It is pretty obvious to see that the most important reason for the recent rise in the popularity of Korea is due to K-Pop, more precisely Korean Idols. However, it is a pretty sad sight to see that most people think that Korean music is all about ‘Gangnam Style’ and pretty boy/girl groups. I’m not saying there is any fault in Psy or idol groups as some people say musicism (Yes, I just made that word up) is as serious as racism, but I do get some serious urges a lot of times to introduce foreign K-Pop lovers, and even, Koreans who are too busy listening to chart music to a whole other side of music in Korea.Anyway, it is pretty ironic that the most influential musician in the formation of Korean Idol culture is considered as an indie rock musician nowadays. Taiji Seo…aka President of Culture, first debuted in 1992 as 서태지와 아이들 (Seo Taiji and Boys) with his groundbreaking song 난 알아요 (I Know). His debut was like the debut of The Beatles, nobody expected him to be so big. In his first TV debut, the critics in the programs were rejecting his sound resembling Decca record rejecting The Beatles saying “guitar groups are on the way out”. However, despite the negative reviews by critics he became the rising star of the Korean music industry, breaking the well known formula at that time, ‘You can not rap in Korean’. Their emerging popularity was due to their first song, featuring Seo Taiji and the Boys, consisting Taiji, Lee Juno and YG (Yes, the papa of Big Bang and 2ne1) and henceforth became first idol group (sort of) in Korea. Just to give you a brief taste of their popularity and influence in Korea, their song “Come Back Home” actually brought a lot of runaway teenagers back home.
After their 4th album in 1996, the group announced an official break up and for 2 years the name Taiji never showed up in the music industry. When Taiji released his first solo album in 1998 that’s where things became interesting. Unlike what everyone expected he came back with rock instead of hip hop, and not just normal easily listenable rock but experimental rock music that people at the time and a lot of people nowadays cannot understand. A lot of songs in his first albums are very abstract, it is very hard to understand what he is saying and even the song titles were shocking as nobody in their right mind would have named their songs Take one, Take two and so on. But like Radiohead’s later albums, his abstract sound actually shows what a musical genius he is, the fact that he tried out experimental rock when idol groups like H.O.T. were ruling the Korean music chart was extremely brave. From Take One with bright guitar riff and Taiji’s incoherent vocals to Take Two’s complex and abstract Nu Metalish sound to Take Three’s heavy metal sound with no vocal at all. His 1998 album had gone too far ahead to the future for Korean people at that time.
His 2nd solo album caused another massive shock to the Korean music audience. For the first time in Korean Music history a man with bright red hair was screaming and rapping in a popular music program. Taking the trendiest rock music in USA at that time, his 2nd solo album showed a clear influence of nu metal rock bands such as Limp Bizkit, RATM and Korn. One of the reasons why I decided to write about Taiji as my first article is because he made a lesser known musical genre heard and it allowed the Korean music industry to be more like the Western industry where a lot of experimental various sounds were accepted.
His 3rd solo album was an easier listen for an ordinary audience, experimenting Pop Punk sound this time allowing Korean listeners to approach Taiji’s style of Neo-Punk (I would recommend you to listen to Live Wire to understand what I mean).
His 4th and most recent solo which was released in 2009, I find to be also much more listener friendly. I’m not saying he decided to go all pop sounding but he managed to create experimental pop indie rock. In this album, it’s pretty easy to see that he had tried a lot of different sounds. The album’s title song 아침의 눈 (Snow of Morning) has a very relaxing and uplifting sound with a lot of attempts of experiments. For example, the clear piano sound accompanied by the relaxing and almost whispered vocals of Taiji in verses giving a very clean sound gives a clear clean sound. And as soon as the song reaches its chorus, a mixture of his distinctive voice and his distorted guitar sounds gives this mixed up strong yet light alternative rock sound. In his other song, Moai, the song starts with fast broken up beats as if he is trying to prove why his new album is called Atomos. When Taiji start his verse, the bright piano chords create a rather jazzy sound. In his song Human Dream you could visualise that he almost went fully electronic and this results in, if you’d like to call it a tickle to the listener’s ear, due to its malleable synth sound. I personally find this song extremely cringing and I think it sounded like a Japanese animation opening with Taiji’s “I’m so cute” sounding vocal. But even though I find this song cringing, I still think that it is a good sign that he has tried such sounds since this shows that he is still experimenting with his music and as long as Taiji continues to release new albums, he will enlighten the listeners by showing a completely new side of him once again.
- The Korean Music Industry (and Olivia) (westerngirleasternboy.wordpress.com)
- More Than Just K-Pop – Spotlight on Korean Indie Rock (korcan50years.com)