Spotlighting old school K-Pop artists who started it all. I may do this every week or once a month. Today I’ll talk about the group that started the style of k-pop that we know today: Seo Taiji and the Boys.
You may already recognize the man on the left. That’s Yang Hyun Suk a.k.a Papa YG. Before he became one the most powerful CEO’s in K-Pop, he was part of the legendary trio: Seo Taiji and the Boys. Going in, Seo Taiji was the main attraction, and to this day, is considered a Korean rock legend. When Seo Taiji created the group by joining with dancers/rappers Yang Hyun Suk and Lee Juno, a legend was created. A legend that would lay the foundation for k-pop as we know it today. Their music used American-style hip-hop and for a backdrop, different types of music: pop, rock, metal, and dance. Without this group, there would be no YG, which means none of the k-pop stars of today, like Big Bang, 2NE1, 1TYM, and Se7en. Although some may not like the style of music, you can’t deny the status and impact the group had on k-pop.
Years Active: 1992-1996
Label: Yedang, Bando
- Seotaiji and Boy I (1992)
- Seotaiji and Boys II(1993)
- Seotaiji and Boys III(1994)
- Seotaiji and Boys IV(1995)
- Regret of the Times (1996)
- Goodbye Best Album (1996)
In 1991, rocker Seo Taiji’s band, Sinawe, broke up. Seo Taiji ventured into a different area and wanted to use experimental sounds. He decided to try out a dance group and joined forces with dancers Yang Hyun Suk and Lee Juno. Although Seo Taiji didn’t initially plan on debuting the group as a dance/pop boy group, they became a big success.
Their first album, Seotaiji and Boys I, was released in 1992. The title track “Nan Arayo” became a huge hit. Combining new jack swing, rap, and upbeat lyrics, this new type of music gained a lot of attention. “Nan Arayo” stayed at #1 on the charts for 17 weeks. This record was only broken by Big Bang’s “Lies” (18 weeks).
A year later, Seotaiji and Boys II, was released. The second album began to see more influence of Seo Taiji’s past musical endeavors. Although it was still pop and dance, rock began to be introduced.
With the 1994 release of Seotaiji and Boys III, the group completely made the transformation from dance pop, to rap over rock and metal. Although their title track was “Dreaming of Balhae,” it was other tracks that gained attention of the public. Perhaps it was a little too much attention. “Gyosil Idea (Class Ideal),” which featured the backing vocals of Crash’s Ahn Heung-chan, was a track that criticized the Korean education system, particularly the belief that it was brainwashing children. The tracks from this album even led to accusations that the songs were backwards tracking Satanic messages (such accusations are typical in rock music). Of course, investigations found these accusations to be baseless.
Continuing with the controversial songs, Seo Taiji and the Boys released their fourth album, Seotaiji and Boys IV. The title track, “Come Back Home,” ventured into the territory of gangster rap. The track was meant for those who had run away from home, and reportedly, many returned home upon it’s release. The album was not without another rock track, “Pilseung,” which became popular with its alternative rock sound.
Seo Taiji and the Boys also released the single, Regret of the Times, in 1996. Track “Regret of the Times” sparked controversy amongst the censors. It was almost banned due to what the Korean Performance Ethics Committee deemed were lyrics inappropriate for minors. Due to public backlash, the system of “per-censorship” ended in July 1996. Regrettably, it seems this system has come back recently.
In January of 1996, Seo Taiji and the Boys retired, although the circumstances surrounding the disbandment aren’t agreed upon. In thanks to their fans, the group released a compilation album of their greatest tracks, Goodbye Best Album. Following retirement, Seo Taiji went to the United States, while Yang Hyun Suk and Lee Juno formed their own labels.
Post-Split: Where Are They Now?
Musically speaking, Seo Taiji has been the most active. Following retirement, Seo Taiji, retreated from the spotlight, and even today is known for his lack of visibility and mysteriousness. He returned to making music in 1998, with his album Seo Tai Ji, which consisted of heavy metal and Nu Metal songs. In 2000, his return to Korea was celebrated by fans. His second solo album, Ultramania, was a huge success, and even lead to a decrease in boy band popularity. “Internet War” and “Ultramania” were two of the biggest hits that year. Just a little heads up, some readers may not like this style of music. HAHAHA
In 2004, he released his third solo album, 7th Issue. The album became the highest selling one of that year in South Korea. The album contained critical tracks such as “F.M Business” (criticizing the music industry and exploitation of artists) and “Victim” (talked about abortion and sexual assault). “F.M Business” was banned due to language and aggressive content. In 2005, Seo Taiji once again retreated into privacy.
He returned in 2008 with a three-part single project, “Maoi,” “Bermuda Triangle,” and “Atomos Part Secret.” He also released the Seo Taiji 15th Anniversary Album. The album, which consisted of both old and new songs Seo Taiji was involved in, was sold in limited quantities with unique serial numbers. Seo Taiji kept #1, and gave #2 and #3 to Yang Hyun Suk and Lee Juno. In response to the people unable to get access to the album, Seo Taiji re-released all the past albums, including the works of Seo Taiji and the Boys.
In 2011, it was revealed that Seo Taiji had been married to actress Lee Ji Ah in 1997 and the couple have two daughters. Lee filed for divorced in 2006 and it was finalized in 2009.
Yang Hyun Suk
In 1998, Yang Hyun Suk released a solo album, Yang Hyun Seok. The album featured a song composed by Seo Taiji. The same year, he founded YG Entertainment. Since then, Yang Hyun Suk has focused on building his business, which he has had remarkable success. He has produced megastar artists such as 1TYM, Se7en, PSY, Big Bang, and 2NE1. Recently, news of several new groups has been released, and another legendary hip-hop trio, Epik High, has joined the company. The company is considered one of the “Big 3,” and due to PSY’s success, Papa YG is now the leading stockholder amongst the Big 3. Yang Hyun Suk is also a judge on the music show, K-POP STAR. He also lent his assistance to girl group Rania’s comeback, as a way to repay the favor the CEO of their company did for him when he started developing YGE. Yang Hyun Suk was not only involved personally, but he brought along talented company personnel.
In 2010, Yang Hyun Suk revealed his relationship with former Swi.T member, Lee Eun-ju. They have two children.
I wasn’t able to find much about what Lee Juno has been up to since retirement. He discovered hit old school k-pop group, Young Turks Club, and opened a dance school. He also has a few acting credits to his name. Most recently, in 2010, Lee Juno played the role of a music producer in the movie “Girl Five.” In September of 2011, he danced on a SBS Chuseok special with Rainbow’s Jaekyung. In November of the same year, Lee Juno featured on Honey Family’s single “Should We Get Married?” He also made a comeback through the SBS show “Comeback Show Top 10.” He is currently the director of ‘Ant Hill’ Entertainment. In his personal life, Lee Juno recently married Park Miri and has a baby girl.
Despite not being a group for 16 years, the members of Seo Taiji and the Boys still have a close bond. Not only that, their status as groundbreaking and trendsetting musicians is still solid. They became the pioneers of American style hip hop in Korean music. Artists still look up to them to this day, and thanks to their effort, the hip-hop genre in Korea has grown strong. The trio of Seo Taiji and the Boys are forever legends in Korean music.