1. Shin Jung-hyeon [신중현]
한 번 보고 두 번 보고 자꾸만 보고 싶네
See her once, see her twice, just want to see her more
아름다운 그 모습을 자꾸만 보고 싶네
Just want to keep seeing that beautiful sight
그 누구나 한 번 보면 자꾸만 보고 있네
Whoever looks just once can’t take their eyes away
그 누구의 애인인가 정말로 궁금하네
Whose lover is she, everyone gets curious
모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네
Everyone loves her; I love her too
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, those shows were not much different from the variety shows of the 1930s. Shin Jung-hyeon himself found popularity as a kind of a circus act, as he was known as the short guitarist who would deftly continue playing while sliding in and out between the legs of the taller bassist.
But Shin Jung-hyeon rose above being an act, to become an artist. Not merely a source of entertainment, but an individual expressing his aesthetics through popular music. Shin Jung-hyeon is the first Korean singer-songwriter who organized his music into an “album,” a thematically consistent collection of his original creation. And original it was! Shin Jung-hyeon’s Beauty would go into the annals of the global rock music history, with its pentatonic sound based on Korean traditional music.
As Korea’s pop culture came into its own in the 1970s, Shin Jung-hyeon continued to play a critical role as a composer and producer for the greatest artists of K-pop history such as Pearl Sisters and Kim Chu-ja. Yet a cruel twist of history cut off Shin Jung-hyeon’s further flourishing. For refusing to write a song praising the Park Chung-hee dictatorship, Shin was charged with trumped-up allegations of drug use, and his songs were banned in 1975 and remained so until 1987. Banned from even from performing, Shin spent a stretch of time selling away his equipment piece by piece. It was not until the late 1990s that his legacy was rediscovered and re-evaluated, as music critics–also a new profession that had recently come of age–began to reflect on the giants who shaped the history of Korean pop music.
Interesting trivia: Shin Jung-hyeon is the sixth artist in the world, and the first in Asia, to receive a personalized commemorative guitar from Fender.