Korean Popular Culture

The Textbook-in-progress of the Ivy League's first class on the Korean Wave. This blog is the work of University of Pennsylvania EALC 198/598 students (Spring 2006 & 2007). Please apply proper citation when using any part of this blog. For details on citing this site see: http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/online/cite5.html#1

Friday, March 31, 2006

Korean Music Trend from 1990-Current

Korean Music Trend from 1990-Current

Korean music industry has seen dramatic change since 1990. This important period can be divided into three sub-periods: 1990-1995, 1996-2000, and 2001-current. These three periods are divided not by the time but by the characteristics of each period. The first period, 1990-1995, saw the introduction and proliferation of new breed of music in Korea, especially dance and rap music. The second period, 1995-2000, witnessed the maturation of dance and rap music coupled with the introduction of hip hop music. Finally, the third period, 2001-current, can be characterized as the maturation of overall music industry.

With the success of Seo TaiJi & Boys, the first period, 1990-1995, saw the massive proliferation of dance and rap musicians. Jam and Noise earned great popularities with their debut albums although both teams lost fans in fast pace after their first or second albums. Kim Gun Mo, who later became the one of the most popular singers in Korea, debuted in this period with his first dance music. Most of new singers chose dance music as their debut songs since dance music was the only genre that seemed to be appearing to the mass. Consequently, ‘Trot’ music, which was the most popular genre in Korea previously, lost its place to the new dance and rap music. Shin Seung Hun was the only major ballad singer, selling more than one million copies per album, and had great success. However, he was pretty much the only ballad singer that could be compared to a number of popular dance and rap musicians in this period.

The second period, 1996-2000, can be distinguished from the first period as the quality of dance and rap music improved precipitously. Most first generation musicians of dance and rap music disappeared as the proliferation of singers incurred competition, and the taste of fans elaborated. The entertainment companies, with huge profit from the first period, started to recruit and organize young boys and girls to make them into groups. Five major dance groups in the second period, notably HOT, Sechs Kies, Finkle, SES, and Turbo all emerged in this period. These dance groups typically did not write or produce their own songs but got the songs from star writers and producers. All their music and activities were strongly controlled by the entertainment companies they were in: most notably, SM Entertainment and DSP.

This contrasts with the dance groups of the first period. Although musicians, especially dance groups in the first period were greatly influenced by the entertainment companies, the degree of control was much higher for the second period dance groups since they were basically investments of the entertainment companies. The intense competition and decreasing popularity of dance music among the fans led into the introduction of new genre, hip hop music, again by Seo TaiJi and Boys. Although other genres of music, such as ballads and trot, kept their fan bases during the first and second periods, the hip hop music became the new ‘cool’ breed of music in the late second period.

The third period, 2001-current, experienced the maturation of the overall music industry. The popularity of dance and rap music decreased and although hip hop music became a new popular genre, it never attained the dominating status of dance and rap music in the first period. Ballads music gained momentum with a debut of great ballads singer, Cho Sung Mo, who was expected to inherit the status of Shin Seung Hun. His first two albums sold more than five million copies. Other genres, such as R&B, started appear and gained popularity. R&B singers such as Kim Cho Han and Park Jung Hyun, who were both Korean-American singers from USA, appeared with their ‘original’ sounds and techniques.

However, although many new singers and genres appeared in this period, no single genre of music had dominance in this period as the dance and rap music did in the first and second periods. This could be attributed to the maturation of whole music industry. The competition is higher than ever in the music industry as many talented people are entering. Often, singers start training in young age to become stars. Entertainment companies have become big and powerful: major entertainment companies such as SM is listed in the stock exchange, and conglomerates, such as CJ group, jumped into the music entertainment industry. The song writing and producing process has become organized as major entertainment companies have in-house writers and producers who specialize in specific genres. All these changes are causing intense sophistication and competitive environment in Korean music industry. The entertainment companies no longer focus on one group or genre, but most are diversifying their portfolio with variety of genres and singers.

As explained above, the Korean music industry experienced dynamic changes in a relatively short time period. Comparing to 1990, the current Korean music industry certainly has improved not only in quantity but quality. More diverse genres are introduced, and structured process is being implemented for better management of singers and writers. However, many issues remain to be improved as one can see from the current plagiarism issue of Lee Hyo Lee’s ‘Get Ya.’ Thus, Not only musicians but also fans should strive to fix the problems and issues the current Korean music industries face so that the legacies and achievements from the three periods discussed above could continue into the prolonged ‘Korean Wave.’


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