K-Pop: Popular Music, Cultural Amnesia, and Economic Innovation in South Korea seeks at once to describe and explain the emergence of export-oriented South Korean popular music and to make sense of larger South Korean economic and cultural transformations. John Lie provides not only a history of South Korean popular music—the premodern background, Japanese colonial influence, post-Liberation American impact, and recent globalization—but also a description of K-pop as a system of economic innovation and cultural production. In doing so, he delves into the broader background of South Korea in this wonderfully informed history and analysis of a pop culture phenomenon sweeping the globe.
K-Pop Popular Music, Cultural Amnesia, and Economic Innovation in South Korea
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How Did We Get Here?
When I was fourteen, after a long absence from South Korea, I spent the summer in Seoul. It was 1974. Soon enough, I was bored out of my mind-I had rapidly read the books I had brought with me, and there wasn't much of interest on television or in movie theaters.1 My maternal uncle took pity on me. He shepherded me through the hot spots of Myŏng-dong, at that time easily the most fashionable district in the country, the Gangnam of its day, when Gangnam itself was largely a swamp. But Myŏng-dong's narrow streets hardly screamed fashion or sophistication. The principal respite from dodging aggressive peddlers and ambling among uniformed students was a repast at some hole-in-the-wall eatery, or a visit to a depressingly dark teahouse that had dour servers to boot. I was momentarily amused by ice cream served on dry ice at the Savoy Hotel, but my smile lasted about as long as that artificial fog.
Somehow my uncle figured out that I was interested in music, and he took me to a variety of age-inappropriate shows. If miasmic memory serves, I saw Patti Kim, then the queen of South Korean popular music, and the crooner Kim Chŏng-ho, among others. We even went to the legendary venue C'est Si Bon. My uncle proudly pointed out that Patti Kim had performed in the United States.
Some of my relatives in Seoul lent me their recordings of the latest and best South Korean popular music. I recall listlessly attending to "P'yonji" (Letter) by the laid-back folk duo Ŏniŏnsŭ (Onions). It's not that these records were risible or otherwise objectionable, but I could only fidget my way through them. After all, I might as well have come from the dark side of the moon: having belatedly discovered Led Zeppelin IV (1971), I had been ascending that band's legendary stairway, often to the tunes of The Who and Pink Floyd as well. The soft, slow South Korean serenades gave me hives, just as my kind of music gave my cousins tinnitus. (When I played my urbane uncle a cassette of the sort of music I claimed to like, he commented that he might appreciate it more with the right pharmaceutical accompaniment.)
Now, almost four decades later, nearly everything has changed, as a recent visit to South Korea confirmed. I saw that Myŏng-dong's massive face-lift had left behind very little of that district's fabled (some say sordid) past. The Savoy Hotel still stood, refurbished to be sure, but was no longer fancy or fashionable, its past glory having long since evaporated like so much dry ice. School uniforms and standard haircuts had been superseded by blue jeans and short skirts and a wide array of hairstyles and hair colors. Glowing cafés had replaced the district's dim teahouses-the servers smiled now-and fast-food chains jostled with upscale restaurants. But amidst this welter of change, itself a cliché of South Korean life, there were few things more striking than the transformation of the soundscape.2 Upbeat tempi and bright timbres had silenced the melancholic melodies that used to waft, along with clouds of cigarette smoke, through Myŏng-dong's teahouses and watering holes. But the most vibrant difference was the sound of American-style popular music, once strange to South Korean ears and now dominating television shows and, it seemed, every other screen. And now it was no longer my uncle or my cousins but non-Koreans who apprised me of the ins and outs of South Korean popular music, showing me the latest music videos on their phones or tablets.
Forty years ago, an astute analyst might have anticipated the rise of South Korea as a manufacturing power, but I doubt that anyone would or could have had any inkling of the age of K-pop. Girls' Generation and Super Junior, SHINee and 2NE1, SISTAR and T-ara, 2PM and 2AM, BIGBANG and BEAST (B2ST)-these artists have become not just stars in South Korea but pan-Asian, even global sensations. The viral explosion of "Gangnam Style" in 2012 refuted the canard that South Korean popular music would never make it in the United States.3 And if imitation is the sincerest gauge of popularity, then the proliferation of copycat videos suggests that something is indeed afoot.
So what happened? Nothing comes out of nowhere. A series of breaks does separate the past of Korean music from the K-pop present, and of course our biographies and histories are replete with shifts and changes. But K-pop represents something else-nothing short of a revolution, and by no means the only one in the shifting soundscape of the Korean peninsula.
The future, as we know, is notoriously difficult to envision. What may be even more challenging is to see the past, that proverbial foreign country, as it really was. In the following section, to make sense of the K-pop phenomenon, I explore the Korean musical past, not in order to endow K-pop with a proud genealogy but rather to reveal its birth as both belated and unrelated to the lineage of Korean music.
Traditional Korean Music
The first and most consequential revolution in the modern Korean soundscape is the decline of traditional Korean music.4 "Traditional" is a category of convenience that inconveniently renders diversity into homogeneity, but I follow the dominant South Korean practice of labeling traditional Korean music as kugak (national music): the world of sound before the introduction of Western music toward the end of the Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1897).5
Inhabitants of the Korean peninsula crafted a distinctive musical universe in the course of the first millennium: kayagŭm and kŏmun'go, both zitherlike instruments, already appear in the oldest extant text, Samguk sagi (History of the three kingdoms, 1145).6 Like archaeological accretions, disparate influences interacted to generate an interrelated ensemble of genres. The monarchy and the landed elite (yangban) employed music for state rituals and personal cultivation (and enjoyment).7 Genre followed function; distinct musical styles existed for ancestral worship, banquets, military processions, and so on. Chŏngak (literally, "orthodox music") was the overarching category for Confucian, aristocratic music. Generations of the literati incorporated musical education as part of the essential yangban curriculum.8 Art music was aristocratic music, which in turn was the sound of power. In contrast to the Apollonian virtues of chŏngak and elite music in general, Dionysian characteristics-expressive and emotional rather than formal and cerebral-dominated minsok ŭmak (people's music) or nongak (farmers' music).9 Ritualized drumming and dancing marked seasonal festivals-most notably the Korean drumming music p'ungmul-and there were folk tunes (minyo).10 P'ansori, which crystallized in the seventeenth century, featured a solo singer reciting an extended oral narrative accompanied by a drummer.11 It gained respectability over time and presides as perhaps the exemplary traditional music in contemporary South Korea.12 Itinerant troupes toured the peninsula presenting masques, acrobatics, and dance and musical performances. Kwangdae (itinerant entertainers), as members of paekchŏng (the outcasts), were at the bottom of the Confucian social hierarchy, and the low regard in which they were held, not only for what they performed but also for who they were, would persist well into the post-Liberation period.13
It would be easy to exaggerate the distinction between the two main modalities of music. Whereas court musicians made refinements to musical instruments and developed elaborate notations (chŏngganbo), the nonelites played received instruments without any systematic musicological apparatus. From a musical standpoint, it is possible to suggest some tendencies and tentative generalizations: elite music featured slower tempi, longer tones, regular rhythms, and syllabic notes in contrast to the faster, shorter, irregular, melismatic characteristics of its populist counterparts. Yet these sharp contrasts obscure exception after exception. Furthermore, the binary distinction between elite and popular reduces the considerable complexity within each category as well as the interactions between them. Kasa, a genre of vocal music, was an interstitial form, and p'ansori encroached on the world of elite music. Kisaeng (courtesans) performed popular genres for the court and the literati.14 Different religious and spiritual traditions, including Buddhist and shamanist, engaged in musical practices distinct from both chŏngak and minyo and traversed the social divides of Korean life.15 Regional diversity remained stubbornly strong.16 The distinctions between elite and people's music rested less on strictly musical divergences than on the social positions of listeners and performers, positions embedded in the rigid social hierarchy of Chosŏn Korea. Given our distance from the Chosŏn soundscape, it is easy to accentuate not only the correspondence between the social organization of status and that of sound but also the functional role of music in social life.17 Yet the sociological emphasis, much as we wish to avoid the besetting sins of reductionism and determinism, would be far preferable to an emphasis on ethnocentric musicology.
The social organization of sound in Chosŏn Korea is incommensurable with that of European classical music.18 In contrast to the European Romantic conception of autonomous or absolute music, traditional Korean music, whether music for state rituals or nongak for agrarian festivals, was inextricably intertwined with its sociocultural contexts.19 The semisacred practice of listening to European classical music in silent contemplation, the performance of a musical composition without an accompanying narration or dance, the idea of autonomous music disembedded from context-all these practices and notions are alien to kugak.20 Korean (and Asian) music is said to employ the pentatonic scale, but it is more accurate to speak of modes (cho), which incorporate not merely a set of pitches and intervals but also performance practices and melodic gestures.21 Changdan (long-short) beats constitute the standard rhythm in traditional Korean music, although the idea of rhythm in kugak not only encompasses beats but also encapsulates tempi and dynamics in which rubato rules.22 The philosophical valorization of harmony notwithstanding, the linear system is nonharmonic: variable pitch accompanies free transposition.23 Hence, to those trained in European classical music, traditional Korean music appears unstructured. In spite of sophisticated musical notations, even elite music is improvisatory-born, paradoxically, of rote learning.24 Even the very concept of music, at least as it crystallized in modern Europe, poorly captures Chosŏn Korean sound culture.25
For contemporary listeners, Korean or non-Korean, the commonalities of kugak are readily apparent: even those who have never consciously listened to a single note of traditional Korean music believe that they can identify it. The reason is that kugak is a strange and alien aural universe for most contemporary South Koreans. The introduction of the Western soundscape revealed the shared soundscape of Chosŏn Korea and in turn spawned the enormous condescension of the Westernized present, which reduces the considerable diversity of traditional Korean music to a simple and residual category called kugak. Symptomatic of this problem is the fact that the South Korean term for "music," ŭmak, is basically synonymous with the term yangak, "Western music."26 Confucian ritual music and the Confucian social order faded together, just as nongak disappeared with the decline of agrarian life. Traditional Korean music represents a strange soundscape for contemporary South Koreans, for whom rhythm and blues (R & B) and reggae, bel canto opera and piano sonatas, are integral parts of South Korean life. In contrast, kugak is an imaginary museum, and one rarely visited at that. The desire to showcase traditional and distinctive Korean culture to the outside world generates the intermittent demand for kugak, though it is performed just about as rarely as the Olympic Games take place.27 To be sure, there are recurrent reports of the revival of kugak. Minsok ŭmak had long been consigned to oblivion in South Korea, but the people's (minjung) movement, which fueled the anti-government, pro-democracy politics of the 1970s and 1980s, revived it-especially in the form of samul nori, a derivative and stylized genre of nongak-precisely when people's music had been almost completely expunged from the countryside.28 It constitutes something of a revenge of the people that the most popular genres of kugak, such as p'ansori and sanjo (scattered melodies), stem from demotic roots. Yet almost inevitably these genres are modernized to render kugak palatable to the contemporary musical competence and tastes of South Koreans steeped in the Western soundscape.29 In contrast to Japan, where a refined upbringing has entailed instruction (almost exclusively for daughters) in traditional Japanese instruments, such as the koto, similarly aspiring South Korean parents have rarely enjoined their daughters to take up traditional Korean instruments but instead have steered them toward Western piano and violin. For almost all South Koreans, comprehending the beauty of a kugak performance-its tonal colors, its melodic intensity, its raspy articulation, and much more-is as elusive as apprehending the aesthetics of Venda songs or Gregorian chant.
Intrada con Intrepidezza
If the post-World War II generation of East Asia scholars exaggerated the impact of the West, by seeing modern East Asian history as a series of responses to Western challenges, that generation's intellectual descendants in the early twenty-first century may well be underplaying the West's impact. The shock of the new rattled the very foundations of East Asian polities, leaving few stones unturned, or at least untouched. It was not just a matter of Western technology but also of the Western way of life, from political-economic institutions and vocabularies to sartorial modes and spiritual molds. The apotheosis of this trend can now be seen across East Asia: whatever the accents of local idiosyncrasy may be, who would deny that the lingua franca is English, that vestments are European, and that the usual style of accoutrement, whether in bags or in phones, is Western in inspiration if not in production? When East Asian businesspeople gather, they speak English, wear European suits, carry Western tools (laptops and phones, not abacuses and brushes), and drink Western beverages. And I should add that they almost always listen to Western or Western-inspired music: what used to be the strange European soundscape, at once seductive and repulsive, has become natural, obvious, and inescapable.30
Who was the first ethnic Korean to experience European music? When was European music-the diatonic scale or the piano-first aired on the Korean peninsula? We cannot be sure, but elements of the European musical world entered via Christian missionaries and their hymns, enrolling ethnic Korean converts into European musical culture. Certainly by the time of the 1885 US Protestant mission, Christian music had definitively arrived on the Korean peninsula.31
The late Chosŏn regime was resistant to non-Chinese influences, and vast expanses of the countryside remained impervious to any undertone of a massive Western march. External encroachment rode roughshod over the levee that had been erected against barbarian incursion. The 1876 Treaty of Kanghwa was merely the first in a series of unequal agreements that would ultimately undermine Chosŏn Korea. Japan, rapidly Westernizing, was the primary power over the Korean peninsula after Japan's military victories over two competing regional powers, China (1894-1895) and Russia (1904-1905). Beginning in 1905, Japan ruled the Korean polity as a protectorate, annexing it outright in 1910. Henceforth, Japan controlled the major levers of politics, economics, and culture. The general trend of colonial rule was assimilation, at once expunging things Korean and implanting things Japanese, from language to personal names, and the world of music was no exception. The crucial caveat, however, is that it was not traditional Japan that Japanese colonial rule institutionalized; instead, it was modern Japan, an amalgam of influences, though these were preponderantly Western in form and content.
In the world of elite music, Japan did not impose gagaku (the Japanese rendition of classical Chinese-influenced court music) but rather European art music.32 And the imposition was hardly unilateral: in 1900, Korean royals hired Franz Eckert, a German, to form the Imperial Military Band, and a year later-even before Western brass bands arrived in Japan-a brass band of just that kind performed in Seoul.33 Eckert, the composer of the Japanese national anthem, or at least of its harmony, also composed the first Korean national anthem.34 It may seem curious that the Japanese and Korean elites, in the absence of explicit external pressure, would independently capitulate on an ostensibly cultural matter, and this is especially the case for Korean royalty, which remained resistant to non-Chinese influences. But music, especially Western military and ceremonial music, was perceived as part and parcel of Western military and technological might.35 That is, the Japanese and Korean elites considered music as belonging more to cultural technology than to traditional culture. Already by the 1870s, Japanese educational bureaucrats had introduced Western music education into the Japanese archipelago.36 Western choral music was not only a mark of modernization-useful for catching up with and, ultimately, overtaking the West-but also a means of shaping ethical, loyal subjects.37 The musical gulf between the elite and the masses would be bridged, it was believed, by Western notes and measures. And when Japan colonized Korea, Japan also brought its educational curriculum, including Western music education. Organ playing and choral singing now became essential elements of Korean schooling.38 Western music instruction was supplemented by the dissemination of Western folk tunes and children's songs.39 In brief, the Korean and Japanese elites were united in embracing the music of the West-that technologically and (in a more ambivalent sense) socially superior power-and in so doing they neglected, even castigated, their received music. Kugak, in response, adapted to the Western culture of music. In the 1900s, for example, p'ansori, although it remained a distinct genre, gave rise to ch'anggŭk (choral theater), and thus to musical theater or opera.40 The expanding aural hegemony of the West is the basso ostinato of the twentieth-century Northeast Asian soundscape.
Nevertheless, it would be a gross exaggeration to say that the Western music education insisted on and imposed by Japanese (and Korean) educational bureaucrats transformed every Korean (or Japanese) citizen into an aficionado of European classical music. Far from it-Western-style formal education remained largely the province of the affluent. And for at least half a century, two distinct musical cultures reigned in Japan and Korea: top-down, government-imposed Western music, and bottom-up, traditional and diverse native music. European music, whether in its simple articulation as a military march or its elaborated development as a bel canto aria, struck most Northeast Asian listeners, at least initially, as repulsive and bizarre, though for some it was beguiling and bewitching.41 In any case, a new generation was instructed in the European soundscape, and when that generation came of age-a development that, coincidentally, was coeval with urbanization and the other social changes that we usually summarize with the term "modernization"-one precondition of Western-inflected popular music was achieved: there were now people who were attuned to the new soundscape, people who were acquainted with and acquiring a new musical competence.42 Western-inflected popular music would thereafter supersede not only elite European music but also native music. To repeat, it is kugak that would become marginal on the Korean peninsula, as strange as European music had been to Koreans in the early twentieth century. What became normative was popular music.
Entr'acte: The Rise of Popular Music
What is popular music? The term "popular" almost always signifies the less prestigious in a series of binary distinctions: elite, high, or refined against mass, low, or vulgar.43 Sure enough, a common Korean term for popular music is taejung ŭmak (mass music), which connotes nonelite, nonclassical, nonart music. Even in Europe, the division became sharply etched only in the course of the nineteenth century: consider Mozart's eager embrace of listeners' adulation against Schoenberg's disdain for the audience's approval-or, more accurately, for the audience itself.44 The rise of serious, autonomous, and absolute art music occurred in tandem with the spread of popular music, which retained its role as entertainment and accompaniment to conversation, festivity, and dance. The mere idea that D. H. Lawrence should characterize dancing as "just making love to music" seems vulgar and even sacrilegious.45 The sacred solemnity of contemporary performances of classical music, where a stray cell-phone ring pierces the silence and breaks concentration, stands in stark contrast to the casual proliferation of popular music, from consumption-inducing beats in shopping malls to the thumping sounds produced at concerts, not to mention the semiprivate sonic world afforded by headphones and ear buds.46 The wide audience for popular music seems proof of that music's simplicity, ephemerality, and inferiority. Similarly, when a classical composition is widely aired today, its popularity seems to pollute it, rendering it a member of the unfortunate hybrid category of "pop classical" (just as a pop song's exalted status may transform it into an instance of "classic pop," and sometimes the other way around). The cult of absolute music and the artist has relegated "classical music" to an ever-receding circle of connoisseurs and cognoscenti; everything else-that is, popular music-has become "music" pure and simple.47
The rise of popular music is also inextricably intertwined with the industrialization and commercialization of music. If the mass printing of sheet music was crucial for the spread of Tin Pan Alley tunes-a genre that solidified many of the conventions of the popular song, such as its normative length (about three minutes),48 its short narrative structure, and its simple chord progression-then the modern shape of popular music cannot be understood apart from progressive modes of technological reproducibility (the phonograph, the radio, the mp3 player) and their social settings (cafés, dance halls, concert venues).49 Popular music's mode of production comprises new social relations and institutions (professional producers and promoters of music; professional musicians and composers) and a decisive shift in the material reality of production (including, most critically, the new technology of sound amplification and reproduction). For nonelite listeners, the rapid evolution of technology greatly expanded access to music. Popular music-with its sustained march into the realm of the private, from the phonograph and the portable radio to the Walkman and the iPod-triumphed as the quintessential expression of consumer society: of individuality and identity, the facilitator and companion of privacy and solitude. It is now almost impossible to imagine life without a musical surround that can be summoned at will; until the twentieth century, however, music was a rare treat for the vast majority of people.50 Who could listen to music on demand before the phonograph? Very few: only the wealthy and the powerful (who could command a standing musical ensemble) or those who could perform themselves.51 The twentieth century, at least in affluent areas, has brought a steady expansion of access to music, primarily through commerce. The ubiquity of popular music was born of music's ready reproducibility and accessibility. "Progress" is a problematic word, laden with value presuppositions and wishful projections, but no word is better suited to characterize the improvements in affordability and portability (if not always in sonic fidelity) that have come about since the emergence of popular music.52
The infrastructure that created the possibility of popular music is coeval with modern economic and cultural life; it is also an urban phenomenon. The capacity to reach a large population relatively quickly has been enhanced by the growth of cities, including the colonization of the night and the expansion of leisure.53 It is not for nothing that nightclubs and (nocturnal) bars along with theatrical revues and movie theaters-all dark places, as if to heighten the aural sense-have been major loci of popular music's performance.54 By the late nineteenth century in the United States (that true superpower in the culture of commerce, and in the commerce of culture), public amusements had already developed highly commercial and urban forms, with vaudeville, dance halls, and cabarets in what was, precisely, the period of Tin Pan Alley's prime.55 Together, popular music and movies-the medium in which popular music developed, even during the so-called silent era-became the shock troops of modernity.56
Modern urban life not only enhanced music's consumption but also accelerated changes in musical fashions.57 Planned obsolescence and intentional oblivion, if not the music business's definitive raison d'être, are nevertheless at its heart. Some songs establish themselves as standards, but most are doomed to disappear as listeners tire of particular hits and stars and, most devastatingly, as a new generation comes of age. Especially critical in the accelerating cycle of hitmaking are younger listeners, who not only adopt particular songs or genres as badges of distinction and identity but also possess the discretionary income that will allow them to express their preferences.58 Thus it was that youth not only came to embody a major life stage (as in, for example, the new category of "teenager") but also became a significant sector in the economy of music's consumption.59 In addition, a meaningful moment was marked by the possibility of expecting and achieving autonomy in listening: a teenager of the 1950s dropped a coin into a jukebox, and young people today download songs onto their phones, but either way, the device (jukebox or phone) and the song (recorded on a disc or compressed in a digital file) combine to express both technological culture and youth culture. And so young people, equipped with the wherewithal of consumption, forge an identity from a brand of popular music that marks them as separate from their parents and from the previous generation. Again, the shift is not just about individual singers and songs but also about styles and genres as well as about new formats (from LPs to cassettes to CDs to digital files) and technology (from sheet music to portable record players to mp3 players). The dialectic of the parent-child relationship spirals around the still point of musical preference, producing generational misunderstandings not unlike those depicted in Nathalie Sarraute's haunting portrayal of giddy youths and indignant adults.60 For elders, new music is often incomprehensible. Here, for example, is the usually incisive journalist Andrew Kopkind on disco:
Rock was "our music" [which was] riding a historical tide. . . . Disco in the seventies is in revolt against rock in the sixties. It is the antithesis of the "natural" look. . . . Disco is "unreal," artificial and exaggerated. . . . [It] is contrived and controlled. . . . Disco is not a natural phenomenon in any sense. It is part of a sophisticated, commercial, manipulated culture that is rooted exclusively in an urban environment. . . . What all this means is that a sizable chunk of capital in the entertainment industry is now in the hands of the disco elite.61
Similar complaints are found throughout the literature of popular-music criticism. In this struggle, as Gustav Mahler reputedly declared, "the younger generation is always right."62 The urge to seize the moment valorizes the present and the new, contributing in turn to the devaluation of the past and the traditional, which in any case is suspicious precisely because of its association with parents and elders.63 The perpetual modernity of the popular-music canon goes hand in hand with a constant forgetting of the past.64 Youth's discretionary spending power and the constant transition of the generations ensure that popular music beats on, borne ceaselessly into the future.
Certain conditions, then, pave the way for popular music. The industrial-technological revolution and the urban consumer revolution (or the expansion in the number of people who can consume music, either in performance or by means of its technological reproducibility) constitute the sine qua non of popular music. By the mid-1920s, the rudiments and many of the essential preconditions of popular music were already present in Korea. Therefore, despite the oft-rehearsed claim (heard most commonly among ethnic Koreans themselves) that Korea was behind the West and Japan, at least in the realm of popular music that time lag was truncated.
The Colonial Period
Japanese colonial rule brought the backdrops and accoutrements, as well as the blessings and curses, of Western life. The late Chosŏn era was not without trickles and infusions of Western influence, often via Chinese and Japanese intermediaries, but the rising tide became irreversible in some parts of Seoul during the colonial period. From telegraphy and railways to clothing and cuisine, Western technology and culture arrived as a compressed package. At least in urban settings, popular culture and popular music unzipped at a furious pace, defining the experience of the new.65
Educated Koreans, whether schooled in Confucian academies or trained in Western-style universities in Japan or elsewhere, largely reproduced the received status hierarchy and its prejudices during the colonial period. Folk songs were nothing more than vulgar peasant songs; the itinerant entertainers known as kwangdae were coterminous with beggars and streetwalkers. As much as Confucius lauded music, the Confucius-drenched yangban performed or listened to a particular style of formal and refined music, dismissing as almost inhuman the wailings and noises of unrefined peasants (no matter how much the yangban themselves may have enjoyed the same vulgar music, although performed in a more refined manner and in sophisticated settings, in the company of courtesans). Therefore, as Japanese rule entrenched itself, the yangban increasingly listened to what the educated Japanese professed to like.
Nonelite folk music and farmers' music were stubbornly rooted not only in the countryside but also in particular villages; local variations and regional diversity rendered them not so much a music of solidarity as a music of differentiation.66 The canonical form of folk song, transposed to a modern musical idiom, occludes regional diversity. The indisputable national folk song of South (and North) Korea is "Arirang," but there were and are numerous regional variants.67 In fact, "Arirang" was originally regarded as a relatively new song, and it achieved national status only after its adoption as a theme song in the popular 1926 film Arirang; thereafter, it was canonized and disseminated in European musical notations, and it was usually performed with European instruments.68 Paradoxically, from the contemporary nationalist perspective, it was not the Korean elite but the Japanese colonial government that promoted the collection of Korean folktales and folk songs.69 But Korean folk music was already in decline by the time Japanese and Korean scholars began to scurry in search of it.70 The massive rural exodus that convulsed the peninsula for the entirety of the twentieth century dispersed ethnic Koreans not just across the Korean peninsula but well beyond it.
The sound of city life was a jumble, but the new Western-inflected soundscape soon surfaced above the din. European art music, although widely taught in schools and performed for official occasions, occupied a delimited temporal and spatial niche: it was the sound of power, the music of authority. The spread of Christianity also expanded the ambit of Western music on the Korean peninsula. Missionaries taught Koreans-especially girls, since many early missionary schools were for girls-to sing in ensemble and in Western harmony. By the turn of the century, the nascent world of popular music was far more resonant, especially in Pyongyang and Seoul. Ch'angga (choral song) was an amalgamation of American hymns, European anthems, Western folk tunes, and Japanese choral music (shōka, the Japanese term, uses the same Chinese characters as ch'angga).71 The English translation of ch'angga is misleading, however, insofar as ch'angga was a composite genre, its principal characteristic being that it was nontraditional. For example, whereas most Americans would distinguish folk tunes from choral songs, "My Darling Clementine" was an extremely popular example of ch'angga in Korea. And the song's music may have been Western, but its lyrics were Korean, with a striking narrative departure from the original: the Korean version of "My Darling Clementine" is about a father-daughter relationship. Ch'angga was a new universe of sound among educated urbanites-among, that is, precisely those who had been exposed to the new soundscape in schools (by 1945, about a third of school-age children attended primary school). It is possible to locate the origins of ch'angga in the 1880s, but only around the turn of the twentieth century did it become recognizably audible as the music of Christians, modernizing nationalists, and other Western-inflected urbanites.72 In other words, ch'angga not only was new and distinct from the traditional Korean soundscape but also was embrace