Once upon a time, when K-pop wasn’t saturated with pretty pretty idol groups prancing and dancing on stage with overly autotuned and hyperaddictive songs, listening to K-pop was like listening to poetry with melodies. Not that I have anything against idol groups; on the contrary, I love them to bits. But there are times when you want the song to be the center of attention and not the person(s) singing it, sometimes you want to listen to a song that completely moves your heart and soul, a song whose lyrics are so meaningful that you want to write them down, and the current popular K-pop scene is somewhat lacking in that aspect.
Perhaps it’s a common trait in the pop music scene worldwide, this overabundance of trendy and catchy danceable music. However, thankfully there’s always something to counterbalance this excess, either in the form of independent pop/rock, other musical genres, or a look into the past.
Korea is currently enjoying a wave of nostalgia in the music scene, mostly thanks to (but not limited to) the power singers and artists who flourished in the ‘80s and ‘90s, who have been celebrating their 20th+ anniversaries for the past couple of years with concerts, radio and TV appearances.
This also coincided with the huge success of audition shows for new singing talent such as Superstar K and Star Audition: A Star is Born (위대한 탄생). Another singing competition show that is extremely popular is I am a Singer (나는 가수다), which features established singers known for their incredible voices and actually pits them against one another, dropping one singer at each challenge in brutal survival style.
Renewed interest in “old” songs featured in these TV shows resulted in interesting changes to the various music charts, both for CD sales and digital downloads. Interest in the original singers also rose, whose exposure in the media grew day by day. Consequently, many concerts from these brilliant artists are available this spring and summer with some even having to extend their concert dates and tour cities due to popular demand.
These pioneers have paved their way for the international interest K-pop seems to be enjoying now, and if you really listen to their music, it’s not surprising why.
Some notable concerts to catch : “Ballad King” Shin Seung Hun celebrates his 20th anniversary with an ambitious show; mostly known to the younger generation as the mentor to young singer/actor Lee Seung Gi is “The Voice” Lee Sun Hee, who doesn’t seem to age (she’s nearing 50!); legendary rock band Boohwal who are so legendary they don’t even have an official site; idols of the ‘70s, old old school acoustic folk rock group C’est Si Bon who recently hiked up Korea’s acoustic guitar sales; the mostly revered, bow-down-to-the “Godfather of Korean pop music” Cho Yong Pil; high school girls’ major crush in the ‘90s “Original Balladeer” Byun Jin Sub; elaborate, fantastical perfomances can be expected from “The Little Prince” Lee Seung Hwan; the absolute definition of a rockstar, “Emperor of Live” Lee Seung Chul celebrating his 25th anniversary; and highly emotive and fragile “Moving Voice” of Lee Sora.
I don’t have time to go to every single one. However, I managed to catch Shin Seung Hun’s concert last year, and this spring I went to see Lee Juck and Lee Seung Chul.
Lee Juck started off his music career in the mid-90s as a member of the duo Panic. I liked them a lot. Their music was nothing like the K-pop I was used to at that time; they had somewhat of an indie feel, with lyrics full of metaphor and bluntness all at once. I even loved their name. Their song The Sea in My Old Drawer (내 낡은 서랍속의 바다) is one of my favorite songs of all time.
Lee Juck’s solo albums are undoubtedly more personal and probing, and I’d say, less mainstream. It is in this vein that he chose to do his concerts in intimate settings, where artist and audience can feel each others’ energy and feed off it, and be together in the creative process that is a concert. His concerts are described as ‘small theater concert’s, because that is exactly what they are.
Some songs on the concert playlist? One sided love (짝사랑); Get Her (그녀를 잡아요); Snail (달팽이); Running in the Sky (하늘을 달리다); my personal favorite from his latest album “Love”, Strange (이상해); and Lefty (왼손잡이), which was the show closer.
On the other side of the spectrum, Lee Seung Chul’s concert was held at a huge concert hall, a very different scale compared to Lee Juck’s. There are pros and cons to the different venues, but it mostly has to do with what style of music the artists are performing.
I enjoyed the intimacy of Lee Juck’s concert, but I don’t think it would have been proper for Lee Seung Chul – you can’t accommodate that many K-rock fans into that closed a space.
Besides the band, Lee Seung Chul’s concert had an additional orchestra (strings, brass and all), a troop of back dancers, several backup singers, and a myriad of special effects from laser beams to fog machines.
Lee Seung Chul started his music career in the ‘80s. He was the lead vocal for the legendary rock band Boohwal at the age of 20 and participated in their first album. He went solo 3 years later; his album was a major hit full of songs which are now true legends. Heeya (희야) and Don’t Say Goodbye (안녕이라고 말하지마) are powerful rock ballads that showed off the range of his incredible voice.
His second album was a huge hit as well, possibly most noted today because of the song Girls’ Generation (Sonyeosidae, 소녀시대). Yes, that Girls Generation. The now immensely popular K-pop idol girl group SNSD sang a remake of his song, apt to their name.
He had up and downs in his career after the early years, but his popularity skyrocketed recently after being appointed head judge of the singing audition program Superstar K, for his straightforward yet constructive criticism of the contestants.
Lee Seung Chul is a rockstar, so is his music. You just can’t sit still. The whole place was jumping within minutes and I was glad I had the good sense to wear my sneakers with bouncy insoles. You need to be in good shape and have loads of energy to last through a rock concert. I had to sit down for every single ballad he sang.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was distracted every time he made a wardrobe change (there were several), and when he showed up with the extra sparkly pants for the last set of songs? Why did I keep thinking of Shinee?
Great fan service, though. Although there was no fan signing event, he appeared on stage after all the curtain calls and encores, just to wave to the enthusiastic crowd and pose for photos.
Lee Seung Chul has revamped his concert for the spring season. It is now titled Unplugged Live. I have a feeling it would be less showy, with more emphasis on his spectacular voice, and no sparkly pants!
There might be slight changes to the concert playlist, but songs to look out for are besides the aforementioned are: Shout (소리쳐), Are You Listening (듣고 있나요), Love is so Difficult (사랑 참 어렵다), Long Day (긴하루), and most likely Neverending Story will close out the show. Actually, he has too many hit songs to list, so check out his official site.
Last note. One thing good about Korean concerts? Unless the concert is showing at a huge sports stadium venue, there is no opening act. You usually get 2 hours+ of music from the artist you came to see. Guest artists sometimes show up but they tend to collaborate with the main act and not do things on their own so you don’t miss out.
Oh, there’s another good thing. The reason why you get 2 hours+, more than the running time written on your ticket is because the Korean audience will never, ever, ever, ever, ever let the artist go without singing an encore (or several more). Savvy Korean artists always keep this in mind and usually save their crowd pleasers for the very end. So don’t get up and leave while the rest of the crowd is on their feet, stomping and cheering out the artist’s name. You probably will get some more music.
If you think that idol K-pop is the only offering Korea has to offer, think again, take a chance, open your ears, try something different for a change and have fun!
Concert tickets can be purchased at the following sites. No foreign languages are available, unfortunately. Ask a Korean friend for help!
N.B. Some concerts will be available at certain sites only, due to exclusive contracts.
Interpark – http://ticket.interpark.com/ConcertIndex.asp
Ticketlink – http://concert.ticketlink.co.kr/
11st – http://ticket.11st.co.kr/
YES 24 – http://ticket.yes24.com/
* All poster and screen images from official sites, all linked within the post.