In response to this question, Stephen Epstein’s RAS presentation last week about girl groups was well worth attending. There was a lot of textual analysis of lyrics and dissection of the narratives present in the videos. I liked his description of the dichotomy between girls presenting themselves as shy and inexperienced while at the same time ‘anticipating being deflowered,’ I think was how he put it.
The article which made him interested in the topic of Girl Groups can be found here (enter page 25 at the bottom). There’s lots to tear apart – you’ve got to love a self-described “middle aged man” asking, “Just what is it about them that drives us into such a frenzy?” and then match that with this: “Some are so surprised by the elder generation’s enthusiasm for girl groups that they cannot help but mention the Lolita complex. Nevertheless, that would be an example of an exaggerated principle that remains from the past authoritarian era.” (Nice try, but I don’t think wonjo gyoje began in the 1970s.)
“In the course of shifting from a masculine-dominated era to one of feminine equality, the imposing frames of age and gender are being slowly torn down. The time has come in pop culture where a man in his 40s can cheer for teenage girl groups without being looked at suspiciously.”
Ah, so this is what happens when “the imposing frames of age and gender are … torn down” – you get to ogle teenage girls “without being looked at suspiciously.” One wonders if part of this brave new world will involve men getting something more than a suspended sentence for paying a 14 year old for sex.
This passage – “They are at the edge of the frontier of popular culture, but they are not just pioneers—they are the culture.” – made me think of Verv’s evisceration of celebrity worship in the new Broke in Korea (page 20).
And as for this quote – “They render the term “singer” insufficient.” – that’s true, but not in the way he’s thinking, as Gord Sellar argues here. And Gord – here’s a video you’re looking for – Kim Jung-mi performing with back-up dancers (near the end) – in 1974.
And in revisiting that time period, I should mention Mark Russell’s article in the New York Times about Korean rock from the 60s and 70s:
Shin Joong-hyun remembers the first time he took the stage 55 years ago in Seoul. Just 18, he had passed an audition for the U.S. Eighth Army and was selected to play top American hits to the troops. “I was too young to be scared,” the 73-year-old rocker said in a telephone interview, “so I just tried to do a good job.”
Soon, he was playing 20 to 30 dates a month at U.S. military bases all over South Korea, songs like “Guitar Boogie Shuffle,” “40 Miles of Bad Road” and “Rock Around the Clock” — the first song Mr. Shin sang, instead of just playing guitar. “The soldiers seemed to like my guitar playing,” he recalled. “They were really enthusiastic and often asked for more solos.”
Bands that got their start rocking out on U.S. Army bases became the vanguard of a new music scene in South Korea. Mr. Shin was at the heart of it, creating bands, finding singers and writing many of the most memorable rock songs recorded in South Korea, especially from 1968 to 1975.
He also mentions DJ Soulscape, whose mix cd “More Sound of Seoul” is made up of selections of 1970s Korean funk, pop and rock from his massive LP collection. I highly recommend it, as it makes clear that a lot of the music back then represented more of a blend of traditional Korean music and western music, unlike what is popular today.
Mark also notes that two collections of Shin Jung-hyun’s music have been released in the US. In addition to those releases, I just discovered that Pony Canyon has released eight cds of Shin’s music, with cds focusing on the Pearl Sisters, Lee Jung-hwa, Kim Chu-ja, Kim Jung-mi, Jang Hyun, and The Three Travelers, as well as cd reissues of Hicky Shin (Shin’s 1958 instrumental album, with interesting tunes like ‘Twist Arirang’) and the Add 4 (Korea’s first rock and roll band, from 1964).
Purple Record was cleaned out (after my visit), though I missed two (and saw no need for the Add 4 reissue, having purchased an earlier cd of it recently). The cds all come with introductions by Shin Jung-hyun and lyric sheets, and sound better than some versions of the songs I’ve heard (unfortunately, all of these reissues are mastered from the original vinyl, as the master tapes no longer exist, a situation that may be due to the Park Chung-hee government, as Mark relates). I recently picked up a Lee Jang-hee best-of cd, and the it’s obviously based on the original master tapes – it sounds great. It’s quite a shame Shin’s music can be listened to in the same manner.
You can read PopularGusts’ original post here.