50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: Seo Taiji



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 act
Seo 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)

 

교실 이데아
Classroom Idea

 

됐어 됐어 이제 됐어
That’s it, that’s it, now that’s it
이제 그런 가르침은 됐어
That’s it with this kind of education
그걸로 족해 족해 이제 족해
That’s enough, enough, now it’s enough
내 사투리로 내가 늘어 놓을래
Now I’m going to say in my own dialect

매일 아침 일곱 시 삼십 분까지
Every morning by seven thirty
우릴 조그만 교실로 몰아넣고
They put us in a small classroom
전국 구백만의 아이들의 머리 속에
In the heads of the nine million children around the country
모두 똑같은 것만 집어 넣고 있어
All the same things are being crammed in
막힌 꽉 막힌 사방이 막힌 널
Blocked, totally blocked, blocked in all directions you are
그리곤 덥썩 그 모두를 먹어삼킨 이 시꺼먼 교실에서만
Then gulp! swallowing everyone is the black classroom
내 젊음을 보내기는 너무 아까워
My youth is utterly wasted in it

좀 더 비싼 너로 만들어 주겠어
We’ll make a more expensive version of you
니 옆에 앉아 있는 그 애보다 더
More expensive then the kid sitting next to you
하나씩 머리를 밟고 올라서도록 해
Take each step over other people’s head
좀 더 잘난 네가 될 수가 있어
You can be a little better than you are now
왜 바꾸지 않고 마음을 조이며 젊은 날을 헤멜까
Why not change; why let your heart wither, wandering in your youth
왜 바꾸지 않고 남이 바꾸길 바라고만 있을까
Why not change; why only wait for someone else to change

됐어 됐어 이제 됐어
That’s it, that’s it, now that’s it
이제 그런 가르침은 됐어
That’s it with this kind of education
그걸로 족해 족해 이제 족해
That’s enough, enough, now it’s enough
내 사투리로 내가 늘어 놓을래
Now I’m going to say in my own dialect

국민학교에서 중학교로 들어가며
From elementary to middle school,
고등학교를 지나 우릴 포장센타로 넘겨
Through high school they send us to the packaging center
겉보기 좋은 널 만들기위해
To make you more presentable
우릴 대학이란 포장지로 멋지게 싸 버리지
They wrap us grandly with the wrapper called college
이젠 생각해봐 ‘대학’
Now think about it. College!
본 얼굴은 가린채 근엄한 척 할 시대가 지나버린 걸
The time to hide your true face, the time to pretend to be serious is over
좀 더 솔직해봐 넌 할 수 있어
Be more honest, you can do it

좀 더 비싼 너로 만들어 주겠어
We’ll make a more expensive version of you
니 옆에 앉아 있는 그 애보다 더
More expensive then the kid sitting next to you
하나씩 머리를 밟고 올라서도록 해
Take each step over other people’s head
좀 더 잘난 네가 될 수가 있어
You can be a little better than you are now
왜 바꾸지 않고 마음을 조이며 젊은 날을 헤멜까
Why not change; why let your heart wither, wandering in your youth
왜 바꾸지 않고 남이 바꾸길 바라고만 있을까
Why not change; why only wait for someone else to change

됐어 됐어 이제 됐어
That’s it, that’s it, now that’s it
이제 그런 가르침은 됐어
That’s it with this kind of education
그걸로 족해 족해 이제 족해
That’s enough, enough, now it’s enough
내 사투리로 내가 늘어 놓을래
Now I’m going to say in my own dialect

 

In 15 words or less:  Creator of modern Korean pop culture.
Why is this artist important?

Does Seo Taiji deserve to be the second most influential K-pop artist ever?

Of course, Seo Taiji was and is a massive star. He is nicknamed the “Cultural President.” The news of his divorce from the wife that he managed to hide 14 years made the front page–the actual front page, not the front page of the entertainment section–of every newspaper in Korea. But in terms of stardom, Jo Yong-pil was bigger. In fact, one could make a solid argument that even Kim Geon-mo, a contemporary of Seo Taiji, was bigger. One can argue Seo Taiji and Boys was the early example of a successful boy band, but then again, not really–Sobangcha [소방차] was the first K-pop boy band from 1987, and they were very successful at their peak.

Was Seo Taiji the most innovative with music? Maybe–he did introduce a lot of new genres to Korean pop music. He was the first rapper that found popular success. Seo Taiji’s rap-dance format, with a rap followed by chorus, is still the prevalent mode of K-pop idol music. His use of taepyeongso [태평소], a Korean traditional trumpet, was groundbreaking. But arguably, Sanullim was more innovative in terms of creating something no one has heard before. For all his musical talents, Seo Taiji was plagued with allegations of plagiarizing US artists like Milli Vanilli, Cypress Hill or Korn.

But Seo Taiji did something more than being a star, or even being a musician. Seo Taiji deserves this placement because he singlehandedly created a new culture, populated with a new kind of people. The “New Generation” [신세대] was on the rise in Korea in the 1990s, and Seo Taiji was their champion. When the government censored his song, he rebelled until the government repealed the censorship law. When he saw most of Seo Taiji and Boys’ earnings going to the production company, he quit the company and started his own, which led to fairer copyright protection for artists. Rather than offering himself to be consumed by the gossipy media, Seo Taiji tightly controlled the presentation of his image, disappearing for years between albums.

Seo Taiji did not just sing and play music. He showed young Koreans how to live as an individual, how to think independently, how to be a master of his own destiny. There have been K-pop bigger stars than Seo Taiji. There have been better musicians. But no one shaped an entire generation and beyond quite like Seo Taiji did.

Interesting trivia:  For their fourth album, Seo Taiji and Boys appeared in snowboarding clothes, which were virtually unseen in Korea at the time. Seo Taiji is usually credited with introducing the snowboarding culture to Korea for the first time.
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