[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]Legends from different ages meet differing fatesJan. 31, 1996
If you spent your teens in the 1990s in Korea, you must have been a fan of Seo Tai-ji and Boys. And on this date, you must have been crying a river after hearing the news that the group was disbanding.
After a 1992 debut with the now legendary single “Nan Arayo” (I Know), Seo Tai-ji and Boys became a phenomenal success. As the first dance group to introduce rap style, Seo Tai-ji and Boys simply took teenagers by storm.
Nobody imagined the group would get so big ― when the band first performed on TV, the audience gave them only 80 out of 100 points for their future success. The song “I Know” was not about something profound, but only about a lost love. After its debut, however, it didn’t take long for the group to conquer the Korean pop scene. Samsung Economic Research Institute described Seo Tai-ji and Boys as the biggest “hit products” since Korea’s 1945 liberation from Japanese colonial rule.
The group’s popularity was not a passing fad. Continuing to release albums, the band cemented its reputation with songs like “Pilseung” (A Sure Victory) whose lyrics to a rock rhythm included, “Enough! Such sermons are enough!” Its songs were not just trite love songs, but dealt with more philosophical themes. In songs like “Balhae-reul Kkumkkumyeo” (Dreaming of Balhae), the group sang about the reunification of North and South Korea, filming a music video in ruins in the Demilitarized Zone, which later became a tourist attraction. Its albums sold more than 6 million copies, a huge success on the Korean pop music scene back then. No wonder it came as a shock when the group said it was disbanding.
Seo aficionados did not want to believe the news, yet they had to, when the group members showed up for an official announcement on this date. Saying, “If you’re locked up in a cage, you’re going to sing only the same song,” Seo Tai-ji and Boys disappeared into history, just like that. But fans refused to face reality and some even fell into a state of panic. Rumors spread that gangsters forced Seo to quit music. More than 1,000 fans crowded his house near Sinchon, giving out flowers and presents, crying or yelling out, “Please don’t go.”
TV networks in the mean time received phone calls from fans (and their parents), sometimes threatening or begging. A fanatical teenage girl sent a note to a newspaper which read, “When Seo Tai-ji actually retires, I’m ready to commit suicide.” Seo Tai-ji and Boys, however, remained a legend.
But part of the legend came back. Seo Tai-ji started to release albums, the latest being last year, and performing live shows. Meanwhile the other two members started running their own music talent agencies.
Feb. 1, 1882
Jo Man-sik was a Gandhi-like figure in the independence movement against Japanese colonial rule. Born on this date in a small town in South Pyeongan province, now in North Korea, Mr. Jo was deeply instilled with Gandhi’s philosophy of peaceful resistance. His idealism, however, did not meet a happy end, in the turmoil of the times.
Becoming a Christian at a school in his hometown, Mr. Jo went to Japan, where he studied English before majoring in law at Meiji University. Coming back home in 1913, Mr. Jo took part in the national uprising against colonial rule in 1919 and ended up serving a one-year prison sentence. After his release, he maintained a strong presence as an activist, taking the initiative in a number of activities against the colonial government. He also took a leading role in the Christian community, and was named president of the Chosun Ilbo, an influential daily newspaper. He kept his no-violence, no-resistance and no-subordination principles.
After the long-awaited liberation from colonial rule, Mr. Jo went to Pyeongyang, today’s North Korean capital, where his goal was to oppose the trusteeship being imposed by the Soviet Union and the United States. However, he only ended up being imprisoned again. After the country was divided, Mr. Jo refused to come to the South. No details are known about his death, with reports that communists shot him in 1950.
by Chun Su-jin