Music of South Korea

The Music of South Korea has evolved over the course of the decades since the end of the 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

Main article: Korean music

The first evidence of Korean music is old, and it has been well documented by surviving written materials from the 15th century. Traditional Korean music was brought to heights of excellence under the Lee kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Imperial Japan's annexation of Korea suppressed 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. Folk includes genres like sanjo, pansori and nongak. The three types of Korean court music are aak, hyangak and dangak.

Main article: K-pop

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 with the latest looks and dance skills. Contemporary Korean music and pop stars are very popular across Asia, and the spread of contemporary Korean culture 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]

The dominant trend in popular Korean music is currently "idol" (아이돌) groups. Idol groups typically feature several entertainers of the same gender who perform a fusion of dance music, rhythm and blues, funk, hip-hop and electronic influenced songs. Some of the most famous K-pop groups include BIGBANG, Apink, SHINee, TVXQ, T-ARA, Super Junior, Wonder Girls, 2NE1, Orange Caramel, BTS, Got7, WINNER, Girl's Day, Block B, and Girls' Generation and the most popular is EXO. There are also co-ed groups where both genders are present.



Main article: Trot (music)
Oppaneun pungrgakjaengi
(오빠는 풍각쟁이)
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.

In the contemporary South Korea, it has enjoyed a revival at the hands of Jang Yoon Jeong, who recorded the popular trot songs "Jjanjjara" and "Oemoena."


Main article: Korean rock

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.


Main article: T'ong guitar

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.


Main article: Korean hip hop

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 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 one of the first international stars outside of South Korea. Aside from mainstream dance pop infused hip hop, there is also an underground hip hop scene that has developed throughout South Korea. Online webzines have contributed to spreading the culture into the Korean mainstream.


Main article: Hybridity and the rise of Korean popular culture in Asia[5]

The music genre primarily changed from ballad to western music styles, including rap, reggae, R&B, and hip hop in the early twenty–first century. K – pop music has experienced the process of hybridization as it was influenced by the globalized western music genres. The term hybridization refers to local cultures create unique combinations as that incorporate foreign and globalizing influenced.[6] Other than hybrid music genres of K – pop, English mixing in the lyrics of K- pop is another important change in contemporary K- pop music culture. According to Jin and Ryoo, K – pop has incorporated diverse stylistic input from abroad which has been related to the boom of hybrid K – pop through a Korean – English mix in lyrics. Instead of providing beautiful melodies, K – pop idols also try to maximize melody line with easy English lyrics. The Korean entertainment companies have developed the mixing language of English into lyrics because it is easier for foreigners to remember the song.

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

With the arrival of Western culture in South Korea, European classical music has been significantly popular in the Korean music scene. The genre has produced a number of preeminent classical musicians such as Yiruma. 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 is known for the famous "Song of My Homeland".

Another of Korea's internationally prominent composers is Young-ja Lee. 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.[7]

Hyo-Won Woo was born in 1974 and wrote mainly Christian choral music, for example Gloria, using elements of both traditional Korean music and contemporary classical music.

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. Shim, D. (2006). Hybridity and the rise of Korean popular culture in Asia. Media, Culture & Society, 28(1), 25–44.
  6. Jin, D. Y., & Ryoo, W. (2014). Critical Interpretation of Hybrid K-Pop: The Global-Local Paradigm of English Mixing in Lyrics. Popular Music & Society, 37(2), 113–131.
  7. University of South Florida (2012), Celebrating women composers
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