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:

์œค์ˆ˜์ผ ๋ฐด๋“œ – ์•„๋ฆ„๋‹ค์›Œ / Yoon Soo Il Band – Beautiful (1984)

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

์•„๋ฆ„๋‹ค์›Œ ์˜ค ๊ทธ๋Œ€๊ฐ€ ์•„๋ฆ„๋‹ค์›Œย  beautiful, oh you’re beautiful
์•„๋ฆ„๋‹ค์›Œ ๊ทธ๋Œ€ ๋ชจ์Šต์ด ์•„๋ฆ„๋‹ค์›Œย  beautiful, you look so beautiful

๋ณต์žกํ•œ ๋„์‹œ๋ฅผ ๋‚˜์™€ ์ด๋ฆ„ ๋ชจ๋ฅผย  together we drive through the busy city
ํ•ด๋ณ€์œผ๋กœ ์šฐ๋ฆฌ๋Š” ํ•จ๊ป˜ ์ฐจ๋ฅผ ๋‹ฌ๋ฆฌ๋„คย  to a beach we don’t even know the name

์ด์€ํ•˜ – ๋ฏธ์†Œ๋ฅผ ๋„์šฐ๋ฉฐ ๋‚˜๋ฅผ ๋ณด๋‚ธ ๊ทธ ๋ชจ์Šต์ฒ˜๋Ÿผ / Lee Eun Ha – Like the smile that sent me away (1986)

I am forever in love with her husky delicate voice.

๋‚ ์œ„ํ•ด ์šธ์ง€ ๋ง์•„์š”ย  don’t cry for me
๋‚ ์œ„ํ•ด ์Šฌํผ ๋ง์•„์š”ย  don’t be sad for me
๊ทธ๋ ‡๊ฒŒ ๋ฐ”๋ผ๋ณด์ง€ ๋ง์•„์š”ย  don’t look at me like this
์˜๋ฏธ๋ฅผ ์žƒ์–ด๋ฒ„๋ฆฐ ๊ทธํ‘œ์ •ย  with your meaningless expression
๋‚ ์‚ฌ๋ž‘ํ•˜์ง€ ๋ง์•„์š”ย  don’t try to love me

์ด์ƒ์€ – ๊ทธ๋Œ€ ๋– ๋‚œ ํ›„ / Lee Sang Eun – After you left (1990)

๋ˆ„๊ตฌ๋‚˜ ํ˜ผ์ž๋ฟ์ธ ๊ฑฐ๋ผ๊ณ  ์ฐจ๊ฐ‘๊ฒŒย  everyone is alone
์›ƒ์Œ์ง“๋˜ ๊ทธ๋Œ€ย  you say with a cold smile
๊ฑฐ๋ฆฌ์—” ์˜จํ†ต ํ˜ผ์ž๋ฟ์ธ ์‚ฌ๋žŒ๋“คย  the street is full of people who are alone
์›ƒ์œผ๋ฉฐ ๊ฑฐ๋‹ˆ๋„คย  passing by with a smile

๋น›๊ณผ ์†Œ๊ธˆ – ์˜ค๋ž˜๋œ ์นœ๊ตฌ / Light & Salt – Old Friend (1994)

This is probably my most favourite.

๋ฏธ์Šคํ„ฐ๋ฐ• ๋ฏธ์Šคํ„ฐ์žฅ ์šฐ๋ฆฌ๋Š” ์˜ค๋ž˜๋œ ์นœ๊ตฌย  mister park, mister jang, we are old friends
์„ฑ๊ฒฉ์€ ๋‹ฌ๋ผ๋„ ๋งˆ์Œ์€ ์•„์ฃผ ์ž˜ ํ†ตํ•ด ์šฐ~ย  even if our personalities are different we get along well
๊ตญ๋ฏผํ•™๊ต ์–ด๋ฆฐ ์‹œ์ ˆ ํ•จ๊ป˜ ๋›ฐ๋†€๋˜ ์žฅ๋‚œ๊พธ๋Ÿฌ๊ธฐ์•ผย  we were troublemakers, running around at school
์šฐ๋ฆฌ๋Š” ์˜ค๋ž˜๋œ ์นœ๊ตฌ ํ•˜๋‚˜๋ฐ–์— ์—†๋Š” ์นœ๊ตฌย  we are old friends, the bestest friends
์ง„์‹คํ•œ ๋งˆ์Œ ํ•˜๋‚˜๋กœ ์„œ๋กœ๋ฅผ ์ดํ•ดํ•˜๋„คย  with just truthful hearts, we understand each other

GIGS – ๋ž„๋ž„๋ผ Lal Lal La (1999)

Note: yes, the lead vocalist is Lee Juk.

ํ•˜์–€ ๊ฒจ์šธ์— ๋ˆˆ์ด ๋‚ด๋ฆฌ๋ฉดย  when the snow falls in white winter
์šฐ๋ฆฌ ๋ชจ๋‘ ๋‹ค ํ•˜๋‚˜๊ฐ€ ๋˜์ฃ ย  we all become one
ํ•˜์–€ ๋ง˜์œผ๋กœ ์–ด๊นจ๋ฅผ ๋‘๋ฅธย  like the trees joined together
๋‚˜๋ฌด๋“ค์ฒ˜๋Ÿผย  with a white heart

Header image: street style | Stella Jang’s remake of “์•„๋ฆ„๋‹ค์›Œ”