Rewind: Korean City Pop

Recently I’ve been obsessed with Korean pop from the 80s to the late 90s, especially the genre of “city pop”. Originating from the late 70s Japan, city pop is defined as soft pop with jazz and R&B influences. This movement seems like a perfect match to the retro funk sounds happening simultaneously in America, such as by Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder. As with so many pop cultural trends, South Korea naturally adapted the sounds emerging from a wealthy Japan, which slowly declined with Japan’s bubble economy and soon Korea’s economic crisis. Lately Korea’s been seeing an emerging embrace of city pop sounds in mainstream music and remakes.

A unifying trait of city pop would be youthful romance, iterated through funky bass, rhythmic drumming, electric guitar strokes, and synthesizers. The genre embodies a certain playfulness and free spirit of affluent urban young adults. I wish I could know how it feels like to be a teen growing up with these songs, but that may also have to do with my romanticized image of 80s Korea.

Here are my top 5 favourite city pop songs:

윤수일 밴드 – 아름다워 / Yoon Soo Il Band – Beautiful (1984)

Note: the waves splashing, seagulls flying, car racing by.

아름다워 오 그대가 아름다워  beautiful, oh you’re beautiful
아름다워 그대 모습이 아름다워  beautiful, you look so beautiful

복잡한 도시를 나와 이름 모를  together we drive through the busy city
해변으로 우리는 함께 차를 달리네  to a beach we don’t even know the name

이은하 – 미소를 띄우며 나를 보낸 그 모습처럼 / Lee Eun Ha – Like the smile that sent me away (1986)

I am forever in love with her husky delicate voice.

날위해 울지 말아요  don’t cry for me
날위해 슬퍼 말아요  don’t be sad for me
그렇게 바라보지 말아요  don’t look at me like this
의미를 잃어버린 그표정  with your meaningless expression
날사랑하지 말아요  don’t try to love me

이상은 – 그대 떠난 후 / Lee Sang Eun – After you left (1990)

누구나 혼자뿐인 거라고 차갑게  everyone is alone
웃음짓던 그대  you say with a cold smile
거리엔 온통 혼자뿐인 사람들  the street is full of people who are alone
웃으며 거니네  passing by with a smile

빛과 소금 – 오래된 친구 / Light & Salt – Old Friend (1994)

This is probably my most favourite.

미스터박 미스터장 우리는 오래된 친구  mister park, mister jang, we are old friends
성격은 달라도 마음은 아주 잘 통해 우~  even if our personalities are different we get along well
국민학교 어린 시절 함께 뛰놀던 장난꾸러기야  we were troublemakers, running around at school
우리는 오래된 친구 하나밖에 없는 친구  we are old friends, the bestest friends
진실한 마음 하나로 서로를 이해하네  with just truthful hearts, we understand each other

GIGS – 랄랄라 Lal Lal La (1999)

Note: yes, the lead vocalist is Lee Juk.

하얀 겨울에 눈이 내리면  when the snow falls in white winter
우리 모두 다 하나가 되죠  we all become one
하얀 맘으로 어깨를 두른  like the trees joined together
나무들처럼  with a white heart

Header image: street style | Stella Jang’s remake of “아름다워”