Before I kick this thing off, let me preface it by saying that I don’t listen to Korean music anymore. I went through a major phase over 14 years ago when I was obsessed with it and was even convinced that my destiny was to go to Seoul and become irreparably famous doing K-Pop. I have seen the light since then and I’m grateful for it, but I definitely won’t hate on anybody for appreciating a little bit of H.O.T., Wonder Girls or whatever is on and poppin nowadays. I tell my friends that K-Pop is like musical junk food… makes you feel good at times but it contains no real nutritional (musical) value.
Not sure if you know this but Korean music has become something of a global phenomenon— particularly throughout Asia. I was surprised during my time in Thailand to find out that most of the youth were down with K-Pop… and then I find out this is the same in places like Hong Kong, China, and Japan. Sold-out concerts in arenas by artists like Rain and Boa have been common-place. Go figure!
I’m going to highlight one person in particular. He’s the guy that started the group that started it all, the one that kicked off the modern era of the Korean pop scene. Let me (re)introduce you to Seo Taiji.
The video below is their first national debut ever on a major Korean network way back in 1992. It’s a show that allows up-and-coming groups to perform their song while the judges sit and critique their overall sound. As you watch, notice how the young crowd doesn’t utter a single peep during the performance. This I find incredibly fascinating as any current video will show you that the Korean girls these days will sacrifice every last bit of their vocal chords to express their undying love for anything remotely entertaining.
For those of you who don’t Se Habla Coreano, basically Seo Taiji and his boys do their thing on stage to an absolutely stunned audience who don’t know what to make of this revolutionary sound and dance. Immediately after, the gauntlet is thrown down by the judges who all essentially say the same thing: this type of music won’t make it, your melody needs to be worked on, I don’t get it, nice try etc. etc. They had no idea that the guy in front of them would change the face of Korean music forever. Look at the determined, stoic face that Seo Taiji carries as he’s receiving the critique of the judges. His face says “y’all don’t know %$!%! I’m gonna prove you mother @%$#@$ wrong!” in the quietest way possible. This is the musical equivalent of the Michael Jordan story… cut by his High School team for lack of size (and his coaches apparent lack of foresight. the biggest #fail in history)
Do your own youtube research if you like but since this debut video Seo Taiji has BLOWN-UP and gone on to release 8 albums in the span of 2 decades and each one has pushed the envelope and shaped not only the industry, but the very paradigm of music in Asia. He has displayed virtuosity in Rap, Hard-Core, Pop, Alternative, Classical and nearly everything in between.
So if I don’t listen to Korean music, why am I writing a post about it? Well, my wife just happened to be looking up her favorite K-Pop classics one day and showed me the video above and the videos you are about to see below. I couldn’t help but be inspired by the genius and resilience of Seo Taiji. A true musical revolutionary. We could learn a lot from this guy.
Look at how far he has come in one of his more recent music videos. The music has changed considerably and the quality of the music video is absolutely sick (and the drummer is ridiKulous):
And this is one of the most ambitious concert productions I’ve seen. He combines a Russian orchestra with a choir along with his usual set-up:
You don’t have to be impressed. Just inspired.
Can you think of other unlikely artists who have surprised you?