50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 6. H.O.T.

We are baaaaack. After more than two years since the last entry, the “50 Most Influential” list returns! To atone for the long absence, TK will make an unprecedented promise: from today, one entry every day until we reach the top. It’s a Christmas Miracle!
To recap where we are: we have six artists remaining in the top 50 list. Two more artists will round out Tier 2, the best artists of an era. Then I present Tier 1, the Mount Rushmore, the four most influential figures in the history of Korean pop music whose names must be etched in greatness.
Without further ado, here is our number 6.

 

6.  H.O.T.

(Pronounced as three letters, not the word “hot.”)

Years of Activity: 1996 – 2001
Discography (Studio Albums Only)
We Hate All Kinds of Violence (1996)
Wolf and Sheep (1997)
Resurrection (1998)
I Yah! (1999)
They are Nothing Different with Us (2000)
Representative Song: Candy, from We Hate All Kinds of Violence (1996)

 

Candy
[Song]
사실은 오늘 너와의 만남을 정리하고 싶어
Actually I want to finish things with you today
널 만날 거야 이런 날 이해해
I’ll come face to face; please understand
어렵게 맘 정한 거라 네게 말할거지만
I’d tell you it was a hard decision
사실 오늘 아침에 그냥 나 생각한 거야
But actually I just thought of it this morning
햇살에 일어나 보니 너무나 눈부셔
Waking up to the sunshine it was too bright
모든 게 다 변한 거야 널 향한 마음도
Everything changed totally, including my heart toward you
그렇지만 널 사랑 않는 게 아냐
But it doesn’t mean I don’t love you
이제는 나를 변화시킬 테니까
I will change myself now
[Rap]
너 몰래몰래몰래 다른 여자들과 비교 비교했지
Behind your back I compared you to other girls
자꾸만 깨어지는 환상 속에
Inside the fantasies broken down repeatedly
혼자서 울고 있는 초라하게 갇혀버린 나를 보았어
I saw myself, locked up pathetically and crying alone
널 떠날 거야 음 널 떠날 거야 음
I’m going to leave you, um I’m going to leave you, um
하지만 아직까지 사랑하는 걸
But I still love you to this moment
그래 그렇지만 내 맘 속에 너를 잊어갈 거야
Right, but I will begin forgetting you in my heart
[Song]
머리 위로 비친 내 하늘 바라다보며
Looking up to my sky above my head
널 향한 마음을 이제는 굳혔지만
I hardened my heart toward you, but
웬일인지 네게 더 다가갈수록
Somehow as I got closer to you
우린 같은 하늘 아래 서 있었지
We were standing under the same sky
단지 널 사랑해 이렇게 말했지
I love you, that’s the only thing I said
이제껏 준비했던 많은 말을 뒤로 한 채
Setting aside all the many words I prepared
언제나 니 옆에 있을게 이렇게 약속을 하겠어
I’ll always be by your side, that’s how I’d promise
저 하늘을 바라다보며
Looking up to the sky
[Rap]
내게 하늘이 열려 있어 그래 그래 너는 내 앞에서 있고
The sky is open to me; that’s right, and you are in front of me
그래 다른 연인들은 키스를 해 하지만 항상 나는 너의 뒤에 있어야만 해
Yeah other lovers kiss, but I must always stand behind you
이제 그만해 음 나도 남잔데 음 내 마음 너도 알고 있는걸 알아
Stop with it, um I’m a man too, um I know you know my heart too
그래 이제 나도 지쳐서 하늘만 바라볼 수 밖에
That’s right, I’m so tired I can only look up to the sky
[Song]
햇살에 일어나 보니 너무나 눈부셔
Waking up to the sunshine it was too bright
모든 게 다 변한 거야 널 향한 마음도
Everything changed totally, including my heart toward you
그렇지만 널 사랑 않는 게 아냐
But it doesn’t mean I don’t love you
이제는 나를 변화시킬 테니까
I will change myself now
머리 위로 비친 내 하늘 바라다보며
Looking up to my sky above my head
널 향한 마음을 이제는 굳혔지만
I hardened my heart toward you, but
웬일인지 네게 더 다가갈수록
Somehow as I got closer to you
우린 같은 하늘 아래 서 있었지
We were standing under the same sky
단지 널 사랑해 이렇게 말했지
I love you, that’s the only thing I said
이제껏 준비했던 많은 말을 뒤로 한 채
Setting aside all the many words I prepared
언제나 니 옆에 있을게 이렇게 약속을 하겠어
I’ll always be by your side, that’s how I’d promise
저 하늘을 바라다보며
Looking up to the sky
한 번 더 한 번 더 말했지
Once again, once again I said
이제껏 준비했던 많은 말을 뒤로 한 채
Setting aside all the many words I prepared
언제나 니 옆에 있을게
I’ll always be by your side
다신 너 혼자 아냐 너의 곁엔 내가 있잖아
You are never alone again; I am on your side
In 15 words or less:  The fountainhead of Korean idol pop.
Maybe they should have been ranked higher because…  Idol pop is what the world knows about Korean pop music. H.O.T. is the starting point of all K-pop idols.
Maybe they should have been ranked lower because…  Is any part of their influence about music, or about anything they themselves intended to create?
Why is this artist important?
Like it or not–and in my case, a strong emphasis on not–idol pop is the K-pop to which the international audience mostly listens. As much as I wished it otherwise, you probably are not be reading this post because you are a fan of, say, Lee Seung-yeol [이승열]. You are reading this because you like BTS and Twice, or DBSK or Shinhwa if you’re slightly older. And it is H.O.T. that sits at the peak of the mountain called Korean idol pop music.
H.O.T. is the first idol group produced by SM Entertainment, which is now a juggernaut in K-pop industry. One must not oversell what SM Entertainment did; K-pop existed before them, and so did pop musicians who were groomed from very young age and supplied with music and choreography. (Kim Jeong-mi [김정미], who debuted in 1971 at age 18, is an early example.)
But one shouldn’t undersell either, because H.O.T. is the rightful starting point of all Korean idol pop groups. All the careful engineering of music, choreography, visual presentation–it all began with them. Looking at the idol group that was formed more than two decades ago, it is astonishing how little the current-day Korean idol groups deviate from SM Entertainment’s original template. Musically, H.O.T.’s five members took up roles of a main vocal, sub-vocal, rapper–the same musical roles present throughout today’s idol groups. Also setting the trend that would last the next several decades, each of H.O.T.’s members was assigned a “concept”–for example, a “tough guy leader,” “cute guy,” “maknae,” etc. Although such concept-assignment originates from U.S. boy bands of the 1980s and 90s, SM Entertainment took the idea to a new level, giving each member numbers and colors of their own around which their fan club may organize.
Speaking of fans, H.O.T. had perhaps the most dedicated fans in K-pop history, whose level of crazy would be matched with only one other fandom, belonging to Seo Taiji. Just as much as H.O.T. defined how a K-pop idol is to be, H.O.T.’s fan club defined how K-pop fans behave. H.O.T. fans were the ones who popularized color coordination (white is supposed to H.O.T.’s color,) signs, chanting and mass-singing at concerts. Korea’s Ministry of Education had to issue guidance to the schools to prevent their students from cutting classes when H.O.T. held a concert.
H.O.T. did not meet a good end. It is unclear whether three of H.O.T.’s “lesser” members (Jang U-hyeok [장우혁], Lee Jae-won [이재원] and Tony An) quit or were kicked out, but it was clear that their departure from H.O.T. was acrimonious. Jang, Lee and An formed a separate group called “JTL,” which failed in a whimper. After H.O.T. disbanded, Moon Hee-jun [문희준] tried to re-invent himself as a rock musician, but only ended up as arguably the most ridiculed celebrity in the history of Korean pop culture. Kang Ta managed to salvage his dignity, but not much more, as he never re-entered the limelight in Korea; the final stages of his career were almost exclusively in China. Yet H.O.T. continues to cast a long shadow, as one would be hard-pressed to think of a K-pop idol group that meaningfully strays from their blueprint.
Interesting trivia:  Actor Won Bin [원빈], star of The Man from Nowhere [아저씨], auditioned to join H.O.T. and failed to make the cut.

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