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
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 embraced by the educated elite, whose orientation was toward two powerful groups: Christian missionaries (the West) and the Japanese authorities. Over time, ch'angga spread to the countryside via traveling salesmen who peddled ch'angga books by playing the fiddle.73
The Korean elite's embrace of ch'angga transformed it, paradoxically, into resistance music. Ch'angga was the music of the educated, but it was this same demographic that led the independence movement in early colonial Korea, and the association between anti-Japanese, pro-independence politics and ch'angga remained an enduring motif in modern Korea. Already by the 1900s, the very idea of political or movement music (undongga) was inextricable from ch'angga.74 Sentiments critical of Japanese rule were often articulated in ch'angga, not in Korean folk tunes (perhaps not surprisingly, since educated Koreans were likely to denigrate peasant music). The current South Korean national anthem was set to the music of "Auld Lang Syne" in 1896, partly because the song's pentatonic scale made the music more accessible to those who had been steeped in the traditional soundscape.75 Thus began the pattern of setting Korean lyrics to an appropriated Western melody. Most lyrics were set to extant tunes, but, beginning with Kim In-sik in 1905, Koreans composed new pieces.76 An Ik-t'ae (Eak Tai Ahn), perhaps the Korean musician best known to the West before Liberation, later undertook to compose new music for the national anthem, given the incongruity its being set to the tune of a Scottish folk song. Only after 1948 did South Koreans uniformly sing the national anthem to An's tune.77 Not surprisingly, the Japanese authorities banned what were considered to be delinquent ch'angga (furyō shōka) as early as 1908; they also burned scores and closed some schools in 1911. Japanese censorship of Korean music persisted throughout the colonial period.78 In place of the banned music, the colonial authorities promoted politically correct choral songs.79 One consequence of the Japanese suppression was that most ch'angga taught and sung by ethnic Koreans after the 1910s were composed in the Japanese pentatonic scale rather than in the diatonic scale more common in European art music.
Western vocal music also entrenched itself as kagok (lieder), usually sung solo rather than by an ensemble, as was the intention with ch'angga. By the 1920s, modern Western-style kagok had supplanted traditional Korean kagok (which is why the mention of kagok prompts contemporary South Koreans to think of Western songs).80 Particularly noteworthy is the 1920 song "Pongsŏnhwa" (Impatiens), composed by Hong Yong-hu (better known as Hong Nan-p'a).81 Hong composed many pieces of enduring popularity, such as "Kohyang ŭi pom" (Hometown in spring), which was considered to be a tongyo (children's song), another genre fashionable at the time. With the publication of Pang Chŏng-hwan's "Sarang ŭi sŏnmul" (The gift of love) in 1921, and with the debut of the influential journal Ŏrini (Children) in 1923, children's literature reached a readership well beyond its age-appropriate audience.82 Yun Kŭk-yŏng's 1924 song "Pandal" (Half moon), often regarded as the first tongyo, remains in circulation today. Yun studied European art music in Tokyo, and though the song is altogether European in appearance, it employs the pentatonic scale and is performed in 6/8 time, easily in the comfort zone of those steeped in the Chosŏn soundscape. It helped usher in the golden age of tongyo in the 1930s.83 Kim Tong-jin, another influential composer, synthesized Brahms and the bel canto aria to produce several songs that were sung well into the post-Liberation period, such as "Kagop'a" (I long to go), "Nae maŭm" (My heart), and "Chindallae kkot" (Azalea flower); the latter takes its lyrics from Kim So-wŏl's famous poem. Kagok and tongyo, like ch'angga, remained primarily the province of educated urbanites with pro-independence politics, and these genres persisted in the post-Liberation period as part of the culture of the college-educated.84 It is therefore ironic that almost all the composers who pioneered kagok, tongyo, and allied new music had been trained in Japan in European art music, and that they adopted musical conventions then prevalent in Japan.85
Popular music entered everyday life in urban Korea in the mid-1920s as yuhaengga (ryūkōka in Japanese; literally, "songs in fashion," or popular songs), sometimes called sin kayo (new song). Yuhaengga was not a spontaneous cultural irruption; rather, it was a business or an industry, if not quite a big business or the culture industry of its time.86 Its proximate source was the 1916 Japanese song "Kachūsha no uta" (Song of Kachūsha), from the shingeki play Fukkatsu (Resurrection).87 By the 1920s, colonial Koreans were attending the theater, watching movies, and frequenting the types of cafés that had appeared in Japan some two decades earlier, and popular music was featured in all these venues.88 As in Japan, where mobo (the modern boy) and moga (the modern girl) were inescapable urban presences, sin yŏja (the new woman), ch'ŏngnyŏn (youth), and other new breeds of Koreans now appeared in Seoul.89 The poet Yi Sŏk-hun rhapsodized in 1932, "Modern girls wander the pavement / Wondering how to be like Greta Garbo."90 And yuhaengga-which had sources in the theater as well as in (silent) movies (the songs were usually performed by actresses during intermission), and which had become a topic of discussion in magazines and tearooms (tabang)-was a crucial element of the "new" or "modern" (modŏn).91 As these new loci of urban entertainment spread music, they spawned fans and groupies.92
The exoticism of the new media meshed well with the enchantment of the new soundscape. A new breed of entrepreneurs sprang up, one that rubbed elbows with the illicit and the disreputable. Ethnic Japanese yakuza (gangsters or racketeers), working in concert with their ethnic Korean counterparts, ran a significant segment of the entertainment industry.93 This entanglement of semilegitimate businesspeople with the popular culture industry was far from unique to colonial Korea, since itinerant musicians had often moonlighted as sex workers, both before and during the Japanese occupation.94 The common association of popular music with (paying for) sex, (dealing) drugs, and even (hanging out with) mobsters and thugs was not necessarily a figment of overprotective parents' imaginations. In any case, popular music remained a pecuniary pursuit of lower-status, less educated people.
Furthermore, the mechanical means of sound reproduction, incipient and limited though they were (involving sound amplification and, later on, sorip'an, or "sound discs," as records were initially called in Korea), disseminated the new music, although largely to the relatively affluent urban population.95 The first Korean-language recording by the p'ansori master Yi Tong-baek had been sold as early as 1907, but SP (short play) records, which were readily reproducible, proliferated only in the late 1920s, when Japanese record companies put down roots in colonial Korea.96 The companies themselves operated in the prevailing Japanese manner, each one functioning as a studio system with its own house lyricists, composers, musicians, and singers. The gramophone and the projector were the avant-garde of the new urban culture, threatening to wipe away the traditional and the rural.97 With the introduction of radio broadcasting in 1927, the technological preconditions for yuhaengga were established.98 Soon thereafter, the new soundscape-so distinctive from the melody and timbre of court or religious music, and worlds apart from the rhythms and registers of rural Korea-filled the city air of central Seoul. It was most likely around this time that urbanites began to hum and sing popular songs.99
Yuhaengga was a universe of sound that was at once Korean, Japanese, and Western. What gave this mélange its coherence was that it appealed to a new, urban audience. Singers, composers, and producers, in addition to listeners, readily traversed distinct types of music over time.100 The category of mass music at that time included not only the new kagok and tongyo but also genres that would be differentiated today, such as hymns, ch'angga, and p'ansori. Yi Kyŏng-suk, who performed the song "Arirang" for the 1926 film of the same title, sang children's music as well as the 1927 hit "Nakhwayusu" (Falling flower, flowing water), also known as "Kangnam tal" (The moon of Kangnam), the first record produced in Korea.101 Yi's expansive repertoire encompassed distinct genres of folk music, children's songs, and popular music, a range that suggests the superficiality of genre distinctions. In 1935, Okeh Records, the first Korean-managed label in colonial Korea, put out an advertisement for taejung ŭmak that included European art music (for example, "Ave Maria"), children's songs (tongyo), and new folk songs (sin minyo).102 Contemporary classifications cannot do justice to the universe of popular music in colonial Korea.
In spite of considerable resistance to Japanese rule, the influence of Japan had become inescapable by the 1920s, whether because of the sheer might of the Japanese empire, the cultural prestige and political dominance of Japan, or the unlikelihood of Korean independence. Diglossia had marked Korean discursive communities and ethnic soundscapes before, but the two modes of expression had never been so closely intertwined as they were in the latter half of the colonial period. In the realm of urban popular music, Japan and Korea converged to constitute a shared, if not identical, soundscape.103 The Japanese influence was preponderant in shaping the soundscape of ryūkōka/yuhaengga; many early yuhaengga were Japanese songs that had been translated into Korean, or sometimes direct imports. There is a poignant anecdote about a third-generation diasporic Korean in Uzbekistan who sings a "Korean" song that turns out to be a Japanese-language ryūkōka.104 Yet it would be a mistake to hear in this soundscape a Japanese monophony. Korean contributions were substantial, as were those from other spheres of Japanese influence, such as China. Most famously, the preeminent Japanese popular-music composer Koga Masao, who had grown up in colonial Korea, incorporated such Korean elements as the use of three beats to establish his Korea-influenced "Koga melody."105 In particular, ethnic Korean composers and singers achieved prominence in the Japanese archipelago, even though they did so by employing Japanese pseudonyms and passing as ethnic Japanese.106 By 1932, for example, Ch'oe Kyu-yŏp (known in Japan as Hasegawa Ichirō) was already a star in Japan.107 Indeed, the very existence of stars is a defining feature of popular culture, including popular music.108
Whereas ch'angga or kagok remained largely restricted to the educated urban population, yuhaengga appealed to a larger audience and overshadowed other genres. To put this idea simply, yuhaengga had much wider appeal because it adapted itself to the traditional Korean soundscape. Two songs underscore this shift.
The first of the two-the 1926 song "Sa ŭi ch'anmi" (Hymn to death), by Yun Sim-dŏk (Yun, with her short hair, was an iconic sin yŏja, or "new woman")-is often considered to have been the first hit in Korea.109 The record almost singlehandedly advanced the new industry, thanks in part to a scandal: after Yun recorded the song, she and her married lover caused a media sensation by committing double suicide.110 The music of "Sa ŭi ch'anmi" is uncompromisingly Western; the melody is lifted from Iosif Ivanovici's "Waves of the Danube" (1880). The morbid theme is in the province of ch'angga and kagok, which often expressed, to a Western tune, nostalgia for a lost homeland (and thus functioned as a subterranean call for Korean independence). Yun had been reluctant to record a "popular" song, and she sings it in the kagok or lied style, as would have befitted the opera singer she fancied herself to be.111 Although the original melody is in three beats (it was a waltz), Yun sings it in the received four beats of ch'angga or kagok. In short, the song is distinctly outside what was, at the time, the traditional Korean soundscape.
By contrast with "Sa ŭi ch'anmi," the 1932 song "Hwangsŏng yett'ŏ" (Remains of Hwangsŏng castle), by Yi Aerisu (Alice Lee; Yi Po-jŏn; Ri Arisu), was the first successful song in Korea to combine Korean lyrics with a Korean composition.112 The record's spectacular success-it sold fifty thousand copies-augured a music that could reach well beyond educated urbanites. There were some similarities and continuities between Yi and Yun. Both singers made their reputations by performing entr'actes at theatrical performances.113 In addition, both Yun and Yi were drawn to suicide, not only because their lovers were married but also because the men they loved belonged to the landlord class, at a time when interstatus marriage was all but proscribed.114 These similarities belie a critical element of change, however. Yi Aerisu's song employs the pentatonic scale and is in three beats. That familiar connection to the traditional Korean soundscape facilitated the reception of Yi's song beyond the narrow circle of Westernizing, educated urbanites. That is, yuhaengga, rather than inhabiting the new universe of Western music, accomplished a rapprochement, if not quite a reversion, to Korean listeners' comfort zone. Although yuhaengga was radically distinct from traditional Korean songs, Yi and her followers bridged the shifting soundscapes of colonial Korea.
Thus the expansion of the domestic market beyond educated urbanites, and the greater interaction with Japanese popular music (as well as greater access to the Japanese market), gave rise to yuhaengga, which would have organic links to the world of popular music in the post-Liberation period. The contemporary South Korean view tends to equate colonial-era yuhaengga with the postcolonial-period genre called "trot" (t'ŭrot'ŭ), which takes its name from the ballroom dance known as the fox-trot.115 But before musical styles become formulaic, they exhibit family resemblances as well as distinct differences. For example, we listen today to Beethoven piano sonatas, but the sonata form itself solidified only in the 1840s, long after the composer's death. Similarly, contemporary listeners readily identify elements of trot in 1930s songs, but the genre itself crystallized only after the post-Liberation period, when it was also called ppongtchak, an onomatopoeic Korean term that sought to capture the distinctive two-beat (or four-beat) rhythm in contradistinction to the traditional three beats.116 Indeed, ppong prevails as the predominant rhythm of post-Liberation South Korean popular music.117 The yuhaengga of the 1930s, almost always composed in the Japanese pentatonic yonanuki scale, also featured a wide array of unmistakable visual and aural cues.118 Singers and musicians often wore Western clothing, still uncommon in the colonial period, and were backed up by Western musical instruments. And beyond the spectacle, usually staged in a Western-style room or building, there was the strange soundscape, so distinct from the traditional singing of kagok or p'ansori. The singers crooned about new sentiments and themes, ranging from faraway exotic places and nightlife to nostalgia about hometowns and the vicissitudes of love.119 Even when songs spoke of tears and farewells, the longing for the past or for the countryside was indisputably expressed from the standpoint of the urban present. The tunes were often catchy, with hummable, likable melodies. They fit in well with the new loci of musical enjoyment, the teahouses and bars, and we should not forget that they were often dance music as well. The allure of yuhaengga, which offered solace in times of sorrow, and pleasure against pain, was intoxicating to self-styled urbanites.
Two songs that even today remain staples of noraebang-those venues for karaoke singing that are inescapable in contemporary South Korea-are emblematic of the new genre. Yi Nan-yŏng's 1935 song "Mokp'o ŭi nunmul" (Tears of Mokp'o) is widely regarded as the paradigmatic trot song, though it was initially marketed as chibang sin minyo (rural new folk song). The Mokp'o of the song's title is a port town, a place of departure and farewell in a country undergoing constant displacement and diaspora; and the tears-as much about the past ("three hundred years" of han, or ressentiment) as about the present departure from a new wife-openly express the modern sentiment of romantic love.120 Even in comparison to "Hwangsŏng yett'ŏ," a song from just three years before, "Mokp'o ŭi nunmul" sounds modern; in turn, the three-beat rhythm of "Hwangsŏng yett'ŏ" makes that song distinct from the four-beat rhythm of "Mokp'o ŭi nunmul." The superior recording technology used for "Mokp'o ŭi nunmul" also accentuates that song's brighter timbre. The lyrics of both songs are equally elegiac, but the Western instrumentation is much more pronounced in "Mokp'o ŭi nunmul." Yi Nan-yŏng's singing style retains some semblances of classical European vocalization-syllabic singing, clear phrasing, head resonance-but she literally brings the song down to the demotic sphere with her lower pitch and unaffected articulation. Her almost parlando style of singing replaces the liedlike singing used in ch'angga or kagok. Similarly, Nam In-su-he was later dubbed "the Emperor" because of his popularity-sings in 1938 of tears and sorrow in "Aesu ŭi sŏyakkok" (Serenade of sorrow), but the song is all about love: gazing at stars, sighing, closing the eyes to lament the passing of love. The title's invocation of a serenade, not to mention the plucking of a guitar, places it as a modern song, unmistakably distant in sentiment and sound from the world of p'ansori or even kagok. These songs were widely sung in the post-Liberation period for a compelling reason: their lyrics as well as their melodies had a ready continuity with the period that preceded the end of Japanese rule and with the period that followed.
Yuhaengga was not altogether devoid of the anti-colonial sentiments that marked ch'angga. Although yuhaengga was ostensibly about private, sentimental issues of lost love and other nonpolitical themes, many listeners, whatever the intentions of the lyricists and singers may have been, perceived an anti-Japanese strain in what was even then considered to be a Japanese musical genre. For example, Chang Se-jŏng's 1937 song "Yŏllaksŏn ŭn ttŏnaganda" (The ferry is leaving) is about the line for the Pusan-Shimonoseki ferry (also known as the infernal ship that had carried many ethnic Koreans to the main Japanese islands), and listeners transposed the song's theme of personal separation to the exodus of exploited Korean workers. Not surprisingly, the Japanese authorities questioned the anti-Japanese connotations of the song's lyrics, as they also had done with respect to other songs featuring tears shed over bodies of water, such as Yi's "Mokp'o ŭi nunmul" and Kim Chŏng-gu's "Nunmul chŏjŭn Tuman'gang" (Tear-drenched Tumen River).121 Those songs, capturing the contemporary zeitgeist, resonated with many urban Koreans, who in turn resonated with the songs' subterranean anti-colonial sentiments.
There were also efforts, sometimes by singers who were retooled kisaeng (courtesans), to adapt and revitalize traditional Korean music, including p'ansori and minyo. Particularly significant was the genre of sin minyo, or chibang sin minyo which arose in the 1930s as a conscious effort to bridge traditional minyo and yuhaengga.122 By the mid-1930s, as record sales routinely reached forty to fifty thousand copies, record companies were eager to cultivate new audiences-new both to urban life and to popular music. There was considerable diversity in the songs that called themselves sin minyo, but their source of unity was their link to the countryside. Two songs from 1938, Yi Hwa-ja's "Kkolmangt'ae mokdong" (Feedbag cowboy) and Kim's "Nunmul chŏjŭn Tuman'gang," are classified as sin minyo, but both are more properly considered specimens of yuhaengga or sin kayo.123 What made them "folk" music was their nostalgic and agrarian elements (such as the mooing of a cow in Yi's song, sung to the traditional three beats). Some scholars stress sin minyo as the first indigenous form of popular music, but the genre was deeply affected by Western and Japanese music, relied almost exclusively on European instruments, and was basically similar to other yuhaengga of the time.124
The world of yuhaengga was far from monolithic. The mix of influences-Korean, Japanese, American, and more-that percolated in colonial Korea created, for instance, Pak Hwang-rim's 1938 hit "Oppa nŭn p'unggakchaengi" (My brother is a busker).125 In her nasal, jazzy singing style, and backed by not quite cacophonic but certainly loud instrumentation, Pak complains about her meddling and drunk street-musician brother. The lyrics, deeply untraditional, are faintly shocking even to some contemporary South Korean ears. At least one photo from that time shows the singer in a spaghetti-strap dress.126 The song embodies an anarchic and anomic urban nightlife, far removed from the contemporary South Korean memory of that period as a time of unremitting oppression and cultural (and female) subjugation. When the song is juxtaposed with the smooth, melismatic trot songs of the 1960s, it should be readily apparent that the world of colonial Korean popular music was in no way monochromatic and surely not all prim or Confucian. Furthermore, a variety of new genres appeared during that period. Jazz made its debut in Seoul in 1930, though the genre encompassed not only American jazz but also French chanson and Latin music.127 As in the United States and elsewhere, the term "jazz" was often used pejoratively, to denote an alien music that was questionably music at all but was unquestionably noisy.128 In the 1930s, even the staid genre of children's music acquired an upbeat tone.
By the mid-1930s, popular-music culture was established in Seoul. I have already discussed the sale of records and the creation of stars as well as the spread of popular music from new outlets, such as theaters, movie houses, cafés, and bars. Urbanites readily embraced yuhaengga; it was fashionable precisely because of its evanescent but enjoyable songs and singers. The first concert of popular music in Korea was held in 1933, after Ch'oe/Hasegawa returned to Seoul from his triumphant Japanese tour. In 1935, there was even a poll for the most popular singer (Ch'oe was the winner).129 Also in 1935, the remarkable impresario Yi Ch'ŏl, who managed Okeh Records, assembled singers for a series of concerts. His salesmanship enhanced the spread of popular music; his innovations included contests for new singers.130 At the same time-the second half of the colonial period-ethnic Korean musicians were following the orbit of the Japanese empire and dispersing to China, Manchuria, and elsewhere to constitute the first wave of Korean music exports.131 Most features of the South Korean popular-music scene today could already be found in Seoul by the mid-1930s, at least in some form, however inchoate.
With the intensification of the Japanese war effort, the Japanese state sought to mobilize its subjects by any means necessary. As a result, the colonial power not only imposed extreme measures of Japanization-the ban on the use of the Korean language in schools in 1937, and the enforced adoption of Japanese names for all Koreans in 1940-but also tightened control over and increasingly censored potentially subversive expression in the realm of popular songs.132 The government's campaign was not exclusively negative, however. From the late 1930s on, the Japanese authorities promoted kokumin kayō (national songs), which employed the music of yuhaengga to convey positive messages about Japanese rule, both in the main Japanese islands as well as in the Japanese colonies, including Korea.133 One example was "Fukuchi manri" (Thousands of miles of abundant land), the theme song of the eponymous 1941 movie about the emigration of ethnic Koreans to Manchuria. By the late 1930s, the national had transmogrified into the martial, with the rise of gunkoku kayō (martial national songs).134 Needless to say, Japanese patriotic songs failed to be as popular as the 1930s yuhaengga. Nevertheless, many yuhaengga singers, such as Kim Yŏng-gil, took part in singing kokumin and gunkoku kayō.135 The extensive collaboration of ethnic Korean singers in pro-Japanese activities remains an underexplored but inescapable aspect of popular music in the colonial period.
In short, then, the urban world of yuhaengga marked a significant break with the Chosŏn Korean soundscape, whether elite or popular, urban or rural. European instruments, clothes, décor, and styles projected an entirely new feel-the new, the Western, the modern-as well as a radically distinct aural experience. Few would prove able to resist the allure of the new musical universe or the new lifestyle it encapsulated. Yet the break was not quite total; the Chosŏn soundscape survived in Westernized garb. Korean songs, as already noted, were often composed in the pentatonic scale (and even though kugak was not composed in the Western scale, many of its pieces can be transposed readily to the pentatonic scale), and they retained something of the three beats of changdan (and were usually performed in 6/8 time). To be sure, however, yuhaengga was almost indistinguishable from Japanese ryūkōka, both of them adapting to and articulated in the Western soundscape.
The Post-Liberation Period
In 1945, the Japanese defeat in World War II liberated Korea, only to leave the Korean peninsula divided.136 After Liberation, postcolonial South Korea experienced another revolution: the end of Japanese musical dominance, and the beginning of American musical hegemony.
Periodization generally suggests radical shifts, but reality is perforce more complex: individuals traverse distinct periods, and those who survive and thrive are often the ones who adapt to new styles and new paymasters. Yi Nan-yŏng's turbulent career is symptomatic of the larger changes and complexities. Born into poverty in Mokp'o in 1916, she began as an entr'acte singer at a movie theater during the first wave of yuhaengga.137 After attaining fame with "Mokp'o ŭi nunmul," she released a series of hits, including duets with "Emperor" Nam In-su, and her repertoire encompassed everything from blues to light pop. In 1936, she began performing as Oka Ranko and achieved renown in Japan; by the 1940s, she was participating in the Japanese war effort. After Liberation, along with her husband (Kim Hae-song) and the aforementioned Chang Se-jŏng, she was a member of K. P. K. Akdan (K. P. K. Musical Group), which performed primarily "jazz" (American popular music) for US troops; that is, Yi made yet another shift in her soundscape, and in her audience.138 During the Korean War, her husband was apprehended by North Korea, and K. P. K. Akdan was disbanded. In the confusion of the postwar years, Yi trained her children as musicians, forming the Kim Sisters and later the Kim Brothers. The Kim Sisters would make a splash among GIs in South Korea, a success that led to shows in Las Vegas (The China Doll Revue at the Thunderbird Hotel from 1959 on) and to twenty-five appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, the defining variety show of the 1960s in the United States (for context, Connie Francis appeared twenty-six times; Patti Page and Louis Armstrong, eighteen times each).139 Yi also restarted her own singing career, performing with Nam (with whom she also became romantically involved) until his death, in 1962. Her career was ended by the 1961 South Korean legislation that banned music by defectors-a status generously defined to include not only those who, like Yi's husband, had gone unwillingly to North Korea but also their immediate relatives. Despondent, Yi died in 1965 at the age of forty-nine.
Although South Koreans sought to emulate the democratic United States, the long-standing status bifurcation of musical tastes persisted. The elite, having lost its traditional source of wealth and power in the land reform of the early 1950s, turned decisively toward education as a means of class reproduction. A critical element of this shift was the espousal of American (and Western) culture and the simultaneous repudiation of traditional Korean, Chinese, and Japanese culture. Traditional Korean music, in a long diminuendo, ceased to have anything to do with refinement, civilization, or class.140 In its stead, European art music reigned. By the 1970s, the enthusiasm of the South Korean elite had churned out some superstar performers, such as the violinist Kyung-wha Chung and her brother, the conductor Myung-whun Chung. This development bespoke, rather than rupture, a continuity with the colonial period, when many aspiring ethnic Koreans had gone to Japan for training in European classical music. After all, world-class composers like Isang Yun and Unsuk Chin did not emerge from nowhere, and it is no coincidence that other prominent diasporic Koreans, such as Nam June Paik, cut their artistic teeth on classical European music.141 As traditional elite culture crumbled along with the received social structure, European art music provided a rare continuous note, one that remains resonant in the twenty-first century.142
European classical music radiated prestige and power, refinement and sophistication. Its impact reached far beyond the educated elite. Few children of the South Korean middle class, and few children whose parents envisioned a grandiose future for them (in other words, very few children at all), escaped a brush with the dreaded piano or violin lessons. South Korean educational bureaucrats, following their Japanese predecessors, installed European classical music in the schools as the basis of music education. In the nineteenth century, few Koreans would have been able to identify even the most common European musical instruments, such as the piano; by the late twentieth century, one would have had to look long and hard for such a display of ignorance. From musical notation to the titles of masterpieces and the names of their composers, the world of European classical music became part of South Korean common knowledge. Another Western influence, Christianity, also exposed many South Koreans more intensively to the Western soundscape as new adherents of the faith sang their weekly hymns or listened to Christian music. In time, most South Koreans would walk down the aisle to the tune of Mendelssohn's wedding march or Wagner's bridal chorus. In addition, the US armed forces instilled the rhythm of the Western military march (along with addiction to alcohol and nicotine).
Even more than European art music, American music-its signature instruments (such as the saxophone and the trombone), its brighter timbre, and its upbeat lyrics-colonized South Korea immediately and totally in the restricted but vast networks of US military bases and the camp towns that sprouted up around them after 1945 (the term kijich'on means, literally, "camp village"). The end of colonial rule unleashed an exodus of the Japanese-dominated music industry, and thereafter Japanese music was all but banned from South (and North) Korea.143 The destruction wrought by the Korean War (1950-1953) and the ensuing impoverishment of the country left Americans as the chief consumers of popular music in 1950s South Korea. Many young American soldiers who found themselves in South Korea on a hardship tour avidly embraced formal and informal offerings of rest and relaxation, from sexual services to musical entertainment.144 The sheer economic might of the US military, not to mention the prestige it had gained when it liberated the country from Japanese rule, ensured that South Korean musicians, young and old, would eagerly perform whatever American GIs wanted to hear.145 In the late 1950s, revenues from performances for US GIs probably exceeded the total export earnings of South Korea.146 Yongsan and It'aewŏn, in what was then southern Seoul, where the Eighth United States Army was stationed, were ground zero of the American popular-music invasion (hence the Korean nickname P'alkun, meaning "Eighth Army," as the common synecdoche for the US military). In addition, the United Service Organizations (USO) arranged live shows, which provided the template for the first South Korean music show, Sho Sho Sho, broadcast by the government-owned TV station, KBS.147 Another conduit of US popular music was the US military's communication networks, at first radio (beginning in 1950) and later television (1957). At a time when South Korea had few radios or television sets, the Armed Forces Korean Network (AFKN) was transmitting a steady barrage of Americana, including American popular music.
At officers' clubs, in dance halls, and at other venues, numerous South Korean musicians immersed themselves in the musical universe of American soldiers. These musicians included those who had previously performed in European classical music orchestras and those who had sung yuhaengga or even performed jazz in the colonial period. From quasi-orchestral renditions of big-band and swing music to the more accessible and imitable crooner songs-again, frequently just called "jazz"-South Koreans learned to perform for American GIs and, over time, for their own fellow nationals.148 They also dressed and comported themselves in line with American expectations.149 Eventually, just as their predecessors had spanned the Japanese empire, South Koreans would perform in the American zone of influence, not only in the United States, as we have seen, but also across its informal empire-Japan, Vietnam (especially during the war in the 1960s), and beyond.150 In the immediate post-Liberation years, however, most acts were outright imitations, and the imitation began with the names of these acts. A string of South Korean sister acts emerged to emulate the Andrews Sisters, then at their apogee in the United States; these acts included not just the Kim Sisters but also the Arirang Sisters, the Lee Sisters, the Pearl Sisters, and others. Few South Koreans would have known much about American popular music before 1945-with the outbreak of the Pacific War, Japan had effectively sealed its territories off from American cultural influence-but by 1960 many urban South Koreans had at least passing familiarity with such popular American singers as Pat Boone and Patti Page, Doris Day and Nat King Cole. Some South Korean youths fell in love with the glittering world of American popular music, swinging with big-band jazz or swaying to heartrending ballads. For example, in the immediate post-Liberation years, my father envisioned himself as a jazz trombonist despite his upright rural background, and my paternal grandfather, reportedly for the first and last time, squelched that anti-yangban yearning with an exhibition of unrestrained fury. Quite clearly, though, yangban hegemony, its days already numbered, was unable to withstand a force even more powerful than Japanese colonial rule, and even more subversive of traditional Korean social order.
An important qualifier with respect to US music's dominance is that the music remained largely restricted to the camp towns, which few South Koreans ever entered.151 Difficult though it is to recall a time before music was readily reproducible, music in 1950s South Korea was far from quotidian or ubiquitous. As noted earlier, the end of colonial rule had brought the departure of the Japanese music industry, and South Korea's poverty stunted the development of indigenous record companies and production facilities.152 Record imports were restricted, a fact that did not prevent the circulation of illegal and pirated copies, but we should also recall that few South Koreans in the 1950s had the means to own a phonograph (and those who did tended to be the cultural elite, who preferred European classical music and au courant American musical genres). Certainly the sound of music was absent from my paternal grandfather's rural home in the 1960s, in clear contrast to the state of affairs in my urban-based maternal grandparents' home, where it was common enough to hear singing and humming of popular music, if only old-fashioned ch'angga and kagok.
The temptation with any backward glance, especially a cursory one, is to see periodic shifts in which genres and styles rise and fall and disappear, but we should not sweep older genres into history's dustbin, since many of them survived and even thrived in the post-Liberation period. Pre-Japanese forms of people's music, such as p'ansori and nongak, remained a significant presence in the South Korean countryside of the 1950s and 1960s. Itinerant troupes, often featuring p'ansori performances, provided an important source of entertainment when much of South Korea remained without electricity and thus with little access to radio and no access to television. Seasonal rituals as well as quotidian songs continued among farmers and fishermen, washerwomen and grandparents. In this context, it is not surprising that sin minyo and tongyo continued to attract listeners in the post-Liberation period. If the golden age of tongyo was the 1930s, the 1950s are considered by some to have been the heyday (chŏnsŏnggi) of children's songs.153 Kagok and tongyo remained stubbornly Western, but without the newfound appeal of American popular music. Sin minyo, with its rural resonances, gradually lost its fan base, pressured on one side by a more obstinately rural, traditional agrarian music and on the other by more urban, up-tempo styles of music. In any case, most older and rural South Koreans found American music loud and alien. After all, anything new is potentially suspect, and most South Koreans, the vast majority of whom remained in the countryside in the 1950s, still inhabited a Chosŏn Korean or Japanese-influenced Korean soundscape. The blaring of trumpets and the shimmering of violin strings were alien to ears attuned to indigenous wooden flutes and gutted string instruments, which, moreover, were played in a completely distinct scale and rhythm. If those who first heard Debussy's japonisme compositions found his orientalist notes strange, it was the rest of his oeuvre that would have sounded exotic to most South Koreans in the decade after Liberation.154
In the immediate post-Liberation, pre-Korean War years, before the US presence became pronounced, 1930s-style yuhaengga underwent a revival, although in openly and proudly Korean guise. Nam In-su's "Kagŏra samp'alsŏn" (Go away, 38th parallel), originally released in 1945 and later to become a major hit, after its rerelease in 1948; Chang Se-jŏng's 1948 hit "Urŏra ŭnbangŭl" (Ring, silver bell), with its line about the fluttering national flag on a silver-and-gold horse-drawn coach bearing love through the streets of Seoul; the 1949 song "Kwiguksŏn" (Repatriating ship), sung by various people but most closely associated with Yi In-gwŏn-all three are patently patriotic, and all three address the concerns of their era.155 To be sure, not all popular songs were nationalist-there was Hyŏn In's 1949 "Silla ŭi talpam" (Moonlit night in Shilla)-but political color overwhelmed domestic popular music during the Korean War, when songs about refugees, war widows, and soldiers proliferated.156 In 1950, for example, "Sŭngni ŭi norae" (The song of victory) and "Chŏnuya chal chagŏra" (Sleep well, comrade-in-arms) were widely disseminated (the latter became a massive hit in 1951, when Hyŏn In recorded it). Many of these songs have more than a vague resemblance to 1940s gunkoku kayō-not surprisingly, since many of their composers, lyricists, and singers were involved in the Japanese war effort. What remained after three years of utter devastation, however, was not a repertoire of upbeat martial tunes but rather songs of travail and trauma. Yi Hae-yŏn's "Tanjang ŭi Miari Kogae" (The heartbreak of Miari Pass), though released in 1956, is exemplary. The song recalls "Arirang" as Yi sings of tears and farewells, presumably involving a husband "turning around to look and turning around again/barefoot and tottering/pulled over the Pass." Thus, in the mid-1950s, popular songs could still echo the genre of the national folk song and could tell of public and personal tragedy.
Nevertheless, the impact of the US occupation, which would continue after the formal independence of South Korea, was profound, and it overpowered the world of post-Liberation yuhaengga. The Rhee Syngman regime (1948-1960) was pejoratively called "the translators' government." The material things that Americans brought were visible-jeeps, chocolate, Coca-Cola-and would soon reign as common objects of desire. No less significant were American cultural products, ranging from Hollywood movies to popular music.157 South Korean musicians, whether listening to records or reading musical scores in the American Hit-Kit of Popular Songs, immersed themselves in the soundscape of the United States. Again, the geographical impact of that soundscape was initially limited, but it shaped popular-music culture in Seoul and other large cities, not just in terms of songs but in terms of a way of life. All it takes is a glance at some of what was popular in South Korea in the 1940s and 1950s-"Mujŏng purŭsŭ" (Heartless blues) in 1948, "San Francisco" in 1952, "Arizona Cowboy" in 1955, and "Taejŏn purŭsŭ" (Taejŏn blues) in 1956, not to mention song titles featuring the words "tango," "cha-cha-cha," "mambo," and "boogie"-to perceive the ineluctable influence of the United States on everything from song lyrics to fashionable dances.158 Yet outside the immediate confines of the camp towns, the Japanese influence remained strong. Whether the task is to trace boogie-woogie's popularity in the late 1940s or the popularity of Latin beats in the mid-1950s, we see that South Korean fashion followed that of Japan, after a gap of a few years. But Japan's was the influence that dared not speak its name. Until 1952, Japan was also occupied by the United States, and Japanese musicians mediated American music for Koreans, often by way of colonial ties and postcolonial diasporic networks, which included the dissemination of Japanese-printed sheet music.159
The 1950s are something of a forgotten decade in South Korea. Most South Koreans, pressed to offer a description of that period, would mutter something about the destruction caused by the Korean War, the corruption of the Rhee regime, and the poverty of the country. And they would assume that trot music dominated in those years. Yet trot did not dominate, and the reality was not all doom and gloom. Indeed, even the most cursory look at popular-song jackets and lyrics, or at advertisements and magazine articles about popular music, reveals a much more vibrant scene, one buoyed by the unbounded optimism of American culture (which in turn rested on the arrogance of the so-called American Century), and the view from today is all the more remarkable for the unvarnished smiles of the women in less-than-Confucian garb who gaze back across more than half a century. Their colorful nylon clothes and exposed skin make those South Korean women a race apart from their almost completely covered counterparts of only twenty years later. To contemplate this situation from a different angle, Pak Chae-hong's 1955 hit "Mulbanga tonŭn naeryŏk" (The roundabout history of the waterwheel) openly satirizes worldly success and prestige and is clearly critical of the Rhee regime, whereas the repressive cultural policy of Park Chung-hee in the 1960s and 1970s stifled that earlier era's optimism and openness and consigned its outlook to oblivion. The famous 1961 composition of Son Sŏk-u (Seog Woo Sohn/Sung Woo Sohn), "Nooran shassŭ ŭi sanai" (The boy in the yellow shirt), sung by Han Myŏng-suk, is catchy and upbeat, a song that could and in fact did have appeal outside South Korea.160 Especially when it is performed in Han's syllabic, staccato singing style, it has, notwithstanding the obvious differences, a family resemblance to the chirpy American songs of the 1950s-for example, to Doris Day's 1956 hit "Whatever Will Be, Will Be" (with its grammatically incorrect subtitle, "Que Sera, Sera"), or to the 1959 song "Lipstick on Your Collar," by Connie Francis. And Han, like Doris Day and Connie Francis, but unlike most other South Korean women of her era, has a short hairstyle and even a short dress. What is even more striking, the song is suggestive of a romance between a South Korean woman and an African American GI-an encounter that, if made explicit in the lyrics, would have upset many upright South Koreans.161 The enormous popularity of light music (kyŏng ŭmak) in urban South Korea, reflecting musical tastes not at all far from those of the American mainstream, should also be emphasized, no matter how marginal other US trends (such as the rise of rock music) remained in South Korea in the 1950s. As noted in the prelude, one symptom of the forgotten post-Korean War, pre-Park years is the fact that Han's record, one of the greatest hits in the history of South Korean music, was all but impossible to locate by the 1980s.162
This social dynamic is previewed in Han Hyŏng-mo's 1956 film Chayu puin (Madam Freedom).163 The film's tradition-minded professor-husband is troubled by debt (which prompts his wife to work outside the home, a rather radical gesture for a middle-class housewife at the time) and by a neighbor who listens incessantly to popular music on his record player. Eventually the neighbor consorts with the scholar's wife, and we are given a tour of bars and dance halls in 1950s Seoul. At the end of the film, the would-be liberated housewife is cast out; a disgraced woman now, she is covered by lightly falling snow as her husband and their son stare at her from the warm comfort of their home. The emancipatory moment of South Korean popular music after the Korean War was expunged by military rule.
Which genre dominated South Korea during the long, increasingly splenetic rule of Park Chung-hee (1963-1979)? Most South Koreans would say that it was trot music.
For a musical genre currently considered at once extremely traditional and quintessentially Korean, trot was in fact a modern amalgam. It was European in inspiration and instrumentation: derived from ch'angga and kagok, trot was almost always accompanied by a Western orchestra. Its presentation was generally decidedly urban and modern: trot singers and musicians often wore Western clothing.164 The typical musician was an ethnic Korean who had trained in European classical music in Japan or had performed jazz and other Western-inflected popular music during the colonial period (often in Japan or Manchuria) and had played for Americans in the post-Liberation period.165 The proximate source of trot was the Japanese-influenced yuhaengga; trot songs are often composed in the Japanese pentatonic (yonanuki) minor scale, and in a two- or four-beat rhythm. Only the language of the lyrics would have provided a key point of differentiation (though translation easily bypassed the linguistic barrier, which didn't exist for people schooled during the colonial period). Trot was Korean because its singing style often mimicked the melismatic style of p'ansori, redolent of strong emotion. To be sure, there was a significant variety of singing styles, ranging from those that had roots in rural folk songs and sin minyo to those that were influenced by American genres, especially jazz and blues. (In Japan there was a separate style called mūdo kayō, or "mood songs"; this style was especially popular in the 1960s but was usually classified as trot in South Korea.) The melancholic music tugged at the proverbial heartstrings of South Koreans, but trot was far from traditional, and, in contrast to Japanese enka, was characterized by a brighter timbre, a higher pitch, and a more upbeat tempo. Light pop, rock, and other types of American popular music sound dry and impersonal to trot aficionados; to those who prefer the American styles, trot seems all wet.
The paradox of trot is that in spite of its indisputably urban and even cosmopolitan character, it served as a kind of soul music for South Koreans who were coming of age in the decades of rapid urbanization. That association stemmed in part from lyrics that articulated common experiences-tales of coming from the countryside to the alienating city, of lasting friendships and romances or of catastrophic breakups, of family romances and troubles-lyrics that articulated, in short, any of the all too familiar narratives of South Korean lives in the turbulent decades of the post-Korean War era. One need not be a devotee of the reflection thesis (the notion that music reflects and reproduces social reality) to note the human comedy and tragedy depicted in trot lyrics. The story narrated in a trot song is principally an urban story, predicated in turn on the narrator's recent exodus from the countryside. Very few trot songs are about rural life, and if the inevitably rural kohyang (hometown, or Heimat) is invoked, it is as a remembered object of nostalgia. The countryside was the repository of everything traditional, including music. Farmers had their agrarian tunes in the 1950s and 1960s; roaming p'ansori singers registered the declining Korean soundscape.166 Yet the Seoul soundscape was too urban, too American, too alien-at once artificial and superficial. The new urbanites found respite not in recalling the rural but rather in finding something of a halfway house-not quite American or Western or even Japanese, but new and different enough to be interesting, old and familiar enough to be soothing. Trot was the secret garden of transplanted urbanites.
One unassailably modern dimension of trot is the fact that its ascent coincided with the dissemination of new technologies. When South Korea made the transition from 78 rpm SP discs to 33 rpm LPs, it was a change that liberated the listening experience.167 Around the same time, radio ownership and radio transmission spread across the country. Although television had technically begun in South Korea in 1956, the first full-scale television broadcast took place in 1961. The new technological moment coincided with and contributed to the creation of a unified popular culture in South Korea in the mid-1960s. Popular music continued to be consumed primarily in the public sphere, that is, in movie theaters, teahouses, bars, and nightclubs. The growing national audience made trot the national popular music and made Yi Mi-ja the personification of the genre.168 As Yi herself put it, "In 1964 'Tongbaek agassi' [Camellia girl, a movie theme song] was a great hit, selling more than one hundred thousand records for the first time in the history of Korean popular music. . . . One year I released more than ten albums. Especially in 1964 and 1965, the situation was such that only my records would sell."169
Trot captured some of the Korean soul, but it was also suspected of being an enemy alien: Japanese.170 Yuhaengga was indisputably intertwined with Japanese imperial culture, and trot, as its successor, was indelibly marked by its origins. Producers, composers, singers, musicians, and, of course, the audience had been steeped in the influences of the Japanese period, and it would have been almost impossible to peel away every layer of Japaneseness from South Korean popular music, even after a decade-long immersion in American popular music. The aforementioned Hong Nan-p'a, widely regarded as the father of modern Korean music, and Nam In-su, among others, became targets of anti-Japanese attacks long after the colonial period, and even after the era of the Park dictatorship.171 Yet, as noted in connection with the American influence of the 1950s, Japan had long served as a mediator of external influences and trends. Precisely because overt Japanese influence was elided, not so much by explicit legal proscriptions as by governmental campaigns and popular hostility, it was easy in the 1950s to emulate Japanese popular songs and even, at times, to plagiarize them. The first copyright law, enacted in 1957, had almost no effect when it came to expunging piracy of Japanese songs, or to acknowledging Japanese influence.172
Rhee Syngman, the first president of South Korea, spent much of his adult life in the United States and harbored visceral anti-Japanese sentiments. But Park Chung-hee, who came to power after the 1961 military coup and dominated South Korea until his violent death in 1979, found himself in a much more ambiguous and precarious position vis-à-vis Japan. Park had been trained in the Japanese military academy and is said to have regularly indulged his taste for Japanese popular culture until his assassination; indeed, he was reportedly indulging that taste at the very moment of his death.173 Therefore, Park, unlike Rhee, needed his anti-Japanese bona fides, especially after he concluded the 1965 Normalization Treaty with Japan, an act that provoked a massive backlash. Park sought to enhance his nationalist credentials by enunciating anticommunist and anti-Japanese rhetoric and policy. In Park's brand of nationalism, the two main antagonists were precisely the two countries that were culturally closest to South Korea: North Korea and Japan.
Park's cultural policy-Spartan and puritanical, as befitted a military man-sought to extirpate the legacy of the Rhee regime. Anti-corruption campaigns targeted not only politics (electoral fraud) and business (cozy deals between political and business elites) but also the cultural and social decadence of the post-Korean War years, a degeneration whose manifestations ranged from the sex industry to the sartorial emancipation of Korean women. In spite of his regime's pro-American veneer, Park's attitude toward American popular music was less than enthusiastic, but the regime, to bolster its anti-Japanese credentials, repeatedly banned trot songs. Yi Mi-ja's spectacular 1964 hit "Tongbaek agassi" was deemed waesaek (Japanese in color or style), and the government prevented recordings of it from being sold the following year, lifting the ban only in 1987.174 The definition of waesaek was never precisely specified in connection with the song; certainly Paek Yŏng-ho's composition utilized the Japanese pentatonic scale, but that would not have distinguished "Tongbaek agassi" from most other South Korean songs of this period. The musical rationale for the ban seemed to rest instead on the recording's melismatic, legato singing, which used chest (it is tempting to say "stomach") register. The belting, even bellowing, from the lower tessitura generated the wailing that was the signature style of some enka singers (that style, a form of melismatic singing, was called kobushi), but it was a style that also had a legitimate Korean antecedent in p'ansori singing.175 Furthermore, this type of soulful, sometimes mournful singing seemed to express the same ubiquitous sentiment of han-that combustible mixture of anger, sorrow, regret, and resentment-conveyed by waesaek trot.176 In effect, Yi Mi-ja's style of appoggiatura-filled syncopated singing approximated blues and soul music, whereas other, non-waesaek singers (Ha Ch'un-hwa and Song Tae-gwan, for example) escaped censure because they were closer to sin minyo, or to American pop and rock (as Cho Yong-p'il also was, a decade later). Accustomed as we are to reifying and essentializing trot music, we should also remember that its very popularity rested in part on its diversity, and hence on its ability to cater to different tastes. Yi Mi-ja's vocal technique was regarded by some as at once vulgar and non-Korean (though only the elite could sustain the opinion that she was not a good singer). The proto-trot singing style, as exemplified by Nam In-su and Yi Nan-yŏng, is much closer to kagok or lied singing practice, and it was probably this style that facilitated these two singers' transition to American-style pop singing later on.177 Be that as it may, the government had a number of reasons for censoring music. A later hit by Yi, "Kirŏgi appa" (Goose father), was banned ostensibly because of its waesaek character, but the reason for the ban was more likely the song's alleged criticism of a governmental policy that was dispatching South Korean men to the war in Vietnam or to construction projects in the Middle East.178 The unsurprising irony is that even as Park prohibited others from listening to Yi's songs, he invited Yi herself to the Blue House (the South Korean version of the White House) to sing for him and his coterie.179 All told, twenty-seven songs by Yi were banned. The proscription against Japanese popular music would finally be loosened in the 1990s; only in 2004 would it be more or less completely rescinded.180
Park was not wrong to consider trot Japanese because it appealed to the Japanese audience. In the post-World War II period, most Japanese regarded Korea and Koreans with facile contempt. The sources of disrespect included a number of plain facts: that Korea had been a Japanese colony (and thus inferior, in spite of the ideology of imperial kinship); that South Korea remained an impoverished country, and one with a military dictator (in contradistinction to indisputably democratic Japan, which was also rapidly becoming affluent); that North Korea was a communist dictatorship (this criticism disregarded the enthusiasm for communism among some Japanese leftists); and that ethnic Koreans in Japan (known as Zainichi) were perceived as poor, rebellious, and inassimilable.181 In spite of the prevailing anti-Korean sentiment, some Japanese listeners eagerly purchased records by South Korean singers. Chang Se-jŏng, for example, released "Ariran hatoba" (Arirang Harbor) in 1961, and in 1968 she rereleased her 1937 hit in Japanese, as "Renrakusen no uta" (The song of the ferry).182 The first genuinely successful post-World War II Korean musical export was Yi Sŏng-ae's 1977 hit "Kasumapuge" ("Kasum ap'uge" [My heart aches] in Korean). It would initiate a boom in South Korean songs, capped by Cho Yong-p'il's runaway 1982 hit "Fuzankō e kaere" (Return to Pusan Harbor), called "Torawayo Pusanhang e" in Korean. Cho was the first openly Korean singer to compete in the "red-white singing contest," the Kōhaku Utagassen broadcast that takes place in Japan on New Year's Eve and was for a long time the most-viewed television show in that country.183 In 1988, Kye Ŭn-suk (known in Japan as Kei Unsuku) also competed on Kōhaku Utagassen, three years after her Japanese debut. Thus a steady stream of South Korean trot singers made their mark in Japan in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
More striking still was the sheer preponderance of ethnic Korean singers in Japan. Given the existence of systematic employment discrimination, it was a commonsense notion among Zainichi in the immediate post-World War II decades that an ethnic Korean boy in Japan should become a baseball player (baseball was easily the most popular and lucrative sport) and that an ethnic Korean girl in Japan should become a singer.184 In fact, however, boys as well as girls sought fame and fortune in the popular-music industry. Almost all of them sought to pass as ethnic Japanese and to occlude their Korean background. However, Miyako Harumi's classic 1965 enka song "Namida no renrakusen" (The ferry of tears) is reminiscent of 1930s Korean yuhaengga in the theme of its lyrics, and her signature raspy roar, recalling the sound of p'ansori singers, almost begs to be identified as Korean. Less visible than the singers were the mainly South Korean backup musicians, composers, and producers who shuttled back and forth between South Korea and Japan, sustaining the two countries' similar soundscape of popular songs. But similarity does not mean absolute sameness. The most remarkable example of this principle may be "Kasuba no onna" (The woman of the casbah). This 1955 composition by Son Mog-in, whose vast oeuvre includes the 1935 hit "Mokp'o ŭi nunmul," was released in a South Korean version in 1967 but faltered even though it was sung by the redoubtable Patti Kim (the record's jacket features her in a black dress with décolletage).185 But the cover by Midorikawa Ako, also released in 1967, was a breakaway hit in Japan.186 Exotic locales and incidental ethnic themes, such as those related to blues and tango, were long-standing features of Japanese songs, especially mūdo kayō, whereas South Korean trot songs tended to be about South Korea.187
The dominance of trot became entrenched in 1970s South Korea. In addition to Yi Mi-ja, two male singers-Nam Chin and Na Hu-na, who had debuted in 1967 and 1969, respectively-were superstars by the mid-1970s.188 Even in the 1960s trot had been considered old people's music, but its fan base in the cities grew as newcomers from the villages continued to arrive in droves. These fans eschewed traditional Korean music, but they couldn't quite bring themselves to embrace American or American-inflected popular music. Thus trot was, in effect, a cultural integument of the new South Korea and its burgeoning national popular culture. Although movies had been the primary cultural genre to cut through the still powerful status divisions in South Korea, trot began to bridge the previously deep chasm between high and low.189 The golden age of trot was the era not only of accelerating economic growth, rapid rural exodus, and national cultural integration but also of rapid dissemination of television sets. In 1970, just over 6 percent of South Korean households owned a TV, but that proportion had increased to more than 30 percent by 1975 and to nearly 98 percent five years later. And while in 1970, TV ownership was an overwhelmingly urban phenomenon, with a television set in 95 percent of households in the cities, by 1980 virtually every household in South Korea owned a TV.190 As a result, trot, once it had become entrenched in the cities, proceeded to spread throughout the peninsula, thanks to television broadcasts. KBS's pioneering Sho Sho Sho featured more light pop and kayo, and later kayo programs would feature more trot singers as the television-watching audience expanded.191 Movie houses, cafés, bars, and other loci of popular music's consumption remained important, but by the mid-1970s, television had become the principal medium.192 It would not be an exaggeration to say that television was the fulcrum around which the South Korean nation came together-physically so, since the entire family frequently watched television together.193 Kayo shows were very popular in the 1970s, and trot was the most popular genre. Thus trot was the background music of the Park era.
Non-Trot Popular Music
The story of trot's hegemony between Liberation and the rise of K-pop obscures the considerable vitality and diversity of South Korean popular music from the 1950s to the 1990s. Cho Yong-p'il of "Fuzankō e kaere" fame has been a runaway success since 1975, but he had a previous life as an electric guitarist in a rock band. The original South Korean version of his 1982 Japanese hit was in fact nouveau trot; some contemporaries called it t'ŭrot'ŭ ko-ko ("trot gō-gō," the second part of this phrase being a Japanese term for rock music) or rokku ppong ("rock ppongtchak," the second part of this phrase being an alternative term for trot), a label that suggests a rock-infused type of music.194 In the context of the usual two- or four-beat rhythm of trot, Cho's use of a rock-influenced eight-beat rhythm is not unlike the shift from a bicycle to a motorcycle. Cho's enormously successful career constitutes something of a pentimento, with the occluded rock-music core of his work surfacing over time.195 But it would be a misleading oversimplification to equate the South Korean popular music of the 1960s and 1970s with trot music, just as it would be to assume that trot was simple and static.
As trot's popularity extended to the countryside in the 1970s, urbanites, especially youths, lent their ears to other forms of popular music. A 1967 television special on the year's top twelve hits is suggestive.196 It began with Ch'oe Hŭi-jun's sin minyo song, followed by two trot songs, but the next six were light pop songs (kyŏng ŭmak). Already by the 1960s, trot seemed old-fashioned to young urbanites-not surprisingly, since its broad contours had been shaped in the colonial period. AFKN radio and later television disseminated, in addition to the overflow of camp-town musicians, American-style popular music. The terms kayo and trot are often regarded as synonymous, but kayo usually denotes light music. Popular American tunes sung in Korean by Hyŏn Mi, such as "Tennessee Waltz," or by Pak Chae-ran, such as "Pearly Shells," found appreciative South Korean listeners. These easy-listening or lounge songs, with their associations of urbanity and sophistication, would soon be classified as Muzak by the rock generation, but for the time being they filled the air of modern establishments-that is, establishments that were not Korean but also not quite American, such as hotel lobbies and lounges, teashops, and Western bars.197 Along with Han Myŏng-suk's infectious song, other joyful jingles filled the urban soundscape, such as Ch'oe Hŭi-jun's 1961 song "Nae sarang Churian" (My love Julian) and Cho Ae-hŭi's 1964 song "Nae irŭm ŭn sonyŏ" (My name is girl). As suggested by the case of Ch'oe, who later sang sin minyo in the 1967 television special, singers often covered distinct genres over time.
Apart from the background impact of American music, subterranean imports of post-World War II Japanese popular music (also influenced by American music) should not be overlooked.198 In spite of the anti-Japanese political atmosphere, the South Korean music scene, especially in Seoul, closely tracked developments in Japan. In particular, colonial-era ties and postcolonial interactions ensured a steady flow of Japanese popular music to South Korea. That is, South Korean businessmen (in the 1960s, businesspeople were almost exclusively men), students, and musicians brought back Japanese records and songs. Myŏng-dong was full of supposedly banned Japanese publications and records. In contrast to the melismatic practices that characterized trot singing, kayo singing tended to be much more syllabic. Ironically, the staccato singing style was then alien enough to be considered a mark of low vocal talent. In taste and temperament, however, urban South Koreans were not so far from their counterparts in Japan. Domesticated (or Japanese-influenced) pop music, often composed and performed by ethnic Koreans, created a regional music soundscape, a hybrid of European instruments and techniques and the signature Japanese pentatonic scale.199
The Eighth Army remained a center of musical performance, linked to the largest and most influential music market in the world. Given the plethora of musicians, some ventured outside the American zone to perform for their co-nationals. Patti Kim is an exemplary figure in this regard. After debuting in 1959 as a singer for the Eighth Army, she became phenomenally popular, performing in Las Vegas, Tokyo, and Southeast Asia.200 She was initially promoted by Benny Kim, the outstanding impresario for the Eighth Army, and later she worked with and married Ch'oe Chi-jŏng (also called Yoshiya Jun), a well-known jazz musician in Japan and a major figure in South Korean popular music.201 With a repertoire that ranged from light pop to lounge music, Patti Kim, like the Kim Sisters, appealed to those who preferred what came to be pejoratively classified as easy-listening music. Although she appeared on television, her mainstay was live performances in concerts and nightclubs, venues that appealed to more affluent, older listeners. Another export from this era was the Korean Kittens, who spent the mid-1960s touring abroad and made an appearance in 1964 on the BBC show Tonight, singing the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love" in a mixture of Korean and English.202 The central figure of the group, Yun Pok-hŭi (Yoon Bok Hee), would go on to have a successful career in musicals but became an overnight sensation in 1967 when she was photographed upon her return to Gimpo Airport in Seoul wearing a miniskirt.203
By the 1960s, rock was ascendant in the United States and elsewhere, and some South Koreans eagerly embraced the latest trends. There was a British invasion of South Korea, though it was heavily mediated by the United States and Japan, and it led to the first flowering of rock, called "group sounds" (the term is Japanese in origin).204 The indisputable dynamo of this movement was Sin Chung-hyŏn (Jacky Shin).205 Having honed his guitar-playing chops in the camp towns, Sin composed, produced, and sponsored singers who would not have been out of place in the US music scene of the 1960s. His 1964 debut album, Pitsok ŭi yŏin (The woman in the rain), features a foursome-three guitarists and a percussionist (the group was called Edŭ p'o, meaning "Add 4")-singing a style of light rock reminiscent of the early Beatles. The instruments were the same as those of the Beatles, and the lyrics, though in Korean, were sung in a fast, upbeat pitch and tempo. The music was loud (for the time), with pronounced percussive beats and bass lines. In a sharp departure from the traditional norms of Korean music, the scale, rhythms, and style were clearly Western. Sin's achievements richly deserve the retrospective respect and honor he has garnered. Particularly noteworthy is his 1974 song "Miin" (Beautiful woman), a singular hybrid that combines the soul of nongak with the stylings of Eric Clapton: as a solo electric guitar plays in the pentatonic scale, the listener almost hears the dynamic jangle of agrarian Korean music.
Perhaps even more innovative, and indisputably more popular, were the light pop songs with dance routines that Sin championed. Beginning with the Pearl Sisters and their 1968 hit "Nima" (Darling), Sin shaped a series of acts and composed songs for them, including, most prominently, such women soloists as Kim Ch'u-ja and Kim Chŏng-mi.206 Sin's burst of creativity in the late 1960s and early 1970s introduced progressive American music to South Korea, from light pop and mournful ballads to rock with psychedelic, funk, and acid-rock undertones. In "Kŏjitmaliya" (Lies), Kim Ch'u-ja's 1971 classic, the opening guitar solo, the forceful rock beats, and the catchy, haunting refrain encapsulate a musical moment distinct from trot or light pop (not to mention from sin minyo and p'ansori) and announce the arrival of a new soundscape. Even the album jackets, whether for Kim Ch'u-ja's 1971 Kŏjitmaliya or Kim Chŏng-mi's 1973 NOW, feature innovative, funky typefaces and color schemes reminiscent of the art of Anglo-American rock, as exemplified by the jacket of the Beatles' 1965 album Rubber Soul. And fashions are decidedly un-Confucian: we see the miniskirts and hot pants that were emblematic of the late 1960s and early 1970s in the West. The Pearl Sisters, preceding Girls' Generation by more than three decades, made their exposed legs something of a trademark. As their 1968 song "K'ŏp'i hanjan" (A cup of coffee) suggests, the Pearl Sisters and their colleagues exemplified a new urban consumer culture, one that included coffee.207 The extent of the deviance from Korean musical traditions-dancing accompanied by singing, wildly swinging arms and bodies-can be gauged by the rumor that Kim Ch'u-ja was sending secret signals to North Korea.208 Yet as we view her energetic performance in the 1971 film Naeil ŭi p'aldogangsan (The Korean peninsula of tomorrow), we also see an upscale audience dancing in what was still the comparatively tame style of early rock. By the end of the 1960s, the young and the curious, flocking to new musical venues in the Myŏng-dong district of central Seoul-places like New World, C'est Si Bon, and Die Schöne-constituted what came to be known as the Myŏngdongjok (the Myŏng-dong tribe).209 At the precipice of Park's rapid turn to autocratic rule, the spirit of Americanization-which had accelerated during the post-Korean War 1950s, with intimations of political, cultural, and sexual freedom-was far from having been snuffed out.
If trot was too Japanese, rock was too American and therefore, paradoxically, even more suspect. Its assumed associations with sex, drugs, and politics (that is, with the student movement and the specter of communism) prompted the Park regime to place Sin and his associates under heavy surveillance. Rock in South Korea experienced a brief period of efflorescence in 1973 and 1974, and the paranoid are not always wrong: the country's early rock musicians, with their ties to the music scene of the military camp towns, did pioneer a lifestyle that valorized sex and drugs.210 (However, it was not as if the elders themselves, given their leanings toward the proverbial wine, women, and song, were innocent of physical and pharmaceutical transgressions.) The crescendo of the government's crackdown-the ban on long hair in 1970, and on miniskirts in 1973-climaxed in 1975 with Presidential Emergency Decree Number 9. The 1975 edict banned 222 South Korean records and 261 foreign songs, on the grounds of everything from "negative influences on national security" to "pessimistic content." Later that year, in December, Sin was imprisoned in connection with a sensational marijuana scandal.211 Thereafter, and until the mid-1980s, rock music was silenced in the South Korean soundscape, along with the nascent culture of rock music, including sexy clothing. Thus the Park regime, which had been intent a decade earlier on expunging Japaneseness from trot, unintentionally strengthened trot's place in South Korean popular music from the mid-1970s to the end of that decade.
But it would be simplistic to blame governmental repression for South Korean rock's demise in the mid-1970s. Outside the circle of urban youth, the sort of music performed by Sin and his associates was derisively called ttanttara (jangling, or loud noise), though in this regard the adjective "jangling" was something of a cultural universal for the music of that reputedly rebellious generation. Even among young, curious, countercultural urbanites, however, rock remained less than a majority taste, and the culture of rock music, or at least of the 1960s youth culture that had spread across the West, did not thrive in South Korea.212 The standard living arrangements provided little privacy for listening to loud music, and few could gain access to the instruments or the space needed to create or absorb ttanttara. Even radio was relatively rare-as late as 1970, only one in ten South Koreans owned a radio set-and so radio failed to play the important role it had played in popularizing the new, youth-oriented music in the United States, Japan, and elsewhere.213 The Baby Boomers who would constitute the rock generation in the West and Japan (though not in South Korea, where the Korean War had interrupted and skewed that demographic pattern) found their anthems elsewhere.214 The 1960s, and rock music, largely bypassed South Korea.
If American progressive rock foundered in South Korea on the twin shoals of governmental repression and popular indifference, folk music (or folk-rock music) emerged as an alternative genre around which anti-government urban youths coalesced in the 1970s. In South Korea, folk music was often called t'ong kit'a (literally, "barrel guitar"), a reference to a barrel to sit on while playing the inevitable and ubiquitous musical instrument.215 Like the activists of the US student movement, South Korean university students turned to folk as the preferred music of politicized youth. South Korea has a self-conscious and legendary tradition of student movements: the ouster of Rhee is usually called the April Student Revolution, and the long reign of Park embroiled many students in spiraling, strident, anti-government rhetoric and actions, which provoked even more violent anti-student rhetoric and reactions from the Park regime. As the dialectic of opposition and repression escalated throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, contemporary folk songs, owing more to Bob Dylan than to "Arirang," found a following.
Modern folk music was not just the music of the new generation globally; it was almost the very sound of simplicity and authenticity. Unlike commercialized popular music, with its extensive divisions of labor, folk music embodied the ideal of wholeness and integrity in the character of the singer-songwriter. The accessible melodies were usually sung plainly, if not plaintively, and the singing was accompanied only by a guitar or two; by contrast with rock music, the means of performance were relatively inexpensive. In the course of the 1970s, folk music, constituting the counterculture or the underground, became inextricable from the student anti-government movement in South Korea. Not only did the music remain mellow, the extramusical dimension was mellow, too; the drugs of choice were nicotine and alcohol, not the psychoactive substances often favored in the United States and elsewhere. In 1969, the pioneering folk performer in South Korea was probably T'ŭwin P'orio (Twin Folio), but the most eminent folk performer was Kim Min-gi, and the most emblematic folk song was his 1971 "Ach'im isŭl" (Morning dew). Even though the song was released before the 1972 promulgation of the authoritarian Yusin Constitution, Kim was chastened for his anti-government message, and the song was banned, only to become the anthem of the anti-government movement.216 The 1974 song "Haengbok ŭi nara ro" (To the country of happiness), by Han Tae-su (Han Dae Soo), is more properly understood as an anthem of youth and the new generation. The song-reminiscent of early Dylan, with its bright timbre and youthful lyrics-was a ray of light in the dark, dismal years of Yusin rule.217 Folk music maintained its elective affinity with the anti-government student movement into the 1980s. Unlike Han, however, Yang Hŭi-ŭn, Kim Kwang-sŏk, and other notable performers sang simple, slow melodies, their singing style converging, in this regard, with the style of contemporary balladeers.
By the time of Park's death, South Korean popular music had undergone nearly two decades of heightening repression. The marks of state surveillance and discipline were everywhere, and the nightly curfew was only the most egregious strike against liberal, leisure society: young people could wear neither long hair (for men) nor miniskirts (for women), and before the screening of a film, or during the blaring of the national anthem at six o'clock each evening, everyone was obliged to stop everything, stand erect, and salute the flag. In this and other ways, the authoritarian face of South Korea mirrored that of North Korea.218 Trot was too Japanese, Japanese songs were imperialist, rock was sex-addled and drug-infused, and folk songs were anti-government; even composers of classical music, such as Isang Yun, came under fire for their political views. In a move reminiscent of colonial-era (and possibly North Korean) cultural policy, the government, after suppressing so many "unhealthy" songs, attempted to gain the upper hand over the unruly world of popular music by promoting kŏnjŏn kayo (healthy popular music).219 "Saemaŭl ŭi norae" (The song of the new village), perhaps the most representative of the so-called healthy songs, was said to have been written and composed by President Park himself-in the Japanese pentatonic scale, which should come as no surprise. Mercifully, however, it was performed by professional singers.220 Another of Park's supposed pieces was "Na ŭi Choguk" (My homeland), a revival of colonial-era, wartime gunkoku kayō. The government-sanctioned healthy songs had cheerful lyrics and melodies-the most popular one was an unabashed celebration of the Republic of Korea-and at least one of these songs had to be included on every LP.221 (Imagine listening to a Bob Dylan record and finding a Pat Boone song at the end!) South Korea in the late 1970s was, to say the least, an openly authoritarian society with an active culture of censorship.
Governmental suppression never completely standardized or squelched individual tastes in music, however. Even though some kŏnjŏn kayo attracted genuine fans-for example, Chŏng Su-ra's 1984 pop paean to the country, "A! Taehanmin'guk" (Ah! The Republic of Korea)-most people listened to a variety of genres. Certainly the inroads made by radio and by recorded, reproducible music had greatly expanded the listening possibilities. As I have emphasized, a retrospective glance at the 1970s runs the risk of exaggerating trot's popularity, and even in the mid-1970s, at the height of Park's repressive rule, Japanese music could still be found in teahouses and individual homes. Rock and anti-government music, too, although muted in public, could still be heard, not only in the camp towns but also in various urban quarters.
Toward the end of Park's repressive rule, a new, national, post-trot popular music emerged. It was the era not only of the presidential emergency decrees but also of the romantic scandals that tarnished the reputations of Nam Chin and Na Hu-na, the two giants of trot. Two other singers made their dramatic entrées around this time. I have already discussed the first of them: Cho Yong-p'il, who became a superstar with his rock-influenced trot (but Cho, like Sin Chung-hyŏn in 1975, was arrested for marijuana use in 1977 and was banned from performing for three years).222 The other new singer was Hye Ŭn-i. Hye's 1976 debut song, "Tangsin ŭn morŭsilkkŏya" (You wouldn't know), and the following year's "Tangsinman ŭl saranghae" (I will only love you), catapulted her to the summit of stardom.223 Although she sang a few trot songs, it would be a category mistake to call her a trot singer; the two songs just mentioned, which were composed and promoted by the jazz musician Ch'oe/Yoshiya, are pop ballads.224 Hye had started out as a poorly paid nightclub singer, but she managed to project an uncanny sense of freshness. In fact, the singer and her songs were a volatile mix of contradictory impulses: she seemed innocent and almost virginal but also worldly, perhaps too much so; her lyrics were melancholic, even tragic, but her singing and her appearance were ineffably cheerful; her songs sounded like slow ballads, but they featured jazzed-up instrumentation (there is a bluesy feel to the saxophone that introduces "Tangsinman ŭl saranghae"); Hye's stage presence was effete and effeminate but also charismatic and dynamic; and although she purported to be a nationally iconic singer of the trot era, she was in fact closer to the age of folk or even disco, as in her 1980 mega hit "Che 3 Han'ganggyo" (Han River Bridge number 3).225 It was fortunate for Hye that she was attractive: although popular music has always valorized physical appearance, television elevated the significance of a singer's looks, and over the course of the next two decades, with the advent of the age of universal television ownership, the visual element of a musical performance became almost as important as the aural.
In short, Park's repressive rule effaced the blossoming of American pop and curbed the enthusiasm for trot in 1960s South Korea, and thwarted the rise of rock in the early 1970s. Trot dominated during the period of accelerated exodus from the countryside to the cities; the new kayo became hegemonic precisely when South Korean social and cultural integration were more or less complete. Trot and kayo were both hybrid genres that had sustained some links to the older Korean soundscape. From our current perspective, Cho and Hye may seem to be all about trot, but it would be an act of enormous historical condescension to ignore the fact that in their day they were seen as refreshing and forward-looking, and to forget the very reasons for their popularity, which included not only their considerable vocal prowess but also their absorption of other motifs that were current in South Korean popular music, elements ranging from the American to the Japanese, and from rock to jazz. It would not be an exaggeration to say that a distinctive South Korean kayo was born precisely when an integrated national audience came into being.
The Interregnum: National Popular Music in the 1980s
Park's death unleashed the pent-up demand for democratic participation, as amply demonstrated during the Seoul Spring of 1980. The rump regime promulgated martial law in May of that year and suppressed demonstrators in Kwangju some days later. The Fifth Republic under Chun Doo Hwan almost immediately tightened governmental control over the mass media and by the end of the year had dissolved forty-four of the sixty-four extant media companies.226 Yet Chun was no Park; and, more important, South Korea had undergone an irrevocable transformation. The Chun regime, unable to sustain its rule by force, pursued what has come to be known as the 3S policy of promoting screens, sex, and sports. I have already noted that television ownership was nearly universal by 1980. Color television broadcasting began in 1981. The following year, the nocturnal curfew was lifted when Aema puin (Madame Aema), widely remembered as the first erotic South Korean film, became all the rage (and eventually spawned at least ten sequels). And the year after that, the government lifted its repressive restrictions on the clothing and hair of middle and high school pupils, thus ending the tyranny of drab couture and "rice bowl" coiffure. Popular entertainment was encouraged, with less stringent restrictions (in the depiction of romantic relations, for example). Popular music was now government-sanctioned mass entertainment; even the government-promoted healthy music was peppy, upbeat, and difficult to distinguish from mainstream pop. Professional baseball was launched in 1982. In short, the Fifth Republic followed a neo-Marxist prescription regarding the depoliticizing effect of popular culture.
South Korea in the mid-1980s was a morass of change and contradiction. Affluence and poverty, starkly juxtaposed, coexisted with a military rule that seemed permanently engaged in surveillance and discipline. Students and workers demonstrated; riot police beat them into submission. Popular music was part and parcel of the entrenched struggles.227 Yet on the surface South Korea was a place of repose, and the world of popular music in the 1980s seemed static. This impression stems from the sheer dominance of television. Television stations, having dethroned movie theaters as the principal loci of entertainment in South Korea, aired staid and certainly depoliticized programs, music included. Because television sought to reach the entire nation, its content tended toward the least common denominator, which extended to the choice of songs. Anything out of the ordinary would have resulted in rapid censure by the government, a job made easier by the fact that there were effectively only two stations, and one of them was government-owned. (A third station was nominally out of the censors' reach, but the US military's Armed Forces Korean Network was not known for inciting popular discontent.)
The post-Yusin Constitution regime of repression was successful in generating outward and sometimes inward conformity. There was a general preference for slow, virtuosic singing of music composed in the pentatonic scale. That is, faint echoes of colonial-period yuhaengga reverberated in South Korea in the 1980s. A good example of this phenomenon is provided by the disgraced Cho Yong-p'il, who bounced back in 1980 with a megahit, "Ch'ang pakkŭi yŏja" (The woman outside the window). Gone is the eight-beat rock rhythm; in this song, the chastened Cho sings slowly, claiming to have spent three years in exile learning p'ansori in the mountains so that he can connect to "the blood of the Korean people."228 Humbug aside, a superstar like Cho does not remain a superstar by ignoring which way the wind blows.
Organic continuity or even reversal does not imply homogeneity or lack of change. Just as Hye's music marked a shift from trot, the balladeers of the 1980s were distinct from Hye. They incorporated folk music's simplicity and colloquialism into post-trot music, which resembled the Japanese ballads of the 1970s and 1980s. And this is no surprise, not only because of the transnational movements and influences of ethnic Korean musicians but also because of the common regional soundscape born of long colonial rule and postcolonial American influence. The government continued to censor undesirable music, a category that included almost the entire range of popular music in South Korea. However, even in the staid world of trot, there were fresh faces and styles. One superstar who emerged in the early 1980s, Chu Hyŏn-mi, was an ethnic Chinese woman who had grown up in South Korea. Like Hye, Chu was an outstanding vocalist who also benefited from her attractive appearance.
For younger listeners who rejected trot, however reinvigorated that genre may have been, the ballad was the genre of choice. Starting in 1978, Yi Mun-se released a string of songs that were well received, especially the 1981 hit "Nanŭn haengbokhan saram" (I am a happy man), and he reached the height of his popularity with 1988's "Kwanghwamun yŏn'ga" (Kwanghwamun sonata) and 1991's "Yetsarang" (Old love). The latter two were sweet or bittersweet love songs, but Yi incorporated elements of folk, rock, and other genres. Another male singer of ballads, Kim Hyŏn-sik, distinguished himself with songs of his own composition. A representative song from 1986, "Nae sarang, nae kyŏt e" (My love, my side), shows him as both more powerful and more melancholic than Yi Mun-se. Kim's raspy voice could have issued from a p'ansori singer but was indisputably infused with pop sensibilities, and so it sounded modern.
A singer popular across all age groups was Yi Sŏn-hŭi, who catapulted to stardom with her 1984 hit "J ege" (To J). In the era when she emerged, listeners yearned for romance, appreciated vocal prowess, and were still able to overlook the requirement for conventional beauty as a major criterion of pop-music stardom-and Yi, bespectacled and unisex in presentation, seized the moment. She often wore suits, projecting both conservatism (by covering her body) and a progressive outlook (by a display of a sartorial androgyny that challenged male dominance in an era when most women wore skirts). Even more than Yi Mun-se, she ranged widely in her music, singing trot, folk, and even rock songs with great dexterity and emotion. Precisely when television was both ubiquitous and the universal form of entertainment, Yi Sŏn-hŭi managed to place herself front and center and was seemingly beloved by everyone from preteens to grandmothers. Her magic was in appearing to be the essential, homogeneous Korean who just happened to be a great singer and could also navigate the hybrid soundscapes of 1980s South Korea. There were different tastes and genres, but there was only one television set, and Yi Sŏn-hŭi was the perfect compromise.229
But if we turn our gaze away from the TV (and turn the sound off), we can clearly perceive the conflicts and contradictions of 1980s South Korea, as expressed in popular music. When ch'angga and kagok began to lose their hold on educated South Koreans-the population of college students began to grow rapidly in the 1980s-ensemble singers turned to people's music, an amalgam of folk and popular songs expressing protest against the authoritarian regime and its social backdrop.230 Singing groups sprouted up on college campuses that were embroiled in anti-government activities, first at the elite colleges and then more widely: this was the norae undong (song movement), part of the minjung (people's) movement.231 Not surprisingly, the genre of music performed by these groups is sometimes known as minjung kayo (people's song).232 By the late 1980s, some of these ensembles, such as Shinch'on Blues and Tongmulwŏn (Zoo), had turned professional, incorporating folk-rock elements. Needless to say, not all these singers evinced a stridently anti-government ideology, either personally or musically, and few were explicitly countercultural in appearance or lifestyle. The television station MBC had launched Taehak Kayoje, its annual university song festival, in 1977, marking the significance of this demographic as a musical force.233 As a result, many of the performers in this generation infiltrated South Korean popular music and influenced mainstream tastes.
Beyond college campuses, some young listeners yearned for sounds other than the gentle melodies of folk music or the melismatic smoothness of pop ballads. Ever since the sensational 1975 drug scandal involving Sin Chung-hyŏn, governmental and school authorities, in league with parents and other elders, had been united in the attempt to extirpate ttanttara and its cultural manifestations. But this repression on the part of the older generation failed to squelch rock completely; there were always radio broadcasts (over short-wave radio, if necessary) and LPs for savoring the latest from the West. The "group sounds" that emerged in the 1970s came largely out of the camp-town music scene. The new generation of soft-rock groups, which proliferated after the suspension of the older generation of rockers, usually consisted of college-based bands, such as Sand Pebbles (Saendŭp'ebŭljŭ), winner of the first grand prix in the competition attached to the annual university song festival. "Na ŏttokhae" (What can I do), a song from 1977, lacks the power and charisma of Sin's music, not to mention that music's amplitude and bass, and is not far removed from a mainstream pop ballad except for the use of electric guitar.234 These characteristics also apply broadly to other self-proclaimed rock bands of the late 1970s, such as Sanŭlim (Sanwoolim/Mountain Echo) and Songgolmae (Songolmae/Peregrine Falcon). Only in the mid-1980s did rock defiantly reassert itself. Tŭlgukhwa's 1985 song "Haengjin" (Forward) and a 1986 song by Sinawi (Sinawe), aptly titled "K'ŭge radio rŭl k'yŏgo" (Turn up the radio), with the subtitle "heavy metal," heralded the universe of deafening sound that had eluded these groups' predecessors.
A closer and deeper look into the mid-1980s suggests that a number of music venues in Seoul would not have been out of place in New York or Los Angeles. Some of the avant-garde discotheques and bars in central Seoul, It'aewŏn, and Gangnam, along with establishments in the camp towns, were playing the same music that was then being aired in the United States: disco, postdisco, and dance pop, plus smooth jazz and R & B, and even techno and New Wave. And a glance at the listeners and dancers in those venues reveals new constituencies: affluent youths (hitherto shut out of these establishments, whether by parental dictate or prevailing norms), diasporic Koreans (returning most noticeably from the United States but also from Japan and elsewhere), and trickles of nonmilitary and nonmissionary foreigners. These music venues also imported American popular music, including its most prized recent innovation: music videos. The soundscape in Seoul was once again transforming, as if in concert with the city's skyline: during the reign of trot, colonial-period architecture and a few fresh neotraditional buildings dominated; with the rise of Hye and the new kayo, mass-produced, indistinguishable apartment complexes came to constitute Seoul's built environment, and the old structures were mercilessly pulverized as high-rises continued to go up. But this new kayo, like so many old buildings, would soon be eclipsed by another genre altogether.
The agent of change was youth, which arose as a distinct social category, and one with discretionary spending power. The social gravity of popular music had long been a moot issue for South Korean adolescents and youth in general because they did not have the technological, sociological, or financial means to consume popular music. As I have said, almost every household owned a television set by 1980, but few households had more than one, and watching TV on that single set was a collective activity. Given the prevailing gerontocratic climate, the preferences of young people were far from influential. Beyond the private sphere, cafés and bars catering to American GIs and South Korean businessmen had long been the dominant players when it came to popular music's paying audience. Concerts were few and far between. But the most decisive factor was that few young people before the 1980s had possessed the wherewithal to purchase records, much less phonographs. The new mode of youth-led consumption emerged only in that decade, with the enrichment of South Korea and the greater spending power of young people.
South Korean youth had constituted a salient social category before the mid-1980s, but young people collectively had been far from inclined to pursue rock music or tunes for teenyboppers. And the powerful student movement, rather than generating a counterculture of emancipation, had accentuated the cult of seriousness and struck a blow against the potentially decadent culture of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Given the ham-fisted nature of military rule, the most notable cleavage in South Korean politics as well as in South Korean popular music was between the pro-government and anti-government factions, but the two factions converged in their hypernationalism. The dance between the autocratic government and the student movement came to a standstill: a national stasis of unsmiling Confucianism, performed to music played in the Japanese-inflected pentatonic scale. In other words, musically as well as extramusically (in terms of dress and demeanor), sincerity and seriousness reigned as consensus values and virtues-a situation rather unpromising for any flowering of popular music. When photographs and video clips of popular musicians from the late 1950s are compared with photos and clips of popular musicians from the late 1970s, the disappearance of smiles and of bared shoulders cannot be denied; in that span of twenty years, fun became mere frivolity, and sexiness became scandalous. Popular songs and singers, whether pro-government or anti-government, came to be subsumed within the narrow ambit of the culture of seriousness and sincerity. Nevertheless, despite the persistence of the puritanical and the sanctimonious, a new breed of less serious, more fun-loving South Korean youth emerged in the 1980s.
By the mid-1980s, we begin to see the precursors of K-pop, of performers who bear a family resemblance to contemporary South Korean popular musicians. The crucial backdrop is the fusion of music and dance that occurred in the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Music and dance are of course inextricably intertwined in many ritual and leisure contexts, but R & B and disco seem, in retrospect, merely to have set the stage for the pop revolution in dance. Here, the soft and the hard intertwine. Michael Jackson's 1979 album Off the Wall featured motion-inducing music, but his superb skills as a dancer were rarely seen outside concert venues and the occasional television appearance. But MTV, which was launched in 1981, integrated the two most powerful currents in popular culture-music and movies-when it made listening to music and watching a video a pair of simultaneous, synergistic experiences. Music videos that fused singing with dancing (or at least with some sort of visual narrative) constituted a pop Gesamtkunstwerk that quickly assumed a commanding presence in US popular culture.235 The genre that K-pop would inhabit was exemplified by Michael Jackson and MTV. Probably the key work of this new mixed genre was the video of "Billie Jean," a song from Jackson's 1982 album Thriller that became a huge hit. The video had a major effect on virtually all of popular music.236
Kim Wan-sŏn, who debuted in 1986, was a trailblazer, with her peppy songs accompanied by dynamic dancing. Called the Madonna of South Korea (the inevitable comparison to an American star underscores the importance of American popular music), Kim reigned briefly as a superstar. But Kim's wild swaying-which differentiated her from the vast majority of other singers of this era, who stood erect and usually motionless-came under suspicion among governmental authorities, and she was repeatedly warned to tone her act down.237 Not since the Pearl Sisters and Kim Ch'u-ja, in the early 1970s, had South Koreans seen a co-national sing and move so vigorously. Kim's immense success led to the release of a single in Japan and launched her brief but successful career as a Taiwanese star. As a young star molded largely by her manager, she enjoyed an ascent that anticipated the modus operandi of K-pop.238 And if there was a South Korean Madonna, then there had to be a South Korean Michael Jackson, too. That was Pak Nam-jung, who became known for his deft dance moves. A sense of cool was clearly entering South Korean youth culture. At the same time, the so-called idol groups-young and attractive boys and girls singing and dancing to a music that was clearly differentiated from their parents' music-made their first appearance in 1987 with the single "Ŏjetpam iyagi" (Last night's story), by Sobangch'a (the group's name means "fire truck").239 Sobangch'a, far from the perfectionism of contemporary K-pop performers, was virtually a circus act: the members wore gaudy, glittering clothes, sang meaningless lyrics with gusto, and ran and jumped energetically around the stage, enacting an almost literal fire drill. But even though Sobangch'a was widely derided as silly and effeminate, the group attracted throngs of adoring fans-and offered a taste of things to come.
The Sŏ T'ae-ji Revolution
The massive political protests and mobilization of 1987 brought out not only the usual suspects, such as university students and factory workers, but also white-collar professionals and middle-class housewives, and led to the formal transition to political democracy in South Korea, symbolically and visibly cemented by the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In a way, everything I have written so far is history, in the colloquial American sense of that term. Change, unlike its presentation in the before-and-after photos common to advertisements for plastic surgery, is almost never discontinuous, because it feels gradual and practically imperceptible to people living in real time. Nevertheless, a revolution in popular music came seemingly out of nowhere in 1992. In other words, in the history of South Korean popular music, we can point to the period before and the period after Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl (Seo Taiji and the Boys).240
This revolution was televised. Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl's first major national exposure came on a nationally broadcast program, which featured several talking heads who commented on new songs; it was basically The X Factor, but without the voting. The middle-aged commentators were, to put it mildly, uncomprehending, uncomfortable, and uncharitable about the trio's debut song, "Nan arayo" (I know).241 They dismissed the performers' skill and sforzando as inferiority and immaturity and gave Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl the lowest score. If this had indeed been The X Factor, the trio would have been booted off the very first episode. But the judges themselves were invalidated by the judgment of history, so to speak: the song sold an astonishing 1.7 million copies (at the time, the total population of the country was about 40 million people), and it remained South Korea's top-selling song for seventeen consecutive weeks. Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl's performance featured rapping and break dancing, and it was, in retrospect, very much a period piece, like Sŏ's clothing and the spectacle of his singing and dancing. But what is astonishing is how much South Korea's top hit of 1992 sounded like contemporaneous American popular music; in the early 1980s, when Michael Jackson and Madonna dominated popular music everywhere outside the Korean peninsula, South Koreans would have named three trot performers-Yi Mi-ja, Cho Yong-p'il, and Na Hu-na-as iconic national singers.242
Like many things minatory in the cultural realm, Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl proved to be vatic, annihilating all that had been made of South Korean popular music. Sŏ's group announced the arrival of youth as popular music's primary audience in South Korea. Musically, Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl not only legitimated rap and hip-hop in South Korea but also narrowed, or even erased, the temporal gap between South Korean and American popular music. Sŏ himself listened widely to the anglophone popular music of the 1980s and 1990s, ranging from the Clash and Sonic Youth to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine.243 In the post-Liberation period, South Koreans were still used to talking about the general state of their nation in terms of how many years, or even decades, the country lagged behind Japan or the United States. Much the same discourse dominated some sectors of popular music, too, even though it was often impossible to compare South Korean popular music with popular music in Japan or the United States. As the singing star SE7EN, who would make his debut in 2003, says of his formative influences, the impact of Sŏ's trio was paramount: "Oh, this is it. . . . I couldn't believe that this style of music existed in the world."244 The younger generation in democratic South Korea embraced the new and, in so doing, not only asserted the centrality of youth to popular music but also rendered moot the question of the country's musical backwardness.
Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl challenged and ultimately destroyed many conventions of South Korean popular music. Trot songs as well as a surprising number of ballads and folk songs employed the Japanese pentatonic scale, but after the explosive impact of Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl, use of the pentatonic scale would steadily decline. The long chapter of Japan's deep influence on Korean popular music was coming to a close.245 It was the new and dominant American soundscape that made much pre-1990s South Korean popular music sound like trot, or old people's music. For an ear attuned to the post-Sŏ period, Yi Sŏn-hŭi or Yi Mun-se might as well have been trot singers, worthy of consignment to the prehistory of K-pop. And the same disjunction appeared as the standard singing style changed from legato to staccato, from melismatic to syllabic, from crooning to spitting. Lyrics, no longer voiced in plaintive vibrato, were now articulated as parlando, as rapping. Even when sung in Korean, they sounded as though they were in English. The neo-Confucian ethos of seriousness and sincerity, along with conservative attire and a demure posture, gave way to a new urbanity and pizzazz. The sartorial semiotic turned away from diligent, obedient businesspeople and toward urban youths (presumably unemployed or underemployed) with attitude. Sŏ T'ae-ji became the face of hip-hop's aesthetic of bling and baggy clothes. Sŏ also marked something of a turning point in the male aesthetic: the agrarian ideal of a moon-shaped face and a stocky, robust body was supplanted by the androgynous, urban look of a longer, pretty face and a tall, thin frame. In any case, girls and young women found Sŏ dashing, to the bafflement of their male counterparts and their elders. Until Sŏ exploded onto the scene, the normal presentation of self in a performer had meant standing up straight and virtually motionless, but the new norm soon came to embrace gesticulation and dance as essential elements of performance. And the group did not merely sway or move in the way that most South Koreans then thought of as dancing (fox-trot, go-go, hustle); the group engaged in the acrobatics of break dancing.246 In 1996, Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl also successfully challenged governmental censorship. Although the government's formal and informal interventions never completely ceased, governmental oversight faded in its fervor and frequency, a change facilitated by the successive progressive presidential reigns of Kim Daejung and Roh Moohyon. Finally, Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl was a rare instance of the self-produced and self-promoted group. Its musical innovations and political independence were underscored by its commercial autonomy. Even though the trio sought to capture the mainstream market and appeared frequently on national television, the group also represented the avant-garde of indie music in South Korea.
Needless to say, Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl did not have this transformational impact in a vacuum. Without South Korea's economic enrichment and political democratization, and without the emergence of South Korean youth who had access to discretionary income, the group would have disappeared, just as the television judges had wished. The diminishing influence of Japan and the growing impact of the United States were belated developments as well as foregone conclusions. By the early 1990s, few South Koreans had any sustained personal experience of the colonial period; postcolonial Korean-Japanese discourse was no longer conducted in Japanese but in English. Moreover, the convergence between South Korean and US musical sensibilities and tastes reflected the profound intercultural contact between the two countries. I have already mentioned the systematic introduction to US popular culture that came with the US military presence. For much of the post-Liberation period, the United States was the country most admired in South Korea, and many South Koreans looked up, however ambivalently at times, to the American way of life. The liberalization of study abroad in the early 1980s also dispatched many eager young South Koreans to the United States. Even more numerous were members of the South Korean diaspora. Korean Americans and South Koreans abroad, many in New York and Los Angeles, witnessed and participated in the very birth of popular-music genres and dances and brought them back to South Korea. Lee Soo-man (Yi Su-man), the founder of the influential company SM Entertainment, was one such witness, and one of his first stars, Hyŏn Chin-yŏng, was Korean American. Especially in the 1990s, a steady stream of Korean Americans, including Kang Su-ji (Kang Soo Jee), SOLID, Yu Sŭng-jun (Yoo Seungjun/Steve Yoo), Lena Park (Pak Chŏng-hyŏn), and many more, began returning to South Korea so they could perform in the country. In every facet of the US popular music industry there were well-trained South Koreans or Korean Americans, from composers to choreographers, from fashion designers to videographers.247
To cite an age-old formula of fame and success, Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl was in the right place at the right time. After democracy came to South Korea, the country was ripe for a new generation of music fans to jettison their parents' and elder siblings' music in favor of the new. Young people now had the money to spend on music and the technology for its consumption (including their own TV sets). Democratic, affluent South Korea was set to shed some of its past musical proclivities-or, as it turned out, almost all of them. Certainly the flash of social change was flooding South Koreans with new musical influences from around the world. But hip-hop, in fact, had been introduced earlier. Not only does the aforementioned Hyŏn Chin-yŏng's 1990 work "Sŭlp'ŭn manek'ing" (Sad young model) incorporate the rhythms of hip-hop, Hyŏn himself performs the Roger Rabbit dance steps as if he were Bobby Brown, who was then enjoying his own long fifteen minutes.248 Deux (Tyusŭ), who debuted in 1993, and Turbo (T'ŏbo), who debuted in 1995, entrenched hip-hop music and dance in South Korean popular-music culture while Roo'ra (Rulla), Cool (K'ul), and especially Koyote (K'oyot'ae), whose respective debuts took place in 1994, 1994, and 1999, established postdisco hip-hop-influenced dance pop as a vibrant genre. Rap also entered the mainstream by way of Ri Ssang (Leessang) and Yu Sŭng-jun. It was just a matter of someone's assembling a successful package of rap and hip-hop, music and dance, for a new generation that sought something novel and exciting.
The early 1990s were a time of considerable ferment in Seoul. Democratization and the people's movement had swept through the city, and innovative, idiosyncratic performers proliferated. Beyond American music, South Korean performers often covered J-pop songs.249 As noted earlier, even though the long-standing Japanese influence was fading, a new generation still followed popular tunes from the Japanese archipelago, music that, as J-pop, had entered a period of innovation in the late 1980s. We cannot understand the emergence of K-pop idol groups without considering the example and influence of Japanese idol singers and groups, but in the 1990s groups like Anzen Chitai and the Southern All-Stars demonstrated deft ways of articulating the latest American sounds. Unfortunately, there was also considerable piracy of J-pop by South Korean musicians.250
The 1990s also brought efforts to incorporate traditional Korean sounds into contemporary popular music. In the realm of European classical music, Isang Yun had alluded to Korean melodies and used Korean instruments, but it was only in this turbulent political-cultural period that the rock guitarist Kim Su-ch'ŏl (Kim Soo-chul) and the folk musician Yi Sang-ŭn (also known as Lee Tzsche) explored the rich realm of traditional Korean music.251 In particular, Yi Sang-ŭn's eponymous 1993 album brings together sanjo and jazz improvisation to create a distinct musical world. Nevertheless, that road remains seldom traveled.
A much more popular path is represented by the invention of indie music and its introduction into South Korea. In this regard, rock was the dominant genre, as exemplified by the soft rockers Yun To-hyŏn and Deli Spice, noted for having brought contemporary Western rock (à la U2) to South Korea. Starting in the mid-1990s, postrock music genres emerged in rapid succession, including punk (Crying Nut, whose debut was in 1995, and No Brain, who debuted in 1996), grunge (Ppippi Band, 1995), postmodern rock (Nemesis, 1997), and acid jazz (Roller Coaster, 1999).252 Ppippi Band is sometimes considered to have been the first indie band in South Korea; it was indisputably the first "weird" band, featuring a lead singer who didn't, or couldn't, carry a tune but who dressed and danced with splendid nonconformity. Another noteworthy trait of that time is covert, and sometimes overt, social and political criticism, as exemplified by Panic's 1996 album Mit (Bottom). In the mid-1990s, the Hongdae area (that is, the area around Hong'ik University) surfaced as the capital of the South Korean indie music scene. In 1997, Jaurim (or Chaurim, which means, literally, "purple rain forest") released its first record; the band had been a pioneering presence and remains exemplary in the genre of indie rock music.
Interesting and intriguing though indie music is, it remains a marginal phenomenon in South Korea. The post-Sŏ T'ae-ji universe is more readily apparent in South Korean popular music's mainstreaming of R & B. The Japanese radio disc jockey Furuya Masayuki recalls the vibrant music scene in Seoul in the late 1990s and waxes enthusiastic about R & B, which he called K-pop.253 Kim Kŏn-mo, who debuted the same year as Sŏ's trio, far outsold Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl: Kim's third album, released in 1995, sold close to 3 million copies. In spite of his limited vocal range, Kim managed to integrate new influences seamlessly into both an R & B-infused music and pop ballads. His 1992 song "Cham mot tŭnŭn pam pinŭn naerigo" (Sleepless, rainy night) opens with rap, and his 1993 blockbuster "P'inggye" (Excuse) reveals a clear reggae influence. Kim's 1996 hit "Chalmottoen mannam" (Wrongful encounter) brought rave music to South Korea. His adroit mixing of styles pointed to a new articulation of South Korean popular music. Given the South Korean penchant for identifying a local parallel to a key American figure, Kim came to be known as the Stevie Wonder of South Korea. Beyond Kim, the groups SOLID and BROWN EYES firmly established the place of R & B in South Korean life. The point here is that R & B was virtually nonexistent before 1992 in South Korea; afterward, it came to constitute something close to the mainstream in the new urban, youth-centered music.
Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl did not cause the invention of indie music or the popularity of R & B or hip-hop in South Korea. The group's success was merely indicative of what was to come, though its explosive popularity did pave the way for many new styles of music. It is possible to see the Madonna of South Korea (Kim Wan-sŏn), or perhaps the Pearl Sisters, as having initiated dance music in South Korea; we shouldn't forget that yuhaengga and trot were often music to dance to. But Sŏ's group made dance music the new normal. And much the same can be said when it comes to the infusion of urban American black music in the form of R & B, rap, or hip-hop.
From the standpoint of K-pop, the most consequential effect of the Sŏ Tae-ji revolution was that it spawned idol groups. The defining moment arrived in 1996, with the breakout success of H.O.T. (High Five of Teenagers). H.O.T.'s debut single, "Chŏnsa ŭi huye" (Descendants of warriors), expressed a viewpoint, widespread among young students, that was critical of schoolyard violence and unsympathetic parents and teachers. But H.O.T.'s "Candy" is more characteristic of the group. The music video for the song is set in Lotte World, a Disneyesque amusement park; the performers wear clownish outfits and oversize sweatshirts, innocently and cheerfully sing nonsense lyrics, and happily bounce around, though these antics are punctuated by dance routines.254 It is fair to say that there is absolutely no edge to be found in H.O.T.'s music; the group incinerated anything that would be out of place in a Disney movie. And even the most sympathetic viewer of the "Candy" video would be hard pressed to find much musical merit in it. The group displays a certain resemblance to the pioneering boy band Sobangch'a, and to the sort of anodyne singing ensembles that the Japanese production agency Johnny's Jimusho was churning out at the time. Although H.O.T. is replete with marks of Americana, including occasional allusions to US musical culture, the group's sonic world could be comfortably contained in the middle-class apartment that was becoming the standard habitat in Seoul. The mindless melody of bubblegum pop (which seems immortal) presented a softer, kinder, gentler rendition of what Sŏ T'ae-ji wa Aidŭl had proposed four years earlier. H.O.T. tamed the edges off the Sŏ T'ae-ji revolution. The group also signaled the decline of Park's authoritarian culture and its inevitable emphasis on seriousness.
H.O.T. created a social sensation. Screaming girls thronged the group's concerts. Young men adopted the group's "H.O.T. cut" hairstyle (long in front, short in back) and B-boy style (oversize shirts and slacks). Merchandise affiliated with the group ranged from candy to perfume, and it sold well. One fan even committed suicide when the group disbanded.255 By 1997, hot on the heels of the group's success, the emergence of new boy bands and girl bands was already almost relentless, as demonstrated by the appearance of Sechs Kies (Cheksŭ K'isŭ), NRG, Baby V.O.X., S.E.S., Fin.K.L (P'ingk'ŭl), and on and on. What was new about the phenomenon was that these groups' bright-timbred, tinny-sounding, upbeat songs, with their cheerful, mindless melodies, would challenge and eventually sweep over the melancholic trot songs and more heartfelt ballads of previous generations. In terms of exports, these groups were still far from the success that K-pop groups would enjoy some ten years later, but they were making their mark in the late 1990s, and that level of success included the first whiffs of foreign fandom.
Songs, stars, and styles fade away slowly, as I have emphasized throughout this chapter, and it is not as if trot, folk music, or ballads totally disappeared. In the rapid tour d'horizon that this chapter has been, the narrative stress has necessarily fallen on the new and unusual. Consequently, the chapter is presentist, in the sense of emphasizing links to the future. But a narrative focused on what will endure and go on to influence others will miss not only the fact that older people continued to listen to the favorite songs and genres of their youth but also the reality that the mainstream audience remained stubbornly conservative. The rumors of trot's demise are greatly exaggerated. A remarkable number of singers-some of whom were active in the 1970s, such as T'ae Chin-a (Tae Jin Ah), and some of whom are new sensations, such as Chang Yun-jŏng (Jang Yoon Jung)-still appear on South Korean television shows to peddle nostalgia. All the same, contemporary revivals and new trot songs are usually presented in up-to-date arrangements, much louder and faster than the ttanttara of the 1970s; the immortal words of the composer Morton Feldman, though uttered in a different context, might not be out of place in a description of this newer trot music: "It's too fuckin' loud, and it's too fuckin' fast."256 In the 1990s, probably the single most popular style of song remained the love ballad, with its links to the 1980s and even earlier eras. It is likely that the balladeer Sin Sŭng-hun (Shin Seung Hun) sold more records than any other South Korean performer in the 1990s. The media crowned him the emperor of love ballads, and for many South Koreans this meant that Sin's soft, slow, sweet, soporific love songs, from 1990's "Miso sok e pich'in kŭdae" (Your smile in reflection) to 2001's "I Believe," represented the pinnacle of popular music. And not far behind Sin Sŭng-hun was Yi Sŭng-hwan. The tradition of South Korean ballads has continued into the twenty-first century, with such standout performers as Cho Sŏng-mo (Jo Sung Mo), Paek Chi-yŏng (Baek Ji-young), and the singer-songwriter Kim Tong-ryul (Kim Dong-ryool). Their popularity can be gauged by their ubiquity: it is hard to watch a South Korean soap opera without being serenaded by one of these singers' love songs.
That probably explains why H.O.T.'s 1996 sensation "Candy," in spite of all the brouhaha, only reached fourth place among that year's best-selling CDs. Sin Sŭng-hun and Kim Kŏn-mo sold many more records. Yet it would have been difficult to deny-and, from the twenty-twenty hindsight of the early 2010s, it would have been all but obvious-which way the wind was blowing. The most rapidly expanding segment of the music-purchasing public was the previously penurious demographic of teenagers. This was a generational shift better gauged by the volume of screaming fans than by the number of record sales.
I have sought in this chapter to distill the long and rich history of Korean music. However compressed and truncated my account has been, the emphasis has been on discontinuities, beginning with the rift that separates traditional Korean music from the Western soundscape that has dominated the twentieth century and beyond. The Sŏ T'ae-ji revolution marks the most recent of Korean popular music's breaks with the past, and K-pop was born of post-Sŏ trends. Chapter 2 elaborates on the age of K-pop, and it delves into K-pop's production and exportation, but the following section-the interlude-considers the larger significance for South Korea of the historical transformation that has been outlined in this chapter.