16. Styles, Genres, and Contexts


1. 이미자, “동백아가씨” (2013 version)

1. Yi Mi-ja, “Tongbaek agassi” (Miss Camellia) (2013 version)

From: Tongbaek agassi, Midopa LM 1200037, 1964, 33 ⅓ rpm.

Yi Mi-ja: vocal; Paek Yŏng-ho: music; Han San-do: lyrics.



“Tongbaek agassi” is one of the signature songs of Yi Mi-ja, who is also known as the ‘queen of elegy.’ This song was originally written as the theme song for the film Tongbaek agassi released in 1964. The soundtrack of the film was published by Jigu Records in the same year. The song “Tongbaek agassi” topped the chart for 35 consecutive weeks and the album sales reached over a million copies, thereby setting a new record in the Korean music industry at that time. However, the song was banned in 1965 by the then ruling military government for containing the ‘Japanese style’ until its censorship was lifted by the succeeding military government in 1987.

2. 거미, “동백아가씨”

2. Gummy, “Tongbaek agassi” (Miss Camelia)

From: Live performance at the KBS2 music programme Purhu ĭi Myŏnggok: Chŏnsŏrŭl Noraehada (Eternal Classics: Singing Out the Legend), broadcast on 15 March 2014.

Gummy: vocal; Paek Yŏng-ho: music; Han San-do: lyrics.


In this video clip, the R&B singer Gummy performs Yi Mi-ja’s “Tongbaek agassi” in the long running cover competition programme of the KBS, Eternal Classics: Singing Out the Legend. Gummy employs trot, R&B and rock styles in her singing. The instrumentation and arrangement for the music is also diverse; it includes the traditional Korean zither, tango rhythms and large orchestra, to complement the singer’s vocal delivery.

3. 주현미, “비 내리는 영동교”

3. Chu Hyŏn-mi, “Pi naeri nŭn Yŏngdonggyo” (Rain on Yŏngdong Bridge)

From: Pi naerinŭn yŏngdonggyo (Rain on Yŏngdong Bridge), Oasis Records OL-2628, 1985, 33 ⅓ rpm.

Chu Hyŏn-mi: vocal; Nam Kug-in: music; lyrics: Chŏng Ŭn-i.



It is the title song of Chu Hyŏn-mi’s first album. Chu Hyŏn-mi, renowned for her elaborate vocal techniques, contributed to the development of a new style of trot by singing with up-tempo disco rhythms and light-hearted playful lyrics. This trot song is in the A major and many Korean trot songs began to adopt a major scale.

4. 주현미 & 서현 (소녀시대), “짜라자짜”

4. Chu Hyŏn-mi and Sŏhyŏn of Girls Generation, “Tcharajatcha”

From: Live performance in the Inkigayo programme of SBS on 8 September 2009.

Chu Hyŏn-mi: vocal; Sŏhyŏn: vocal; Kim To-hun: music & ltrics; Hwang Sŏng-jin: lyrics.


Chu Hyŏn-mi performs with Sŏhyŏn, a member of the female idol group Girls Generation, thereby bringing the trot and pop ballad styles together.

5. 남진, “임과 함께”

5. Nam Chin, “Nim kwa Hamkke” (With My Love)

From: Nim kwa Hamkke/Marŏpsi kamnida, Jigu JLS-120597, 1972, 33 ⅓ rpm.

Nam Chin: vocal; Nam Kug-in: music; Ko Hyang: lyrics.



Nam Chin was one of most popular male trot singers in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, along with Na Hun-a. He often combined pop and rock styles in his singing. In addition to his singing, Nam Chin also starred in a number of films. This song “Nim kwa Hamkke”, which is exuberant and fast paced, is an example of his flamboyant singing and performance style.

6. 조용필, “돌아와요 부산항에”

6. Cho Yong-p’il, “Torawayo pusanhang e” (Come Back to Pusan Habour)

From: Cho Yong-p’il 1-chip (The First Album of Cho Yong-p’il), Jigu JLS-1201546, 33 ⅓ rpm.

Cho Yong-p’il: vocal; Hwang Sŏn-u: music & lyrics.



Dubbed the ‘singer of the nation’ (kungmin kasu), Cho Yong-p’il covers a wide range of Korean popular music including rock, trot, pop ballad and dance. He began his music career in 1968, playing in several rock bands in the early 1970’s. “Torawayo pusanhang e” is a trot song which launched Cho Yong-p’il’s solo career in 1975 both in South Korea and in Japan.

7. 국가스텐, “한 잔의 추억”

7. Guckkasten, “Hanjan ŭi ch’uŏk” (A Glass of Memories)

From: Live performance in the MBC TV programme, I Am A Singer Special: Best Ten Performances, on 18 September 2013.

Ha Hyŏn-u: vocal, guitar; Chŏn Kyu-ho: guitar; Kim Ki-pŏm: bass; Yi Chŏng-kil: drums.


On this YouTube clip, an indie rock band Guckkasten gives a rock rendition of Yi Chang-hŭi’s 1974 song, “Hanjan ŭi ch’uŏk” (A Glass of Memories). Guckkasten gave their first performance of this song in the cover competition of the MBC programme I Am a Singer on 3 June 2012. The lead singer Ha Hyŏn-u’s extensive vocal range and eloquent technique give this song a highly original and elaborate interpretation of the original song from the 1970’s.

8. Big Bang, “Fantastic Baby”

From: An official YouTube music video of YG Entertainment, 2012.

G-Dragon: Music & lyrics; TOP: Music and lyrics, Teddy: Music and lyrics.


The music video of “Fantastic Baby” by the five-member boy band Big Bang illustrates the ever-growing importance of music videos and visual aesthetics in Korean popular music, especially for K-pop. This song offers highly eclectic and densely woven musical and visual texts. As with most K-pop music video production, “Fantastic Baby” has been released in two languages targeting both domestic and international audiences: the Korean version was released on YouTube in February 2012 and the Japanese version in March 2012. It won the Best Dance Video for the MTV Video Music Awards Japan in 2013.