The 2018 Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang concluded last night, marking the first time South Korea hosted the Winter Olympics. As a proud Korean-American, I've been inspired to dive into what sounds have been coming out of the Motherland (and the U.S.) and revisit the classics I grew up on. I'm also headed to Korea for the third time for my cousin's wedding in March, so I'm excited for the adventures and reflections that will surface this time around; the first time I visited was in 2000 and the second time was in 2014.
Frankly, I've missed out on a lot of good Korean music over the years. My own journey in music has taken different paths, but there was definitely a hallmark Korean music moment for me in elementary school.
I gathered some favorite songs of mine, old and new, into a playlist. There's a mixture of hip hop, atmospheric indie, electronic and heartbreaking love ballads:
Eagle Five - Gwedo (1998)
Eagle Five was a hip hop group in the 90s who had the best dance moves. My brother and I would always crack up hearing one of the group members Eric licking his lips before he starts rapping in the intro of this track, Gwedo. I love this song for its minor key change in the chorus that makes it a slightly melancholy hip hop song.
Happy Doghouse - Don't Give Me Grapes (2016)
I first discovered Happy Doghouse last year or so when her music surfaced on Ryan Hemsworth's Secret Songs. "Don't Give Me Grapes" is a dreamy number, and she tagged her genre as "Puppy Punk" on SoundCloud. Enough said.
Yaeji - raingurl (2017)
Yaeji, born Kathy Yaeji Lee, has had a breakout year last year, and she only continues to rise. The NYC-based singer, songwriter, rapper, producer and DJ does it all, blending house music with hip hop to voice relevant topics regarding her identity as a Korean-American. I love that she sings in both Korean and English. "raingurl" is my jam from EP2 which she says is about introspection in the club.
Turbo - December (1997)
Turbo was one of the best duos out there in the 90s and 2000s. "December" brings back so many memories for me. I especially love the sound of the bells in the intro.
Jane Jang - velvet (2017)
I want to listen to this song when I fall in love. "velvet" is a perfect warm piano, acoustic guitar song. Jane Jang is an indie folk artist who would busk in the streets of the Hongdae neighborhood of Seoul. She gained fame after appearing on the Korean music audition show Superstar K2.
Neon Bunny - Romance in Seoul (2016)
Neon Bunny whose real name is Yoojin Im is an independent singer-songwriter and producer from Seoul. "Romance in Seoul" captures Neon Bunny's airy vocals with melodic, ambient beats. It feels exactly like what you think a romance in Seoul would feel like.
Jonghyun ft. Taeyeon - Lonely (2017)
Jonghyun was the lead vocalist of the group Shinee. While he has different styles in the pop realm, I particularly dig the heartbreakingly sweet ballads like "Lonely."
Sadly, I didn't discover Jonghyun's music until after the news of his suicide. South Korea has the second-highest suicide rate in the world with mental health and seeking help being taboo. I feel the connection is related to the cultural concept we have called "han." It's hard to explain, but it's like a feeling of morose and melancholy that permeates through our lives as Koreans, a lot of it having to do with the invasions the peninsula has experienced over centuries.