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Music of South Korea

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Title: Music of South Korea  
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Subject: Music of Korea, Music of Asia, Music of North Korea, Korea, Music of Kazakhstan
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Music of South Korea

The Music of South Korea has evolved over the course of the decades since the end of the fourth Korean War, and has its roots in the music of the Korean people, who have inhabited the Korean peninsula for over a millennium. Contemporary South Korean music can be divided into three different main categories: Traditional Korean folk music, popular music, or K-pop, and Western-influenced non-popular music.

Korean traditional music

The first evidence of Korean music is old, and it has been well documented by surviving written materials from the 15th century and was brought to heights of excellence during the Yi kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Imperial Japan's annexation of Korea eliminated Korean music from 1905 to 1945. A brief post-war period rewakened folk and patriotic music. By 1951, Korea was split, into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or North and the Republic of Korea or South Korea from which emerged two different approaches to music. Korean traditional music includes kinds of both folk and classical, courtly music, including genres like sanjo, pansori and nongak. The three types of Korean court music are aak, hyangak and dangak.

Mainstream popular music

Popular Korean music, typically referred to as K-pop in English, or gayo (가요) in Korean, is a highly commercial industry throughout Asia. Contemporary K-pop is dominated by dance groups featuring young entertainers the latest looks and dance skills. Contemporary Korean music and pop stars are so popular, Asians have designated a word to reflect this fact. The Korean Wave, or hallyu (한류), is the word used to discuss the influence of contemporary Korean popular culture on the rest of Asia, and the rest of the world.[1]



A 1938 teuroteu by Kim Song Kyu and Park Yeong Ho. Sung by Park Hyang Rim.

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Trot, pronounced as "teuroteu" in Korean (sometimes called ppongjjak (뽕짝), due to its distinctive background rhythm), is the oldest form of Korean pop music. It was developed in the years before and during World War II around the early 1900s. Famous interpreters of this genre are South Korean singers Tae Jin Ah and Song Dae Gwan. Rock musicians such as Cho Yong Pil also performed this type of music.

Recently, it has enjoyed a revival at the hands of Jang Yoon Jeong, who recorded the popular trot songs "Jjanjjara" and "Oemoena." Popular child actress and film star Lee Jae Eun has also recently recorded a trot album.


Rock music is said to have spread to Korea from the Eighth United States Army (EUSA) bases after the Korean War. Shin Jung-hyeon, frequently referred to as the "Godfather of Korean Rock," got his start playing popular rock covers for American servicemen in the 1950s,[2] particularly being noted for his take on Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Shin developed his own style of psychedelic rock in the '60s and '70s and recorded albums with several bands, such as the Add 4, the Men, and the Yup Juns, and wrote songs and played on albums for well-known singers, such as Kim Chu Ja and Jang Hyun, and lesser known singers, like Kim Jung Mi. After refusing an order from then-president Park Chung-hee to write a song praising the president, Park banned Shin's music and ultimately imprisoned him for marijuana possession. The imprisonment of Shin slowed the production of Korean rock, but other artists, most notably Sanulrim emerged during the late '70s, before dance music came to dominate Korean popular music in the '80s.

In the 1980s, popular musical tastes had moved away from rock music. The scene was dominated by heavy metal music, in particular Boohwal, Baekdoosan, and Sinawe, collectively known as the Big 3.[3]

Rock music was revived in the early '90s with democratization following the presidency of Roh Tae-woo. As information flowed more freely into the country, Korean youths were exposed to decades of popular foreign music in a short span of time, and some began to form bands.[4] Two of the earliest bands were Crying Nut and No Brain, which introduced the country to a variety of new genres in a localized blend called "Chosun Punk," spearheaded by indie label Drug Records which also managed Club Drug. With increased globalization and access to the Internet, the music scene diversified and incorporated more styles of music. The late '90s saw increasing diversity in musical influences, as younger bands like Rux emerged and The Geeks introduced Korea to straight edge hardcore punk.


T'onga guitar (or tong guitar) is a form of Korean folk and folk rock music developed in the early 1960s and '70s. It was heavily influenced by American folk music, and artists in the genre were considered Korean versions of American folk singers, such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.

Notable early Korean folk musicians include the American-educated Hahn Dae-soo, and Kim Min-ki. Hahn and Kim recorded socially and politically conscious folk songs, and both artists had their music censored and banned by the autocratic Park Chung-hee government, much as the psychedelic rock guitarist Shin Jung-hyeon had his songs censored and banned. Despite the government's efforts to censor political music, though, popular folk songs increasingly came to be used as rallying cries for social change within Korea, leading to the term norae undong (노래운동), or literally, "song movement," being coined to describe songs targeted at social change. As South Korea was transitioning to democracy in 1987, the late folk musician Kim Kwang-Seok was noted for being politically active, and his songs were popular at democratic rallies.


In South Korea, hip hop expanded into a cultural phenomenon in Seoul, Busan and Daegu. The movement has been growing since the mid-90s, especially after the success of Seo Taiji and the Boys' smash hit Nan arayo (난 알아요), or "I know," and has been gaining attention internationally, as Koreans have won various championships around the world since the early 2000s. In 2004, Rain released his It's Raining album, making him Korean's first International star. Aside from mainstream dance pop infused hip hop, there is also an underground scene that has developed throughout South Korea. Online webzines have contributed to spreading the culture. On 15 July 2012, South Korean music artist Psy created the hit song "Gangnam Style" (강남스타일 in Korean). The song's music video currently has over 2 billion views on YouTube, and also holds the world record for most-viewed video on the site.

Idol groups

The dominant trend in popular Korean music is currently "idol" (아이돌) groups. Idol groups typically feature several same-sex entertainers who perform dance music, hip-hop and electronic music influenced songs. Notable idol groups include H.O.T, Sechs Kies, SES, Fin.K.L, Baby V.O.X, Shinhwa, g.o.d, JYJ, TVXQ, Super Junior, Wonder Girls,Girls' Generation, SHINee, SS501, BIGBANG, 2PM, 2AM, B2ST, MBLAQ, 2NE1, T-ara, 4Minute, Secret, SISTAR, Brown Eyed Girls, f(x), The Grace, Crayon Pop, U-KISS, Girl's Day, After School, Teen Top, INFINITE, B1A4, Block B, Kara, EXO, B.A.P, CNBlue, Nu'est, Lunafly, BTOB, Bangtan Boys, VIXX, Nine Muses, A Pink and miss A. There are also co-ed groups where both sexes are present.

Independent popular music

Independent popular music, such as "indie rock," or indie (인디), and independent hip hop, is growing in popularity in Korea, fueled by an increase in the number of independent acts, as well as an increase in the coverage of those independent acts by blogs. Notable popular indie groups from the 1990s and 2000s include Jaurim (자우림), Huckleberry Finn (허클베리 핀), Nell (넬), Mot (못), Cherry Filter (체리 필터), and Third Line Butterfly (3호선 버터플라이), as well as the more recent Busker Busker, among others.

Classical music

The fine range of Korean symphonic orchestras have been bolstered by notable performers, and soloists, as well as highly skilled orchestra directors. Internationally known Korean composers of classical music include such notables as: Yi Suin, who specializes in music for children, and his famous "Song of My Homeland". Pianists and songwriters, such as Yiruma, became known in the Western world as well since the 2000s.

Korea has produced internationally prominent composers. Young-ja Lee is one example. She was born in 1931 in Wonju and studied at the Conservatoire de Paris, and the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. She continued her education at the Manhattan School of Music. Lee endured hardships during the Japanese occupation and Korean War, but emerged to become one of the dominant forces in Korean music in the 20th century.[5]

Korean Contemporary Christian music

With the importation of Christianity, the evangelical use of music for proselytizing has led to many choirs, both within and without churches, and the importation of traditional American styles of Christian folksongs sung in Korean.

Western and traditional crossover

Korean traditional instruments have been integrated into western percussion, and are beginning a new wave of Korean world music since 1998. Traditional instruments are amplified, and sampled, with traditional songs rescored for new age audiences.

See also


  1. ^ "South Korea's pop-cultural exports: Hallyu, yeah!". The Economist. 2010-01-25. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  2. ^ Russell, Mark James. Pop Goes Korea: Behind the Revolution in Movies, Music, and Internet Culture. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge, 2008. Print.
  3. ^ "Discovering Korean Metal: A Rocky Road". Seoul Beats. 7 June 2012. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Dunbar, Jon (22 February 2013). "Stephen Epstein: Korea's indie rock scholar". Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  5. ^ University of South Florida (2012), Celebrating women composers 
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