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K-Pop's Early Years: The Beginnings of Korean Pop Music

Some early performers are still popular.

Korean pop music is becoming a worldwide craze. According to the Korea Times, some 7,000 fans packed into the first K-pop concert in Paris two months ago. But the music has a long history dating back many years.

Korean pop started around 1945. Prior to that time, Korean music was traditional Korean music (called Gukak), which was sung and accompanied by traditional instruments like the Gayageum (a 12-stringed instrument) and the Daegeum (a large bamboo flute). Some people say the early Korean pop songs were more similar to the Japanese genre known as Enka, but there is a diversity of opinions.  After that time (Korea regained its independence in 1945) Korean pop made a clean sweep of Japanese manners and K-pop had a new name, “trot.” Its musical beat was based on the “foxtrot,” the Western ballroom dance.  The beat is quadruple time, or 4/4.

The trot was popular in the 1950s and ’60s. Before the ’60s, the lyrics were usually sad, melancholy and gloomy.  But from the late 1960s on, the lyrics started to become upbeat and there was a big change in the rhythm of the music, which turned the trot into something brighter. From 1965 to 1969, trot was so popular that people called the period “the Golden Age of Trot.”  At that time, the trot was popular mainly with middle-aged people. 

Recently, as the trot gains new popularity, more songs are being written and sung by younger singers who have made their songs more modern. Trot songs have a strong influence on the emotions of the Korean people. For this reason trot is sung together at parties and during trips.

The most famous old time trot singers are Mi-ja Lee, Jin Nam and Hoon-A Nam.  They are still actively singing in Korea.  Their dinner shows, especially, at the end of the year are very popular. Choon-hwa Ha has performed an amazing 8,400 concerts up to 2011– close to a world record. Male singers Dae Kwan Song and Jin Ah Tae have many female fans. Female singer Yoon Jung Jang is a younger generation singer who is very popular with younger and older fans.

The 1970s music is very different from the previous years. I will explain about that in my next article.

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