If you love Korean music, particularly music from the decade of the 2000s, then you probably have a strong passion for Korean female singers of the 2000s. And if that’s true, you’ve come to the right place, as we’re counting down our ten favorite Korean singers that made a lasting impact during the first decade of the 2000s!
Best Korean Female Singers of the 2000s
Let’s begin with Kwon Bo-ah, who is better known as BoA.
BoA, which stands for Beat of Angel, debuted in the year 2000 and broke barrier after barrier throughout the rest of the decade. Under SM Entertainment, one of the three largest K-pop entertainment companies at the time, BoA became a powerhouse act in Asia. Her popularity exploded in South Korea, Japan, and China because of her language-exclusive releases. Her music wasn’t the only building brick to her popularity though.
BoA’s stage presence outdid any other performer during her time. There was sincerity in the way she danced, aiming to engage the audience instead of going through the motions absentmindedly. Her sharp movements and fantastic groove encourage you to stand up and dance.
This sincerity plays into why her music makes listeners feel like they are a part of an exclusive club as well. BoA cares about her craft and in turn, makes listeners feel that she cares for them.
The care she puts into her craft can be most felt in her debut Japanese album Listen to My Heart (2002) which mixes pop and her signature R&B. With this Japanese release, BoA became the first Korean singer to chart #1 on the Oricon charts, Japan’s primary music chart. This initial success turned into a longtime career in the country, setting up K-pop’s presence in Japan. The setup was worthwhile because today, K-pop groups commonly learn Japanese or have Japanese members to break into the market. BoA’s music, stage presence, and most importantly sincerity are what created the K-pop explosion seen today in Japan.
- You Might Also Love: K-Pop Love Songs
With over 700,000 albums sold in 2004, Lee Soo-young joins this ensemble of incredible female singers as a ballad singer. Out of all of these singers, Lee stuck to the roots of popular music in South Korea with her truly classic voice.
Ballads have always been popular in the country because of a unique cultural concept called Han which represented deep sadness, regret, and anger. Lee captures Han in her music, especially in the song “I Believe” released in 1999 which depicted the devastation a person feels when their lover leaves them, despite the promises they made to them in the past. Lee Soo-young’s success ran strong in the 2000s with every album she released entering the top 10 of the music charts.
In fact, in 2006 her seventh album Grace was so popular that it went straight to #1 on the charts. Grace contained 13 songs with a mix of power ballads and slow songs showcasing Han. Lee Soo-young and her era displayed South Korea’s clear love for ballads that continues into modern music trends.
Her ballads contain large orchestras and powerful vocals that were staples of 2000s Korean singers. Although Lee has taken a step away from public life, her impact and voice will never be forgotten.
- You May Also Like: Best Vocals in K-Pop
Baek Z Young
The early 2000s were dotted with plenty of rising stars and beautiful voices, but none were as distinct as Baek Z Young. Winning the popularity awards and Best Female Artist awards at numerous Asian award shows, Baek Z Young rose to popularity at a young age. She became known for singing OST music in popular K-dramas like Secret Garden which boasted some of the highest audience ratings at the time.
These OSTs were passionate ballads where Baek showcased her ability to pour emotions into her performances. Listeners can physically feel the pain and loss she conveys in each lyric.
This special ability can be best seen in Baek’s hit songs “Like Being Hit By a Bullet” and “Don’t Forget.” The first song won a digital song award at the Mnet Asian Music Awards, the largest award show in Asia. This song depicts the bullet-like pain from a breakup that’s abrupt and sharp to the lovers.
Meanwhile, “Don’t Forget” is an OST from the K-drama Iris that carries an intense sense of longing where former lovers can’t bear being apart from each other while they are under the same sky. As a result of these award-winning songs, Baek Z Young’s emotional music set a musical precedent for OSTs to encapsulate deep emotion and reach charting success if the K-drama is popular.
- You May Also Like: Best Asian Female Singers
There are different types of vocalists throughout the South Korean music industry and none stood out as much as Gummy. With a deeper voice compared to many other singers, her powerful vocals struck listeners with emotion.
Her voice can be heard most prominently on movie soundtracks, accompanying scenes from award-winning films A Moment to Remember (2004) and Sunny (2011). In A Moment to Remember, Gummy sings “Please Forget Me” which depicts a person thinking of a past lover and struggling to forget the pain they shared with them. This theme of pain continues in her song “My Dear is Far Away” for Sunny, but now focuses on the pain of separation even though two lovers are still together.
Pain is a central topic in Gummy’s music, accompanying her grand voice best in her award-winning song “Amnesia” or “Memory Loss” depending on the translation. This song won the Main Prize at the Golden Disc Awards, a prominent Asian award show, and skyrocketed Gummy into stardom.
Her growth represents the rising popularity of OSTs on the music charts, often charting high on them after the release of the latest K-drama episode. Gummy’s contributions pushed forward OSTs and ensured they kept having space in the music industry.
However, Gummy’s success did not come easily. After her breakout debut album It’s Different, her 6th album fell through twice with her agency YG Entertainment. This frustration led to her moving to C-Jes Entertainment in October 2013 to continue her career.
Despite these struggles, Gummy continues to release music in 2022 such as the OST “Raindrop” for the K-drama Alchemy of Souls, further contributing to the impact of OSTs on the music charts.
Many of the singers on this list are Korean-born, but uniquely Yoon Mi-rae is an American-born, biracial artist that diverges from the image of the typical female Korean singer. Taking on the name Tasha or T, Yoon has become known for her contributions to the hip-hop and rap scene in the country.
First, she began creating music in the co-ed hip-hop group Uptown, but struggles quickly came as the group broke up in 2000 when multiple members were arrested on drug charges. Nevertheless, Yoon’s past experiences made her stronger, launching a solo career in R&B music. She even married Tiger JK, a fellow South Korean rapper, and together they’ve become the country’s most popular hip-hop couple.
With her success, Yoon’s most memorable song was “Have You Forgotten” or “Incomplete” which won the Best R&B performance award at the Mnet Asian Music Awards. Although known for her fast rap and hard-hitting messages, such as those about her struggles as a mixed-race woman in South Korea, “Incomplete” is a contrast from that image.
The song is soft and emotional with elements of soul music incorporated into the production. The vocals fill your heart and soul with a piano that grounds listeners. This softness overtook her hip-hop image, pushing Yoon into a successful OST career later on in the 2010s.
There goes the Oricon Comet! Younha earned this title early in her career for her high charting positions on the Japanese Oricon music charts. She often sang anime openings in the popular Japanese piano rock genre then moved to sing ballads in 2009.
With this success in Japan, she expanded her career into South Korea where she became known for her songwriting featuring complex metaphors. Accompanying this songwriting ability is her voice powered by emotion that feeds a song’s energy for listeners.
This energy is best displayed in her 2007 album The Perfect Day to Say I Love You which became a #1 smash hit in South Korea. The album’s promoted song “Password 486” propelled Younha’s career forward for its youthfulness, earning her the Best New Artist award at the Golden Disc Awards.
After her debut success though, Younha encountered many failures and difficulties in her career. Her releases after The Perfect Day to Say I Love You (2007) had mixed success. The Japanese singles she released and her style change into pop music were ill-received by her fans. In addition to this were issues with her company, Lion Media.
The company provided minimal promotion to her albums, leading to a decline in sales and for her 2010 album Lost in Love to become Younha’s lowest-selling album ever.
The troubles did not end for Younha. For all of 2011, she fought a tense legal battle with Lion Media to get out of her contract. During this time, she released no new music and had little time to focus on projects.
Thankfully, she won the lawsuit and continued her career. Today, Younha has since moved on to creating music with many K-hip-hop talents such as Epik High. Her image has grown softer, focusing on her newly popular ballads. Younha stands as an example of a 2000s singer that’s stayed focused on her craft, even fighting for it tooth and nail.
Famously winning every award she’s ever been nominated for in major Asian music award shows, IVY is a fun and lovable addition to this list. Her genuine excitement during stage performances and flair makes her that much more enjoyable to watch. Her most popular songs are “What Happened Tonight” and “Sonata of Temptation” which encompass her diverse talents as a musician.
“What Happened Tonight” is a sensual R&B song whose music video features a male black main character, which is uncommon in the industry because of South Korea’s high ethnic homogeneity. Meanwhile, “Sonata of Temptation” is a quick, EDM song that’s high-pitched and action-packed with each verse.
Despite the song’s charting success though, in 2008 IVY underwent controversy when a Seoul court ruled that the music video for “Sonata of Temptation” was plagiarism. Filed by the game company Square Enix, the fight scene plagiarized in the video was from the Japanese film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and was a direct one-to-one recreation.
This controversy stunted IVY’s growing success, even blacklisting her from performing on weekly music shows like “Music Core” and “Music Bank” to promote her new releases. Then, another controversy paused the singer’s career when her Social Security Number was leaked in an article that failed to properly censor it.
Despite a declining music career, IVY has now found success in South Korea’s broadway scene and is currently playing Amneris in a 2022 production of the hit musical Aida.
Former member of the girl group Fin.K.L., and first releasing her solo music in 2003, Lee Hyori was like many other Korean female singers in the 2000s. She became known for her sex appeal, but as the years passed she became known for much more than that.
Lee started to produce and compose her music, earning credits for 53 songs in the Korean Music Copyright Association (KOMCA). Her credits make her one of the most credited female singers in the country.
These musical skills produced her most well-known album Stylish with its hip-hop title track “10 Minutes.” This cool and hip song propelled her forward on the music charts along with its high-energy dance.
Lee isn’t just a pretty face though. Along with her music, she’s become well known for her activism. In South Korea, the media often use the term “socialtainer” to describe her as she participates in social activism without shying away.
During the highly contentious and scandalous 2012 South Korean election, Lee encouraged her fans to vote through the social media website Twitter. Her talents aren’t solely in music either, showing off her acting skills in various K-dramas. Lee Hyo-ri has created not only a career but a legacy that has inspired millions of people.
Chae Yeon was another sexy concept singer in the 2000s that could have easily been lost among the numerous singers with the same image, but she stood out with her dancing and live performances.
Chae followed industry trends like hip-hop with songs like “Two of Us,” an intense and scandalous song that got her nominated in 2005 for Best Female Artist at the Mnet Asian Music Awards. She later branched into the EDM genre with “Dangerous” which featured her signature wave dance style. Catchy dancing music began to define Chae Yeon.
“Two of Us” was a fantastic success in 2005 that earned Chae Yeon the #1 music spot on music charts, but the song’s music video was banned for being “too racy.” In the video, the entirety of her bare back and underwear are shown along with sensual dancing scenes.
However, its popularity persisted and sparked a dance trend with the choreography of the song’s hook called “Na-na-na.” Today, Chae Yeon continues to release music and upkeep her sexy diva image, which just like in the 2000s, differs from everyone else.
Clear the way: the Madonna of K-pop has arrived!
Uhm Jung-Hwa is revered for her unmatched confidence and stage personality. She’s striking, bold, and isn’t afraid to stand out from the crowd, leading her to become a role model to dozens of other singers in the industry. Singers like BoA and Baek Z Young in this article cite her as an inspiration.
Her inspiring stage presence didn’t come from just anywhere though. Songs like “I Don’t Know” and “Come 2 Me” from her stacked discography showcase her talents without apology. “I Don’t Know” is a dance song that Uhm often performed at concerts, hyping up crowds with her sharp moves. Meanwhile, “Come 2 Me” captured sensuality and set the tone for sexy concepts that became popular in the South Korean music industry.
Uhm was not only a trendsetter for the industry though. She became an icon for the South Korean gay community, even cited as a role model by the K-pop industry’s first openly gay idol named Holland. In the country where gay marriage is still banned, she’s shown support for the community through her performances.
For her 2006 release “Invitation,” her male backup dancers wore long skirts to nod to gender ambiguous queer fashion. Then, in her song “I Don’t Know” in the early 2000s, she used dancers from the waacking community whose style originates from American LGBTQ+ dance clubs in the 1970s. With all her success, Uhm solidified herself as an inspiration for women and the LGBTQ+ community in South Korea.
Although many of these Korean female singers of the 2000s are now retired or have moved on from music, their impact on the South Korean music industry will continue to be unforgettable. They set the bar for many of the skills still valued in the industry today, from stellar performances to breathtaking vocals, and have no doubt left an impressive legacy behind for future generations.
This article was written by Jhertau and edited by Michael.