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The Godfather of Korean Rock: K-Pop Evolves

Part two: A look at the evolution of Korean music in the 1970s and 1980s.

Korean pop changed slightly in the 1970s. Mainstream music was still “trot,” but a new contemporary folk music had emerged. Korea’s contemporary folk music was represented by jean-wearing singers who sang with acoustic guitars.  The folk music started becoming popular at a music café called C’est Si Bon. A lot of famous folk song singers, such as Chang Sik Song, Hyung Ju Yoon, Hee Eun Yang, Min Gi Kim, Dae Soo Han and Young Nam Cho, sang at C’est Si Bon.  As the popularity of these songs grew, they could be heard on broadcast stations.  More singer-songwriters appeared and even “university song festivals” were created for promoting this youth culture.

Many of the folk songs are still sung today, although some used to be banned. In the 1970s through the early 1980s, Korea was under a military dictatorship and freedom of expression was limited.  Many young people and students suffered, but they did not give up hope for a better future.  They sang folk songs to express their feelings.  Of these banned songs, “Morning Dew” is one of the most popular. 

At this time, Jung Hyun Shin laid the groundwork for Korean rock music.  He is often called the godfather of Korean rock music.  He was a singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer.  One of his songs, “Beautiful Woman” is still highly valued in the history of Korean rock music.  Also, several rock bands were started and came into play in K-pop.

Around the time of the Vietnam War, some of the Korean pop singers started going abroad to Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States. After 1977, about 30 years after the independence from Japan, some singers even ventured into Japan.

In the 1980s, the Korean pop music market grew rapidly along with Korea’s economy. Yong-Phil Cho was the one who led the ’80s K-pop.  Some people often say the K-pop scene can be divided into “before Yong-Phil Cho time” and “after Yong-Phil Cho time.” Other popular K-pop singers in the 1980s include Sun-Hee Lee, Soo-Chol Kim, Moon-Se Lee, etc.

Next time, I will write about K-pop from the 1990s to the present.

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