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Updated: 2018-01-19T07:39:44.173-05:00


50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 1. Shin Jung-hyeon


[Series Index]1.  Shin Jung-hyeon [신중현]Years of Activity: 1959-present. (Last studio album in 2005.)Discography:Note:  Because Shin Jung-hyeon was active during the times when there was no real concept of an "album," his discography is an insane mess that includes the numerous bands for which Shin played only temporarily. The below discography only includes studio albums for solos and bands for which Shin Jung-hyeon was the leader.Hickey Shin Guitar Melodies - Selection of Light Music [히키-申 기타 멜로듸: 경음악 선곡집] (1959)The Add4 First Album (1964)Add4: Shin Jung-hyeon Light Music Arrangement [Add4 - 신중현 경음악 편곡집] (1966)Add4 - Fun Guitar Twist [Add4 - 즐거운 기타 트위스트] (1968)Shin Jung-hyeon & Questions [신중현과 퀘션스] (1970)The Men - Saxophone's Temptations [The Men - 색소폰의 유혹] (1972)Shin Jung-hyeon & the Coins, the First Album [신중현과 엽전들 1집] (1974)Shin Jung-hyeon & Yup Juns, Vol. 2 (1974)Shin Jung-hyeon & Music Power, the First Album [신중현과 뮤직파워 1집] (1976)Shin Jung Hyun (1980)Three Travelers [세 나그네] (1983)Shin Jung-hyeon [신중현] (1988)Shin Jung-hyeon & Music Power 2 [신중현과 뮤직파워 2] (1994)Muwijayeon [무위자연] (1994)Kim Satgat [김삿갓] (1997)Body & Feel (2002)City Crane [도시학] (2005)The Landing [안착] (2005)Representative Song:  Beauty [미인] from Shin Jung-hyeon & the Coins, the First Album [신중현과 엽전들 1집] (1974) allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" width="560">미인Beauty한 번 보고 두 번 보고 자꾸만 보고 싶네See her once, see her twice, just want to see her more아름다운 그 모습을 자꾸만 보고 싶네Just want to keep seeing that beautiful sight그 누구나 한 번 보면 자꾸만 보고 있네Whoever looks just once can't take their eyes away그 누구의 애인인가 정말로 궁금하네Whose lover is she, everyone gets curious모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네Everyone loves her; I love her too모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네Everyone loves her; I love her too나도 몰래 그 여인을 자꾸만 보고 있네I keep on looking at her without realizing it그 모두가 넋을 있고 자꾸만 보고 있네Everyone keeps looking as if in a trance그 누구나 한 번 보면 자꾸만 보고 있네Whoever looks just once can't take their eyes away그 누구의 애인인가 정말로 궁금하네Whose lover is she, everyone gets curious모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네Everyone loves her; I love her too모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네Everyone loves her; I love her tooIn 15 words or less:  The Godfather of Korean pop music.Why is this artist important?Here we are now, finally at the top of the mountain. I consider Seo Taiji to have created an entire generation of individuals in his mold. What could be more influential than that?How about coming up with the model of "musicianship" for the first time? Popular music existed in Korea before Shin Jung-hyeon. As early as the 1930s, Korea (even as a Japanese colony) had a healthy urban culture that featured recorded music and pop stars. But the pop stars of the time were hardly separable from, say, a circus act. Indeed, they often were a circus act, as the Korean pop singers of the early 20th century often performed as a part of a giant variety show (of the kind that is now almost exclusively available in casinos,) nestled somewhere within a sequence involving a movie, a skit, a dance number, a comedy routine and an animal act.This is the world in which Shin Jung-hyeon grew up. Orphaned during the Korean War, Shin grew up at a distant relative's house and took up guitar as a teenager. His first gigs--like nearly everyone's gigs in Korea in the 1950s--were with the USFK clubs, playing American music for the GIs stationed in Seoul. Fundamentally, th[...]

Happy New Year, and a Quick Look Back on 2017


Happy New Year! Here is a day-late look back at the most popular AAK! posts of 2017, by the number of page views.Most Viewed Posts of 2017 (All-Time Posts)1.  The Irrational Downfall of Park Geun-hye [Link]2.  Counting in Sino-Korean [Link]3.  Going to College in Korea [Link]4.  Becoming a Doctor in Korea [Link]5.  What Became of Korea's Royal Family? [Link]The blog's most popular post ever, about the impeachment of Park Geun-hye written in late 2016, is still going strong. But beyond that, whoa! Not sure what happened, but suddenly the old articles about weight loss and dating Korean men have slipped off the top five. I really thought those would top the list as long as the blog shall live, but I suppose the blog is in fact getting old.Most Viewed Posts of 2017 (Written in 2017)1.  Korea's Alt-Right, and How to Fight the Ones at Home [Link]2.  Discussing the Candidates for Korea's Presidential Election [Link]3.  K-pop is not a Genre [Link]4.  Annotated Opinion of the Constitutional Court Impeaching Park Geun-hye [Link]5.  The Bigotry Against Korean Democracy [Link]2017 was a year, wasn't it? I never wanted to write too much about Korean politics because I always thought the topic was too much insider baseball, but here it is--four of the top five posts are about politics.Thank you everyone for reading; I don't deserve it, but thank you anyway. Have a wonderful holiday season.Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at[...]

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 2. Seo Taiji


[Series Index]2.  Seo Taiji [서태지]Years of Activity: 1992-present. (Last studio album in 2014.)Discography (studio albums only):As a member of Seo Taiji & Boys [서태지와 아이들]Seotaiji and Boys [서태지와 아이들] (1992)Seotaiji and Boys II (1993)Seotaiji and Boys III (1994)Seotaiji and Boys IV (1995)As a solo actSeo Tai Ji (1998)Seo Taiji 6th Album (2003)Seo Taiji 7th Issue (2004)Atomos (2009)Quiet Night (2014)Representative Song:  Classroom Idea [교실 이데아] from Seo Taiji and Boys III (1994) allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" width="560">교실 이데아Classroom Idea됐어 됐어 이제 됐어That's it, that's it, now that's it이제 그런 가르침은 됐어That's it with this kind of education그걸로 족해 족해 이제 족해That's enough, enough, now it's enough내 사투리로 내가 늘어 놓을래Now I'm going to say in my own dialect매일 아침 일곱 시 삼십 분까지Every morning by seven thirty우릴 조그만 교실로 몰아넣고They put us in a small classroom전국 구백만의 아이들의 머리 속에In the heads of the nine million children around the country모두 똑같은 것만 집어 넣고 있어All the same things are being crammed in막힌 꽉 막힌 사방이 막힌 널Blocked, totally blocked, blocked in all directions you are그리곤 덥썩 그 모두를 먹어삼킨 이 시꺼먼 교실에서만Then gulp! swallowing everyone is the black classroom내 젊음을 보내기는 너무 아까워My youth is utterly wasted in it좀 더 비싼 너로 만들어 주겠어We'll make a more expensive version of you니 옆에 앉아 있는 그 애보다 더More expensive then the kid sitting next to you하나씩 머리를 밟고 올라서도록 해Take each step over other people's head좀 더 잘난 네가 될 수가 있어You can be a little better than you are now왜 바꾸지 않고 마음을 조이며 젊은 날을 헤멜까Why not change; why let your heart wither, wandering in your youth왜 바꾸지 않고 남이 바꾸길 바라고만 있을까Why not change; why only wait for someone else to change됐어 됐어 이제 됐어That's it, that's it, now that's it이제 그런 가르침은 됐어That's it with this kind of education그걸로 족해 족해 이제 족해That's enough, enough, now it's enough내 사투리로 내가 늘어 놓을래Now I'm going to say in my own dialect국민학교에서 중학교로 들어가며From elementary to middle school,고등학교를 지나 우릴 포장센타로 넘겨Through high school they send us to the packaging center겉보기 좋은 널 만들기위해To make you more presentable우릴 대학이란 포장지로 멋지게 싸 버리지They wrap us grandly with the wrapper called college이젠 생각해봐 '대학'Now think about it. College!본 얼굴은 가린채 근엄한 척 할 시대가 지나버린 걸The time to hide your true face, the time to pretend to be serious is over좀 더 솔직해봐 넌 할 수 있어Be more honest, you can do it좀 더 비싼 너로 만들어 주겠어We'll make a more expensive version of you니 옆에 앉아 있는 그 애보다 더More expensive then the kid sitting next to you하나씩 머리를 밟고 올라서도록 해Take each step over other people's head좀 더 잘난 네가 될 수가 있어You can be a little better than you are now왜 바꾸지 않고 마음을 조이며 젊은 날을 헤멜까Why not change; why let your heart wither, wandering in your youth왜 바꾸지 않고 남이 바꾸길 바라고만 있을까Why not change; why only wait for someone else to change됐어 됐어 이제 됐어That's it, that's it, now that's it이제 그런 가르침은 됐어That's it with this kind of education그걸로 족해 족해 이제 족해That's enough, enough, now it's enough내 사투리로 내가 늘어 놓을래Now I'm going to say in my own dialectIn 15 words or less:  Creator of [...]

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 3. Jo Yong-pil


[Series Index]3.  Jo Yong-pil [조용필]Years of Activity: 1972-present. (Last studio album in 2013.)Discography (studio albums only):Jo Yong-pil Stereo Hit Album [조용필 스테레오 힛트 앨범] (1972)Beloved [님이여] (1976)Jo Yong-pil [조용필] (1980)Jo Yong-pil Representative Music Collection [조용필 대표곡 모음] (1980)Jo Yong-pil Vol. 2 [조용필 Vol. 2] (1980)Jo Yong-pil Third Album [조용필 제3집] (1981)Jo Yong-pil [조용필] (1982)Jo Yong-pil 5 [조용필 5] (1983)Jo Yong-pil Sixth Album [조용필 6집] (1984)Jo Yong-pil Seventh Album [조용필 7집] (1985)Jo Yong-pil Vol. 8 [조용필 Vol. 8] (1985)'87 Love and Life and I! ['87 사랑과 인생과 나!] (1987)Jo Yong-pil Tenth Album Part I [조용필 제10집 Part I] (1988)Jo Yong-pil Tenth Album Part II [조용필 제10집 Part II] (1989)'90-Vol. 1 Sailing Sound (1990)Cho Yong Pil 14 (1992)Cho Yong Pil 15 (1994)Eternally Cho Yong Pil 16 (1997)Ambition (1998)Over the Rainbow (2003)Hello (2013)Representative Song:  Woman Outside the Window [창밖의 여자] from Jo Yong-pil (1980) allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" width="560">창밖의 여자Woman Outside the Window창가에 서면 눈물처럼 떠오르는 그대의 흰 손When I stand by the window, your white hand wells up like tears돌아서서 눈 감으면 강물이어라Turn around and close my eyes, it is a river한 줄기 바람 되어 거리에 서면When I turn myself into a breeze of wind and stand on the streets그대는 가로등 되어 내 곁에 머무네You turn into a street light and stay by my side누가 사랑을 아름답다 했는가Who said love was beautiful누가 사랑을 아름답다 했는가Who said love was beautiful차라리 차라리 그대의 흰 손으로 나를 잠들게 하라I'd rather, I'd rather have your white hand put me to sleepIn 15 words or less:  The King.Why is this artist important?In many ways, Jo Yong-pil is the bridge that connects K-pop of the 1960s into the golden era of the 1990s. Jo is in the last generation of the USFK club musicians, having started his music career as a 19-year-old guitarist for the clubs in 1969. Yet rather than looking back to the 1960s, Jo Yong-pil was a modernizing force in every aspect of music he touched. His debut hit Come Back to the Busan Port [돌아와요 부산항에] from 1972 opened a new era in trot, setting the familiar pentatonic scale onto the rock'n roll-like eight-track beat. His 1985 hit Void [허공] is the first pop song in K-pop history that had a music video. Jo Yong-pil is the only artist in Korean pop music history to have a chart-topping hit in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2010s, spanning the eras of LP, cassette tape, CD and online streaming.Jo Yong-pil's strength is his versatility. A true singer-songwriter, Jo composed and arranged nearly every one of his hits. (Reportedly, Jo Yong-pil composed Woman Outside the Window in 15 minutes.) Although he debuted as a trot singer, soon he explored rock'n roll, ballad, blues, Korean traditional music, opera and electronica--and made all of them a hit.But all of this is merely a background to this undeniable fact of his influence: Jo Yong-pil was the greatest pop star in Korean pop music history. For a whole decade in the 1980s, Jo Yong-pil was practically the only show in Korean pop music. When he held a concert, the Seoul Metro added trains and ran them two more hours into the night. To be sure, at least some of his dominance owes to the fact that the Park Chung-hee dictatorship sent many of the most promising pop musicians to prison for trumped-up drug charges, creating a vacuum in competition. But this remains true: no one in K-pop history can match his utter dominance in popularity. No musician in Korean pop music, however cocky and self-assured, dared to challenge Jo Yong-pil's mantle as gawang [가왕]: the "king of music.[...]

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 4. Lee Mi-ja


[Series Index]Here we are: Tier 1. The four greatest. The Mount Rushmore of Korean pop music history. For this section, there is no second guesses about whether they should be ranked higher or lower. Their names are now etched in greatness; the precise ranking no longer matters.We enter the Tier with an old time legend.4.  Lee Mi-ja [이미자]Years of Activity: 1959-present. (Last studio album in 1989.)Discography:[Note: because Lee Mi-ja was active during the time when copyright was virtually unknown in Korea, her discography is an insane mess of unauthorized compilations, re-releases and double albums with other artists. Here, I only included albums in which Lee was the only artist.]Jeongdongdaegam Original Soundtrack [영화주제가 정동대감] (1965)Lee Mi-ja Masterpiece Second [이미자 걸작 2집] (1965)Lee Mi-ja Homecoming Special [이미자 귀국특집] (1965)Lee Mi-ja Stereo Hit Songs Third [이미자 스테레오 힛트송 3집] (1967)Lee Mi-ja, Composed by Go Bong-san [이미자 - 고봉산 작곡집] (1968)Stereo Hit Songs Second, Movie Soundtracks by Lee Mi-ja [스테레오 힛트쏭 2집: 영화주제가 by 이미자] (1968)Lee Mi-ja Stereo Hit Fifth [이미자 스테레오 힛트 5집] (1968)Lee Mi-ja Hit Major Selections Sixth [이미자 힛트주제가선 6집] (1968)Lee Mi-ja, Composed by Park Chun-seok [이미자 - 박춘석 작곡집] (1969)Latest Hit Selections Tenth by Lee Mi-ja [최신 히트선곡 제10집 by 이미자] (1970)Lee Mi-ja Solo Eleventh [이미자 독집 제11집] (1970)Lee Mi-ja, Composed by Park Chun-seok [이미자 - 박춘석 작곡집] (1970)Lee Mi-ja Stereo Solo Eighth [이미자 스테레오 독집 제8집] (1970)Lady Ihwa [이화부인] (1970)Lee Mi-ja Stereo Hit Selections Twelveth [이미자 스테레오 히트선곡 제12집] (1970)Lee Mi-ja Stereo Solo [이미자 스테레오 독집] (1971)Lee Mi-ja Stereo Hit Songs First [이미자 스테레오 힛트송 제1집] (1972)'89 Lee Mi-ja ['89 이미자] (1989)Representative Song:  Lady Camellia [동백아가씨] from 1964. (Recorded in Lee Mi-ja Stereo Hit Songs First [이미자 스테레오 힛트송 제1집] (1972)) allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" width="560">동백아가씨Lady Camellia헤일 수 없이 수많은 밤을 The numerous nights, impossible to be counted내 가슴 도려내는 아픔에 겨워 Suffering through the pain that cuts through the heart얼마나 울었던가 동백아가씨 Lady Camellia, how she has cried그리움에 지쳐서 울다 지쳐서 Tired from longing, tired from crying꽃잎은 빨갛게 멍이 들었오 The petal bruised in red동백꽃잎에 새겨진 사연 The story etched onto the camellia petals말못할 그 사연을 가슴에 안고 Holding in the heart the tale that cannot be told오늘도 기다리는 동백아가씨 Lady Camellia, she is still waiting today가신 님은 그 언제 그 어느날에 When will, on what day will the departed beloved외로운 동백꽃 찾아 오려나 Would come visit the lonely camellia flowerIn 15 words or less:  The greatest trot singer in K-pop history.Why is this artist important?I know what you're thinking, but stay with me here. You have to first understand how important of a genre trot has been in the history of Korean pop music--then you will understand how Lee Mi-ja, the greatest name in Korean trot history, belongs to the K-pop Mount Rushmore.Trot is the only genre in the 80-year history of Korean pop music that completed the entire life cycle of a musical genre: birth - peak - decline - modern revival - elevation to the classics. Originating in the 1930s, trot was the very first pop music of Korea, and for decades, the only pop music of Korea. In fact, the word yuhaengga--literally, "popular music"--in the 1930s exclusively meant trot songs.Trot was dominant until the late 1960s, when American po[...]

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 5. Sanullim


[Series Index]5.  Sanullim [산울림]Years of Activity: 1977-2008 (last regular album in 1997)Discography (Studio Albums Only)Collection of Sanullim's New SongsSanullim Second Album [산울림 2집] (1978)Sanullim Third Album [산울림 3집] (1978)Sanullim Fourth Album [산울림 4집] (1979)Sanullim Fifth Album [산울림 5집] (1979)Sanullim Sixth Album [산울림 6집] (1980)Sanullim Seventh Album [산울림 7집] (1981)Sanullim Eighth Album [산울림 8집] (1982)Sanullim Ninth Album [산울림 9집] (1983)Sanullim Tenth Album [산울림 10집] (1984)Sanullim Eleventh Album [산울림 11집] (1986)Sanullim Twelveth Album [산울림 12집] (1991)Rainbow [무지개] (1997)Representative Song:  What Already [아니 벌써], from Collection of Sanullim's New Songs allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" width="560">아니 벌써What Already아니 벌써 해가 솟았나 What already, did the sun rise창문 밖이 환하게 밝았네It's bright outside the window가벼운 아침 발걸음 The light morning steps모두 함께 콧노래 부르며Everyone humming along밝은 날을 기다리는 부푼 마음 가슴에 가득Hearts filled with hopes for bright days이리저리 지나치는 정다운 눈길 거리에 찼네Streets full of friendly glances exchanged아니 벌써 밤이 깊었나 What already, did the night get old정말 시간 가는줄 몰랐네Really, where does the time go해 저문 거릴 비추는 Lighting the sundown streets가로등 하얗게 피었네The street lights are blooming white밝은 날을 기다리는 부푼 마음 가슴에 가득Hearts filled with hopes for bright days이리저리 지나치는 정다운 눈길 거리에 찼네Streets full of friendly glances exchangedIn 15 words or less:  The progenitor of Korean rock'n roll.Maybe they should have been ranked higher because...  Members of Sanullim produced so many younger artists who would end up having hugely influential careers.Maybe they should have been ranked lower because...  Did Sanullim have any influence outside of music, such as choreography, fashion or video?Why is this artist important?Sanullim is perhaps the most unique band in Korean pop music history. For most important artists in K-pop history, their musical heritage is traceable to an earlier example. Not so with Sanullim: their music is sui generis. Although Sanullim sounds broadly familiar, there is no clear precedent for their music even in the US-UK pop music. It is as if they absorbed the ambient music that floated in Korea's atmosphere in the 1970s and willed themselves into an entirely new existence.Sanullim might be Korea's first garage band, as it was born out of three talented brothers--Kim Chang-wan [김창완], Kim Chang-hun [김창훈] and Kim Chang-ik [김창익]--noodling around with instruments in their home. They never played other people's music. The three brothers composed their own music and played their own. Even before their professional debut, Sanullim had a large library of their own songs.Sanullim's debut was accidental, as they never intended to be professional musicians. Kim Chang-hun was originally a member of the band Sand Pebbles, for which he composed the song What do I do [나 어떡해]. Kim Chang-hun then left Sand Pebbles to join the band made up of his two brothers, which at the time was called Mui [무이], to participate in the first College Music Festival of 1977. In the competition, Mui came in first, and Sand Pebbles, playing What do I do, came in second. Three weeks later, the three brothers--now forming a band called Sanullim, the "Mountain Vibrations"--cut their first album and instantly became stars.The poetry of Sanullim's lyrics is just as original as their music. The lyrics appear to be about trivialities, but upon a second look, they always leave a l[...]

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 6. H.O.T.


[Series Index]We are baaaaack. After more than two years since the last entry, the "50 Most Influential" list returns! To atone for the long absence, TK will make an unprecedented promise: from today, one entry every day until we reach the top. It's a Christmas Miracle!To recap where we are: we have six artists remaining in the top 50 list. Two more artists will round out Tier 2, the best artists of an era. Then I present Tier 1, the Mount Rushmore, the four most influential figures in the history of Korean pop music whose names must be etched in greatness.Without further ado, here is our number 6.6.  H.O.T.(Pronounced as three letters, not the word "hot.")Years of Activity: 1996 - 2001Discography (Studio Albums Only)We Hate All Kinds of Violence (1996)Wolf and Sheep (1997)Resurrection (1998)I Yah! (1999)They are Nothing Different with Us (2000)Representative Song: Candy, from We Hate All Kinds of Violence (1996) allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" width="560">Candy[Song]사실은 오늘 너와의 만남을 정리하고 싶어Actually I want to finish things with you today널 만날 거야 이런 날 이해해I'll come face to face; please understand어렵게 맘 정한 거라 네게 말할거지만I'd tell you it was a hard decision사실 오늘 아침에 그냥 나 생각한 거야But actually I just thought of it this morning햇살에 일어나 보니 너무나 눈부셔Waking up to the sunshine it was too bright모든 게 다 변한 거야 널 향한 마음도Everything changed totally, including my heart toward you그렇지만 널 사랑 않는 게 아냐But it doesn't mean I don't love you이제는 나를 변화시킬 테니까I will change myself now[Rap]너 몰래몰래몰래 다른 여자들과 비교 비교했지Behind your back I compared you to other girls자꾸만 깨어지는 환상 속에 Inside the fantasies broken down repeatedly혼자서 울고 있는 초라하게 갇혀버린 나를 보았어I saw myself, locked up pathetically and crying alone널 떠날 거야 음 널 떠날 거야 음I'm going to leave you, um I'm going to leave you, um하지만 아직까지 사랑하는 걸But I still love you to this moment그래 그렇지만 내 맘 속에 너를 잊어갈 거야Right, but I will begin forgetting you in my heart[Song]머리 위로 비친 내 하늘 바라다보며Looking up to my sky above my head널 향한 마음을 이제는 굳혔지만I hardened my heart toward you, but웬일인지 네게 더 다가갈수록Somehow as I got closer to you우린 같은 하늘 아래 서 있었지We were standing under the same sky단지 널 사랑해 이렇게 말했지I love you, that's the only thing I said이제껏 준비했던 많은 말을 뒤로 한 채Setting aside all the many words I prepared언제나 니 옆에 있을게 이렇게 약속을 하겠어I'll always be by your side, that's how I'd promise 저 하늘을 바라다보며Looking up to the sky[Rap]내게 하늘이 열려 있어 그래 그래 너는 내 앞에서 있고The sky is open to me; that's right, and you are in front of me그래 다른 연인들은 키스를 해 하지만 항상 나는 너의 뒤에 있어야만 해Yeah other lovers kiss, but I must always stand behind you이제 그만해 음 나도 남잔데 음 내 마음 너도 알고 있는걸 알아Stop with it, um I'm a man too, um I know you know my heart too그래 이제 나도 지쳐서 하늘만 바라볼 수 밖에That's right, I'm so tired I can only look up to the sky[Song]햇살에 일어나 보니 너무나 눈부셔Waking up to the sunshine it was too bright모든 게 다 변한 거야 널 향한 마음도Everything changed totally, including my heart toward you그렇지만 널 사랑 않는 게 아냐But it doesn't mean I don't love you이제는 나를 변화시킬 테니까I will change myself [...]

Best K-Pop Idol Songs of 2007-2017, and an Announcement


Yes, I know I've been really bad with my list of 50 Most Influential K-pop Artists. What began as a result of a drunken rager at a noraebang in 2010 has grown into one of the most frequently cited sources for Korean pop music history, except seven years later, I still have six more artists to go. As an apology, I give you something awesome.

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It is the 120 best K-pop idol songs from the last ten years, selected by music critic Youngdae Kim. Kim is a man who knows what he's talking about. He was the moderator for the online group that first introduced hip hop to Korea in the early 1990s, and he also wrote the defining book on the history of Korean hip hop. (Here is my post on Korean hip hop that borrows his analysis.) The video is in four parts, and I provided the English subtitles for Parts 3 and 4.

And now, an announcement! TK is very excited to announce that he's been working with Youngdae Kim for the past year to write a book on K-pop history. Although not exactly the same, the book will be an expanded version of this blog's 50 Most Influential K-pop Artists series, but with Kim's more expert insight. The manuscript is progressing smoothly, and we are shooting for the book to be ready by late next year.

Hopefully this will make up for the fact that I've been slow with the "50 Most Influential" list. In the meantime, keep an eye out for more collaboration projects like this one.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at

Korea's Alt-Right, and How to Fight the Ones at Home


Dear Korean,I was shocked by this piece of news, and I still have a hard time getting my head around why it wasn't bigger news worldwide. Can you explain?LaszloYou might think a country that deposed a president who took directions from a shaman’s daughter has seen just about everything there is to see. But as the new administration is digging through the confidential files of the conservative Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak administrations, the scandal that is emerging may be much more jaw-dropping. I.Inside Korea's National Assembly(source)As long as South Korea existed, its politics had a division of the right-wing and the left-wing. By the early 2000s, however, the right-wing in South Korea seemed like old news, in a literal sense. Much of its subscribers were old people whose memories of the Korean War, communist terror and desperate hunger dominated their political decisions. As they did not grow up with democracy, they worshiped South Korea’s military dictators—foremost of whom was Park Chung-hee, who ruled for nearly two decades from the 1960s to 70s—as they would a king. In this sense, they could not possibly called “conservatives,” since the term, in its strictest interpretation, presumes a liberal democratic system. “Fascists” would be the more apt description. Korea’s right-wing was contemptuous of democracy, and favored dictatorship. They favored jailing “communists,” a catch-all stand-in term for any political dissident. But in the 21st century, the right-wing seemed like an old news. Twenty years after the peaceful democratization of 1987, it seemed that liberal democracy was the settled practice in Korea. Although the right-wing still wielded considerable force, they were aging and would fade away—or so Korea’s liberals thought. The liberals were riding high from the two consecutive terms of liberal presidents, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, from 1997 to 2007. Of course, conservatism would continue to exist, but it would exist in a form that is more common in the advanced democracies: along the lines of the philosophical difference in terms of the proper role of the government, arguing over the proper size of the government, the appropriate level of taxation, regulation of corporations and redistributive policies, and so on. Even when the conservative Lee Myung-bak won the presidency in 2007, the liberals’ expectations for democratic governance continued.It’s fair to say that Korea’s liberals were totally unprepared for what awaited them.(More after the jump.)Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at, the most wired city in the world(source)One cannot understand today’s Korea without understanding the internet. Until the 21st century, Korea was a middling, anonymous country. When placed among the numerous names of the world’s countries, Korea was a blank: not rich enough to command attention, not poor enough to arouse sympathy. Even the most seminal event in modern Korean history—the Korean War—is considered the “forgotten war.” Internet is what propelled Korea into the forefront of the world in the 21st century. Having seen the potential of high-speed internet earlier than just about any other world leader, Kim Dae-jung embarked on a massive project to equip the whole Korea with fiber optic cables during his term. This is perhaps the most underrated achievement of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president. The result is the Korea of today: world leader in smartphone technology, cities constructed as a technological marvel, a major generator of the popular culture optimized for the digital age.So it shouldn’t be surprising the new breed of Korea’s young right-wing rose through the internet. What was surprising was just how retro these young right-wingers were.The “new right wing” trace[...]

Rice and Banchan - a Love Affair


It's been a while, hasn't it? One of the reasons why posting has been slow on AAK! was because TK was in Seoul last month for work. While I was there, I got to try some of the restaurants in Seoul that just earned their stars from the Michelin Guide, which got me thinking about the essence of Korean food. Below, I'll share with you my experience at those restaurants and my thoughts. This time, I tried my hand at a magazine-style writing.*                  *                 *I.   At a Michelin Three-Star Restaurant What is Korean food? I was at Gaon, a fine dining restaurant in the affluent Sinsa-dong district in Seoul, when I faced this question. Specifically, the question was posed as a piece of fish. The fish, the fourth course served in Gaon’s prix-fixe menu, was a roasted piece of geumtae from the southern island of Jeju. The fish is also known as blackthroat seaperch, or as nodoguro in Japan. Like all the dishes before it, this piece of geumtae was fantastic. The crispy fried skin was like a golden piece of toast; underneath was the fatty meat that retained its shape and texture for a second in the mouth before melting away. “Tastes like a Michelin star,” my dinner companion joked. Yet something about the fish—a Korean fish, served at a Korean restaurant—bothered me. Roasted geumtae from Gaon(Source: myself)I had high hopes for Gaon. The restaurant is run by KwangJuYo company, a guardian of various Korean traditions. KwangJuYo began in 1963 as a pottery company, reviving the fine chinaware that used to be produced for the Joseon Dynasty kings. KwangJuYo is also known for their brand of traditional soju called Hwayo, which puts to shame the cheap, aspartame-laced imposters in green bottles. Gaon is KwangJuYo’s flagship restaurant. When the Michelin Guide came to Seoul for the first time in April 2017, the French reviewers awarded Gaon with three stars, the guide’s highest distinction. Gaon was one of only two restaurants in Seoul that earned three Michelin stars.(More after the jump.)Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at’s service and atmosphere were impeccable. The restaurant offered a Hwayo pairing with the food, which my dinner companion and I gladly chose over the wine pairing. The KwangJuYo porcelain graced both the wall and the table, as the food was served on the in-house dinnerware. The prix-fixe course began with five types of amuse-bouche, all made with traditional Korean ingredients like minari (water parsley,) uni wrapped in crispy seaweed, beef tartare flavored with sesame oil. After a soothing round of corn porridge, a cold crab meat salad came, followed by the most perfectly cooked bit of roasted abalone. Then came the fish, delicious and nagging. In fact, the nagging feeling had been with me since the crab meat salad. But what could it be? This was a gorgeous dish. It was so good, that it could appear in any fine New York restaurant and earn rave reviews … Eureka. The thought of the land distant from Seoul made me realize what has been bothering me: this is the first time in my life, made up of 17 years in Korea and 20 years in the United States, in which I am eating a Korean meal and ate a cooked fish without rice. With soju-fueled indignation, I blurted out: “This fish is banchan. Where is the rice?” II.   Banchan, and the Essence of the Korean Style of Eating If you ever visited a Korean restaurant, even just once, you have seen banchan. Before you receive what you ordered—sometimes, before you order anything at all—an array of dishes come in small plates. One of them, without fail, is kimchi. Others can be meat, fish or vegetables. They can be raw, c[...]

Book Review: Seoul Man by Frank Ahrens (2016)


(Disclosure:  I received a review copy of the book, and Frank and I met in person.)Hyundai Motor, of South Korea, is the world's fourth largest automobile manufacturer by the number of vehicles manufactured. The foregoing sentence is simultaneously mundane and incredible. Mundane, because it is such an obvious fact of life that is clearly visible to us. Hyundai and Kia cars are a common sight no matter where you live in the world--Asia, Europe, North America, South America, or Africa. Yet it is also incredible, when you consider the history of the companies with which Hyundai rubs its shoulders. Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903 in the United States, which was then already the world's foremost economy by a wide margin. Renault was founded in 1899 in France. Fiat, also in 1899 in Italy. Hyundai, in contrast, was founded in 1963, when South Korea's per capita GDP was less than $150. Yet today, Hyundai outsells all of Ford, Fiat and Renault. In fact, Hyundai manufactures more cars than Fiat and Renault combined.The story of Hyundai's growth is commonly told in tandem with the account of the marvelous growth that South Korea experienced post-Korean War. But the less frequently told part of the story is that, actually, the story has two stages. South Korea and its stalwart corporations reached middle-income by mid-1990s. The country was prosperous, but was not exactly world-leading. For much the 1990s, South Korea was one of the mass of countries that did not attract much attention--not poor and starving enough to arouse humanitarian concerns, and not rich or glamorous enough to inspire admiration.But since the late 1990s, South Korea's corporations--at least those that survived the painful adjustment occasioned by the East Asian Financial Crisis in 1997--went to another level. Rather than being stuck at the "middle income trap," South Korea hit escape velocity. Its foremost corporations rose to the level reserved for the world's very best. Today, Samsung Electronics is the only meaningful challenger to Apple's iPhone juggernaut, and Hyundai only trails Toyota and Volkswagen in the number of cars manufactured per year. (Hyundai also trails General Motors if you include the production by SAIC, GM's Chinese joint venture.)This part of South Korea's story deserves to be told more. Marginal improvement always gets progressively more difficult. Seeing from the ground level, the gap between "rudimentary" and "pretty good" may seem greater than the same between "pretty good" and "among the best." The differential in skill between hoopers at the local playground and a bench warmer for an NBA team is much greater than the differential between the bench warmer and an NBA starter, and much, much greater than that between an NBA starter and the likes of Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. But the effort it takes to go from an NBA starter to an MVP-caliber player is no less than the effort it takes for a regular person to become an NBA bench warmer. In fact, "effort" might not even be the right word, for it implies the continuation of the same path, only with more intensity. Often, it requires a complete re-definition of self for a player to make the leap and reach the next level. Same is true with Hyundai. Hyundai Motor could have been another Skoda Auto or Tata Motors--a solid carmaker that does well enough domestically or within its region--and it still would have been considered a success. But Hyundai did much better. How? Frank Ahrens answers that question in his book Seoul Man, which makes it a unique read among books about Korea in English.(More after the jump.)Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at on in the book, we learn that Ahrens had been a journalist for the Wash[...]

On Cultural Appropriation, One More Time


(source)I wrote about cultural appropriation in an older post, which contains essentially all of my thoughts on the topic. But considering how cultural appropriation continues to appear in the popular conversation, I thought I would give it another round. I want to focus on two issues: (a) the harm of cultural appropriation, and (b) the reason why people are having a hard time understanding why cultural appropriation is harmful.Cultural appropriation is a real and serious concept, in that it describes a phenomenon that causes a real and serious harm. Cultural appropriation reduces cultural artifacts to a prop, which in turn reduces the people of that culture into a prop also. Cultural appropriation is not the same thing as cultural exchange, or being influenced by another culture. In a very real sense, cultural appropriation is stealing, as is clearly implied from the word “appropriation.”What precisely is the thing being stolen when we speak of cultural appropriation? Detractors are quick to argue that no one owns culture, and no one can. But that is a crabbed view of what “ownership” can mean. Of course, no one owns culture like one owns property—say, a car. Ownership of a car, or any other property, is a legal right. A piece of paper with legal significance establishes your ownership of your car. By owning your car, you can exclude me from using your car. If I used your car without the legal right to do so—that is, if I appropriated your car—the force of the law would apply to me. You could sue for any damage I caused to the car, or you could call the police to come after me and send me to jail. But property ownership is not the only kind of ownership that exists, for humans own many things beyond property. Chief among them is agency, the power to define one’s own identity. Your name, for example, is an artifact of your agency. It is a word that defines your identity. Yet you do not own your name like you would own your car. Unless you undergo the process of turning your name into some type of property—for example, by using your name as a registered trademark—you have no legal protection over the word that you use as your name. You have no right to exclude the use of your name. (If you are one of the millions of American men named “Michael,” you cannot prohibit anyone from naming your child “Michael.”) You cannot sue someone else who has the same name as yours, nor can you call the police over the name sameness.Yet the lack of such legal protections does not make your name any less your name. When someone takes away your name—when someone appropriates it—the violence involved in such a taking is obvious. It is no surprise that bullying usually begins with name-calling, an act of replacing your name with another word. The replacement word need not even be derogatory; it merely needs to be arbitrary enough to show that you did not choose the replacement word. NBA player Jeremy Lin, for example, recounted how fans of the opposing team used to taunt him by calling him “chicken fried rice.” The term “chicken fried rice,” standing alone, is far from offensive; it is a delicious dish enjoyed by billions around the world. But obviously, the racist taunters of Jeremy Lin were not using the term “chicken fried rice” as a word that meant what it said. Rather, they were using the term as an arbitrary marker of their racism. Because Lin is Chinese, bullies took away his name in favor of an arbitrary Chinese dish. Jeremy Lin’s name, his identity, was appropriated, in favor of a random ethnic marker.(More after the jump.)Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at appropriation as a theft is easier to understand if you understand culture to be [...]

Once Again: K-pop is Not a Genre


TK is happy to report that nearly all of the people who engage K-pop seriously--such as writers and journalists about the topic--generally agreed with my post that argued K-pop is not a genre. (There was one exception, whose objections I will address below.) But there were a number of silly responses about this point, so here is another try.A different way to framed this debate is: is the term "k-pop" a descriptor or a term of art? In my view, "k-pop" is a descriptor, while a number of people insist "k-pop" is a term of art that denotes a concept. And they are wrong.A descriptor accepts the plain meaning of the word. For example, unless there is additional context (more on this later,) the words "a brown dog" are a descriptor, indicating a canine that is brown in color. If a person told you (again, without additional context) that "I just saw a brown dog," something along the lines of the following images should pop up in your mind:On the other hand, if this kind of image pops in your head...... then, there is something wrong with you, because this is an image of a white cat. No matter how you wish it to be, "brown" does not mean "white," and "dog" does not mean "cat."This is not a trivial point. In the previous post, I wrote: "In our current, "post-truth" world, it is more important than ever to insist that words must mean what they say." I did not write those words as a gag; it is my sincerely, fervently held belief that words must mean what they say, because the easiest way to lie is to pretend words mean something other than what they say. This kind of lie corrupts our thought process and pushes us into taking actions that we otherwise would not take. This is the central insight of George Orwell's famous essay, Politics and the English Language:"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness."This insight was what drove Orwell's dystopian classic 1984, set in a world in which war is peace, freedom is slavery, and two plus two is five. A world not unlike our current world, in which the head of the state of the United States of America would blatantly lies about what is plainly untrue--such as the crowd size for his inauguration--and his followers buy into this bullshit rather than believing their own eyes.So. The word "K-pop" must mean what it says. "K" obviously stands for "Korea," and "pop" obviously stands for "pop music." This meaning must hold, unless... "k-pop" is a term of art, rather than a descriptor. And my point is: "K-pop" cannot be anything other than "popular music of Korea," because it is not a term of art.(More after the jump.)Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at*                     *                      *How do we know the term "K-pop" is not a term of art? Because a term of art has boundaries. Each term of art--if it truly is a term of art--denotes a specific concept. When people use a term of art, they are drawing mental boundaries, such that if a thing falls within the boundary, the term of art describes that thing. And if a thing falls outside of the boundary, the term of art cannot describe that thing.People usually draw these boundaries in some combination of the following three ways:  ([...]

K-Pop is Not a Genre


[Before we begin, a quick note. TK is so happy to be finished with writing about Korean politics for now. Let's talk about more interesting things, like music! TK might just stick with writing about music for the next several months. Stay tuned...]Poster from K-pop Night Out showcasefrom SXSW 2014. Now hanging on my office wall.The point of this post is simple: "K-pop" is neither a genre nor a style. If you think otherwise, you are wrong. The rest of this post will discuss why you're wrong.To be fair to you who think otherwise, I'll say this: a lot of people think like you. Jaden Smith, for example, seems to think K-pop is a genre or a style.And Yes I Will Be Dropping A K Pop Single In The Next 4 Months.— Jaden Smith (@officialjaden) April 20, 2017But you are still wrong. "K-pop" is a generic term that means absolutely nothing more than "popular music of Korea." If you ever thought about the term "K-pop" rigorously, and thought hard about the kinds of music and the kinds of artists the term covers, you will find that it cannot possibly denote a genre or a style.To start, the simplest overview of musical styles that fall under the label "K-pop" should make clear that "K-pop" does not refer to a musical genre. No one disputes that IU, BTS and FT Island are "K-pop artists," but musically, they share nothing in common. IU sings mostly standard pop, BTS performs mostly hip hop numbers, and FT Island, light rock. The commonality among IU, BTS and FT Island is not, and cannot be, music. Their only commonality is that they all perform popular music of Korea.Is "K-pop" a style then? A common alternative definition of K-pop goes roughly like this: "highly processed but easy-to-listen music, composed and choreographed by professional management companies, performed by beautiful young men or women groomed to become pop stars by the said management companies." But this definition is also wrong.Again, just a few moments of thought are all you need to see why this definition is wrong. First of all, the alternative definition does not actually define anything that did not exist previously. Identifying young talents and fastidiously grooming them to become pop stars have been one of the basic business strategies in pop music as long as there was such a thing as pop music. Motown in the 1960s was famous for it. The only possible distinction between the "K-pop" mode of production and "Motown" mode of production is... K-pop is from Korea. Once again, we return to the plain truth: the heart of the term "K-pop" is the fact that it is music of Korea.(More after the jump.)Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at*                *                 *In our current, "post-truth" world, it is more important than ever to insist that words must mean what they say. "K-pop" plainly means "pop music of Korea," because "K" obviously stands for "Korea," and "pop" obviously stands for "pop music." Q.E.D. And in fact, that is exactly how the term was used when it first entered the English language. Most English speakers--i.e., non-Koreans--encountered pop music from Korea for the first time in the early 2000s, and called such music "K-pop." The term was essentially the equivalent of gayo [가요], the word Koreans use to denote popular music generally, without reference to any genre, style or era.In the early 2000s, virtually all Korean pop music that was available internationally were highly processed music performed by beautiful young men and women--which is why the alternate, and wrong, definition lives on to this day. But it is important to understand that the term "K-pop" was never[...]

Korean Politics Viewer's Guide: III. The Candidates


[See Part I of this series here][See Part II of this series here]Here we are, the grand conclusion of the viewer's guide for South Korean politics. Part III of this series will cover everyone's favorite event in politics--the horse-racing takes on the presidential election. This election features the total of 15 candidates, but we will only cover the five presidential candidates who are polling over 1 percent. In order of polling numbers, the candidates are: Moon Jae-in, Ahn Cheol-soo, Hong Joon-pyo, Shim Sang-jeong and Yoo Seung-min. These five candidates represent the presidential candidates for the five largest political parties in Korea. Under Korea's election regulations, each candidate is assigned a number in accordance with the number of National Assembly seats belonging to the candidate's party. This post will discuss the candidates in that order also, although Moon Jae-in (number 1) and Ahn Cheol-soo (number 3) are the two front runners. All the pictures of the candidates are the official campaign posters for this election, the very same posters are plastered all over Korea right now.Full disclosure: although I am not eligible to vote in South Korea, I generally support Moon Jae-in. 1.  MOON JAE-IN [문재인][Read this blog's coverage of Moon Jae-in for 2012 election here]Slogan:  "Restoring the Country; the Dependable President"(source)Born:  January 24, 1953 (64 years old) in Geoje, a southeastern island near Busan, to North Korean parents who escaped the war.Party Affiliation:  Democratic Party [더불어민주당]Ideological Position:  Mainstream liberal / center-leftCurrent Polling:  Around 40-44 percent in a five-way race.Before Politics:  Moon Jae-in was a law student and activist who fought against the Park Chung-hee dictatorship. He learned that he passed the bar while being in prison for protesting. As an attorney, Moon litigated against the dictatorship along with his law firm partner Roh Moo-hyun.As a Politician:  When his former law firm partner Roh Moo-hyun became the president, Moon entered politics and became Roh's chief of staff. Because of this beginning, Moon Jae-in has been strongly associated with Roh Moo-hyun's legacy, for better or for worse. Although Moon returned to his law practice after the Roh administration ended in 2007, he came back to politics after Roh committed suicide in 2009 amid a bribery investigation. Since then, Moon served as a National Assembly Member and the Chair of the Democratic United Party, which later became New Politics Alliance for Democracy and then again became the Democratic Party.Moon Jae-in is considered level-headed and cerebral. Although he is not exactly a charismatic speaker, he has a passionate following of liberal voters who are galvanized by memories of Roh Moo-hyun, whom they consider to be driven to suicide because of the witch hunt conducted by the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration. Moon is also a relentless inside baseball-type politician who either transformed the Democratic Party into a party of professional expertise and meritocracy while repudiating patronage and machine politics (if you take the kindly view,) or into a party of pro-Moon Jae-in loyalists who would faithfully execute his goals (if you take the cynical view.)Major Campaign Promises:  810,000 new jobs in public sector, such as police, healthcare and other health and safety personnel; transparent presidency and government; chaebol reform for anti-corruption.He Will Win If:  ... he hangs on. Moon Jae-in has always led the polls for the presidential race, sometimes by an overwhelming margin. He lost in a close race in the 2012 electi[...]

Korean Politics Viewer's Guide: II. The Parties


[See Part I of this series here]The viewer's guide for South Korean politics continues! Part II of this series will take a look at South Korea's political parties and what they stand for.Now is a tricky time to write this post, because political parties in South Korea are going through a once-a-generation level of realignment. For the most part, the history of South Korean democracy had two major parties--conservative and liberal--with some minor parties appearing here and there. But the historic impeachment and removal of Park Geun-hye shook up the political picture in Korea like no other recent events.Given this, the best way to understand where South Korea's political parties stand is to look at Korea's history of political parties, identify the major strands that flow through, and see how those strands match up with each party.So here we go.Super Basic StuffThe National Assembly Hall in Seoul(source)South Korea's democracy began in 1987. South Korean president serves a single five-year term.Korea's legislature is called the National Assembly. It is a unicameral body with 300 National Assembly Members. The entire National Assembly goes through an election every four years. For the National Assembly election, a South Korean voter casts two ballots: one vote for her geographical district, and one vote for the party she supports. This leads to two classes of Assembly Members: 253 "regional members," and 47 "national members." The "district" votes are counted up and produce the regional members, who are the winners of each geographical district. (The election for regional members is a single-winner, first-past-the-post.) The "party" votes are counted up, and each party receives a National Assembly seat based on the proportion of the party votes it received. (For example, if a Party X receives around 50% of the "party" votes, Party X takes either 23 or 24 seats allotted for national members.) In Korea, being a meaningful political party means having at least one seat in the National Assembly. (Thus, this post will not discuss Korean political parties that have no legislative representation, such as the Labor Party or the Green Party.) Being a major political party usually means having more than 20 seats, because the National Assembly Act sets the minimum of 20 Assembly Members to form a "negotiation group," which can receive greater budget assistance, have a say in committee assignments, etc.By this standard, South Korea right now has four major parties and two minor parties. From the most conservative to the most liberal, the four major parties are:  Liberty Korea Party (93 seats in the Assembly); Bareun Party (33 seats); the People's Party (40 seats); the Democratic Party (119 seats.) Justice Party has six seats in the National Assembly, and Saenuri Party has one seat. There are seven independent Members.Having six parties being represented in the National Assembly is highly unusual. For most of South Korea's history, the National Assembly only had two major parties: one conservative, one liberal. This was the case as recently as early 2016, as the Liberty Korea Party, Bareun Party and Saenuri Party formed the single major conservative party (called Saenuri Party,) while the Democratic Party and the People's Party were the single major liberal party (called New Politics Alliance for Democracy.)So how did we get here?(More after the jump.)Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at Quick History of Korean DemocracyWhen studying Korean political parties, it is better not to get hung up on the actual names of the parties--because those names change constantly. A pol[...]

Korean Politics Viewer's Guide: I. The Lay of the Land


Dear Korean,I know there is a conservative-liberal spectrum in Korean politics, but I have also read that conservativism/liberalism in Korea are not easily relatable to conservativism / liberalism in America. What are the major issues, and where do the different political parties in Korea come down on the major issues? I am soon-to-be a Korean citizen, but my Korean is terrible (I am only getting away with this because I am a Korean-American athlete that they want for their Pyeonchang team, so I am on the "special" citizenship track). I am very politically engaged in the US, but now that I am in Korea, I am trying to figure out WTF is going on here, and it isn't easy! Randi The RingerAsk a Korean! has received a lot of questions from a lot of cool people, but this is the first time that the blog received a question from an Olympic athlete! With the bizarre Choi Soon-sil scandal, people are suddenly more interested in Korean politics, as the presidential election is going to be held in a little more than a month. For those who are coming to see South Korean politics for the first time, TK prepared a three-part Viewer's Guide. Part I will discuss the basic lay of the political land in Korea; Part II is a brief history of South Korean politics that explains the status of different political parties today, and; Part III will be an overview of the major presidential candidates, their stance on issues and the electoral challenges they face.So here we go with Part I - the basic political landscape in South Korea.*                   *                    *The questioner Randi correctly noted two important points about Korean politics: (1) it has a conservative-liberal spectrum, but; (2) the spectrum is not the same as the conservative-liberal spectrum in the U.S., or in any other country for that matter. Of course, this is to be expected, because obviously, different countries have different political concerns. It would be ignorant and self-centered to expect that Korea's ideological spectrum would run on the same axis as any other country's.Many of political issues that form a dividing line in the U.S. do not in Korea, either because Koreans simply live in a different environment or because there is a broad social consensus over them already. Before we cover the issues that do form the fault lines in Korean politics, let's go over some of the issues that don't.Issues that Don't Really Arise in KoreaThese are the issues that rarely get raised in Korean politics, because not enough number of Koreans deal with these issues for them to become a political topic. Clearly, this list is not to say that these issues are not important; rather, it is only to say that these issues are not front and center in politics in Korea.- Racism.   There are now more than a million non-ethnic Koreans living in Korea, and the number is increasing rapidly. But so far, racial discrimination (which is very real and very pernicious) against ethnic minorities in Korea is not a big topic, because few Koreans ever interact with a non-Korean on a regular basis.- Immigration.  Same as above. South Korea has a fairly restrictive immigration policy, and few bother to opine whether Korea needs more or less immigrants than it currently has. Although there is some low-level grumblings about how, for example, the immigrants from China are committing crimes in certain parts of Seoul, immigration policy overall is not a part of national politics.- Terrorism (except those from North Korea).  If you exclude the attacks [...]

The Bigotry Against Korean Democracy


Candlelight Protest, Nov. 12, 2016. Crowd estimated to be ~1 million.(source)The impeachment and removal of former president Park Geun-hye is a stunning triumph of democracy: an illiberal and anti-democratic president is taken down peacefully, in an orderly manner, pursuant to the rule of law. And for the most part, it has been received as such. Yet there have been a small group of critics who insist on spitting on this achievement. Now, I respect differences in opinion if the differing opinion derives from a solid understanding of facts on the ground. But no—not these people. They uniformly advance two bits of criticism: (1) the impeachment process ignored proper procedure, because; (2) the Korean public formed a mob that intimidated the politicians and overrode the democratic process. These two arguments only reveal their proponents’ ignorance of Korea’s constitutional structure, and the actual events on the ground during the 17 weeks of candlelight protests. The two most prominent examples of these critics are Michael Breen and Euny Hong, who make their case in a similar manner. Breen, on the Atlantic, opened by questioning the impeachment procedure:Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung Mi said, her court building ringed by riot police behind a wall of police buses that held back supporters of the embattled president. “Her violations of the Constitution and the law are a betrayal of the people’s trust and cannot be tolerated.” If this seems a little vague, it gets more so. Hearings by the court, another series of proceedings by the National Assembly that impeached her, and a 70-day investigation by a special prosecutor, have determined that Choi Soon Sil was indeed sent presidential speeches to edit. But none of these bodies appears to have established what makes this an impeachable offense.A New Test for South Korea's Young Democracy [The Atlantic]Similarly, Euny Hong wrote:By US legal standards, Park's impeachment is peculiar in that she was ousted before even being fully investigated. Even the special prosecutors making the case against Park reportedly claimed they didn't have time to complete the inquiry and were denied an extension. (…) Though a Korean prosecutor alleged that Park had knowledge of this—and she may well have—what is significant is that the impeachment was pushed through before the conclusion of the investigation.The President Who Got Impeached for Being Embarrassing [CNN]Both of these arguments are simply ignorant about what actually happened as a matter of law. Breen’s claim that the pronouncement by Acting Chief Justice Lee was “vague” is pure nonsense, when the quoted sentence comes at the end of a rigorously written court opinion. If one bothered to read the entire impeachment opinion—which I translated in this post, by the way—it is impossible for one to conclude that the Constitutional Court have not “established what makes this an impeachable offense.” The Constitutional Court considered four arguments in favor of removal, and found three—abuse of authority of appoint public official, infringement of freedom of press, and violation of the duty to exercise due diligence as a public official—were not enough to support removal. The court, however, found Park’s use of presidential power to assist Choi Soon-sil’s private profiteering does not only violate the constitution and the law, but also seriously enough such that removal from office is warranted. All of this is clearly spelled out in the opinion; none of this is vague.(More after the jump.)Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Em[...]

The Impeachment Opinion, Annotated


Acting Chief Justice Lee Jeong-mi reads the opinion(source)Koreans did it. They impeached their corrupt and incompetent president, and the Constitutional Court sustained the impeachment to remove her from the office. It is a stunning triumph for Korea's democracy. The crowning moment of the triumph, of course, is when the Constitutional Court announced that Park Geun-hye was removed from the office. The moment was capped by a 20-minute reading of the court's opinion from the bench by Acting Chief Justice Lee Jeong-mi.The court's opinion will not simply go down in Korean history, but in the history of world democracy as an exemplar of how an illiberal and anti-democratic president is to be taken down peacefully, in an orderly manner, pursuant to the rule of law. In other words: it deserves to be shared with the world immediately. The Constitutional Court usually provides an official translated version of its most important opinions, but the translation process usually takes months. So--I prepared a translated version of the court's opinion, with annotations for those who are not familiar with Korea's constitutional structure. Several caveats apply. First, and obviously, I did the translation myself and this translation is absolutely not official. Second, because I am not an attorney trained in Korean law, I may have gotten certain legal terms of art wrong. (However, because I am a lawyer and encounter Korean law frequently, my translation should be better than ones done by non-lawyers.) Third, the opinion translated below is the version that was read from the bench on March 10, 2017. Often, the court uses an abbreviated version of the opinion to read from the bench, and produce the full opinion later on its website. Because the full opinion is not yet available, I translated the bench opinion.The original bench opinion is available here. Off we go, after the jump.Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at translated opinion is produced below. Important passages are highlighted in blue, followed by TK's annotation in bold.*                              *                              *We will begin delivering the court's decision on 2016 heon-na 1, the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. Before giving the decision, we wish to remark on the progress of this case. In the past 90 days, we justices have given our all to resolve this case fairly and expeditiously. We believe that the Korean people have spent a time of much deliberation and agony, just as much as this panel. Since December 9 of last year when this case was filed, we justices met for deliberation for 60 days, or every day except weekends. There is no item in hearing the trial or the decision that did not undergo the discussion involving every one of the justices. [TK:  It is unusual for the Constitutional Court to preface its opinion in this manner. But clearly, the court gave this extra statement because it understood how important this case was.]We have held three hearings for trial preparation, and 17 hearings for oral arguments. In the process, we carefully listened to the arguments by the impeachment committee and the counsels for each side, as well as 174 documents, 12 witnesses, five motions to compel production of documents and one request for admission from the petitioner, and 60 documents, 17 witnesses, six motions to compel production of documents and 68 request for[...]

Honorifics: Not as Complicated as You Think


(source)Dear Korean,How do you address your seonbae when you're not at work? I mean I know I will still refer to him/her as seonbae and at the beginning we will both use formal language, but what happens if he/she wants to drop the honorifcs? If we are, for example, out for a drink and we want to talk in a casual manner what happens if my seonbae is younger than me? Will they now call me unnie/nuna? And if so, aren't they supposed to use honorific language towards me?Really Confused Polish GirlHonorifics in Korean language confuse most non-Koreans. They are generally aware that honorifics exist in Korea, and there are certain rules as to how the honorifics are used. Because honorifics--at least, the kind that is as complicated as Korea's--don't really exist in most languages, it is difficult for non-Koreans to imagine how honorifics are supposed to be used in real life. They can try to learn the rules, but it only confuses them more because they can easily come up with a situation where two rules conflict with each other--like the questioner here.In reality, honorifics is not that complicated. As a practical matter, there is only one default rule: between two adults, polite speech is used, especially if they are meeting for the first time. The age difference between the two adults does not matter. The social relationship between the two adults does not matter. Between two adults, polite speech is used. If you are visiting Korea and you are not entirely sure about your honorific rules, this is all you need to remember. In fact, it is not strange at all for an adult to use the polite speech to a child that he is meeting for the first time.If you have room in your head for one more rule, here it is:  if two adults want to break away from the default, they can work it out between them. These are the only two rules that you really need to know about honorifics. Seeing how this plays out in real life situation makes it much easier to understand. Below are some real life situations that TK encountered recently.Scenario 1.  TK teaches a graduate school class for non-U.S. attorneys. Some of TK's students are Koreans, and converse with TK in Korean. Can TK drop the honorifics to his Korean students, because he is the teacher and they are his students? No. Why? Because between adults, polite speech is used. Scenario 2.  At the same graduate school, TK sometimes works together with a research fellow, who is a Korean woman older than TK. TK refers to the research fellow as seonbaenim [upperclassman] and uses the polite speech, because she began working for the graduate school before TK did. Can the research fellow then drop the honorifics to TK, because TK is her hubae [lower-classman] and younger than she? No. Why? Because between adults, polite speech is used. Scenario 3.  TK has a close friend RB. RB is older than TK, so TK refers to him as hyeong [older brother], and RB drops the honorifics to TK. One day, RB introduces another one of his friend, JS, to TK. JS is the same age as RB. Can JS drop the honorifics to TK right away? No. Why? Because between adults, polite speech is used. JS is meeting TK for the first time. It does not matter that JS is older than TK, nor does it matter that JS is the same age as RB who has dropped the honorifics to TK.Scenario 4.  TK, RB, and JS meet for the second time. After a few round of drinks, TK tells JS to drop the honorifics, because JS is RB's friend. JS agrees. Is this ok? Yes, because if two adults want to break away[...]

Kim Jong-nam Assassinated


Dear Korean,I guess you've been following the news of Kim Jong-nam's assassination and I wanted to know your thoughts about it. Do you think the assassination was really plotted by his half brother Kim Jong-un? Given that Kim Jung-nam is in self exile and doesn't seem to pose a threat to Kim Jung-un's political power, why would his brother still want him on his death list? Also, the whole assassination seems rather amateurish, carried out in broad daylight in a public place with dozens of cameras around. Do you think the whole thing could have been plotted by someone else?GeorgiaOne thing that you can confidently say about following Korean news: there is never a dull moment. Real-life Game of Thrones-style international assassination carried out by two female assassins wielding poison darts on Valentine's Day. What other country can offer this kind of excitement?Our dearly departed Kim Jong-nam (source)Some basic facts first. Kim Jong-nam is the oldest son of Kim Jong-il, the previous dictator of North Korea, and half-brother of Kim Jong-un, the current dictator. Kim Jong-il had four wives: Kim Jong-nam was the son from the first wife, and Kim Jong-un was the son from the third wife. Kim Jong-nam has been living a life of exile, mostly based out of Macao and away from North Korea's power center. It is not entirely clear if Kim Jong-nam renounced the throne (so to speak,) or Kim Jong-un was more ruthless in seizing power. At any rate, Kim Jong-nam essentially lived as a wastrel. Until he was killed in Kuala Lumpur on February 14, he was most well known for the fact that he was caught while using a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.But none of this means Kim Jong-nam was not a threat to Kim Jong-un. In fact, Kim Jong-nam simply being alive posed a threat to Kim Jong-un. Despite the pretensions of communism, North Korea has long been a hereditary monarchy as a practical matter, emphasizing the lineage to the first dictator Kim Il-sung as the source of legitimacy. In such a system, the first son born to the first wife always has a greater claim of legitimacy than the third son born to the third wife. This threat is so great that, in fact, a significant number of North Koreans do not even know Kim Jong-un has older brothers.The threat that Kim Jong-nam posed to Kim Jong-un's power was not merely theoretical. Because there are now enough number of North Korean defectors who escaped the country, there are ex-North Korean political groups that are attempting to establish a North Korean government-in-exile. These groups claim that, because the current North Korean dictatorship is illegally occupying North Korea, there needs to be a government-in-exile that represents the country in the international stage and take a leadership role in assisting resistance within North Korea. At least one of these groups reached out to Kim Jong-nam, asking him to the head of state for the exile government. Kim Jong-nam reportedly declined, but consider the possibilities if he took the offer.To me, particularly notable is the fact that Kim Jong-nam died within 48 hours of an explosive report from Kyunghyang Shinmun, a South Korean newspaper. According to Kyunghyang, Kim Jong-nam served as a messenger between his father Kim Jong-il and Park Geun-hye, before Park became the president of South Korea. Kim Jong-nam apparently kept in regular contact with Park Geun-hye, and would deliver Park's letter to Kim Jong-il. (To be clear: it is actually old news that Park Geun-hye had been sending letters to Kim Jong-il[...]

10 Year Reflections: On Writing


(source)Now, time to talk about what's been happening with my life.I have said many times over that this blog began as a way to kill boredom during graduate school. But in the ten years of writing this blog, I stumbled into a career that I never envisioned for myself: being a public intellectual. Obviously, I am not a big name public voice like Andrew Sullivan or Tyler Cowen or Eugene Volokh. But over the last ten years, people began paying attention to what I had to say when it comes to Korea. The blog began to appear more frequently on mainstream media. I even parlayed the blog into writing about Korea on major publications under my real name. (No, I'm still not telling you what it is.) Journalists who cover East Asia reached out to me with increasing frequency.At the same time, my day job as a lawyer was increasingly demanding more of my time. Here is a shocker: being a big law firm lawyer is a tiresome job, and it only gets more tiresome the longer you are at it. I stared down the future of my career, and--at least at the time--saw only bleakness. So, dear readers: I carefully plotted my escape. About a year and a half ago, I finally crafted a cautious middle ground where I can continue to work at my firm while studying at a graduate school, with an eye toward becoming a law professor. I did this for the last year and a half, living a life of balancing a number of spinning plates. I wrote law review articles, worked on my cases at the law firm, studied law more deeply. And I committed myself to writing more on this blog.That was the plan, at least. As regular readers of this blog know, that commitment did not come through. I did not write more on this blog in the last year and a half; in fact, I wrote less. In the process, I ended up learning a few lessons about my relationship with writing.First lesson was that I only had a limited reserve of writing in me. I have always been a fast writer who can bang out many pages in short order. (To be sure, those initial drafts are awful and require multiple rounds of editing for them to make sense.) For the first time in my life, I was in a situation in which I had more time in a day than the amount of writing in me--which made me realize more time did not lead to more writing. My desire to put thoughts into print may be greater than most people's, but its amount is not infinite.I also learned when writing becomes work, the character of my writing changes in several ways. The more obvious change is the "fun" element. Part of the reason why I wrote less on the blog was because I had so much writing to do for law reviews. To be sure, writing a law review article is fun in its own way. But it is a lumbering process of reading background materials, navigating through terms of art, citing sources and crafting an argument--all part of a good writing, to be sure, but done to a point that can get tiresome. TKWife, a professional musician, enjoys playing music, but not like the way a hobbyist enjoys playing music. She might even mess around with music from time to time, but her messing around has a different quality from an amateur messing around with a guitar after a long day from work. Same became of my writing: when writing becomes a job, it can no longer remain as a hobby--or at least, not the kind of hobby you used to have.The less obvious change, but equally as important, was what I might call the element of "groundedness" in writing. Academic writing is paradoxical: on one hand, it requires rigorous research and sou[...]

10 Year Reflections: Korea in the World


Seoul at night.(source)How did Korea change since 2006, when Ask a Korean! began? There is plenty to talk about, large changes and small. Some of the big changes: Korean economy grew to new heights, even as the world was going to the tanks following the 2008 financial crisis. But the wealth gap between the rich and the poor has been growing, the life at the bottom of the economic ladder has become more tenuous, and youth unemployment has been rising. Smaller changes? Coffee in Korea became a lot better, and so did beer. E-sports became a global thing. Gangnam Style happened.But in my view, the most significant change for Korea is the international baseline of expectations for Korea. The concept of "international baseline of expectations" needs a bit of explanation. (It's a concept that I made up for this post. I'm sure there is a more sophisticated version of the concept in the academia somewhere.) One major lesson I learned from running this blog is knowing just how shallow the thought process is when people think of other countries. It is not simply that the people who send questions to this blog know little about Korea; it is that they do not think much about the fact that Korea is an actual place populated with actual people. People who are afflicted with a particularly stupid version of this think of Korea as some kind of fantasy land, filled with K-pop stars living in the sets of Korean dramas. As such, they are the endless wellsprings of stupid questions. Like this one: "How can someone in Korea like foreign girls, when Korean girls are so pretty? Would dating a blind Korean help?"That's a real question that I received from a real person. Imagine getting this kind of questions every day.I found, over time, that even the sharpest people rely on a version of this. Of course, the sharper people don't think Korea is filled entirely with beautiful men and women like it is on television. But even the smartest people fail to remind themselves of this basic fact: Korea is an actual place populated by actual people.This leads to culturalism. In one of the most popular posts in this blog's 10-year history, I argued against Malcolm Gladwell who claimed that Korean culture's deference for hierarchy caused the Korean Air flight 801 to crash in 1997. Obviously, Gladwell is not stupid. But his claim, distilled to its essence, was incredibly stupid--that Koreans are willing to kill themselves and hundreds of others because Korean culture emphasizes manners. This is not so much a failure of intelligence, but a failure of empathetic imagination."International baseline of expectations," as I conceive of it, is what fills the gap left by this failure. Stated simply, the "baseline" is the vague, hazy image that comes to one's mind when one thinks of another country. What image comes to mind first when you think of Korea? Whatever that image is, it is the image serves as a heuristic for everything about Korea. Regardless of how smart you are, that image always lingers in the background of your mind. and colors every further interaction you have with the country.My sense is that ten years ago, most people around the world had no baseline of expectations for Korea. If they had to, they threw in an image of a generic Asian country and went from there. Today, the baseline image is still hazy--by definition, it never becomes all that clear. But compared to a decade ago, Korea has a dramatically improved baseline of expectations. The def[...]

10 Year Reflections: On Blogging


(source)This blog, Ask a Korean! was born October 21, 2006. (Here is my very first post, and my very first question answered.) The decade mark of the blog last year should have been a significant occasion. But because of the circumstances in my life (which I will share in due time,) I was not able to give this blog a proper celebration.So here it is to open the new year: a belated 10 year celebration, through a series of reflections about different topics--on blogging, Korea, and myself. Yes, this is going to get a bit self-indulgent. If you have a problem with that, go read The Most Important Policy of this blog one more time.*                           *                           *I began this blog as a way to kill time during the slowness of third year in law school. The direct inspiration for the blog, reflected in its name, is ¡Ask a Mexican! by Gustavo Arellano, who ran (and still runs) his syndicated column in OC Weekly. The blog was somewhat of a joke to myself--in fact, that is still the case in my head to this day. I gave myself a ridiculous pen name, The Korean, and wrote in a ridiculous style, referring to myself in third person. The joke was: you are really not supposed to take me very seriously. I'm just a random guy on the internet with a blog.As many of my jokes go, this one failed. For reasons unknown to me, people kept reading the blog. Publications like the New York Times took me seriously enough to send a reporter to interview me. Although media appearances now have become a regular feature of the blog, I still don't really understand why they keep reading my stuff. In my mind, it means the journalists are not doing their jobs; if they knew what they were talking about, they wouldn't read this internet rando's blog.I can't get over this point partially because I cannot get over what blogging was like ten years ago. Back then, having a blog was a mild embarrassment, like online dating was back in the day. Calling yourself a "blogger" meant you could not manage to get a job. Blogging was not real writing; it could never be serious. In the past ten years, I saw this change in different ways. First came the boom times. Starting around 2009, blogging became mainstream to a point that every company was essentially required to have a blog on its website, just as much as it needs to have a Facebook page and a Twitter account today. On the particular subjects I covered--Korea and Asian America--there was a thriving network of blogs like Marmot's Hole, Roboseyo, Brian in Jeollanam-do and Korea Beat. It helped that this period was also the peak of English speakers visiting Korea to teach English, which led to more bloggers and blog readers. Another turn came around 2013. Blogging became so successful that it turned into something else entirely. Big name blogs, written by serious people discussing serious stuff (like Marginal Revolution or Volokh Conspiracy,) were absorbed into the framework of mainstream media (in their cases, to the Washington Post) and simply became "media." For people who simply wanted to chronicle their daily lives (or minutely or secondly lives, as it turned out,) first came Tumblr, then Twitter, where they could vomit their thoughts in real time.This larger trend was visible in Korea bloggers also. One by one, lights started goin[...]

Goodbye 2016



2016 has been a year of great changes in my life. All year long, I had hoped that I would be able to share with you exactly what changed. But the year kept running and running, and here we are. At the very last day of the year, I am still not in a position to tell you all the changes that are coming.

Long time readers know AAK! traditions: the worst emails of the year, followed by the list of most read articles for the year. Not this year, however. As my life changes, so will this blog. And there is no telling where this blog will be in the next several weeks, because I cannot tell where my life is heading. I can only wait.

Undoubtedly, I am missing a lot. This year was the 10 year anniversary of Ask a Korean!, and I do have plenty of things to say about that experience. There is still so much I can say about Korean politics, U.S. politics and what it means to live as an Asian American. There is still so much to be said about Korea, the most interesting country in the world. I regret that I have not been able to do all that in 2016.

So if you would indulge me, let's hold onto those things. Soon, I will be able to share with you all the things that have been happening with me and with this blog. Until then, be safe, healthy and well. See you next year.

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