Korea’s ballad king celebrates 20 years

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Korea’s ballad king celebrates 20 years

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Shin Seung-hun Provided by Dorothy Music


As a singer whose romantic ballads have not only been part of some of Korea’s most popular films and television dramas but have also become songs of love for countless couples, Shin Seung-hun has one of the most recognizable voices in the country.

Shin celebrated the 20th anniversary since his first album was released back in 1990 with the release of a new album featuring his greatest hits and covers of his songs by some of the biggest names in the Korean music industry. He will follow that up with an 11-city tour of Korea and a six-city tour of major cities around the world.

With so many achievements, one would think Shin would be ready to sit back and enjoy his success.

But as he celebrates his 20th year of making music, he said he is still hungry for more.

“At first, I didn’t want to make a big deal about my 20th anniversary,” Shin said. “But with this album, I wanted to look back on the path I’ve taken until now.”

His new album, “20th Anniversary: Best Collection & Tribute,” was released on Nov. 1 - the same day his first album was released 20 years ago.

The album contains two CDs, the first of which features a new song, “You Are So Beautiful,” as well as 12 of the artist’s previous hits. The second disc contains covers of Shin’s songs by other artists - including 2AM, Clazziquai, Psy, Davichi, Jung Yup of Brown Eyed Soul, Supreme Team and Navi - who pay tribute to Shin’s work with their own versions of his songs.

The hip-hop version of “Romeo and Juliet” by the Supreme Team, Psy’s cover of “Emergency,” and 2AM’s cover of “For You, Goodbye” provide a fresh take on Shin’s sound, which is characterized by beautiful melodies and heartfelt lyrics.

Shin has written most of his songs himself, and he did not grant the rights to the songs to other singers until the idea for the anniversary album came up.

But he says his decision to produce the album has helped revitalized his career. He talked about how the process of having other artists record his songs has shed new light on his own music and given him a new focus.

“Revisiting my songs, I was able to get back in touch with the emotions and feelings that went into recording them,” Shin said. “It also allowed me to see the changes that I have gone through over time.

“After hearing the way the other artists interpreted my songs, I was very surprised to hear the different styles they brought to my music. It was enough to make me rethink everything. I’ve decided that I should allow more of my fellow musicians to sing my songs.”

Some of Shin’s songs were also covered by four Superstar K finalists at a concert held on Oct. 30 and 31, where the singer appeared on stage with the finalists. Superstar K is a music talent show similar to American Idol.

The legendary singer kicked off his long and prosperous career in 1990 with the song, “Reflection of Your Smile.”

His second album, “Invisible Love,” which was released on Nov. 11, 1991, has been one of his most successful to date. The title track was No. 1 for 14 weeks on the SBS music ranking program, “Popular Music,” and the song made it into the Korean Guinness Book of Records for spending the most weeks at No. 1.

That began Shin’s reign as the “ballad king” as he set a series of other records.

With the release of his self-titled sixth album in 1998, Shin set an Asian record for selling 10 million copies in the shortest amount of time.

When he released his seventh album “Desire to Fly High,” Shin set a similar record - but this time for 14 million copies. Shin is also the first Korean singer to have seven consecutive million-seller albums.

Despite his success, the one criticism he has faced over the years is that he is “just a ballad singer.”

He responded to this was the song, “The Unwritten Legend,” which was released in 2000 as part of his seventh album. Its light, African-inspired rhythm plays to lyrics that are meant to inspire.

It was a rather daring move considering the success he had achieved with the sound on his six previous albums.

But for Shin, it wasn’t so much a risk as part of his long-standing interest in experimentation.

“I’m a singer-songwriter and I wish sometimes that people would take more of an interest in my song writing,” Shin said. “They tend to remember me only as a singer. But I’ve worked in a variety of genres in my career.”

But his time in the limelight faded somewhat in 2004, so he ventured into a new market - Japan.

He recorded a new version of his single “I Believe” in Japanese and the song quickly went to No. 20 on Japan’s highly trusted Oricon daily-singles chart, a relatively high position for a foreign song. His subsequent releases there have never gone below that.

“I was able to experience the thrill of what it is like to start your career all over again,” Shin said of I Believe and his experience in Japan.

Over the years, it seems there is little Shin hasn’t done as a musician. His 10 albums have sold millions of copies and he has won numerous awards for his songs and albums.

But he said that he is still not satisfied.

“No matter how difficult it is to survive in the music industry these days, I want to just keep doing what I do best,” Shin said. “I think that is something that a singer of my experience should be able to do.”

Shin plans to celebrate his 20th anniversary with his fans. He will kick off a national tour to 11 cities that starts in Goyang, Gyeonggi, on Nov. 27 and 28. He will follow that tour up with a six-city tour at the beginning of next year that includes Tokyo, Osaka, Los Angeles and Sydney.


By Jeong Gang-hyun [estyle@joongang.co.kr]
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