[ENTERTAINMENT]Not What He Sings, But the Way He Sings ItThe first South Korean singer ever to stage a solo concert in North Korea, Dr. Lee, has released a new album, "Pak-sa Revolution." Last year, he swept the nation － attracting young and old alike － with his easy-listening melodies spiced with comic narrative. In a Tuesday interview with the Joong-Ang Ilbo English Edition, he said, "I live my life exuberantly, and through my music I want my audience to as well."
The first impression on seeing him in person is that he looks too "aged" to entertain the young generation. Despite his funky clothes and hair dyed in the latest fashions, his crow's feet would seem to bar him from youth appeal. But once he gets on stage, he is a different person. His hilarious stage manner means it takes only a few seconds for him to break the ice.
Born in 1954 in Kyonggi province, he was influenced by his parents' enjoyment of traditional music. He tried to follow a musical career, starting out as a rocker, only to find it wasn't his cup of tea.
Later, he came to Seoul, pursuing a string of occupations to survive. One of them included working as a group tour guide. As Korean tour culture dictates, he had to "entertain" his (mostly middle-aged) parties, including performing rousing songs on the tour bus. And that was the part that he was exceptionally good at.
With his repertoire of comic ad-libbing and storytelling, he started to make his name. In 1989, he was offered the chance to release an album. It was in the style of bbongjjak or teuroteu (Korean pronunciation of "trot"), the favorite of middle-aged listeners in Korea, but it was not a big success.
Then in 1995, he got a chance of a lifetime － to release another album, this time in Japan. Suddenly he and his music － formerly regarded as unmarketable among the young － struck gold among Japanese youth. He built up a fan base of about 20,000 Japanese youths, some of whom were even spurred to learn Korean.
The Korean music industry got curious. It found out that the secret of his success was traditional music plus a touch of techno dance music. At last, in 2000, his talents gained exposure on the Korean music scene. His album, "Shinbaram Dr. Lee," sold over 200,000 copies in Korea alone. He has now even appeared in a couple of TV commercials. In the new two-CD release, he adds a dash of Korean traditional music, such as pansori, to new versions of previously released songs.
Interestingly, he spurns the pursuit of critical acclaim for his music. "Music is all about relieving stress. After all, life is beautiful and we should learn how to entertain ourselves. I will not stick to any specific type of music. As long as it's something enjoyable, that will do."
But for now, his music, made solely for the fun of it, does entertain the Korean Peninsula.
by Chun Su-jin