From S.E.S to g.o.d - revival of 1990s K-stars

NOW: Shoo from S.E.S. and her twin daughters Ra Hee and Ra Yool on the parenting reality show Oh! My Baby.
NOW: Shoo from S.E.S. and her twin daughters Ra Hee and Ra Yool on the parenting reality show Oh! My Baby.PHOTO: ONE
THEN: Popular K-pop girl group S.E.S. comprised (from left) Shoo, Sea and Eugene.
THEN: Popular K-pop girl group S.E.S. comprised (from left) Shoo, Sea and Eugene.PHOTO: ONE
NOW: Kim with his wife Kim Aeri and daughters Ji Yul (far left) and So Yul on popular parenting reality show Oh! My Baby.
NOW: Kim with his wife Kim Aeri and daughters Ji Yul (far left) and So Yul on popular parenting reality show Oh! My Baby.PHOTO: ONE
THEN: K-pop boyband g.o.d comprise (from far left) Kim Tae Woo, Yoon Kye Sang, Park Joon Hyung, Son Ho Young and Danny Ahn. This photo was taken at a recent reunion of the group.
THEN: K-pop boyband g.o.d comprise (from far left) Kim Tae Woo, Yoon Kye Sang, Park Joon Hyung, Son Ho Young and Danny Ahn. This photo was taken at a recent reunion of the group.PHOTO: ONE

First-generation K-pop groups of the 1990s are enjoying a second wind on variety shows, reality TV and dramas

The Korean wave is continuing to wash up on the world's shores, bringing music, television dramas and movies featuring pictureperfect, seemingly ageless stars.

Perhaps more than in any other culture, the South Korean entertainment industry is an unforgiving one, given the emphasis on youth and physical perfection (it is not said to be the plastic-surgery capital of the world for nothing).

So naturally, idols come and go. But a curious phenomenon has been taking place: Even as fans are going gaga over hot new stars, entertainers from the earlier generation are getting a second wind.

We are talking about K-pop groups of the 1990s, "veterans" who have disbanded or been inactive for a while.

Shedding their flawless idol images, they now ham it up on variety shows or open up about their personal lives on reality TV. Otherwise, they take on challenging roles in K-dramas that require more chops than looking good.

A prime example would be Kim Jong Kook, the small-eyed hunky host of the mega-popular gameshow Running Man. He was part of dance music group Turbo, one of the best-selling South Korean entertainers in the 1990s before they disbanded in 2001.

Riding on the popularity of Running Man, Kim has held solo fan meetings around Asia, including one in Singapore two years ago.

Two of the celebrity parents on childcare reality show Oh! My Baby are also former members of top pop groups.

Viewer Janice Tay, 30, first watched the show for the cute children. Only later did the sales consultant find out that the parents were 1990s K-pop idols: Shoo from girl group S.E.S. and boyband g.o.d's Kim Tae Woo.

She says: "I would recognise the babies before their parents, especially Shoo's twins. My colleagues and I often talk about the twins. But now that I know who Shoo and Kim are, it makes me interested to watch them on other shows."

For loyal fans of defunct groups, variety shows are a way for fans to catch their idols in action.

K-pop fan and civil servant Priscilla Tan, 28, caught a 1990s special episode on variety show Infinite Challenge last year featuring performances by Turbo, S.E.S. and hip-hop duo Jinusean. Missing from the line-up was male quintet H.O.T., who she hopes will have a reunion.

She says: "The boybands H.O.T., g.o.d and Shinhwa were all the rage back in the 1990s. They were like the Backstreet Boys, Westlife and 'N Sync of South Korea. Out of the three, H.O.T. are the only ones who have yet to make a comeback. Even if it's a performance of their old songs, it will still be awesome."

Another H.O.T. supporter, administrative manager Valerie Toh, 28, says: "I can't remember when was the last time the five members appeared on a show together. If H.O.T. appear on a variety show, I die-die will watch."

•Catch Oh! My Baby on Saturdays at 8.30pm and Running Man on Sundays at 8.30pm on One (Singtel TV channels 513 and 604 and StarHub TV channels 124, 820 and 823). Watch Infinite Challenge on Saturdays at 8pm on Oh!K (StarHub TV channel 816 and Singtel TV channels 525 and 611).


Former idol plays second fiddle to kids

After a high-profile career as a popstar, former girlband member Yoo Soo Young has learnt to cede the limelight to her children.

Her three children - son Yoo, five, and twin daughters Ra Hee and Ra Yool, two - are the super adorable participants on celebrity parenting reality show Oh! My Baby. The series is showing on cable channel One here.

When the family was in Taiwan for media interviews for the programme, she says there were many "auntie fans" who wanted to take photos. "They wanted to take photos with my son instead of me," the 33-year-old says.

There are also social media accounts dedicated to her children. "I see comments in different languages - Chinese, English and even Arabic," she says.

Also known as Shoo, Yoo used to be a member of S.E.S., a teenybopper trio that was popular in the late 1990s and widely considered to be the first successful girl group in South Korea. S.E.S is an acronym made up of the initials of the members Sea, Eugene and Shoo.

After the group disbanded in 2002, Shoo concentrated on motherhood, with a couple of show business projects on the side. She married basketball player Im Hyo Sung in 2010.

She took on Oh! My Baby as it was "a great opportunity to have the memories of our family recorded".

Filming is done once a week and whenever the kids are "in good condition".

On the programme, Shoo is an enthusiastic but scatterbrained mum. She forgets her shopping list when going grocery shopping and has confessed in interviews that she sometimes cannot tell her identical twins apart.

Being a mother has no doubt changed her life. She says: "When I was still an idol, my life revolved around the S.E.S. family. I spent a lot of time with my bandmates. They are just like my sisters. Now that I am a mum of three, I spend a lot of time taking care of my family."

Though S.E.S. debuted in 1997, before K-pop exploded around the world, she says the trio's schedules were packed. They even made inroads into Japan, releasing Japanese albums and appearing on variety shows there.

"S.E.S were always busy, always travelling," Shoo says. "We were always homesick."

They had a couple of smash hits, such as I'm Your Girl (1997) and Love (1999), before they went their separate ways in 2002.

The group's pretty face Eugene, 34, made a name for herself in K-dramas such as Baker King (2010) and A Hundred Year Legacy (2013).

Eugene, whose Korean name is Kim Yoo Jin, wed actor Ki Tae Young in 2011. She gave birth to a girl earlier in April.

Powerhouse vocalist Sea, 35, whose real name is Choi Sung Hee, released solo albums and sang in musicals. The singleton held a solo concert earlier in May in Seoul.

As for Shoo, she made a cameo in the music video of hip-hop duo Jinusean's latest comeback single Tell Me One More Time in April.

Although the band have not had an official reunion, old S.E.S. songs have made a small comeback on South Korean music charts after Shoo and Sea performed together on a variety show last year. Eugene was absent due to her pregnancy then.

The three singers do not rule out a full-scale reunion.

Shoo says: "We have talked about this. When the children grow up and the right project comes along, we will come together for it."


Singer, agency boss, dad

Most fans of 1990s Korean boyband g.o.d - short for Groove Overdose - have grown up with their idols and are likely to be in their 20s, 30s or older.

But one of their biggest fans is only three years old.

This toddler even gets serenaded by the group's lead vocalist Kim Tae Woo - who happens to be her father.

He says: "My daughters really like g.o.d music. Whenever they get into the car, I turn on the music. So Yul really likes our song Saturday Night and tells me to sing it."

The goateed 34-year-old and his two daughters - So Yul, three, and Ji Yul, two - are familiar faces on South Korean television, being stars of the popular parenting reality show Oh! My Baby.

His wife Kim Aeri, who is in her 30s and also appears on the show, gave birth to their son earlier this month.

On the new addition to the family, Kim Tae Woo says: "I imagine that the show will be noisier and more fun. I look forward to seeing how the two elder sisters will react to the baby."

My daughters really like g.o.d music. Whenever they get into the car, I turn on the music. So Yul really likes our song Saturday Night and tells me to sing it.''

G.O.D LEAD VOCALIST KIM TAE WOO on his daughters So Yul, three, and Ji Yul, two

The once-a-week filming provides rare bonding time with his children. "I work almost every day, in the recording studio or preparing for concerts. Unlike company workers, I cannot spend time with my family on the weekends. That's what I feel sorry about," he says.

Pop quintet g.o.d, which ruled the charts in the 1990s, disbanded in 2005, with the members moving on to solo careers.

Kim, known for his dad bod before dad bods were in, enjoyed modest success, releasing his fifth solo album T-Road in June. He also sang on the soundtracks to serials such as My Lovely Girl (2014) and spy thriller Iris (2009).

In 2011, he set up his own talent agency Soul Shop Entertainment, inspired by g.o.d's producer Park Jin Young. Park himself started out as a singer before setting up JYP Entertainment in 1997. His current stable of artists includes girl groups Wonder Girls and miss A as well as boyband 2pm.

Last year, g.o.d reunited to commemorate their 15th anniversary, much to the delight of fans.

Tracks from their comeback album Chapter 8 made the Top 10 list on music websites such as MelOn and Naver Music.

The group also went on a nationwide tour in South Korea, where tickets to their Seoul concert reportedly sold out within half an hour of going on sale in May last year. They also held concerts in Los Angeles and New Jersey.

Kim said he felt goosebumps when he was onstage with his bandmates - Son Ho Young, Danny Ahn, Park Joon Hyung and Yoon Kye Sang.

The recording sessions were also "really fun", he says. "We joked around like before and also had meaningful discussions."

Things seem to be bumpier at his talent agency. On the Soul Shop Entertainment website, besides Kim himself there is only one artist listed, male singer Kixs.

Kim had previously signed on Korean-American singer-actress Megan Lee. He has reportedly nullified her contract after a messy lawsuit.

What star qualities does Kim look out for amid the deluge of K-popster wannabes?

He says: "When you look at a person singing, you can feel it. If the person is truly desperate, they have different eyes - they are glaring and shiny.

"They also have a passionate attitude to music. If you have those qualities, please do not hesitate to come forth."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 27, 2015, with the headline '1990S K-Star revival'. Print Edition | Subscribe