Wednesday, January 03, 2018

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 1. Shin Jung-hyeon


1
Shin Jung-hyeon [신중현]

Years of Activity: 1959-present. (Last studio album in 2005.)

Discography:
Note:  Because Shin Jung-hyeon was active during the times when there was no real concept of an "album," his discography is an insane mess that includes the numerous bands for which Shin played only temporarily. The below discography only includes studio albums for solos and bands for which Shin Jung-hyeon was the leader.

Hickey Shin Guitar Melodies - Selection of Light Music [히키-申 기타 멜로듸: 경음악 선곡집] (1959)
The Add4 First Album (1964)
Add4: Shin Jung-hyeon Light Music Arrangement [Add4 - 신중현 경음악 편곡집] (1966)
Add4 - Fun Guitar Twist [Add4 - 즐거운 기타 트위스트] (1968)
Shin Jung-hyeon & Questions [신중현과 퀘션스] (1970)
The Men - Saxophone's Temptations [The Men - 색소폰의 유혹] (1972)
Shin Jung-hyeon & the Coins, the First Album [신중현과 엽전들 1집] (1974)
Shin Jung-hyeon & Yup Juns, Vol. 2 (1974)
Shin Jung-hyeon & Music Power, the First Album [신중현과 뮤직파워 1집] (1976)
Shin Jung Hyun (1980)
Three Travelers [세 나그네] (1983)
Shin Jung-hyeon [신중현] (1988)
Shin Jung-hyeon & Music Power 2 [신중현과 뮤직파워 2] (1994)
Muwijayeon [무위자연] (1994)
Kim Satgat [김삿갓] (1997)
Body & Feel (2002)
City Crane [도시학] (2005)
The Landing [안착] (2005)


Representative Song:  Beauty [미인] from Shin Jung-hyeon & the Coins, the First Album [신중현과 엽전들 1집] (1974)


미인
Beauty

한 번 보고 두 번 보고 자꾸만 보고 싶네
See her once, see her twice, just want to see her more
아름다운 그 모습을 자꾸만 보고 싶네
Just want to keep seeing that beautiful sight
그 누구나 한 번 보면 자꾸만 보고 있네
Whoever looks just once can't take their eyes away
그 누구의 애인인가 정말로 궁금하네
Whose lover is she, everyone gets curious

모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네
Everyone loves her; I love her too
모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네
Everyone loves her; I love her too

나도 몰래 그 여인을 자꾸만 보고 있네
I keep on looking at her without realizing it
그 모두가 넋을 있고 자꾸만 보고 있네
Everyone keeps looking as if in a trance
그 누구나 한 번 보면 자꾸만 보고 있네
Whoever looks just once can't take their eyes away
그 누구의 애인인가 정말로 궁금하네
Whose lover is she, everyone gets curious

모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네
Everyone loves her; I love her too
모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네
Everyone loves her; I love her too


In 15 words or less:  The Godfather of Korean pop music.

Why is this artist important?
Here we are now, finally at the top of the mountain. I consider Seo Taiji to have created an entire generation of individuals in his mold. What could be more influential than that?

How about coming up with the model of "musicianship" for the first time? Popular music existed in Korea before Shin Jung-hyeon. As early as the 1930s, Korea (even as a Japanese colony) had a healthy urban culture that featured recorded music and pop stars. But the pop stars of the time were hardly separable from, say, a circus act. Indeed, they often were a circus act, as the Korean pop singers of the early 20th century often performed as a part of a giant variety show (of the kind that is now almost exclusively available in casinos,) nestled somewhere within a sequence involving a movie, a skit, a dance number, a comedy routine and an animal act.

This is the world in which Shin Jung-hyeon grew up. Orphaned during the Korean War, Shin grew up at a distant relative's house and took up guitar as a teenager. His first gigs--like nearly everyone's gigs in Korea in the 1950s--were with the USFK clubs, playing American music for the GIs stationed in Seoul. Fundamentally, those shows were not much different from the variety shows of the 1930s. Shin Jung-hyeon himself found popularity as a kind of a circus act, as he was known as the short guitarist who would deftly continue playing while sliding in and out between the legs of the taller bassist.

But Shin Jung-hyeon rose above being an act, to become an artist. Not merely a source of entertainment, but an individual expressing his aesthetics through popular music. Shin Jung-hyeon is the first Korean singer-songwriter who organized his music into an "album," a thematically consistent collection of his original creation. And original it was! Shin Jung-hyeon's Beauty would go into the annals of the global rock music history, with its pentatonic sound based on Korean traditional music.

As Korea's pop culture came into its own in the 1970s, Shin Jung-hyeon continued to play a critical role as a composer and producer for the greatest artists of K-pop history such as Pearl Sisters and Kim Chu-ja. Yet a cruel twist of history cut off Shin Jung-hyeon's further flourishing. For refusing to write a song praising the Park Chung-hee dictatorship, Shin was charged with trumped-up allegations of drug use, and his songs were banned in 1975 and remained so until 1987. Banned from even from performing, Shin spent a stretch of time selling away his equipment piece by piece. It was not until the late 1990s that his legacy was rediscovered and re-evaluated, as music critics--also a new profession that had recently come of age--began to reflect on the giants who shaped the history of Korean pop music.

Interesting trivia:  Shin Jung-hyeon is the sixth artist in the world, and the first in Asia, to receive a personalized commemorative guitar from Fender.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Happy New Year, and a Quick Look Back on 2017

Happy New Year! Here is a day-late look back at the most popular AAK! posts of 2017, by the number of page views.

Most Viewed Posts of 2017 (All-Time Posts)

1.  The Irrational Downfall of Park Geun-hye [Link]
2.  Counting in Sino-Korean [Link]
3.  Going to College in Korea [Link]
4.  Becoming a Doctor in Korea [Link]
5.  What Became of Korea's Royal Family? [Link]

The blog's most popular post ever, about the impeachment of Park Geun-hye written in late 2016, is still going strong. But beyond that, whoa! Not sure what happened, but suddenly the old articles about weight loss and dating Korean men have slipped off the top five. I really thought those would top the list as long as the blog shall live, but I suppose the blog is in fact getting old.

Most Viewed Posts of 2017 (Written in 2017)

1.  Korea's Alt-Right, and How to Fight the Ones at Home [Link]
2.  Discussing the Candidates for Korea's Presidential Election [Link]
3.  K-pop is not a Genre [Link]
4.  Annotated Opinion of the Constitutional Court Impeaching Park Geun-hye [Link]
5.  The Bigotry Against Korean Democracy [Link]

2017 was a year, wasn't it? I never wanted to write too much about Korean politics because I always thought the topic was too much insider baseball, but here it is--four of the top five posts are about politics.

Thank you everyone for reading; I don't deserve it, but thank you anyway. Have a wonderful holiday season.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 2. Seo Taiji

[Series Index]

2.  Seo Taiji [서태지]

Years of Activity: 1992-present. (Last studio album in 2014.)

Discography (studio albums only):

As a member of Seo Taiji & Boys [서태지와 아이들]
Seotaiji and Boys [서태지와 아이들] (1992)
Seotaiji and Boys II (1993)
Seotaiji and Boys III (1994)
Seotaiji and Boys IV (1995)

As a solo act
Seo Tai Ji (1998)
Seo Taiji 6th Album (2003)
Seo Taiji 7th Issue (2004)
Atomos (2009)
Quiet Night (2014)


Representative Song:  Classroom Idea [교실 이데아] from Seo Taiji and Boys III (1994)


교실 이데아
Classroom Idea

됐어 됐어 이제 됐어
That's it, that's it, now that's it
이제 그런 가르침은 됐어
That's it with this kind of education
그걸로 족해 족해 이제 족해
That's enough, enough, now it's enough
내 사투리로 내가 늘어 놓을래
Now I'm going to say in my own dialect

매일 아침 일곱 시 삼십 분까지
Every morning by seven thirty
우릴 조그만 교실로 몰아넣고
They put us in a small classroom
전국 구백만의 아이들의 머리 속에
In the heads of the nine million children around the country
모두 똑같은 것만 집어 넣고 있어
All the same things are being crammed in
막힌 꽉 막힌 사방이 막힌 널
Blocked, totally blocked, blocked in all directions you are
그리곤 덥썩 그 모두를 먹어삼킨 이 시꺼먼 교실에서만
Then gulp! swallowing everyone is the black classroom
내 젊음을 보내기는 너무 아까워
My youth is utterly wasted in it

좀 더 비싼 너로 만들어 주겠어
We'll make a more expensive version of you
니 옆에 앉아 있는 그 애보다 더
More expensive then the kid sitting next to you
하나씩 머리를 밟고 올라서도록 해
Take each step over other people's head
좀 더 잘난 네가 될 수가 있어
You can be a little better than you are now
왜 바꾸지 않고 마음을 조이며 젊은 날을 헤멜까
Why not change; why let your heart wither, wandering in your youth
왜 바꾸지 않고 남이 바꾸길 바라고만 있을까
Why not change; why only wait for someone else to change

됐어 됐어 이제 됐어
That's it, that's it, now that's it
이제 그런 가르침은 됐어
That's it with this kind of education
그걸로 족해 족해 이제 족해
That's enough, enough, now it's enough
내 사투리로 내가 늘어 놓을래
Now I'm going to say in my own dialect

국민학교에서 중학교로 들어가며
From elementary to middle school,
고등학교를 지나 우릴 포장센타로 넘겨
Through high school they send us to the packaging center
겉보기 좋은 널 만들기위해
To make you more presentable
우릴 대학이란 포장지로 멋지게 싸 버리지
They wrap us grandly with the wrapper called college
이젠 생각해봐 '대학'
Now think about it. College!
본 얼굴은 가린채 근엄한 척 할 시대가 지나버린 걸
The time to hide your true face, the time to pretend to be serious is over
좀 더 솔직해봐 넌 할 수 있어
Be more honest, you can do it

좀 더 비싼 너로 만들어 주겠어
We'll make a more expensive version of you
니 옆에 앉아 있는 그 애보다 더
More expensive then the kid sitting next to you
하나씩 머리를 밟고 올라서도록 해
Take each step over other people's head
좀 더 잘난 네가 될 수가 있어
You can be a little better than you are now
왜 바꾸지 않고 마음을 조이며 젊은 날을 헤멜까
Why not change; why let your heart wither, wandering in your youth
왜 바꾸지 않고 남이 바꾸길 바라고만 있을까
Why not change; why only wait for someone else to change

됐어 됐어 이제 됐어
That's it, that's it, now that's it
이제 그런 가르침은 됐어
That's it with this kind of education
그걸로 족해 족해 이제 족해
That's enough, enough, now it's enough
내 사투리로 내가 늘어 놓을래
Now I'm going to say in my own dialect

In 15 words or less:  Creator of modern Korean pop culture.

Why is this artist important?
Does Seo Taiji deserve to be the second most influential K-pop artist ever?

Of course, Seo Taiji was and is a massive star. He is nicknamed the "Cultural President." The news of his divorce from the wife that he managed to hide 14 years made the front page--the actual front page, not the front page of the entertainment section--of every newspaper in Korea. But in terms of stardom, Jo Yong-pil was bigger. In fact, one could make a solid argument that even Kim Geon-mo, a contemporary of Seo Taiji, was bigger. One can argue Seo Taiji and Boys was the early example of a successful boy band, but then again, not really--Sobangcha [소방차] was the first K-pop boy band from 1987, and they were very successful at their peak.

Was Seo Taiji the most innovative with music? Maybe--he did introduce a lot of new genres to Korean pop music. He was the first rapper that found popular success. Seo Taiji's rap-dance format, with a rap followed by chorus, is still the prevalent mode of K-pop idol music. His use of taepyeongso [태평소], a Korean traditional trumpet, was groundbreaking. But arguably, Sanullim was more innovative in terms of creating something no one has heard before. For all his musical talents, Seo Taiji was plagued with allegations of plagiarizing US artists like Milli Vanilli, Cypress Hill or Korn.

But Seo Taiji did something more than being a star, or even being a musician. Seo Taiji deserves this placement because he singlehandedly created a new culture, populated with a new kind of people. The "New Generation" [신세대] was on the rise in Korea in the 1990s, and Seo Taiji was their champion. When the government censored his song, he rebelled until the government repealed the censorship law. When he saw most of Seo Taiji and Boys' earnings going to the production company, he quit the company and started his own, which led to fairer copyright protection for artists. Rather than offering himself to be consumed by the gossipy media, Seo Taiji tightly controlled the presentation of his image, disappearing for years between albums.

Seo Taiji did not just sing and play music. He showed young Koreans how to live as an individual, how to think independently, how to be a master of his own destiny. There have been K-pop bigger stars than Seo Taiji. There have been better musicians. But no one shaped an entire generation and beyond quite like Seo Taiji did.

Interesting trivia:  For their fourth album, Seo Taiji and Boys appeared in snowboarding clothes, which were virtually unseen in Korea at the time. Seo Taiji is usually credited with introducing the snowboarding culture to Korea for the first time.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 3. Jo Yong-pil

[Series Index]

3.  Jo Yong-pil [조용필]

Years of Activity: 1972-present. (Last studio album in 2013.)

Discography (studio albums only):

Jo Yong-pil Stereo Hit Album [조용필 스테레오 힛트 앨범] (1972)
Beloved [님이여] (1976)
Jo Yong-pil [조용필] (1980)
Jo Yong-pil Representative Music Collection [조용필 대표곡 모음] (1980)
Jo Yong-pil Vol. 2 [조용필 Vol. 2] (1980)
Jo Yong-pil Third Album [조용필 제3집] (1981)
Jo Yong-pil [조용필] (1982)
Jo Yong-pil 5 [조용필 5] (1983)
Jo Yong-pil Sixth Album [조용필 6집] (1984)
Jo Yong-pil Seventh Album [조용필 7집] (1985)
Jo Yong-pil Vol. 8 [조용필 Vol. 8] (1985)
'87 Love and Life and I! ['87 사랑과 인생과 나!] (1987)
Jo Yong-pil Tenth Album Part I [조용필 제10집 Part I] (1988)
Jo Yong-pil Tenth Album Part II [조용필 제10집 Part II] (1989)
'90-Vol. 1 Sailing Sound (1990)
Cho Yong Pil 14 (1992)
Cho Yong Pil 15 (1994)
Eternally Cho Yong Pil 16 (1997)
Ambition (1998)
Over the Rainbow (2003)
Hello (2013)

Representative Song:  Woman Outside the Window [창밖의 여자] from Jo Yong-pil (1980)


창밖의 여자
Woman Outside the Window

창가에 서면 눈물처럼 떠오르는 그대의 흰 손
When I stand by the window, your white hand wells up like tears
돌아서서 눈 감으면 강물이어라
Turn around and close my eyes, it is a river
한 줄기 바람 되어 거리에 서면
When I turn myself into a breeze of wind and stand on the streets
그대는 가로등 되어 내 곁에 머무네
You turn into a street light and stay by my side

누가 사랑을 아름답다 했는가
Who said love was beautiful
누가 사랑을 아름답다 했는가
Who said love was beautiful
차라리 차라리 그대의 흰 손으로 나를 잠들게 하라
I'd rather, I'd rather have your white hand put me to sleep

In 15 words or less:  The King.

Why is this artist important?
In many ways, Jo Yong-pil is the bridge that connects K-pop of the 1960s into the golden era of the 1990s. Jo is in the last generation of the USFK club musicians, having started his music career as a 19-year-old guitarist for the clubs in 1969. Yet rather than looking back to the 1960s, Jo Yong-pil was a modernizing force in every aspect of music he touched. His debut hit Come Back to the Busan Port [돌아와요 부산항에] from 1972 opened a new era in trot, setting the familiar pentatonic scale onto the rock'n roll-like eight-track beat. His 1985 hit Void [허공] is the first pop song in K-pop history that had a music video. Jo Yong-pil is the only artist in Korean pop music history to have a chart-topping hit in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2010s, spanning the eras of LP, cassette tape, CD and online streaming.

Jo Yong-pil's strength is his versatility. A true singer-songwriter, Jo composed and arranged nearly every one of his hits. (Reportedly, Jo Yong-pil composed Woman Outside the Window in 15 minutes.) Although he debuted as a trot singer, soon he explored rock'n roll, ballad, blues, Korean traditional music, opera and electronica--and made all of them a hit.

But all of this is merely a background to this undeniable fact of his influence: Jo Yong-pil was the greatest pop star in Korean pop music history. For a whole decade in the 1980s, Jo Yong-pil was practically the only show in Korean pop music. When he held a concert, the Seoul Metro added trains and ran them two more hours into the night. To be sure, at least some of his dominance owes to the fact that the Park Chung-hee dictatorship sent many of the most promising pop musicians to prison for trumped-up drug charges, creating a vacuum in competition. But this remains true: no one in K-pop history can match his utter dominance in popularity. No musician in Korean pop music, however cocky and self-assured, dared to challenge Jo Yong-pil's mantle as gawang [가왕]: the "king of music."

Interesting trivia:  Incredibly for such an accomplished musician, Jo Yong-pil did not have the copyright to many of his greatest hits. Based on the pre-modern practice in K-pop that lingered into the early 90s, Jo's record company owned the copyrights. It took a lengthy legal battle and negotiations for Jo Yong-pil to regain the copyrights.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Friday, December 22, 2017

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 4. Lee Mi-ja

[Series Index]

Here we are: Tier 1. The four greatest. The Mount Rushmore of Korean pop music history. For this section, there is no second guesses about whether they should be ranked higher or lower. Their names are now etched in greatness; the precise ranking no longer matters.

We enter the Tier with an old time legend.


4.  Lee Mi-ja [이미자]

Years of Activity: 1959-present. (Last studio album in 1989.)

Discography:
[Note: because Lee Mi-ja was active during the time when copyright was virtually unknown in Korea, her discography is an insane mess of unauthorized compilations, re-releases and double albums with other artists. Here, I only included albums in which Lee was the only artist.]

Jeongdongdaegam Original Soundtrack [영화주제가 정동대감] (1965)
Lee Mi-ja Masterpiece Second [이미자 걸작 2집] (1965)
Lee Mi-ja Homecoming Special [이미자 귀국특집] (1965)
Lee Mi-ja Stereo Hit Songs Third [이미자 스테레오 힛트송 3집] (1967)
Lee Mi-ja, Composed by Go Bong-san [이미자 - 고봉산 작곡집] (1968)
Stereo Hit Songs Second, Movie Soundtracks by Lee Mi-ja [스테레오 힛트쏭 2집: 영화주제가 by 이미자] (1968)
Lee Mi-ja Stereo Hit Fifth [이미자 스테레오 힛트 5집] (1968)
Lee Mi-ja Hit Major Selections Sixth [이미자 힛트주제가선 6집] (1968)
Lee Mi-ja, Composed by Park Chun-seok [이미자 - 박춘석 작곡집] (1969)
Latest Hit Selections Tenth by Lee Mi-ja [최신 히트선곡 제10집 by 이미자] (1970)
Lee Mi-ja Solo Eleventh [이미자 독집 제11집] (1970)
Lee Mi-ja, Composed by Park Chun-seok [이미자 - 박춘석 작곡집] (1970)
Lee Mi-ja Stereo Solo Eighth [이미자 스테레오 독집 제8집] (1970)
Lady Ihwa [이화부인] (1970)
Lee Mi-ja Stereo Hit Selections Twelveth [이미자 스테레오 히트선곡 제12집] (1970)
Lee Mi-ja Stereo Solo [이미자 스테레오 독집] (1971)
Lee Mi-ja Stereo Hit Songs First [이미자 스테레오 힛트송 제1집] (1972)
'89 Lee Mi-ja ['89 이미자] (1989)

Representative Song:  Lady Camellia [동백아가씨] from 1964. (Recorded in Lee Mi-ja Stereo Hit Songs First [이미자 스테레오 힛트송 제1집] (1972))


동백아가씨
Lady Camellia

헤일 수 없이 수많은 밤을
The numerous nights, impossible to be counted
내 가슴 도려내는 아픔에 겨워
Suffering through the pain that cuts through the heart
얼마나 울었던가 동백아가씨
Lady Camellia, how she has cried
그리움에 지쳐서 울다 지쳐서
Tired from longing, tired from crying
꽃잎은 빨갛게 멍이 들었오
The petal bruised in red

동백꽃잎에 새겨진 사연
The story etched onto the camellia petals
말못할 그 사연을 가슴에 안고
Holding in the heart the tale that cannot be told
오늘도 기다리는 동백아가씨
Lady Camellia, she is still waiting today
가신 님은 그 언제 그 어느날에
When will, on what day will the departed beloved
외로운 동백꽃 찾아 오려나
Would come visit the lonely camellia flower

In 15 words or less:  The greatest trot singer in K-pop history.

Why is this artist important?
I know what you're thinking, but stay with me here. You have to first understand how important of a genre trot has been in the history of Korean pop music--then you will understand how Lee Mi-ja, the greatest name in Korean trot history, belongs to the K-pop Mount Rushmore.

Trot is the only genre in the 80-year history of Korean pop music that completed the entire life cycle of a musical genre: birth - peak - decline - modern revival - elevation to the classics. Originating in the 1930s, trot was the very first pop music of Korea, and for decades, the only pop music of Korea. In fact, the word yuhaengga--literally, "popular music"--in the 1930s exclusively meant trot songs.

Trot was dominant until the late 1960s, when American pop music began entering the Korean pop music scene. But improbably, trot kept coming back each time by reinventing itself, incorporating elements from the new wave. Even today, as trot as a standalone genre is unmistakably fading out of the K-pop mainstream, trot is leaving its musical DNA into the latest generation of Korean pop music. For example, listen to I Love You by 2NE1. Take away the pretty faces and the modern music video, and it's a trot song with a faster beat. Trot is an indispensable part of the history of Korean pop music, and its influence today is everywhere.

So of course, the greatest figure in Korean trot history must join the top tier. And there is little dispute who is the greatest. Lee Mi-ja has been a towering figure for three decades, singing more than 2,000 songs during her career. (The precise number is 2,070, a record in Korean pop music.) She is the first female Korean singer to sell more than 10 million copies of her album.

Yet Lee's time was hardly when trot was the only game in town. The end of Korean War meat a huge number of US soldiers stationed in Seoul, which meant a steady stream of the latest American pop music. Suddenly, trot was old and busted, backwards music for the backwards times.

Lee Mi-ja reversed the trend by modernizing trot. Compared to the trot singers of the previous decades, Lee sings clearly and straightforwardly, eschewing the tremor that characterized the earlier singers. Yet she projected a strictly conservative and traditional image of a woman, preferring hanbok and singing about a female figure consigned to a helpless lot. It is not quite the wokeness we would have liked in the present day, but her combination of progressive singing and traditional image resonated strongly with the Koreans of the 1960s and 70s, who were propelling their country into first world status at a breakneck pace. This would be the template for all female trot singers who would follow her.

Interesting trivia:  Lee Mi-ja's popularity transcended the DMZ, as she is one of the few South Korean pop singers who had a solo concert in Pyongyang. She held a concert there in 2002 after having been invited by North Korea.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 5. Sanullim

[Series Index]

5.  Sanullim [산울림]

Years of Activity: 1977-2008 (last regular album in 1997)

Discography (Studio Albums Only)
Collection of Sanullim's New Songs
Sanullim Second Album [산울림 2집] (1978)
Sanullim Third Album [산울림 3집] (1978)
Sanullim Fourth Album [산울림 4집] (1979)
Sanullim Fifth Album [산울림 5집] (1979)
Sanullim Sixth Album [산울림 6집] (1980)
Sanullim Seventh Album [산울림 7집] (1981)
Sanullim Eighth Album [산울림 8집] (1982)
Sanullim Ninth Album [산울림 9집] (1983)
Sanullim Tenth Album [산울림 10집] (1984)
Sanullim Eleventh Album [산울림 11집] (1986)
Sanullim Twelveth Album [산울림 12집] (1991)
Rainbow [무지개] (1997)

Representative Song:  What Already [아니 벌써], from Collection of Sanullim's New Songs


아니 벌써
What Already

아니 벌써 해가 솟았나 
What already, did the sun rise
창문 밖이 환하게 밝았네
It's bright outside the window
가벼운 아침 발걸음 
The light morning steps
모두 함께 콧노래 부르며
Everyone humming along

밝은 날을 기다리는 부푼 마음 가슴에 가득
Hearts filled with hopes for bright days
이리저리 지나치는 정다운 눈길 거리에 찼네
Streets full of friendly glances exchanged

아니 벌써 밤이 깊었나 
What already, did the night get old
정말 시간 가는줄 몰랐네
Really, where does the time go
해 저문 거릴 비추는 
Lighting the sundown streets
가로등 하얗게 피었네
The street lights are blooming white

밝은 날을 기다리는 부푼 마음 가슴에 가득
Hearts filled with hopes for bright days
이리저리 지나치는 정다운 눈길 거리에 찼네
Streets full of friendly glances exchanged

In 15 words or less:  The progenitor of Korean rock'n roll.

Maybe they should have been ranked higher because...  Members of Sanullim produced so many younger artists who would end up having hugely influential careers.

Maybe they should have been ranked lower because...  Did Sanullim have any influence outside of music, such as choreography, fashion or video?

Why is this artist important?
Sanullim is perhaps the most unique band in Korean pop music history. For most important artists in K-pop history, their musical heritage is traceable to an earlier example. Not so with Sanullim: their music is sui generis. Although Sanullim sounds broadly familiar, there is no clear precedent for their music even in the US-UK pop music. It is as if they absorbed the ambient music that floated in Korea's atmosphere in the 1970s and willed themselves into an entirely new existence.

Sanullim might be Korea's first garage band, as it was born out of three talented brothers--Kim Chang-wan [김창완], Kim Chang-hun [김창훈] and Kim Chang-ik [김창익]--noodling around with instruments in their home. They never played other people's music. The three brothers composed their own music and played their own. Even before their professional debut, Sanullim had a large library of their own songs.

Sanullim's debut was accidental, as they never intended to be professional musicians. Kim Chang-hun was originally a member of the band Sand Pebbles, for which he composed the song What do I do [나 어떡해]. Kim Chang-hun then left Sand Pebbles to join the band made up of his two brothers, which at the time was called Mui [무이], to participate in the first College Music Festival of 1977. In the competition, Mui came in first, and Sand Pebbles, playing What do I do, came in second. Three weeks later, the three brothers--now forming a band called Sanullim, the "Mountain Vibrations"--cut their first album and instantly became stars.

The poetry of Sanullim's lyrics is just as original as their music. The lyrics appear to be about trivialities, but upon a second look, they always leave a lingering impression. Kim Chang-wan recalls that Sanullim always tried to be objective and self-distancing. Kim Chang-wan noted in an interview: "As we composed, we thought: 'how can a person who is sad because he lost his love could be singing about anything? He would be too busy crying!' . . . Some might listen to Sanullim and think, 'how do they put so much emotion into such trivialities?' But we would think, 'how could you sing at all if you really lost your love?'"

Interesting trivia:  In addition to their regular albums, Sanullim composed three albums of children's songs, which are now considered a classic. Kim Chang-wan considers those albums his personal favorite, putting them above any of Sanullim's studio albums.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

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

[Series Index]

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.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Best K-Pop Idol Songs of 2007-2017, and an Announcement

Yes, I know I've been really bad with my list of 50 Most Influential K-pop Artists. What began as a result of a drunken rager at a noraebang in 2010 has grown into one of the most frequently cited sources for Korean pop music history, except seven years later, I still have six more artists to go. As an apology, I give you something awesome.



It is the 120 best K-pop idol songs from the last ten years, selected by music critic Youngdae Kim. Kim is a man who knows what he's talking about. He was the moderator for the online group that first introduced hip hop to Korea in the early 1990s, and he also wrote the defining book on the history of Korean hip hop. (Here is my post on Korean hip hop that borrows his analysis.) The video is in four parts, and I provided the English subtitles for Parts 3 and 4.

And now, an announcement! TK is very excited to announce that he's been working with Youngdae Kim for the past year to write a book on K-pop history. Although not exactly the same, the book will be an expanded version of this blog's 50 Most Influential K-pop Artists series, but with Kim's more expert insight. The manuscript is progressing smoothly, and we are shooting for the book to be ready by late next year.

Hopefully this will make up for the fact that I've been slow with the "50 Most Influential" list. In the meantime, keep an eye out for more collaboration projects like this one.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Korea's Alt-Right, and How to Fight the Ones at Home

Dear Korean,

I was shocked by this piece of news, and I still have a hard time getting my head around why it wasn't bigger news worldwide. Can you explain?

Laszlo

You might think a country that deposed a president who took directions from a shaman’s daughter has seen just about everything there is to see. But as the new administration is digging through the confidential files of the conservative Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak administrations, the scandal that is emerging may be much more jaw-dropping. 

I.

Inside Korea's National Assembly
(source)

As long as South Korea existed, its politics had a division of the right-wing and the left-wing. By the early 2000s, however, the right-wing in South Korea seemed like old news, in a literal sense. Much of its subscribers were old people whose memories of the Korean War, communist terror and desperate hunger dominated their political decisions. As they did not grow up with democracy, they worshiped South Korea’s military dictators—foremost of whom was Park Chung-hee, who ruled for nearly two decades from the 1960s to 70s—as they would a king. In this sense, they could not possibly called “conservatives,” since the term, in its strictest interpretation, presumes a liberal democratic system. “Fascists” would be the more apt description. Korea’s right-wing was contemptuous of democracy, and favored dictatorship. They favored jailing “communists,” a catch-all stand-in term for any political dissident. 

But in the 21st century, the right-wing seemed like an old news. Twenty years after the peaceful democratization of 1987, it seemed that liberal democracy was the settled practice in Korea. Although the right-wing still wielded considerable force, they were aging and would fade away—or so Korea’s liberals thought. The liberals were riding high from the two consecutive terms of liberal presidents, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, from 1997 to 2007. Of course, conservatism would continue to exist, but it would exist in a form that is more common in the advanced democracies: along the lines of the philosophical difference in terms of the proper role of the government, arguing over the proper size of the government, the appropriate level of taxation, regulation of corporations and redistributive policies, and so on. Even when the conservative Lee Myung-bak won the presidency in 2007, the liberals’ expectations for democratic governance continued.

It’s fair to say that Korea’s liberals were totally unprepared for what awaited them.

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Rice and Banchan - a Love Affair

It's been a while, hasn't it? One of the reasons why posting has been slow on AAK! was because TK was in Seoul last month for work. While I was there, I got to try some of the restaurants in Seoul that just earned their stars from the Michelin Guide, which got me thinking about the essence of Korean food. Below, I'll share with you my experience at those restaurants and my thoughts. This time, I tried my hand at a magazine-style writing.


*                  *                 *

I.   At a Michelin Three-Star Restaurant

What is Korean food? I was at Gaon, a fine dining restaurant in the affluent Sinsa-dong district in Seoul, when I faced this question. Specifically, the question was posed as a piece of fish. The fish, the fourth course served in Gaon’s prix-fixe menu, was a roasted piece of geumtae from the southern island of Jeju. The fish is also known as blackthroat seaperch, or as nodoguro in Japan. Like all the dishes before it, this piece of geumtae was fantastic. The crispy fried skin was like a golden piece of toast; underneath was the fatty meat that retained its shape and texture for a second in the mouth before melting away. “Tastes like a Michelin star,” my dinner companion joked. Yet something about the fish—a Korean fish, served at a Korean restaurant—bothered me.

Roasted geumtae from Gaon
(Source: myself)

I had high hopes for Gaon. The restaurant is run by KwangJuYo company, a guardian of various Korean traditions. KwangJuYo began in 1963 as a pottery company, reviving the fine chinaware that used to be produced for the Joseon Dynasty kings. KwangJuYo is also known for their brand of traditional soju called Hwayo, which puts to shame the cheap, aspartame-laced imposters in green bottles. Gaon is KwangJuYo’s flagship restaurant. When the Michelin Guide came to Seoul for the first time in April 2017, the French reviewers awarded Gaon with three stars, the guide’s highest distinction. Gaon was one of only two restaurants in Seoul that earned three Michelin stars.

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


Friday, July 28, 2017

Book Review: Seoul Man by Frank Ahrens (2016)

(Disclosure:  I received a review copy of the book, and Frank and I met in person.)



Hyundai Motor, of South Korea, is the world's fourth largest automobile manufacturer by the number of vehicles manufactured. The foregoing sentence is simultaneously mundane and incredible. Mundane, because it is such an obvious fact of life that is clearly visible to us. Hyundai and Kia cars are a common sight no matter where you live in the world--Asia, Europe, North America, South America, or Africa. 

Yet it is also incredible, when you consider the history of the companies with which Hyundai rubs its shoulders. Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903 in the United States, which was then already the world's foremost economy by a wide margin. Renault was founded in 1899 in France. Fiat, also in 1899 in Italy. Hyundai, in contrast, was founded in 1963, when South Korea's per capita GDP was less than $150. Yet today, Hyundai outsells all of Ford, Fiat and Renault. In fact, Hyundai manufactures more cars than Fiat and Renault combined.

The story of Hyundai's growth is commonly told in tandem with the account of the marvelous growth that South Korea experienced post-Korean War. But the less frequently told part of the story is that, actually, the story has two stages. South Korea and its stalwart corporations reached middle-income by mid-1990s. The country was prosperous, but was not exactly world-leading. For much the 1990s, South Korea was one of the mass of countries that did not attract much attention--not poor and starving enough to arouse humanitarian concerns, and not rich or glamorous enough to inspire admiration.

But since the late 1990s, South Korea's corporations--at least those that survived the painful adjustment occasioned by the East Asian Financial Crisis in 1997--went to another level. Rather than being stuck at the "middle income trap," South Korea hit escape velocity. Its foremost corporations rose to the level reserved for the world's very best. Today, Samsung Electronics is the only meaningful challenger to Apple's iPhone juggernaut, and Hyundai only trails Toyota and Volkswagen in the number of cars manufactured per year. (Hyundai also trails General Motors if you include the production by SAIC, GM's Chinese joint venture.)

This part of South Korea's story deserves to be told more. Marginal improvement always gets progressively more difficult. Seeing from the ground level, the gap between "rudimentary" and "pretty good" may seem greater than the same between "pretty good" and "among the best." The differential in skill between hoopers at the local playground and a bench warmer for an NBA team is much greater than the differential between the bench warmer and an NBA starter, and much, much greater than that between an NBA starter and the likes of Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. But the effort it takes to go from an NBA starter to an MVP-caliber player is no less than the effort it takes for a regular person to become an NBA bench warmer. In fact, "effort" might not even be the right word, for it implies the continuation of the same path, only with more intensity. Often, it requires a complete re-definition of self for a player to make the leap and reach the next level. 

Same is true with Hyundai. Hyundai Motor could have been another Skoda Auto or Tata Motors--a solid carmaker that does well enough domestically or within its region--and it still would have been considered a success. But Hyundai did much better. How? Frank Ahrens answers that question in his book Seoul Man, which makes it a unique read among books about Korea in English.

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

On Cultural Appropriation, One More Time

(source)
I wrote about cultural appropriation in an older post, which contains essentially all of my thoughts on the topic. But considering how cultural appropriation continues to appear in the popular conversation, I thought I would give it another round. I want to focus on two issues: (a) the harm of cultural appropriation, and (b) the reason why people are having a hard time understanding why cultural appropriation is harmful.

Cultural appropriation is a real and serious concept, in that it describes a phenomenon that causes a real and serious harm. Cultural appropriation reduces cultural artifacts to a prop, which in turn reduces the people of that culture into a prop also. Cultural appropriation is not the same thing as cultural exchange, or being influenced by another culture. In a very real sense, cultural appropriation is stealing, as is clearly implied from the word “appropriation.”

What precisely is the thing being stolen when we speak of cultural appropriation? Detractors are quick to argue that no one owns culture, and no one can. But that is a crabbed view of what “ownership” can mean. Of course, no one owns culture like one owns property—say, a car. Ownership of a car, or any other property, is a legal right. A piece of paper with legal significance establishes your ownership of your car. By owning your car, you can exclude me from using your car. If I used your car without the legal right to do so—that is, if I appropriated your car—the force of the law would apply to me. You could sue for any damage I caused to the car, or you could call the police to come after me and send me to jail. 

But property ownership is not the only kind of ownership that exists, for humans own many things beyond property. Chief among them is agency, the power to define one’s own identity. Your name, for example, is an artifact of your agency. It is a word that defines your identity. Yet you do not own your name like you would own your car. Unless you undergo the process of turning your name into some type of property—for example, by using your name as a registered trademark—you have no legal protection over the word that you use as your name. You have no right to exclude the use of your name. (If you are one of the millions of American men named “Michael,” you cannot prohibit anyone from naming your child “Michael.”) You cannot sue someone else who has the same name as yours, nor can you call the police over the name sameness.

Yet the lack of such legal protections does not make your name any less your name. When someone takes away your name—when someone appropriates it—the violence involved in such a taking is obvious. It is no surprise that bullying usually begins with name-calling, an act of replacing your name with another word. The replacement word need not even be derogatory; it merely needs to be arbitrary enough to show that you did not choose the replacement word. NBA player Jeremy Lin, for example, recounted how fans of the opposing team used to taunt him by calling him “chicken fried rice.” The term “chicken fried rice,” standing alone, is far from offensive; it is a delicious dish enjoyed by billions around the world. But obviously, the racist taunters of Jeremy Lin were not using the term “chicken fried rice” as a word that meant what it said. Rather, they were using the term as an arbitrary marker of their racism. Because Lin is Chinese, bullies took away his name in favor of an arbitrary Chinese dish. Jeremy Lin’s name, his identity, was appropriated, in favor of a random ethnic marker.

(More after the jump.)

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