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“It’s like oxygen – it’s everywhere!” Why Korea is ready to trot, the most tacky pop imaginable | K-pop

ANDAfter the recent lifting of Covid restrictions, music is back in the air in Seoul. But in 2022, not only K-pop and Western hits will be the soundtrack to the South Korean capital. There is a different sound around almost every corner.

It sounds from the merchants’ portable stereos at the fruit and vegetable market and is sung noraebang Karaoke booths in Nagwon-dong. I hear it at Euljiro’s music stores for second-hand stuff, where they’re stacked floor-to-ceiling in packages the size of bumpers with CDs and cassettes. When I turn on the TV, it’s back – I’ve been in entertainment shows and dazzling talent contests. The stars of the genre illuminate the alleys and skyscrapers on torn posters and digital billboards. “It’s like oxygen,” says the dance producer with 250 rumbling beats, cheap keyboard sounds and emotional vocal performances that I can hear wherever I go. “It’s everywhere.”

This is ppongjak revitalization of a century-old Korean pop genre, also known as trot. Until recently, it was only popular with seniors who listened to it on mountain hikes and intercity bus tours (as shown in the last scene of The Mother in 2009, director of Parasite Bong Joon-ho). Now it finds a place again underground and in the mainstream. This unexpected revival apparently confuses many locals: one bar-goer uses the word “shy” to describe an absurd mixture of melancholic ballads and ecstatic eurodance rhythms. But young artists are integrating these questionable sounds into their songs, and a rebirth now threatens to break Korea’s borders.

In the crowd … Fans of South Korean poet singer Lim Young-woong. Photo: Reuters / Alamy

The name comes from the simple rhythm that forms the basis of the music: ppongjak is an onomatopoeic term that mimics a repetitive one-two rhythm, with the first syllable representing the bass beat and the second snare drum smacking. It is clothed with simple melodies that make it easy to sing and dance, with the higher tones provided in a technique known as kkeokk-ki (which means to bend, or break a voice). Meanwhile, sentimental lyrics and cheerful-sad melodies embody emotions hea term that describes a feeling of shared sadness or despair. Local music video producer Kim Kyuseo of production agency Spire presents the features of the trot and the present day ppongjak in Shakespearean terms: “It’s like a tragedy and comedy,” he says, emphasizing the emotional vocal performances more characteristic of the former, and the crazy beats of the latter. “They dance their pain.”

Neither experts nor amateurs can agree whether they are in fact the same or just different threads of one genre – but either way, the roots ppongjak can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century, when undivided Korea was occupied by Japan. Trot is derived from the foxtail, says Alex Taek-Gwang Lee, professor of cultural studies at Kyung Hee University. The two-beat dance style was introduced to Korea by Japan as part of a “cultural phenomenon influenced by the American jazz era” in the 1920s. As the ruling class opened large dance halls across the country (inspired in part by those in Blackpool and other British cities, says Lee), native Koreans combined that with traditional working people music – and the trot was born.

Since then, the genre has moved through an intricate history. He was responsible for the first Korean pop idols, including Nam Jin and Na Hoon, during the heyday of the genre in the 1970s. The famous trot singer Sim Soo-bong was even present at the 1979 assassination of President Park Chung-hee; She sang for a military dictator at a banquet that evening. But he has also been condemned many times since the late 1960s as various governments tried to eliminate Japanese influence from society. There is an ongoing debate as to whether the sadness of the trot – typified in the themes of famous songs such as Heartbreaking Miari Hill Yi Hae-yeon and Busan Station of Farewell Nam In-su – makes it Korean by nature, or whether the style is derived from Japanese widow (probably the most recognizable genre to Westerners thanks to its use in the Kill Bill soundtrack).

In the 90s, young Koreans became more and more optimistic and there was no room for the melancholic music associated with the older generation. The fresh sound of K-pop – inspired by dance, R&B and hip-hop from abroad – has broken the spirit of the times. But a trot He never left, and in late 2010, an unexpected revival was catalyzed by the debut of the X Factor-style television talent show, in which rivals perform in a traditional, sentimental style – one of its episodes was watched by over a third of the total Korean television audience.

Lim Young-woong performs in January
Ubiquitous… Lim Young-woong. Photo: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

Listening to the mega-hit single My Starry Love, the winner of Mr Trot, Lima Young-woong, I can’t help but remember Gareth Gates’ approach to Unchained Melody from the first Pop Idol series. But Lima’s popularity is undeniable: he has over 1.3 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, his face is now occupied by a 10-story billboard in the thriving Hongdae University District, and he is just as ubiquitous as BTS at the souvenir stalls in the Insa Market District -dong.

Some corners of the press are seeing this resurgence in the trot interest as only part of the “newtro” trend (portmanteau of the words “new” and “retro”): a youth culture phenomenon characterized by vintage fashions, old graphics and interior design, and the popularity of period K-dramas such as Mr. Sunshine. But the trotting industry has also become attractive to singers and musicians who have great career ambitions.

Lee explains that the K-pop star industry’s “idol” industry is “very restrictive.” You have to be pretty, you have to be good at dancing, you have to look after your audience and your marketing – it’s like being a supermodel or a goddess. ” On the other hand, the more niche the trot or ppongjak market (Lee uses these terms interchangeably) “is a place where people who just want to be a good singer or good musician can focus on their craftsmanship.” This is a point highlighted by Korean stars such as Lizzy, once a member of the K-pop girly group After School. She released the song trot, Not an Easy Girl, as her debut single in 2015, saying MBN Star this year, “Idol music is short-lived … I thought trot music would stay in the music market longer.”

Reality TV stars and mainstream artists are not the only ones taking part in the revival. I stumble upon the face of the ’90s techno-trot pioneer Epaxa, also known as Dr. Lee, blown up on the side of a wall in the bustling Euljiro neighborhood – a former mecca of industry, now home to night bars serving beer and fried chicken for customers sitting on plastic chairs. He is one of the few senior statesmen who have benefited from ppongjak revival, with new concerts and an album in preparation; On the same day, I hear a track that sounds suspiciously similar to his Monkey Magic from a portable stereo.

Epaksa also appeared as a guest on an album by one of the country’s most exciting young dance producers. 250 from Seoul is best known for making beats for BTS and producing the Korean hip-hop icon E Sens. CD covers), created a hybrid of the future ppongjak which embodies the inherent sadness or sadness of the genre, while also incorporating elements of contemporary dance music.

Ppongjak the music is often very fast, almost drum’n’bass, ”she says, comparing the uninhibited dance styles of the 90s to those of the 90s. ppongjak connoisseurs. He checks the names in Italian song and French song as related to this genre through their melancholic and nostalgic sounds. He shares themes with American country music: “They miss their hometown.” And in its cheesy bass lines and “cheap and cheesy” sound, it offers parallels to disco Italo from the 70s and 80s: “Giorgio Moroder’s Chase” says 250, “it’s just plain let’s go. “ He’s right: pulsating double rhythms, emotional melodies, outdated synthesizer sounds – that’s all there is.

Is Korean cultural quirk such as ppongjak ever transplanted in the west? It has already done so, albeit to a small extent. Epaxa’s funny music video for the 2000 song Space Fantasy saw her pose in front of Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, and even the Pyramids of Giza. The impressive Feel the Rhythm spot by the Korea Tourism Organization, which was repeated at the London East Asia film festival in 2021 and collected nearly 50 million views on YouTube, highlights the musical performance of the Korean band Leenalchi. The song blends alt-rock with traditional Korean pansori (folk) singing with a flawless price reduction ppongjak to beat.

But in 2022, probably 250 people have the best chance – some might say danger – of internationalizing the genre. Largely instrumental, Ppong sounds as if it was designed as a backing for the bending of the trot a singer in any language to perform, and while the hyper-powerful two beats occasionally evoke jumbled happy hardcore sounds, the rich, colorful melodies in songs such as Bang Bus and Rear Window remind me of Todd Terje, British indie-electro stars’ discounted trash can Metronomes or Japanese titans of electronic music by Yellow Magic Orchestra.

Two months after the album’s release, 250 has just debuted with its first show on London’s acclaimed NTS Radio – and is filled to the brim with a trot and ppongjak sounds, including pieces from Nam Jin and Na Hoon. Korean pop culture shows no signs of slowing down, who will say that? ppongjak – or at least some new, crazy hybridization – won’t it be Korea’s next big export trend? Karaoke stands are already waiting in London.


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