Emergence of K-pop: from Lee to Gee

The following list is very far from exhaustive but attempts to trace major developments in Korean pop music from the late 1980s until the beginning of K-pop as it is currently known.  Attention is given to the debut of the most famous artists, forays overseas and the establishment of the “big 3” management companies, SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and YG Entertainment.

It goes without saying, the beginning of the list is not the beginning of Korean pop music and other well established genres of music have continued to coexist alongside.  Suggestions of any other artists who deserve to be included are welcome, and I’ll be both grateful and happy to correct any mistakes pointed out!


Singer Lee Ji-yeon (b.1977 이지연) debuts with That Reason Hurt Me (그 이유가 내겐 아픔이었네). She is active until 1992 before moving to the US and becoming a chef.

I Still Don’t Know [if I’m in] Love (난 사랑을 아직 몰라)

alternate version

Cease Wind (바람아 멈추어다오)


Singer-dancer Park Nam-jeong (b.1966 박남정) debuts with Ah! Wind (아! 바람이여)

Drawing You (널 그리며, released 1989)

performing a robot dance with SamulNori!! and Kim Wan-seon

Don’t Go (가지마, released 2004)


Rock singer Lee Seung-Cheol (b.1966 이승철) makes his solo debut with Don’t Say Goodbye (안녕이라고 말하지마).

Girls’ Generation (소녀시대)

Girls’ Generation (covered by Girls’ Generation)

Shout Out (소리쳐, released 2006)


Singer-rapper-dancer Hyun Jin-young (b.1971 현진영 Hyeon Jin-yeong) debuts under future SM Entertainment with Sad Mannequin.

You in my Blurred Memory (흐린 기억속의 그대, 1992)

Hyun Jin-young, Go Jin-young, Go! (현진영Go진영Go, 1993)

Singer Gang Su-ji (b.1967 강수지) debuts with Violet Fragrance (보라빛향기). In the second half of the 1990s she goes on to record many songs in Japanese.

Dear Friend (친구에게, released 1990)

A Mirror Alone (혼자만의 겨울, released 1995)

In the same year ’80s singer and dancer Nami (b.1958 나미) releases her 6th album in collabroation with DJ Boom Boom (붐붐) including the song Like an Indian Doll (인디언 인형처럼) which becomes popular for it’s “Rabbit” style dance.

alternate version

Like an Indian Doll (performed by Miss A in 2011)


Star singer Kim Wan-seon (b.1969 김완선, debuted 1986) becomes the first female singer to sell more than a million copies with her 5th album The Clown Laughs at Us (삐에로는 우릴 보고 웃지). During the mid 1990s she releases three Mandarin language albums in Taiwan under her Chinese character name 金元萱.

Tonight (오늘밤 1986)

Dancing in the Rhythm (리듬 속의 그 춤을, released 1987)

Be Quiet (released October 2011, produced and featuring boy band B2ST member Yong Jun-hyung [용준형 b.1989])


Singer Ha Su-jin (b.1973 하수빈) debuts with album Lisa in Love including the song No no no no no (노노노노노).

I’m Falling In Love (written for her by Tommy Page)

Seo Taiji and the Boys (서태지와 아이들) debut with I Know (난 알아요).
I Know (TV debut).


Singer-songwriter Kim Gun-mo (b.1968 김건모 Kim Geon-mo debuts with Sleepless Rainy Night (잠 못 드는 밤 비는 내리고).

Love has Left (사랑이 떠나가네 released 1997, performed in 2012.3)


Singer-songwriter Park Jin-young (b.1972 박진영 Park Jin-yeong) makes his solo debut with album Blue City proving a success.

Don’t Leave Me (날 떠나지마)

Singer Park Mi-gyeong (b.1965 박미경, debuted 1985) releases her debut self-titled solo album including the song Not a Good Reason (이유같지 않은 이유).

Not a Good Reason (performed in 2012)

Eve’s Warning (이브의 경고, released 1995)


Kim Wan-seon (金元萱) releases her first of three Mandarin language album in Taiwan The First Touch (第一次接觸).

I Love You Coming Running through the Rain (愛上風雨中走來的你 sung together with Hong Kong Cantopop legend Alan Tam)

Sayonala (莎哟娜啦, released 1995)


SM Entertainment (formerly SM Studio est.1988) is established by Lee Soo Man (b.1952 이수만 Lee Su-man).


Gang Su-ji debuts in Japan with single Love Alone is Insufficient (愛だけじゃたりない) used as the theme tune for Japanese MBS drama 野々山家の人々RETURN.


Kim Gun-mo releases his third album Wrongful Meeting/Miss-encounter (잘못된 만남) which goes on to sell 2.8 million copies setting a record.

Wrongful Meeting (잘못된 만남)


Former Seo Taiji and Boys member Yang Hyun-Seok (b.1970 양현석 Yang Hyeon-seok) establishes Hyeon Planning (현기획 hyeon-gihoek) the forerunner of YG Entertainment. Two months later his first hip-hop group Keep Six debuts with Keep Six in the Chamber, but it is not successful.

1996.9 Boy band H.O.T. debut with their album We Hate All Kinds Of Violence under SM Entertainment. Their second single Candy proves a huge success and the album sells some 800,000 copies in the first 100 days. They are active until 2001.

Candy (performed in 2012 by former member Tony An with Tony&SMSH)


Girl group Baby Vox debuts under DR Music with album Equalizerher

To Men (남자에게)

Day of Doing one’s Hair (머리하는 날)

Get Up (from 3rd album in 1999)

Killer (from 3rd album in 1999)


Hip-hop duo Jinusean (지누션 Ji’nusyeon) debut under Hyeon Planning (future YG Entertainment). First and second singles are Gasoline and Tell Me (말해줘). They are active until 2004.


Jinusean‘s second album The Real is recorded in English.


Park Jin-young establishes Tae-Hong Planning Corporation and works as an independent producer for boy band g.o.d.

In the same month girl group S.E.S. debut with their self named album under SM Entertainment. They continue activities until 2002.

I’m Your Girl

Love  (1999)


Park Ji-yoon (b.1982 박지윤 Park Ji-yun) debuts under Seoul Records (she joins JYP Entertainment in 2000) with Sky Coloured Dream (하늘색 꿈) – a cover of the 1980 song by Locust (로커스트).

live version

Adulthood Ceremony (성인식 from her 4th album, 1st under JYP)


Boy band Shinhwa (신화 “myth) debut under SM Entertainment with album Resolver (해결사 Haegyeolsa).

Eusha! Eusha! (으쌰!으쌰!)

In the same month, Hyeon Planning (future YG Entertainment) is renamed as Yang Gun Planning (梁君企劃 양군기획 yang-gun gihoek).


Girl group Fin.K.L (핑클) of which Lee Hyori is a member, debut under DSP Media (est. 1991) with album Blue Rain. The group continue until 2002 when Hyori makes her solo debut.

To My Boyfriend (내 남자 친구에게)


Under his own label, YG Entertainment, Yang Hyun-Seok releases his first and only solo album Devil’s Smoke (악마의 연기).

I Don’t Believe Anyone (아무도 안 믿어, music by Seo Taiji)


1TYM (“One Time”) debut under YG Entertainment with album One Time for Your Mind. Two of the four members including Teddy Park (b.1978) are Korean Americans. They are active until 2005.


Good Love 


Boy band g.o.d. debut under future JYP with Dear Mother (어머님께).


Singer BoA (b.1986 권보아 Gwon Bo-a) debuts with ID; Peace B under SM Entertainment.


Park Jin-young‘s Tae-Hong Planning Corporation becomes JYP Entertainment.

Singer-rapper-songwriter and renowned performer Psy (b.1977 싸이) debuts with album PSY From The Psycho World! Psy joins YG Entertainment in August 2010.

Bird (새)

It’s Art (예술이야, released 2010.10)


Girl group Jewelry (쥬얼리) debut under Star Empire Entertainment with album Discovery. They attain success with their second album Again the following year.

Again (released 2002.3)

Superstar (written by Shinhwa member Lee Min Woo [b.1979 이민우 Lee Min-u] released in 2005)


Yang Gun Planning becomes YG Entertainment.


H.O.T. disband.


R&B ballad duo Brown Eyes debut with their first self-titled album.  Even without live promotions, the album becomes a major success.

Already One Year  (벌써 일년)

With Coffee


BoA releases her first album in Japan under Avex Trax, Listen to My Heart, selling a million copies.

Every Heart (ミンナノキモチ Minna no Kimochi)


BoA releases her second album No.1 which is to be her most successful album to date.


Anticipating 2NE1, girl group Swi.T debut under YG Entertainment with their one and only album.

I Will Be There 

Everybody Get Down 

In the same month, singer Wheesung (b.1982 최휘성 Choe Hwi-seong) debuts under YG Entertainment with album Like a Movie.

Is it Wrong? (안 되나요)

Insomnia (cover of Craig David’s song, released 2009)


Singer Rain (비 Bi, b.1982 real name Jung Ji-Hoon 정지훈 Jeong Ji-hun) debuts under JYP Entertainment with Bad Guy (나쁜 남자).

 Bad Guy  (live)


Girl group Big Mama (빅마마) debut under YG Entertainment with album Like a Bible. They stay with YG until 2007.

Break Away 

Singer-pianist Gummy (b.1981 거미 geo’mi lit.”spider”) debuts under YG Entertainment with album Like Them.

If You Return (그대 돌아오면)

Memory Loss (기억상실, from second album It’s Different in 2004)


Singer Se7en (세븐 se-beun, b.1984 최동욱 Choe Dong-uk) debuts under YG Entertainment after four years training with album Just Listen. Subsequently focuses on overseas promotions, especially in Japan.

Come Back to Me (와줘)

Passion (열정, released 2004)


Singer Lee Hyori (b.1979 이효리) makes her solo debut with album Stylish. The first and second singles are 10 Minutes and Hey Girl.

10 Mintues 

You Go Girl 


Singer-rapper Lexy (렉시, b.1977 황효숙 Hwang Hyo-suk) debuts under YG Entertainment with album Lexury. After the failure of her second album she leaves YG Entertainment in 2006.

Novice (애송이, featuring Psy)

Let Me Dance   


TVXQ (東方神起 Dongbang-sin’gi, Jap. “Tōhōshinki,” Chi. “Dōngfāngshénqǐ, lit. “rising gods of the East) make their debut with single Hug under SM Entertainment going on to spectacular success in Japan and across Asia.

Rising Sun (released 2005)

“O”-Jung.Ban.Hap (O-正.反.合. lit. “O-correct-against-join together, released 2006)

MIROTIC (released 2008)


Rain‘s third album It’s Raining sells over a million copies and tops charts in China, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia.


Se7en debuts in Japan with single Hikari (光 “light”)


Singer Ivy (b.1982 아이비) debuts under JYP Entertainment.

Tonight’s Secret (오늘밤 일)


2005.11 13 member boy band Super Junior (슈퍼주니어) debut under SM Entertainment with Twins a cover of British boy band Triple 8’s Knock Out.


Boy band Big Bang debut under YG Entertainment with single Big Bang followed by album Big Bang Vol.1 in December.

We Belong Together (featuring Park Bom of 2NE1)

A Fool’s Only Tears (눈물뿐인 바보)

This Love (cover of US band Maroon 5, rewritten by G Dragon)


Before debuting girl group Wonder Girls are first introduced through a 10 part series on MTV Korea, MTV Wonder Girls.


Wonder Girls debut under JYP Entertainment with the song Irony on single The Wonder Begins.


Big Bang release mini album Always containing the hit song Lies (거짓말 written and composed by Big Bang member G-Dragon [b.1988 권지용 Gwon Ji-yong])

2007.8 Girl group Girls’ Generation (소녀시대), name after the Lee Seung-cheol song, debut under SM Entertainment with their single Into The New World (다시 만난 세계).

Girls’ Generation (소녀시대, cover of Lee Seung-cheol’s 1989 song)


Wonder Girls release Tell Me the dance of which becomes hugely popular.


Rain establishes J.Tune Entertainment (제이튠 엔터테인멘트) as a subsidiary to JYP Entertainment and trains boy band MBLAQ which themselves are managed under another subsidiary J.Tune Camp.


Owned by jaebeol conglomerate SK Group since 2005, Seoul Records (est.1978 서울음반) becomes LOEN Entertainment. The company distributes music for many other labels including JYP Entertainment. It manages singer IU (b.1993 이지은 Lee Ji-eun) who debuts in September.

2009.2 Girls Generation release single Gee.

And the rest, is well documented recent history!