Evolution of K-pop Series – 1970’s and 1980’s

August 15, 2019



In this blog post, I will continue with the Evolution of K-pop Series and talk about the K-pop in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  In the last blog post, I talked about the K-pop in the 1950’s and 1960’s in which we saw the rise of Korean rock music under the influence of American pop music.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the authoritarian government of President Park Chung-hee became the dominant influence on the development of K-pop and the ban imposed by the government stifled the further development of the nascent Korean rock music.


Spread of Trot Music


In the 1970’s, the Park Chung-hee government banned American pop music and Korean rock music for their association with sex and drugs.  Shin Joong-hyun, the “godfather of Korean rock music”, was imprisoned in 1975 due to a marijuana scandal.  In order to bolster its anti-Japanese credentials to appease popular resistance, the government also banned trot songs because of its “Japaneseness” given the influence of Japanese “enka’ songs on trot. However, President Park actually embraced trot.  For example, although he banned Lee Mi-ja’s hit trot song, “Lady Dongbaek”(동백아가씨), he requested the performance of this song at his presidential mansion in privacy.  Furthermore, in the mid-1970’s, television became a principal medium of popular music’s consumption and trot, which was the most popular genre in the TV music shows, spread throughout South Korea due to TV broadcasts. Despite the ban imposed by the government, trot survived in the Park era.


Rise of Folk Music


On the other hand, the younger generation born after the 1950’s had grown up under the U.S. influence and preferred the U.S. lifestyle, giving rise to the “youth culture” which was expressed through long hair, jeans, acoustic guitars and folk music.  The folk music of that time is made up of melodies sung plainly, with the singing accompanied by a guitar or two. A majority of the folk music at that time was initiated by elite university students and those who graduated from prestigious schools since they were the only group who had the pocket money, drinks, cigarettes, the English ability and the spare time. Like the activists of the U.S. student movement, they turned to folk music as the preferred music of politicized youth, who staged rhetoric and actions against the authoritarian government.  In turn, the government banned folk music due to its association with the students’ anti-government movements.


One of the representative folk music singers was Kim Min-gi from Seoul National University and his emblematic folk song was “Morning Dew” (아침이슬), which, though banned by the government, became the anthem of the anti-government movement.  Another singer, Han De-su, who spent his teenage years in the U.S. and being influenced by Bob Dylan and John Lennon,  was nicknamed “The Korean John Lennon” and his music influenced many Korean youngsters to pick up acoustic guitars.  Han De-su’s song, “To the Land of Happiness” (행복의 나라로), was an anthem of youth and the new generation and was reminiscent of early Bob Dylan with it bright timbre and youthful lyrics.  Other notable performer, Kim Kwang-seok, sang simple, slow melodies in a style closer to that of the contemporary ballad.   You can hear the songs of these representative performers by clicking the links below:


“Morning Dew” (아침이슬) sung by Kim Min-gi

“To the Land of Happiness” (행복의 나라로 ) sung by Han De-su

“Painful Love Wasn’t Love” (너무 아픈 사랑은 사랑이 아니었음을) sung by Kim Kwang-seok


Government-promoted “Healthy Songs”


Given that the Park government banned so many “unhealthy songs” (at the climax in 1975, 222 South Korean records and 261 foreign songs were banned on grounds from “negative influences on national security” to “pessimistic content”), it promoted “healthy popular music” itself and President Park even wrote and composed some of the so-called “healthy songs” (which had cheerful lyrics and melodies and praise of the country) himself.  One of such “healthy songs” written by President Park was “My Homeland” (나의 조국).  Such “healthy songs” could not appeal to the public and people still listened to the music banned by the government privately, for example, American pop music in the U.S. army clubs, trot music mainly in the countryside and urban areas in which the people moving from the countryside settled and folk music by the youth in the urban areas.


Rise of Ballad


The 1980’s saw the rise of a new music genre called “ballad” (a slow form of popular love song) which incorporated folk music’s simplicity and colloquialism into post-trot music.  This started with Lee Gwang-jo’s “You’re Too Far Away to Get Close to” (가까이 하기엔 너무 먼 당신) of which album sold more than 300,000 copies.  Lee Moon-se also got a number of hit songs including “Gwanghwamun Love Song” (광화문 연가 ).  In 1988, the hit song, “Becoming Alone” (홀로 된다는 것), sung by Byun Jin-sub, contributed decisively to establishing the pop ballad as a dominant music genre of this period.  Byun Jin-sub got so many popular ballads that he was nicknamed the “Prince of Ballads” in South Korea.  Female singers included Hye Un-i whose popular debut song, “You wouldn’t know” (당신은 모르실거야), brought her to stardom.


You can hear the following popular ballads of the 1980’s by clicking the links below:

“You’re Too Far Away to Get Close to” (가까이 하기엔 너무 먼 당신) sung by Lee Gwang-jo

“Gwanghwamun Love Song” (광화문 연가 ) sung by Lee Moon-se

“Becoming Alone” (홀로 된다는 것) sung by Byun Jin-sub

“You wouldn’t know” (당신은 모르실거야) sung by Hye Un-I


Legendary K-pop Figure – Cho Yong-pil  


The review of 1970’s and 1980’s K-pop music cannot be complete without mentioning Cho Yong-pil who is regarded as the “National Singer” and “King of K-pop” and is a living legendary figure. His songs cover various musical styles and he is able to adapt his songs to the trends of the general public.


Despite his early association with rock music as an electric guitarist in a rock band, Cho Yong-pil’s initial popularity came from his trot songs which were popular in both South Korea and Japan. For example, in 1976, his trot song, “Please Return to Pusan Port” (돌아와요 부산항에) was a great hit.  Despite the temporary set-back due to his involvement in a marijuana incident in 1977, he managed to bounce back with his song, “The Woman Outside the Window” (창밖의 여자) which reached a record-breaking sales of 1 million in 1980.  In 1988, he sang “Seoul Seoul Seoul” (서울 서울 서울) in three languages (i.e., Korean, English and Japanese) to celebrate the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.


His music career survived even in the present-day K-pop idol era.  In 2013, at the age of 63, he released the album “Hello” embracing electronica, modern rock and rap. His songs, “Hello” (헬로) and “Bounce” (바운스) became great hits among both his older generation fans and the young people in their 20’s.  About 200,000 copies of the album were sold out within 3 hours of its release.  His song, “Bounce” even won the “BC-UnionPay Song of the Year” in the Mnet Asian Music Awards of 2013 despite competition from the K-pop idols.


You can listen to the following songs of Cho Yong-pil by clicking the links below:

“Please Return to Pusan Port” (돌아와요 부산항에) (1976)

“The Woman Outside the Window” (창밖의 여자) (1980)

“Seoul Seoul Seoul” (서울 서울 서울) (Korean version) (1988)

“Bounce” (바운스) (2013)

“Hello” (헬로) (2013)


You may find that the K-pop music developed up to the 1980’s might not sound very similar to the present-day K-pop songs sung by the K-pop idol groups. In the next blog post, I will talk about the 1990’s in which Seo Taji & the Boys brought a new generation of K-pop which laid the foundation for the present-day K-pop music and K-pop idol groups.

Reminder: The next blog post will be published on 9 March 2015. Watch this space! 


Related Blog Posts:

“Evolution of K-pop Series – An overview” dated 25 February 2015

“Evolution of K-pop Series – Birth of K-pop to 1940’s” dated 27 February 2015

“Evolution of K-pop Series – 1950’s and 1960’s” dated 4 March 2015

“Evolution of K-pop Series – 1990’s (Rise of Modern K-pop) dated 9 March 2015

“Evolution of K-pop Series – 2000’s and beyond” dated 11 March 2015



John Lie, K-pop: popular music, cultural amnesia and economic innovation in South Korea, Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2015

Jonathan M. Hicap, “2013 MAMA: G-Dragon, EXO, Cho Yong Pil bag top awards“, Manila Bulletin, 2013-11-23

Written by Wi Tack-whan and translated by Sohn Ji-ae, “Cho Yong-pil, K-pop legend“, Korea.net, 2013-06-03

“Cho Yong-pil’s 1st album in 10 years sweeps charts“, The Chosun Ilbo, 2013-04-24

Daniel Tudor著, 胡菀如譯,《韓國: 撼動世界的嗆泡菜》,台北市: 聯經出版事業股份有限公司,2013年版, 266-270頁

John Lie, “What is the K in K-pop? South Korean Popular Music, the Culture Industry and National Identity”, Korea Observer, Vol. 43, No.3, Autumn 2012, pp.339-363

Korean Culture and Information Service, K-pop: A new force in pop music, Republic of Korea, 2011

Lim Jin-mo, “Cho Yong-pil is back!“, Koreana

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