May 2018 , pp. 310-312
Made in Korea: Studies in Popular Music. Edited by Hyunjoon Shin and Seung-Ah Lee. New York: Routledge, 2016. 262 pp., ISBN 978-1-138-79303-3
Michael Fuhr (a1)
Published online: 13 April 2018
The body of the book consists of a total of 16 chapters, which are grouped into four sections, titled ‘Histories’, ‘Genres’, ‘Artists’ and ‘Issues’, each preceded by brief introductory remarks and framed by the editors’ ‘Introduction’ and a ‘Coda’, which discusses the more recent circulation and reception of Korean pop music outside of Korea. The ‘Afterword’ is provided in the form of an interview with Shin Hae-Chul, vocalist and leader of the legendary 1990s Korean prog-rock band N.E.X.T. As in many other countries of the non-Anglophone world, the definitions and histories of popular music in Korea are closely entwined with the politics and discourses of modernity, locality, colonisation and decolonisation. The authors thus situate Korean popular music in its changing political and cultural contexts from the early 20th century and during ‘colonial modernity’ (1910–45) to ‘militarized modernity’ (1961–87) to today.
Three broader thematic strands cut across the chapters, although with some overlap: the historicisation of local(ised) musical forms and genres, the local appropriation of global styles and the globalisation of genres such as K-Pop. The first and second strands are most evident in the two middle sections of the book: genres and artists. The chapters in the genre section on modern folk song, group sound, indie punk and hip hop are complemented by the portrayals of key figures in the artist section covering rock musician Shin Joong-Hyun, singer-songwriter Kim Min-Ki and Hip Hop pioneer Seo Taiji. Okon Hwang’s discussion of Kim Min-Ki’s songs, ‘Sangnoksu’ and ‘Ach’im isŭl’, notably tells about the polysemic nature of music and how one song can be variously received and politicised by antagonistic cultural groups at different times. The chapters on trot and ballad by Yu-Jeong Chang, on Korean Black music by Jaeyoung Yang and on jazz composer and musician Kim Hae-Song by Junhee Lee add new perspectives, which hardly could be found in English publications before. Historical overviews of different systems of musical transmission are provided in the book’s first section. While Hyunjoon Shin discusses music’s mediation through stage performances in live music shows, including early music drama troupe (akkŭktan) performances, US military base shows, music cafés and go-go clubs, Keewong Lee looks at the history of recorded music, highlighting the significance of the 12-inch LP in Korea, also known as the ‘double’ (in contrast to the hardly existent 7-inch single record). Jung-Yup Lee notably reflects on the changing role of broadcast media and demonstrates that radio and television as national media have most directly influenced the formation and circulation of popular music from the Japanese colonial period through decades of military dictatorship to the unleashed commercialism of the 1990s. That governmental control, censorship and support have substantially shaped popular music history in Korea (as elsewhere) and reveals music’s highly political dimension can be read in many chapters of this book, including Soojin Kim’s chapter on cultural policies. Finally, another few chapters discuss the more recent history of Korean pop’s musical globalisation, focusing on various aspects of K-Pop: its capitalistic modes of production and emotional labour; its digital distribution via social media; and its reception in China, Japan and Austria.
On the whole, the readers of this collection benefit from the broad range and the heterogeneity of topics, as they can delve into the plethora of musical examples and references given in each chapter, comprising artist names, labels, album and song titles. Some chapters may appear too brief to fully capture the depth and significance of its subjects and may be somewhat limited in scope as discussions on genre formation and genealogy are dominant while other aspects remain a lacuna (e.g. gender issues, music in North Korea, and more specifically, music as cultural practice/musicking). It is, however, one of the volume’s strengths that it emphasises popular music’s historical dimension in 20th century Korea and considers the musical genres and expressions in their respective sociocultural and (geo-)political contexts. In her analysis of Korean pop vocal styles and techniques, Haekyung Um provides a conclusion that applies to this book and to Korean popular music at large: ‘Influenced by changing social contexts, audience expectations, industries and technologies, the concept and boundaries of genre for Korean popular music have also undergone major transformations. It is this dynamic force that will continue to shape the voice of popular Korea, its aesthetics and its meanings’ (p.199). I highly recommend Made in Korea to students and scholars of global popular music, and to those interested in contemporary East Asian popular culture and Korean culture and history.