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A renewed Sobangcha has grown up

June 05,2005
In the late ’80s, the pop music group Sobangcha was ahead of its time. The group, whose name translates to “fire engine,” sang and danced dynamically, and their presentation, while commonplace today, was brand new then. But after only a few years, the boy band called it quits and its members went their separate ways, breaking many teenage girls’ hearts. They said the Korean public wasn’t ready for their style.
But 15 years later, two of the three “boys” ― who now fully qualify as adults ― are coming back on stage, with “more understanding in music and maturity.” They are approaching their 40s, a shocking age for an act that rarely sees an audience out of their 20s. It’s become the talk of the town, but the boys don’t care.
“I thought it was our last chance to be back on stage,” said Lee Sang-won, a member. “Age is just a number, you know.”
Sobangcha originally had three members: Lee, Kim Tae-hyung and Jung Weon-gwan, all of whom were in their early 20s when the group debuted in 1987. While solo singers dominated television shows with ballads, these boys did flips and somersaults while singing.
“Our band was the first of its kind,” Mr. Kim said. “Three boys dancing dynamically on stage was new to Koreans at that time. Maybe too new, I guess, because regardless of our skyrocketing popularity, we were never given awards for best singer.”
After they disbanded out of frustration, the three went their separate ways. Mr. Jeong became a host of a TV show called “Chajara Mashinneun TV,” and Mr. Lee continued his career with a dance music group, “Ink.” Mr. Kim became an owner of an entertainment company. They created a couple of unsuccessful albums even when they were not together.
Now Mr. Kim and Mr. Lee are cranking the engine again, with an album titled “Men’s Life.” Many of the songs are remakes of their past hits, but they’ve added a few new songs that are for their own generation. “Necktie Budae” (Necktie Troop) is about the sad life of a busy corporate worker. The lyrics go, “Today I run again, only heading forward, even without time to fix my tie.”
Mr. Jeong did not join them, wanting to continue his current business in other fields, said Mr. Kim.
According to Mr. Lee, the “crazy” idea to be back on stage came to mind while he was traveling. “After several years of wandering all around the world, I got a strong urge to go back on stage, so I suggested the idea to Kim, who at first was quite dubious,” Mr. Lee said. “I told him that this might be our last chance in life.”
Early this month, the group returned to the stage, and it felt “fantastic,” the two said. “I felt I was born again,” Mr. Kim said. “Since I started it again, every day feels new and I love the thrill of being seen on live TV shows.”
But it doesn’t mean that they get the same screams from the audience that they did in the past. Their appeal has yet to rub off on the young generation, which is about 20 years younger than the group. But they still have old fans, who come to their shows bringing flowers.
“They are very happy that we are back,” Mr. Kim said. “We still try to be on television as much as we can to introduce ourselves to the young generation.”
What is different from the past is not only the number of fans they have, but also the members’ attitude toward music. They’ve become more serious.
“Unlike before, I’ve become obsessed with the quality of our performances,” Mr. Lee said. “I really want to make it perfect. When we were young and immature, we only did what we were told to do. All we needed to do was to look cool and dance well and lip sync.”
The two said they practice singing and dancing very intensely these days since they feel that they are being re-evaluated by the public after many years. “Now, fans have become smarter, and they know when singers are lip syncing,” Mr. Lee said with a chuckle.
Despite their enthusiasm, they still have to face public doubts because of their age.
“Surfing the Web, I found many nasty messages written about us,” Mr. Kim said. ‘Some asked what the hell we were doing being so old and some guessed we must be desperate for money.
“But we came back on stage just because we really wanted to. We missed the spotlight and the feeling of entertaining others. Just because we are older, it doesn’t mean we can’t dance and sing,” he added.
The two said that being older could be advantageous.
“Since I now know the music industry so well, producing music is very easy. All we need to do is practice,” said Mr. Kim.
They have become not only comfortable making music, but also with performing on stage.
“Now we understand what we sing about, because we’ve been through all that,” Mr. Kim said. “We now sing like grown men.”


by Choi Sun-young


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