In praise of Cho’s creativity
Age and generation didn’t matter in the celebration of his 19th album, the first in 10 years.
The king of Korean pop music has truly lived up to his reputation.
What has brought the 63-year-old veteran singer back to center stage? His tireless efforts, passion and brilliantly creative mind.
He has been unrivaled and unquestioned in his top status in popular music for 40 years and yet has never grown too comfortable.
He kept on challenging himself and created new music, helping to broaden the spectrum of Korean pop music. He was his own biggest rival.
While Cho pursued aesthetic perfection, he studied and included the public and audience. As a result, he found music that struck the right note with contemporary fans. The innovation and balance he demonstrated won both critical and popular appreciation across generations.
His creativity is not a simple melting pot of self-innovation and harmony with popular sentiment.
He proved himself an expert in incorporating unique Korean ethos with modern Western music. He cleverly balanced both without tilting to one side.
The mysteriously harmonious blend accentuated uniqueness in his music. The great poet Cho Ji-hoon emphasized that the best of Korean art can be derived from harmony.
Revolution, harmony, convergence and creativity can describe the country’s love of Cho Yong-pil. The sea encompasses rivers from all corners and yet does not lose its original color.
Cho’s revolutionary creativity helped invent and reinvent what can be popular. His songs have never been exclusive to a certain generation, musical genre or fan base. They outlived the times, comforting hearts across the years. They are like celebrated films that we return to time after time for comfort and healing. This is why art is timeless.
Cho is critically acclaimed and unmatched in broadness in musical genre and vocal dimensions. But his wide use of hearts and themes is more astonishing. His songs embody the sentiments of our everyday lives. Yet they are expressed not in emotional outbursts, but more through mysterious depth and modest poignancy that emanate purifying art.
Only a master of art is capable of maintaining the sense of balance and empathy of reading and understanding the pains and feelings of others as if they are his own.
His music inspires innocence and sends us to our feet to scream, sing along and dance. His concert becomes a ceremony for the entire crowd and his song a chorus of the entire audience.
What’s amazing is that his songs and lyrics touching on sadness and happiness, desperation and hope, pain and dreams, weariness and desire, love and loneliness, lightness and heaviness somehow end up unburdening and cleansing our hearts.
It is like the sense of relief and refreshment we get after sobbing out loud and letting out a well of tears. It is thanks to his deftness in containing and expressing the pure essence of human lives through his tunes and lyrics.
He bears the poetic sentiment of capturing and epitomizing emotions in condensed and resonating musical language.
Refined poetic sensitivity can be life’s biggest inspiration. Literary critic Kim Woo-chang celebrated the emergence of new poets and artists during the time Cho made his debut 40 years ago with the rise of less direct, less simple poetic sensitivity and finer understanding of the inner world.
Refined poetic sensitivity refers to empathy for others and yet discipline to oneself. Despite his legendary status in the musical world, Cho remained humble and common to life, which moves us more.
Cho says, “Music is not work but life to me.” His devotion went on refining his music and voice regardless of his age. In letters he failed to send, Vincent van Gogh wrote that genuine painters can only speak through paintings.
The great artist believed his works represent all of his toil, soul and life. It is why his works are lauded as magnum opus.
Life is like a song. You are the author and composer of your life. It is one and only music.
We must be passionate about our life. My songs may not be understood or appreciated.
But we must struggle to keep our voice. Our song is unfinished and so is our life.
Translation by Korea JoongAng Daily staff
*The author is a professor at Yonsei University and a visiting professor at Free University of Berlin.
by Park Myung-rim