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Books on Korean Pop

Mark Russell started to live in South Korea since 1996. He had witnessed the continuous economic growth of Korea (called the Korean Wave). I guess his main interested is film, while his focus in the book also explains thoroughly the economic process itself.

What interests me for my website is of course mainly the section about music, which still is the least worked out part of the book. Of course we still have in a very short the story of “the grandfather of rock”, -Shin Joong-Hyun. It also explains the stages of censorship and how the music business in the seventies evolved to “bubblegum” pop and ultra-safe ballads.

Then we still have a real generation and mentality gap between the old and the new scene / generation. Mark Russell describes today’s Korean total preference for the new scene as if a new reality still is another reality, I don’t think it does describe or explains or connects what happened here. I know that the new generation hardly is interested in the past at all. They don’t want to know and feel no connection with it, while it wouldn’t be so wrong to interpret it from the knowing where it went wrong, and why today nobody seems to feel that connection. I personally think that the serious consequences of censorship led to the fact that what you see from Korea has become more fake, self-obsessed, sentimental, as a way of even deliberately repeating new conditionings. If you really want to know what is real and honest and how to truly become unconditioned and creatively inspired, one has to get away from the excuse by simply stating has it’s own reality, but work more towards more full perspectives. Someone who’s more conditioned generally only accepts especially his/her own world, while an unconditioned mind can go to any other real emotion, adapt and experience a new world, a different style, and this process of adaption only widens over the years through comprehension and sensing more detail, gets even more variations of vision through time processes. What once was much more like honesty in expression, I guess this once was in fact left behind. By missing such contrast, by no longer adapting the “dangerous” thoughts, doubts fighting for justice, all remaining emotions of melancholy or joy or personally/group-based looking for satisfaction, this is no longer about an alternative reality, but became more like a smaller possibility and range, where one does not longer know how to adapt any existing expression, except under the form of something that can be found in sugar, in something loud or more quiet. It will still take years to recover such de-matured conditions.

The only part in the book that has worked out an interesting story in music business dating back to the 70s is that the story of Lee Soo-Man, from April & May fame, who became an important radio host until censorship broke down that opportunity. He also had been founder of SM Entertainment. Both facts I knew already, so the book only filled up very few small gaps for me, leaving me with many questions unanswered, like how the music industry really grew from the 30’s to the 70s. I realise how Shin Joong hyun’s participation (and all bands he was involved and connected with, including He6 and Key Boys), directed it’s scene towards psychedelic music. I also heard that the early Japanese influence kept the music longer connected to a Trot association, something that was widened in idea with Korean folk song, and how censorship allowed that aspect of having a Trot genre to continue longer, in the end only accepted safe ballads were released, the first rock to reappear after the long term censorship (-hard rock-), playing loud with soft voices, wasn’t always that interesting, as Mark Russell also stated.

Following Korea from the 30s onwards, you are able to discover the uniqueness of creative psych in all Shin Jung Hyun touched, secondly a unique sweetness and innocence in quality in the acoustic ballads over the years, with a creative use of Korean folk over the years. It was only since the late 70s that the sweetness and gentles was really started to turn against the honesty of the expressions and become a sugar coated marsh-“mellow” area that hardly approved a full range of expressions, needed to express an honest reality. Although more recently they tried to keep the focus of all foreign collectors onto the ‘80s, simply because those were the only collectable records that can still be found more easily, (leaving little interest in that milieu now), it leaves us with little exceptions from that period that are still worth tracing/tracking down.

And concerning K-Pop I wonder why every promoter in Korea and the East still, just like someone interested mainly in the economic profit boom, in his new interest cannot but leave further out the creative factor, less being interested in what really gives us a musical message or creative music, still not realise that’s not what contributes to the world perspective yet while there could be found something if one would like to. From the last 10 years I still discovered little of interest in the K-Pop scene, and I already explained before, this isn’t just a matter of a “personal taste”/a different reality. It is about the basic reality which has received with it of a more narrow minded focus, leaving out the further opining up of the World’s perspectives and creative processes still being possible. The level of a free expression that is needed for the export, under the form of a message, a unique vision, all remains a bit too much on the level of a personal or a group’s desire, talking and conditionings. Luckily the Korean cinema brought us a lot more to dig into, but being that of another field of expertise, for obvious reasons I will hardly talk about it. I have not yet thoroughly read the sections about film and more gladly left out the section of the K-pop scene.

When looking up the subject on Ebay, I accidently came across this book on Korean Pop which I had no idea existed. Finally I have found a good work that for me would provide all the answers to my questions regarding the history of Korean Pop, from especially the 30s onwards. The ethno-musical book is compiled and edited by Keith Howard and a team of investigators with some Scholarships in the field.

I will explain rather in detail what is explained in the book, but will also add some general knowledge which is needed to comprehend the scene, it’s history and context. And I will tell you what I know/understand of each subject being discussed.


Young Mee Lee provided information on the early beginnings of Korean Pop and which foundations were set during the Japanese Occupation Era (1910-1945).

For that matter it still is interesting to read outside this book more different opinions on this matter, because the Japanese vision is different from the Korean, and it will still take some time to distil an independent sober vision upon the facts.* Myself I will further listen to music from Japan, Korea and China from that period and will try to make some conclusions afterwards.

The book explains how the first form of popular music was Taejung Kayo. According to the Koreans it was an attempt of free expression with an element of survival with indoctrinated elements. Korean folk music had more difficulties in surviving owing to being banned. One distinguishes here the high culture related traditional emotional folk songs like p'ansori, people's folksongs or minyo and newly written folk songs or chapka. Especially the last form could find further explorations and commercialisation.

The general sensitivity, rhythm and scale were further influenced by Japanese standards of Japanese ryukoka(=fashionable songs), a genre that made it to the term of Trot, which early form from this period was called t'urot'u and also ppongtchak. In the 30s this Trot style became mixed with 'new folk songs' or shin minyoduring the 30s and this style became popular. Such new songs received westernised orchestration and western instruments, foreign and modal elements.

I have the impression that the western modes could stand for an independent freedom of singing, without being associated with some specific culture. This was further incorporated via the American influence. The same tendency later was going to be influenced by American folk in a same way this also happened in Japan, independently from each other. Before that, solo singing thoroughly was going to receive more harmony singing. Later also psych group sounds was incorporated. All this still found its roots in a first popular style from the 30s.

The new rulers added some censorship and preferred pro-Japanese music. First the songs were simply Japanese flavoured. Then the lyrics were translations from Japanese to Korean (songs about love, emptiness, beauty of nature). By 1937, the subjects were more strictly pro-Japanese, and people were no longer allowed to express sadness/regret or to play in minor key. Musicians therefore tried western standardisation to broaden the range while the pentatonic scale could be used for different emotions, in order to express a certain range of emotions, new vocal techniques were adapting to this range.

The sentimental Korean song music was going to be called Trot later, while the Japanese version nowadays is known as enka. When the American folk was incorporated in the 60s, you can notice that creative music and honesty mostly lives on in Korean folk influences and in a further westernisation process, while Trot most often became more schlager-like. One cannot say something is due to the Japanese, it more is a free choice that developed further under it’s own pressure of being.


The second chapter by Hilary Finchum-Sung explains how the new folk songs or shin minyo from the 30s are underestimated and nowadays are being recalled as being old people music, it pretty much shaped and defined also the later styles. She explains further how it’s roots are in traditional folk songs, which can be divided into local songs from certain communities and popular songs, from songwriters, which are different for certain regions.

Minyo songs are considered as people's songs. Such songs were reshaped during history and according to its usage/context, which isn't unusual, and this might be compared to an English folk tradition to a degree. The author states an interesting quote of Sue Tuohy that such songs also define life as a sort of general soundtrack. (The movie Chunghyuang and Soponye pretty much shows such incorporation of songs into a story of someone’s life). It says a lot how people continuously start to be moved by songs, even in nostalgic ways nowadays, recognising in the same way parts of the soundtrack of their lives.

One could also see the Japanese occupation period as a stepfather’s culture in which new elements had been included and even more were added to compensate for the small element of knowing that didn’t come from their real father. Some later periods, like K-pop from 80s/90s a renewal from their own roots was tried in becoming part of an economic process, not necessary a real process in which one could grow in all directions, in the desire to at least belong to it’s society and it’s processes therein.

In the 30s the compensating factors were associated with a longing for its home(town) or the mountains, important themes for that matter. One should be able to sense the singer’s desires to be free, with the suggested elements and compensations. Because it’s conditions were not natural and are differently set today few people nowadays feel connections with such songs in Korea today. It had a short-lived purpose of establishing the fundaments of Korea’s own independent cultural identity.

Hilary Finchum-Sung writes about the new folk songs or the Shin Minyo of the 30s. Minyoi means folk song.

* Nobody ever visualises occupation times positively. The Japanese saw themselves in the role of teachers, trying to fix certain things in Korea, while using Japanese norms, establishing bridges, education etc.. At the same time they desire forced thankfulness, which sadly doesn’t work that way. In the end they force upon a new culture, language etc. but for a long period Koreans could develop an identity that showed independent qualities mostly, something that was supported in that music.


Roald Maliangkay explains further in the next chapter, "supporting our boys", how the music from here was exploited and explored further. During the Korean war (1950-1953 especially), under influence of American broadcast radio’s musicians worked out further their freedom to express themselves, in an escapism to forget all that happened, they discovered the new styles of mambo, chachacha and rumba later rock'n roll, and much later also the twist. The biggest musical influence was the American military entertainment music.

At their American bases one could hear cabaret-related mambo, bossa nova and chachacha, so these fashionable expressions were worked out, and also old folk songs got the adaptation of these styles, including tango, rumba, waltz and foxtrot, and a touch of swing-jazz, while rock'n roll was less easily introduced, because the musicians/singers were used tot to move too much.

After a while not only singers but also male bands and girl bands came to the forth, all-girl swing bands. They had to have a certain sex appeal as teasing aesthetic factor for the American public, which were mainly soldiers. Many groups appeared in the hope to make some money and not always from a musical inspiration.

Earliest girl bands were Chogori Sisters (=Jacket Sisters) & Arirang Boys performing in uniform and singing like the Andrew Sisters, followed by the Kim Sisters, the Arirarang Sisters, Chebi (or Swallow) sisters, Yuri (glass) sisters, Hwani Sisters, Young Sisters, Venus Sisters, Cool Sisters, Candy Sisters, Apple Sisters and the Lilly Sisters. The Kim Sisters were regarded as being most exceptional, a new role model, stimulated by their mother, Yi Nanyyong, a famous singer, they learned to play many musical instruments. They took care of their style too, wearing Chinese dresses because in them they looked nicer, more feminine. Their brother, Kim Brothers performed too. Later they combined forces in a mixed band.

Via the establishment of radio stations in the early 60s western influences were incorporated further. Folk songs lost their appeal despite some support by people like Kim Serena. Early western styled singers were Yi Mija, Patti Kim and The Lee Sisters and the Pearl Sisters. An important reference in this period, found on several records, is 'Song Folio', a booklet for the American military. The clubs founded several records and established amateur and twist contests and concerts. One of the most important clubs that will be mentioned on several records too is 'C’est ci bon' (to be found on several record covers too).


A next chapter talks about the ascent and politisation of pop music from the 60s to 80s. Okon Hwang explains the interesting fact that people with scholarships were regarded as being authorities, but this didn't include music. Because western classical music did need a lot of professional training, it helped to change the matter. But it was only when a few classically trained singers like Cho Yong-Nam chose to pursue a popular music career, that people started to change their minds and regard them with more respect.

The next part of this chapter explains how Trot evolved to T'ong kit'a, or towards “box” (=>guitar)-based music. In normal English, it evolved to the focus of the singer-songwriter with guitar (influenced by the American folksong movement), the new main focus. You could now also sing along.

The people who performed this style often involved college/University campus students. The lyrics were often replaced by Korean texts while keeping, imitating or playing similar songs to Dylan and such. This brought up the association of protest songs.

Certain songs led to the resignation of president Syngman Rhee in 1960, it brought to the politicians the idea of political oppression against songs after that. While students considered such songs as representing a consciousness of the people, after a while censorship was being used and the singers simply tried to avoid censorship by playing it more and more safe, so that they could become popular more easily.

Kim Min'Gi however openly sung protests songs. He was arrested and his album forbidden, with only many more albums and songs to follow. His songs however caught a political consciousness against corruption, a general tendency of too long establishment of certain governments. The Meari collection, named after a student club, collected 149 protest songs, while Kim Min Gi songs were most popular. Because a student club hadn’t been taken seriously as having a strong voice, song meetings were still possible until 1980. Here more political consciousness had been created, important activists and also another folk song movement, which in the years still made it possible to publish their records.

In the next chapter Roald Maliangkay explains how much censorship still had a grip after that, and how much politics was involved in the making of music.

Censorship was related with political opinions of good and bad. Socialism was still associated with (North Korean) communism, while American materialism was seen as an encouragement to booze the economy from below. Music more and more became used by the government for propaganda purposes, (-both anti-communist and nationalistic-), starting from the 50s onwards. From 1956 onwards, traditional music had been promoted nationally. In 1957, propaganda songs were taught in school and received broadcast. In the mid 60s, anti-Vietnam war songs from the US became known.

Radio programs became pre-recorded and controlled by the military and government. In total, the public screening TV and radio banned around 787 songs. (Compared to how radio today is made, almost everywhere, cynically spoken, today, every national station and commercial station might not even have 787 songs every year or even 5 years that they are allowed to get broadcast, so I am not sure if it really is better today: it isn't ; radio stations today are used for maintaining a fake reality and are no longer a realistic representation against the whole reality of expressions being possible and being present in society potentionally and in real term today).

Funny to read is that some English songs were banned for the wrong reason (while not understanding proper English). Also Japanese images and art were monitored and censored heavily. Some Koreans might have been suspicious of a different moral, most people claim it is related with a concurrent sales question.


During the 70s songs were especially written to promote a specific moral, they were called ‘healthy songs’ or konjon kayo. This style sounded like fastened trot/ppongtchak, uplifting people with a proposed moral, nationalism or with an encouragement to work.

As a foreigner, oddly enough it doesn't always sound too different from certain communist songs (making opposed demands to the people with it’s songs as well I guess propaganda songs are similar everywhere, while the certain amount of freedom in expressing this cheerfully, could still make the results effective as well-). To the author it sounds like a children’s TV cartoon opening.

Afterwards, nobody considered having an affection or feeling of nostalgia towards these songs. Songs were preferably composed by known figures. When Shin Jung-Hyun was asked twice in 5 minutes to do so, he twice kindly refused. He still remembered policemen cutting hairs of visitors to his concerts before they could visit the concerts. Instead he wrote a song about the mountains (remember the escapism place in old songs), there exists a clip (?) of it with one bold guy, two long haired musicians showing their ears, the whole act and song was seen as a direct criticism (He was imprisoned shortly after that, so called for having smoked a joint).

In healthy songs, humour or cynicism or sadness was not allowed. Christmas songs were also ok. A few songs of this nature still blurred the line between an expected song and a free song.

In the late 80s healthy songs were no longer promoted so much. Dance music influences were now allowed and also some forms of humour. Because of the general apathy to healthy songs (people simply skipped these songs on records), by 1990, they discontinued to ask for them. However some people liked the encouraging feeling in them, because some were composed with artistry.


Next chapter (Lee Mija) talks about the post-colonial mimicking styles for which a debate had been on-going known as the "Ppongtchak debate”, about songs in 2/4 and 4/4 if the vocal techniques and style being used was not too much mimicking Japanese.

I personally think that this level of politicized debate, I cannot consider it having a high level of debate, losing oneself in direct associations and opinions rather than developing it’s general understanding of a phenomena. It shows little respect to the musicians and even less respect to Japanese as if one could have not better incorporated much more variety and learn even more from Japan to complete one’s own abilities.

Isn't it worse to over-commercialise, standardise and limit expressions, as something that had happened already too often in Korean music than to have something not adapted, making it's own in an original way, there's so much to learn from Japan, so why should it be neglected.

If western standards can be mixed in to create something new and in that way something interpreted and creative, I have the impression they look for the wrong reasons to add trauma where it doesn’t belong, it should never be left out of the richness of culture.

Over history Koreans themselves established more enforcement in music than the Japanese have contributed a renewal. It comes over as being disrespectful to the people who survived the Japanese period and did something with this style in the 30s. Never in Korean Pop I noticed a way of imitation, only interpretation, adaptation, and then development of it’s own expressive field. In becoming human we discover and only after a small imitating process always find our own true voice in it, which I still consider the true voice of music. Otherwise only then it becomes a deliberate imitation, which today can be found much more easily.

Also Japanese artists first started imitating existing genres first then found their own voice. Didn't all musicians play a style first before they can reinterpret it? In the Korean early examples I still only hear interpretations, hardly any form of ever imitation, while almost each singer, in repeating themselves, with arrangements and standardising limits in musical material has become much more like an imitator of it's own music today than the original 30s music had in its own field. People are much more self-proposed to conditioning than after the learning processes suggested by the Japanese.

It was the Korean interpretations that since the 30s onwards until the 70s especially showed much of the unique qualities of Korea. At the same time the lack of originality, despite its sweet attempt is much more present after that.


The next chapter talks about highway songs (Min-Jung Son), about the existence of Trot medley tapes, related to highway songs. Especially after talking out the Japanese influence, t'urot'u became trot and also became more mainstream and less interesting. In the mid 80s lots of Trot medley cassettes were released (perhaps in the same way commercialisation of melodies was done in ex-Chinese countries). You could consider it as easy listening or easy beat music. The medley cassettes are associated with busy squares and can be compared to the function of a jukebox. Certain businesses appreciate the nostalgic association. New mixes are given a boost of commercialisation.


From the chapters on new music I will mention that from the 90s onwards K-Pop came into existence, also on TV. Extra rules of censorship adapted to the new medium: of how to look and how to behave. Japanese Pop was still being censored too. The term for Korean pop songs is han'guk kayo and the term for foreign pop is p'ap.

A next chapter explains how "Image is everything". Music becomes fashion, becomes a sales product, commercialised with exposable singers. It’s field should not be of too much interest in the field of musicology, because it’s source of inspiration is an economic one and not a creative one. Here should be used a much more selective filter for quality and originality, and no longer success which results have been commercialised and no longer are trustworthy for quality norms. Music much more became a slavery product detached from creativity and I don't find a good reason to discuss it. I am not an economist, but a music lover; such trends, being popular or not are still disposable and not worth mentioning in a music history book, only in a business affair book.

One chapter discusses Taiji rap and the use of metal, I have not heard yet any examples that have a musical value to offer outside its temporary context I also feel no need to discuss it further.


Then we have an interesting chapter about singing rooms, which we know as karaoke. In Korea the term karaoke is only used as a term for the high priced, high class parcours and bars, it’s form is called noraebangespecially when happening in less expensive fare or singing rooms.

Also here comes to mind a resistance towards what comes from Japan, while again they feel attached to a tool in which they can find themselves as well. It is only natural to embrace it. One is naturally drawn to a format rather than to a nationalist association. In the same way any music form could act as a human expression rather than a local one. Its forms are neutral. Besides singing rooms we also have the music bank, which is a pre-recorded machine for picnic singing.

Then we also have the norae man or the vender who sings. Interesting phenomenon is that in Korea exists singing doctors: doctors threating a poor singing ability, because singing is a reflection of a human quality, one takes importance in that, and if it doesn’t function properly one sees it as a medical problem, associated with health and well-being.


Then we have a full chapter on the Chinese autonomous area Yanblan where Koreans live and are that show Chinese & Japanese influences and Han Chinese. Nowadays they have the right to develop their own culture. The writer associates its poor cultural development to a poor economy.

In 1945 one had martial songs, like westernised new folksongs called ch'angga. From 1949-1966 was the golden age of Yanbian music, in which one can notice exchanges with North Korea from 1955 onwards.

While in China one knew model operas, Mao songs and revolutionary songs, all became mass songs after 1976. Korean elements in the late 60s were not allowed.

Popular songs became flowing songs as part of the propaganda stream of songs promoting patriotism. One typed the songs into songs for private use, for public use and songs that are not preferred(“the didn't like to sing songs”).

During the 80s songs from Hong Kong & Taiwan arrived, called tongsu songs, influencing the local singing styles. In Yablan one octave was all that is needed to learn songs that were easy. Only since the 80s one had a certain freedom to write (except for using a Korean influence) but at that time people already did not know how to any more.


There’s also a chapter on North Korean Pop music. It is known that musicians/composers have a dangerous life there. Their purpose is to provide good marching & praising songs. If it had not been effective enough they could end up in a camp. I still remember a few powerful and gifted North Korean child performances on YouTube, full of craftsmanship and innocence. The writer writes that it is hard to get and check the North Korean releases. There are a few websites. But nothing new seems to have been created more recently.


The next chapter talks about the influence of the Korean wave in Taiwan, which came together with TV dramas and soap opera soundtracks. Also here they see economy as the leading fundament for popularity. The Taiwanese like the Korean dancing and rhythms in the pop songs.

In China the Korean music is first imported via the black market. One does not earn much through sales, but much more via advertising and sponsorship. Legal copies become collectibles.


Then there’s a chapter about punk in South Korea (Stephen Epstein). Punk/rock came to existence from 1994 onwards around the Seoul club Drug. It is not comparable to the 70s punk movement which was established as a musical compensation (other than the economic circumstances like being described again in the book as the cause), here it is related much more with a fashion, a luxury form of style.

Where in the 70s the style had dealt with a rehabilitation of the pure and real direct senses in music, I guess a comparable reaction must have been part of the reason for its existence here too. Its youth were able to travel more freely now, and after having been confronted more directly with other cultures, chose to adapt this form rather than be subversive with it.

It’s Korean movement does not tend to be anti-authorial or anti-establishment except for that it controls now it’s own social movement and the friendships it relates with it. It is much more a group identity pole than an individual reaction, which is interesting. It is not negative, but still has a certain ironic aspect.


Then a full chapter explains the video music channels on TV like MTV Asia, M-Net, Channel V, which shows further commercialisation and a total focus on entertainment and bringing in money.


This is finally a book that has brought a few experts together providing the necessary information to understand the development of Korean pop music over the years. Two subjects one is still not able to write about with a sober perspective, is the Japanese influence, which could enrich Korean music in general if they only would let it. The commercial market is also seen too much as being important, while it’s economic boom still needs a few experts with a good taste for music to filter out the musicians worth mentioning completely outside it’s economic perspective. Only then you can try to find the music, which is interesting in that period for the rest of the world and for the rest of history. Considering both subjects this still needs a maturation process so that the more interesting creative things can be noticed and get the attention it deserves. Music for musicologists can be about money from a journalist point of view but should be about creative messages for an educational global perspective point of view.

Recommended and rather essential when you want to know all about the historical context of the scene.

So far, my own interest in Korean Pop was mainly rooted within the narrow starting point of a focus upon the whole creative process from the 30s until the mid 1970s, with some later exceptions, that realize the often heartfelt innocence in folk music (guitar box music), while discovering all the combinations of a rather typical, no, even unique Korean sensitivity in mixing with something like Western influences and standards (including the brief psychedelic period with Shin Joong Hyun or even the strange disco adaptations from the late 70s).

This process of discovering new musical forms of expression, started off with the first globalization interests during the Japanese occupation in the 30s, until for me, the overuse of censorship had ruined a lot of this spontaneous process so that not much of the individual expressions were left over or possible after that.

With this focus of mine to start with, this new book by Michael Fuhr, who continued further analysis of the globalization process, not only by describing it from the start, but also mainly by focusing upon the new K-Pop, this was a challenging idea to start reading, also because my own understanding of the new era remained minimal.

So far the existence of the new waves of K-pop had mostly given me a feeling of sadness, not out of a form of individual melancholy of missing something or of not belonging to it, but because of the alienation of its first spiritual principle of creative and spiritual self-discovery and expression, with an association of disappointment with which a grip on the real self as well as the link with a historical continuation of this self discovery process for me almost until now, seemed to have been lost.

Michael Fuhr has shown with this book all the qualities needed to describe and explain the aspects and missing gaps from my point of view and needed to grasp the whole phenomena of changed perspectives over the years, seen from a historical, phenomenological and musicological point of view, while going even deeper into the essence proving very well how much also the new era is not only a new living entity with its own rules and growth process, not only via its connections with a more modern temporal life.

It’s new form has its own identity, which became a bit more involved with group awareness rather than being connected with an individual awareness. Like an Asian form of group entity it continues to grow further with its modern form of expression.

Even when it has been highly commercialised, consumed and exploited by the companies own organisation, Michael Fuhr still proves how the people who listen are still involved in its consummation process, even when keeping themselves dependent via a direct and temporal feeling, this shaky balance still matters like an inter-communicational language in between all current processes.

The way in which Michael Fuhr succeeds in noticing all that matters here might be related with how he is of German and Korean descent, using in his viewpoint all of his genetic connections not only to feel and adapt to all that matters here from inside out (while making stronger the Korean connection), via his rational and very structured rational skills, from his German “Gründlichkeit” (=thoroughness), he also succeeds to give this process of awareness a global structure of analysis, revealing that way much of the underlying processes, not only from the focus of K-Pop but also in a way we can easily take further into comparison with modern music business in general, analysing further our changed world in which business and economy still matter more than creativity and spirit. In the case of K-Pop, Michael Fuher proves that the old connections in a way are still present, and still matter.

In a way I felt happier after having read the book, now that I am realising better all the existing connections being described so clearly. We must realise that the process of music making in the new eras has become more like that of mainly a production process. Remember how Hong Kong movies over the years have gained a sort of quality over the years because they are made like a perfect machine in which each cooperator knows exactly what he’s best at. Sadly the stories are still a bit thin. For such connection, an individual discovery process could still lack its leading hand, a small aspect that is still a bit behind in all this process.

In the same way I continue to regret that for me the past, like how it often is regarded by our new consuming world citizens, it can also be considered as something else, from a conservative or backward motion, one could as well regard each period as showing a specified unique quality and aspect of psychology we should still not neglect or forget. Its past focus, as one psychological aspect, can even be regarded as having something more real than anything we focus upon today in this cyber world of direct reactions and feelings with which we are so much confronted. It can either provide us the illusion we belong to something or in a sad way, evidence that we simply don’t.

I can recommend the book for several more reasons. The chapters that describe the music history in short are resuming this part so thoroughly as well, even here Michael Fuhr distinguishes himself with his thorough investigation.

The book also gives a general introduction of elements that matter for Koreans, including words and qualities that are respected, all having their own specific Korean words that are being described in the book. One of the nicest qualities I favored here are expressed via the words sonbae/hubae, words reflecting the respect one needs to show to the elder or more experienced people.

Further on, and also interesting to read is the analysis of the methods of success in commercial music, with terms like “the hook.” Such links are interesting from a musicological point of view while analyzing modern pop music of the last 15 years, a process that nowadays no longer is controlled by the taste of people (like it used to be when taste was counted by sales of records and more free exposure of new music), but it is even more controlled by radio owners and big business.

The book still proves how much listeners or the cyber world itself (with which the Korean word “netizen” comes to mind, the internet community participants) matters, who are themselves directing the processes towards success as well.

The book describes all functionalised imagination, making from within the pop bubble of reflections a form a mirage growing towards the world to which they try to belong via step-by-step processes towards global acceptance, while Korean sensitivity is kept alive in that process. The book also described the involvement of the periods of censorships whist shaping its communal forms.


Read also the following on line book ebook:

Embedded Voices In Between Empires The Cultural Formation of Korean Popular Music in Modern Times on

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