XVII. Old School Kpop – Sechskies, Shinhwa, and Turbo
Perhaps it was my digging into old albums of 1TYM that I was ready for a group like Turbo. Haha! I can’t remember how I found them…but I do know that the first music video I saw was…oh yeah! Now I remember!
So…in early 2006, I saw Super Junior’s prominent dancers Eunhyuk, Shindong, and Donghae appearing on a variety show and they were dancing to an old school Korean song. I really like that song and spent over a year trying to find it. I eventually would. It’s called “Back to Black” by R.EF. But before I could find that song…Youtube showed me another group that was of the same era, that 90s dance music of 1995. Allow me to introduce you to Turbo!
Hahaha! When I first heard Turbo…it was a truly welcomed blast from the past. Debuting in 1995, they really did stake their claim as the kings of Korean dance music, reminiscent of Mortal Kombat’s soundtrack mixed with the top club hits of the 1980s. Honestly, if you’re looking for something different, this group does just the trick.
Funny thing is…I had heard of Turbo before I even knew it. Kim Jong-Kook, the lead singer with the high-pitched electronic voice, is a buff stud I’ve been seeing on Korean variety shows for well over a year, pretty much ever since I got into Kpop. I never knew his name or his significance. And when I heard that Chaeyeon had a crush on him, I was a little jealous, like “f##k dat dude.” Then…I heard him sing.
Turbo started out as a dance duo with Kim-Jong Kook as the singer and Mikey as the rapper. After the second album, apparently Mikey left and was replaced by another rapper named Kim Jung-Nam.
Their third album, “Born Again” sold over 800,000 copies. That’s ridiculous. And here I thought H.O.T was the baddest in the land, Turbo definitely gave them a run for their money and Turbo didn’t even come from one of the top three agencies like SM, DSP, or YG. With sheer talent, vocal ability and catchy melodies that linger long after you hear it, Turbo definitely made history as one of the greatest in Kpop History.
Lol, speaking of giving H.O.T a run for their money…imagine actually being from one of the top three agencies and going toe-to-toe with them in their own genre. Well then, allow me to introduce you to a group called Sechskies.
Debuting just one year after H.O.T, Sechskies first album with the above title song went on to sell over a million albums. And if you’ve been reading my memoir up to this point, you might have noticed my mentioning Sechskies before. But it wasn’t until the Spring of 2008 that I really gave them a shot. I don’t know why. Perhaps the name? But I was so content with H.O.T and Big Bang that I didn’t really go looking for anything else.
So when I found Sechskies and clicked on that “School” music video. I was taken aback. It’s one of the best of the old school kpop songs. I imagine if I was going to school in Korea when this song came out, it would have been the official anthem all year.
Sechskies was an edgier, street version. H.O.T. was more polished, refined, and masterful in their songs and performance. Not saying there’s anything wrong with either, but I could identify with Sechskies a little bit in not trying to be so “perfect” in their art. Thus…they were different in an era where more groups were trying to do what H.O.T was doing. And man…the stories I read about their fandom. It reminded me of a more aggressive version of Twilight’s “Edward vs. Jacob”. You were either or. H.O.T. or Sechskies. PICK ONE!
Allow me to introduce you to the members.
Eun Ji-Won is the leader and main rapper of the group. When the group disbands in 2000, Eun Ji-Won embarked on his solo career as a hip hop artists and received criticism for switching genres, just like H.O.T’s Moon Hee Jun when Hee Jun started his solo career as a rock artist.
Kang Sung-Hoon was the lead vocalist, much like Kangta of H.O.T. Both have that innocent pretty boy vibe around them while surrounded by scarier, tough looking team members. And both have some outstanding vocals, without which the group would never have succeeded.
Kim Jae-Duck was my favorite. He was the rapper and a choreographer for the group. Haha! I dare to say this, but he’s very much like H.O.T’s Jang Woo Hyuk in that he’s not only the best dancer, but also he sometimes screams his rap lyrics like Woo Hyuk. In the “School” video, he appears at 1:25. Man, his voice was so cool. The rivalry between him and Jang Woo Hyuk was actually real and I absolutely respect that. Recently, I read an interview where Jang Woo Hyuk was asked to respond to a dance challenge issued by Jae Duck. And apparently Woo Hyuk was like, “I’m insulted. That I’d have to dance against someone of his skill level, so beneath me.” I laughed. I love this kind of competition. It’s healthy and pushes the rivals to get better.
Lee Jae-Jin is the cool, suave rapper/choreograher of the group. Between him, Jae Duck, and Eun Ji-Won, in my eyes they really did make up this core where you couldn’t say Sechskies was like other flower boy bands. These dudes would kick the ish out of you if you tried to step to them. Also, Jae-Jin is popular because he’s YG’s brother-in-law. His sister’s married to YG.
The remaining members are vocalists Ko Ji-yong and Jang Su-Won. Sadly, I don’t know much about them other than they’re solid vocalists. Apparently after they disbanded in 2000, Ji-Yong’s the only member to have left the industry to try and live a normal life.
However…unlike H.O.T where nearly every album had four or more hits that I could jam out to. That “School” song was the only song I liked from that album. I didn’t like any songs from their second album. But their third, “Road Fighter,” had the most.
Nevertheless…I believe it was Sechskies that made H.O.T’s reign legendary. You don’t know how great you are if you don’t have great adversaries.
Then…there was Shinhwa…the longest running group in Kpop history. As of 2018, they’ve been in the game for 20 years. And even before I really got into them, I had heard that they were one of the few groups to defeat the dreaded “seven-year curse” where no boyband or group had lasted beyond seven years.
When it comes to Shinhwa…it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that I just now discovered them in the summer of 2008. Before this, I had seen clips of prominent members Minwoo, Eric, and Junjin on variety shows. And in 2006 I had accidentally downloaded their song “I Pray For You” and I loved it.
It’s legit one of the best songs I had ever heard. But when I searched for other Shinhwa songs, the next song I heard was “Perfect Man” and I saw a cringy cover of them performing Nsync’s “Dirty Pop.” I figured I shouldn’t waste my time after that.
However…in the vein of discovering Sechskies, I realized something. Some of the best hits I liked from these old school kpop groups was that they were released before 2000, in the late 90s. The sound was edgier back then with grunge rock influences. Thus, I decided to give Shinhwa a listen, by starting from their debut album.
When it comes to other groups copying H.O.T., Shinhwa had a legitimate excuse. They hailed from the same company, top dog SM Entertainment. It’s funny, but they really do take seniority seriously in Korea. I’ve read stories where they couldn’t enter a room until H.O.T had left. And if H.O.T passed them by, Shinhwa had to keep their head down and show the utmost, almost deity like respect. That could have been an exaggeration though.
Tailored to follow in their footsteps, Shinhwa debuted in 1999 with high expectations. But perhaps the expectations were too high? You’ll see a similar trend when it comes to groups tailored after their more popular predecessors. Their debut album was apparently just, alright. “Solver” (the song above) was the only song I liked. The rest was too bubble gum.
But that second album…lol, it was pretty decent. As you’ll recall, one of the reasons I liked SM Entertainment was their use of sampling classical songs into their hits. With DBSK’s Triangle, they sampled Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. H.O.T’s “Iyah” samples from Beethovan’s “Moonlight Sonata.” And in Shinhwa’s second album, the song “T.O.P” (Twinkling of Paradise) samples from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”.
Lol, as much as I loved the song and their performance…there’s something about Lee Minwoo that comes off like he’s trying too hard. I imagine it’s like Bobby Brown when he was with New Edition, where you have an immensely talented member of the group who’s determined to stand out. But don’t get me wrong…Minwoo is definitely the Michael Jackson of Shinhwa. Check out this 2005 dance competition that has him going off against H.O.T.’s Jang Woo Hyuk. He really goes off at @ 3:45.
Also, funny thing about Shinhwa and H.O.T., which I think shows a lot about Korean culture in the 90s. But they say “nigga” a lot in their songs. It’s like they have no idea how sensitive that word is because they’ve only imported Black music, but not so much black history lessons. Hahahaha! And don’t get me wrong, I’m black. But I was born in 1986. When I hear non-blacks say “nigga” it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Even if a white person did call me a “nigga,” it would be no different from them calling me an “asshole.” It’s an insult intended to hurt. But a white person singing “Nigga” as he raps to a Jay-Z song, wouldn’t bother me because I know they’re intentions. Get it?
And everyone’s different. I don’t want to get in a lecture about this, but any black person coming at me, telling me I should be offended just because they are…they’re wasting their breath. We’re all individuals. I know people joke about “black cards” but really, they don’t exist.
Shinhwa’s follow up hit “All of Your Dreams” was honestly the only other song I liked besides “T.O.P.” and “Pray For You.” Their hits “Wild Eyes” and “Hey Come On”… I dunno, I suppose it was just too American for me. They legit sound like Destiny’s Child tracks, that modern sound from early 2000s…that I wasn’t too fond of, even from American acts.
That’s not to take away from Shinhwa’s huge accomplishments. That Wild Eyes album went on to sell over 400,00 copies. And in 2002, their fifth album went on to sell over 300,000. When H.O.T, disbanded in 2001, Shinhwa was instrumental in picking up the banner and keeping SM on top until DBSK debuted three years later.
For bonus, here’s a clip of more Minwoo swag.