[FOUNTAIN]Unfair censors put blame on popular singer

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[FOUNTAIN]Unfair censors put blame on popular singer

Veteran singer Lee Mi-ja is considered to have the voice of the century. In her sixties, she still has a soulful voice that touches the sentiment of Koreans. Without a pretty face, she has ruled the pop scene for decades with her voice alone. Her fans call her “Queen of Elegy.”
She might be a born singer, but she was not born a queen. Since her debut in 1959 with the smash hit, “Naivety of Nineteen,” she has released over 2,000 songs, 400 of which were hits. However, she had to overcome her share of hardships.
In the 1960s, her songs were criticized as being influenced by Japanese pop songs. The military government that came into power after a coup in 1961 installed a broadcasting ethics committee and imposed strict censorship on the media and popular culture items. The committee also censored song lyrics, and it banned Lee’s “Girl of Camellia.”
“For more nights she can count, the girl of Camellia suffered from heartache, and shed tears. Tired from longing and tired from crying, the petals are bruised in bloody red.” How come the committee found the lyrics about the loss of love that sound like a cliche today be in a Japanese style?
When Korea-Japan normalization talks were underway in the 1960s, students and citizens were protesting all over the streets of Seoul. On June 22, 1965, when the normalization treaty was signed, the Park Chung Hee administration needed to appease the public.
The broadcasting ethics committee decided to ban the widely popular “Girl of Camellia” in order to counter anti-government sentiment. The song is now considered to have played the role of a scapegoat. However, Ms. Lee lost her song and was left with a red bruise. Ironically, one of the committee members was Lee Heung-ryeol, who composed songs for imperial Japan in the last days of the Japanese occupation.
When the documents concerning the normalization treaty of 1965 were released after 40 years, the victims were reminded of painful memories.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Association of Writers for National Literature presented Lee Mi-ja, the “Girl of Camellia” herself, with a friendship award for her achievement as a popular musician and in national literature. The writers recognized that she had stood by the struggling Koreans in the hard times, singing songs to encourage them.


by Chung Jae-suk

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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