(AKA: How the Queen of Korean techno laid the foundation for me to be a K-Rock fan.)
Now, I’m breaking our indie box with this one. But bear with me and we’ll get how it all fits together.
Back in 2001/2002, I was a huge otaku (anime fanatic) I watched anime all the time, ate ramen with chopsticks, and was quickly becoming obsessed with the music of the opening and ending themes. One of them was BoA singing the ending theme to Inu Yasha. I found out a little about her and knew that she was Korean, but sang in Japanese. I was exploring my anime obsession by going to a little Sanrio shop at the local mall one day, when I saw a corner shelf filled with CD’s. There was BoA, and a bunch of others. And one stood out to me as if it had a spotlight on it:
Lee Jung-Hyun’s Magic To Go To My Star was the most exotic and beautiful CD packaging I had ever seen. I had no idea who she was, or what this would sound like, but I picked it up anyway. I recall precisely putting the CD in the stereo in the car and going “what in the world is this?” But by the time I got home, I was jamming to it, and I was soon in love with this “K-Pop stuff.” They didn’t have a lot of information online about these artists back then, tho. This was before YouTube, before K-Pop based news sites, and all I found was CD’s on Yes Asia. I bought more of her CD’s almost right away, and also took a chance on Baby V.O.X and Fin K.L and 1TYM and H.O.T. It was like so many K-Pop fans now, you find one thing, and fall into a black hole.
I was lucky. Lee Jung-Hyun was expressive and experimental. She mixed electronic and techno into her pop music, she collaborated with hip-hop artists, rock bands and more. In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, she is the one that turned me on to Dr. Core 911. She had a remake of their song “Max” on her second album Peace and it is still one of my favorite of her tracks.
I can count so many ways that Lee Jung-Hyun helped me. She broke stereotypes, she danced her own way, made up her own choreography. She was very stylistic in every video, when there were a lot of K-Pop artists only making the same style of video over and over again. And I didn’t know that I’d accidentally stumbled upon one of the most influential Korean pop acts of the time. I just knew I liked her music because it was upbeat, interesting and it never really stayed the same. She played with EDM before anyone was calling it that, she rapped, she rocked and she even dedicated an entire album to fusing her music with Spanish influences.
(Listen carefully to the opening lyrics in that one –could anyone in current K-Pop get away with that? No, I don’t think so.)
Because I was always follow Jung-Hyun from album to album, I was inadvertently picking up an affinity for the same type of music in other artists. I love EE, because unlike some other people, her voice just reminds me of Lee Jung-Hyun. (Both very high soprano’s, and almost squeaky in nature…but …again…I love them both.) I love metal core, because I heard it on her album first. I already loved latin music, but I appreciate the fusion with electronic so much more now.
She even made her most “recent” come back with a music video by my favorite director Park Chan-Wook. She has the respect of so many people in the entertainment industry because of her fearless approach to it. She does what she wants. She’s never pandered to the societal norms, and it means that’s what I expect from my artists.
It’s been over 14 years since I found that CD in a little shop in the mall, and about 15 since I first discovered what I know is K-Pop. I’ve been through a lot, and I’ve expanded my horizons so much further than I ever expected, but this lady helped me get here.
I hope you enjoyed this series, it was fun to write, even if I had a hard time limited my artists down to only 7. Let us know how you got your start with Korean music, we’d love to hear it!
You can still support her, by purchasing her music on iTunes.