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You Call That Music?! Korean Popular Music Through the Generations

You Call That Music?!: Korean Popular Music Through the Generations provides a critical overview of the history of Korean popular music from 1920 to the 2000s from the perspective of cultural history. First published in Korean in 2017 by one of the best-known critics, Lee Young-Mee, this book is a timely and much-needed source of information on Korean popular music of the past hundred years.

Through this English translation, readers are able to make meaningful connections between specific forms of Korean popular music of various periods and the contemporaneous Korean social and political circumstances. Structured around the central theme of generational conflict, the book provides readers with an accessible way to engage with Korea’s social history and a greater understanding of how specific musical works, genres and styles fit into that history. Its strong narrative force helps illuminate the connections between modern Korean social history and the particular trends of musical production and their reception through the decades.

You Call That Music?! is an invaluable resource for those researching and studying Korean popular music specifically as well as Korea’s cultural and social history.

Table of Contents

Foreword | Introduction | Author’s Preface

  1. Generational Unity: Cause for Celebration? | Songs the Whole Family Can Enjoy | Generational Conflicts Promote Creativity! | The Ebbs and Flows of Generational Conflict
  2. Grownups in the 1930s: Shocked by the New Pop Music | What’s Your Groupchat Profile Pic? | When Did Koreans Start  Making Pop Music? | The New Trends Appall the Adults | How Old Was the Generation that Disliked Trot? | Super Junior on Gayo Stage?
  3. Was Trot Really for Teens? | Grownups Disliked Trot | Trot and Enka | It’s Greek to Me: Grownups and the New Music | The Generation Educated in Japanese | Twenty-Somethings: Subversive Force in the Popular Arts | New and Refined Trot to Share with Young People in Tokyo
  4. Mambo Dancing in Mambo Pants: In the Aftermath of the Korean War | The Trot Generation Grows Old | Trot Eases Generational Conflicts | The Infiltration of “Vulgar” Music | Mambo Fever Brings Mambo Pants | “Après Girls” and “Madame Freedom” | Middle-Aged People Swept Up in Postwar Fashions
  5. American Standard Pop Patches Up Generational Differences: The Early 1960s | Is “Odong-dong Ballad” Really Less Vulgar Than “Yellow Shirt”? | The Scales Tip Toward Standard Pop | Could “Yellow Shirt” Be an International Hit? | Standard Pop: Modern, but not Decadent
  6. The Late 1960s: A Period of Easing Generational Conflict | The Age of Standard Pop | Youthful, but Still Familiar | Standard Pop: Wholesome and Modern
  7. Trot Lifts the Spirits—But Wait, Is It Japanese?! | Singing Japanese Songs on Independence Day? | The Remnants of Japanese Imperialism, Trot, and the 1965 Korea–Japan Treaty | Why Did the Middle-Aged Trot Generation Accept Standard Pop? | Does the Younger Generation Have “Superior” Taste?
  8. The Explosion of Generational Conflict: Youth Culture | A New Kind of Youth: Cheongchun vs. Cheongnyeon | The “Strong” Generation Becomes Middle-Aged | An Even “Stronger” Generation Comes of Age | Being a Student: A New Youth Identity
  9. Decadent Acoustic Guitars and “Backwards” Ppongjjak Collide | 1971: A Pivotal Moment for Folk | “Wearing a Flower Ring” Corrupts Young Girls? | Unfounded Fears about Folk | “Backwards” Ppongjjak: Why Ppongjjak Was Considered “Backwards” | Anti-Folk: The Fear of Corrupting Students
  10. Cho Yong-pil Brings Generations Together | A Fusion of Trot and Rock? | Cho Yong-pil, a Superstar for All Ages | The Fusion of New Rock and Good Old Standard Pop | Raise That Familiar Melody an Octave and Shout It!
  11. The Seoul Olympics, Globalization, and “Underground” Music | Would “Morning Dew” Have Been as Popular in 1981? | “Underground” and Minjung Songs Go into Hiding | Korean Popular Music Catches Up to Sophisticated Western Pop | Skilled Artistry and a Sense of Stability
  12. The 1990s: The Era of Seo Taiji and Generational Conflict | Everyone’s Talking About “the Generation” Again | The “Apgujeong Orange Youth” Emerges as the New Generation | What on Earth Is a Rock Café? | Hard to Dance Hip-Hop if You’re Over 30
  13. Reversal, Resistance, and . . . ? | History Doesn’t Always Repeat Itself Exactly | Satanism in a Seo Taiji Song? | The Youth Refuse to Conform | The New Generation: Resistance and Subversion | Still, History Continues . . .
  14. Epilogue: When Will an Age of Conflict Come Again? | The Importance of Knowing History | Toward Generational Harmony Again | When Will the Time of Generational Conflict Return?


Lee Young-Mee was born in Seoul in 1961. She received a B.A. and an M.A. (specializing in contemporary literary criticism) in Korean Language and Literature at Korea University. She worked as a chief researcher at the Research Center for the Arts at Korea National University of Arts and taught at Sungkonghoe University and Munhwa Graduate School. In the 1980s she participated in the progressive drama and music movement, a sector of the democratization movement in South Korea. Her work, Stories of Songs (1993) deals with the history of minjung music and momentous songs that contributed to socio-political changes. Characteristics of the Madang Theater Form (2002) chronicles the aesthetics of the madang (‘open air’) theater, a unique genre active in the 1980s minjung movement. From the 1990s to the present, Lee has been considered THE pioneer in the field of Korean popular art. History of Korean Popular Music (1998) is the first comprehensive academic treatment of the subject. She has one English publication, “The Beginning of Korean Pop: Popular Music During the Japanese Occupation Era (1910–45)” in K. Howard ed. Korean Pop Music: Riding the Wave (2006). Her numerous publications include Understanding Korean Popular Art Through the Lens of Melodramatic Sentimentality (2016) that covers the eight decades of twentieth-century popular arts, novels, plays, songs, films, comics, and TV and radio dramas. The book received two prestigious awards, “Chihoon Academic Achievement Award,” and “Nojeong Prize.” In addition to her scholarly achievements, she is also known for her media presence through her popular radio shows on Korea Broadcasting Station (KBS), Munhwa Broadcasting Station (MBC), Christian Broadcasting Station (CBS), Buddhist Broadcasting Station (BBS), and Gugak Broadcasting.

Source: publisher’s website

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