstage during a time when Korea was still very conservative. Park Jin Young sang about scandalous topics including making love in the elevator and wanting to cheat on his girlfriend. Today, he plays a prominent role in the world of K-Pop as he continues his music career both as a singer and producer in addition to being the CEO of a major music label in Korea. 

Check out this video of JYP performing a medley of his greatest hits!

Roo’ra was another successful mixed group of the 90s consisting of four members. The group underwent multiple member changes and had its ups and downs over the years, but the original members are still active today performing as a group in various events and concerts in Korea. You may recognize Go Young Wook, and Chae Ri Na, who as also a member of girl group Diva.


Next…It was a trio of Korean-Americans who stole the hearts of Korean women.

Solid was a male group consisting of three Korean-Americans. They sang their way into the hearts of many ladies with their soulful R&B sound. Solid has a diverse selection of hits from R&B to ballad to dance. They achieved much success through their original music. There is still no other singer who can compete against Lee Joon’s voice (in my opinion), and no, I’m not talking about the MBLAQ Lee Joon… Jung Jae Yoon (Jae Chong), the leader of the group, is a successful producer, and the lead vocal of the group, Kim Jo Han, continues his music career as a solo artist.

Lights, Camera, Action

Kim Gun Mo earned the nickname of the “Korean Stevie Wonder” for his vocal talent as well as his skills on the piano. His distinctive voice set him apart as a solo artist, and he broke many records with the sales of his albums. He was also known for his unique fashion and funny dance moves.

Kim Gun Mo

True to their group name, all members of DJ DOC are former DJs. DJ DOC was known for their rebellious ways, and their bad boy tendencies led them into trouble at times. However, their playful nature and easygoing attitudes earned them much success and longevity in the industry. Listening to their lyrics is like listening to a story. DJ DOC still performs actively at various events and concerts. Here’s one of my favorite DJ DOC songs, which is also appropriate for the season, “A Winter Story

Lee Haneul, Kim Chang Ryul, Jung Jae Yong

Next…If you’re a fan of “Reply 1994” then you’ll recognize the last iconic group

Deux was a male duo group who first began their careers as part of Hyun Jin Hyung and Wawa. As close friends, the duo displayed perfect teamwork as Lee Hyun Do (D.O.) created the music while Kim Sung Jae was in charge of the choreography. Although the group disbanded three years after its debut in 1993, Deux was one of the groups that greatly influenced K-Pop with its hip-hop and dance sound. The world of K-Pop faced a tragedy when Kim Sung Jae passed away in 1995. Lee Hyun Do recently appeared on “Show Me the Money Season 2” and appeared as a special judge on “WIN: Who is Next.”
Kim Sung Jae, Lee Hyun Do

Many of you are probably well aware of Seo Taiji and Boys. A member, Yang Hyun Suk, is the CEO of the successful Korean entertainment label, YG Entertainment. Through their debut in 1991, Seotaiji and Boys revolutionized the world of K-Pop introducing new sounds that had not been attempted by any other artists. The group not only introduced different genres, but it also created its own culture setting trends with the release of every album. The group left many fans in shock when it announced its sudden and unexpected retirement in 1996. Seotaiji and Boys is still loved by many loyal fans today and will forever remain as a legendary figure in the world of K-Pop.

 Taiji and Boys

Check out their debut song and a personal favorite, “I Know.”

lellie enjoys writing about handsome boys and pretty girls in K-Entertainment. She lost her voice while writing this article singing along to all the songs featured in this article.

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