Young musicians transform the gugak and gain new popularity in the genre

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Seodo Band won JTBC’s ″ Captain of Poong-New – Korean Traditional Music Meets Pop Music. ″ Award. [JTBC]

“I think going this route, with traditional music, won’t be lonely,” said Seodo, frontman of Seodo Band (stylized as sEODo BAND), real name Seo Jae-hyun.

After JTBC gugak, or traditional Korean Music, the competition show “Captain of Poong-New – Korean Traditional Music Meets Pop Music” ended on December 21, a new generation has opened its ears to the music genre.

Nicknamed the “Founders of Pop Joseon,” Seodo Band, the winners of “Captain of Poong-New,” captured the attention of audiences with their distinctive musical style. Centering on pansori, or traditional Korean narrative song, and mixing it with trendy gugak and pop music, the band created a fascinating new sound. Seodo Band has been hailed as “the Joseon Coldplay era” and even Korean-American music director Kolleen Park, known to have a sharp tongue, cried and thanked the band for “existing.”

JTBC’s “Captain of Poong-New” wasn’t the only show to take on the gugak. MBN’s gugak fusion competition show “Joseon Pan Star” (translated) also aired during the second half of 2021. Young gugak musicians dominated these programs, not to experiment with gugak in its classic form but rather to add a pop touch.

The loud, shrill sounds of taepyeongso (Korean traditional oboe) and high-pitched vocals are what gave the group AUX, one of the contenders of “Captain of Poong-New” which came in third place, the nickname “Joseon metal”.

These interpretations of the gugak gave the genre a new, fresher and more accessible image. Contestants of “Joseon Pan Star” released an EP that fused gugak and carols on December 13, starring Lee Chang-sub of K-pop group BTOB. Three days later “Panhoran”, a full length gugak album mixing genres of all kinds, including ballad and rock metal, was released. Gugak has also been used in advertisements for Apple and Samsung smartphones. The main competitors of “Captain of Poong-New” even embarked on a nationwide tour on December 24.

BTS's Suga, under his alternate stage name Agust D, released the song Daechwita ″ which has strong gugak sounds last year. [BIG HIT MUSIC]

BTS’s Suga, under his alternate stage name Agust D, released the song Daechwita ″ which has strong gugak sounds last year. [BIG HIT MUSIC]

Gugak’s crossover into the pop culture world can be partly attributed to BTS Suga’s solo song “Daechwita” (2020), released under his alternate stage name Agust D, and the alternative pop group’s first full album. Leenalchi “Sugungga” (2020). “Daechwita” landed on the Billboard charts, and Korea Tourism Board’s travel promotional videos featuring Leenalchi surpassed 48 million views on YouTube. Leenalchi even received the “Musician of the Year” award as well as “Best Modern Rock Song” and “Best Jazz and Crossover Album” at the 18th Korean Music Awards held in January.

“Sugungga”, defined as alternative pop, draws a thin line between traditional gugak and pop music. “We first created the rhythm and chose the parts of the pansori to harmonize with it, rather than dramatizing the pansori as a whole,” Leenalchi bassist Jang Young-gyu said in a previous interview.

Seodo Band is made up of a singer, keyboardist, guitarist, bassist, drummer and percussionist, but their musical style feels like a performance of ancestral rites, almost like a shaman of today.

“Seodo Band has a solid foundation in gugak, but is at the forefront of the latest trend away from the old-fashioned gugak style,” said pop culture critic Lee Young-mi. “Popularization doesn’t necessarily mean how much you put elements of gugak into your songs; it depends on the extent to which the team follows current trends in pop music and receives positive feedback from audiences.

The group AUX came in third place in Captain of Poong-New - Korean Traditional Music Meets Pop Music ″ and is nicknamed ″ Joseon metal. ″ [JTBC]

The group AUX came in third place in Captain of Poong-New – Korean Traditional Music Meets Pop Music ″ and is nicknamed ″ Joseon metal. ″ [JTBC]

Although the popularity of the gugak was still increasing when “Captain of Poong-New” began airing, the contestants were serious about their goals.

The name of the show had the subtitle “Battle of the Hip Traditional Singers” (translated) in Korean, establishing the premise that this competition would be like an unarmed war. In the semifinals, contestant Kim Jun-su performed a remake of “Daechwita,” adding a quote from Admiral Yi Sun-shin (1545-1598): “Those who seek death will live. Those who seek life will die. Candidate Choi Ye-rim expressed her wish that “gugak singers can perform in better environments and do not have to dress up in bathrooms.”

While the gugak was in fashion among the public until the 1970s, its popularity began to wane in the 1980s.

“The inflection point [of gugak’s popularity] it was when the gugak group disappeared from the ‘National Singing Competition’ [KBS’s long-running weekly singing contest since 1980] in the 1990s, ”said Kim Hee-sun, a professor at the Kookmin University of College of General Education, who was previously responsible for research at the National Gugak Center. “No one, except professionals, would sing the genre. ”

Gugak’s return may also be instrumental in popular trotting singer Song Ga-in’s participation in “Captain of Poong-New” as a judge. Song, who was once a gugak artist, is known to sing at least one gugak song at her concerts.

“Originally, experts thought the gugak was a thing of the past, but Song has completely reversed this paradigm – the gugak and the trot are resurrected together,” Professor Kim said.

The Korea Tourism Organization's promotional videos featuring Leenalchi have surpassed 48 million views on YouTube. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

The Korea Tourism Organization’s promotional videos featuring Leenalchi have surpassed 48 million views on YouTube. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

The political sector also pays attention to the gugak. Lawmaker Lim O-kyeong, a member of the ruling Democratic Party, said last month during a political debate at the National Gugak Center that “at a time when hallyu [Korean wave] is brought to light, the gugak industry, being the most Korean thing of all time, may be a blue ocean. It comes after a law regarding gugak was proposed last year, on things like training more professionals, increasing broadcast programs and developing more educational content.

BY YOO JU-HYUN [[email protected]]


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