Worrying about cultural exports

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Worrying about cultural exports

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I often watch the audition program “K-pop Star” on SBS. It is a singing competition, but I am not interested in great singing. I like to see the challenges, efforts and progress of the young contestants. When one of them is eliminated, I feel bad for the contestant, but then it is better for them, in a way, as it is valuable to realize that not everyone who likes to sing can become a professional singer.

But during the last episode, I was truly moved by a song presented by one of the contestants. Hong Jeong-hee sang “About Romance,” a song popularized 20 years ago by Choi Baek-ho. “Yes, this was one of our songs,” I thought. I was so deeply impressed that, when she was eliminated, I couldn’t help but cry. Judge Park Jin-young, who is supposed to be an “expert,” said he didn’t feel moved. But I was genuinely touched, perhaps because I am not an expert and probably because I am old-fashioned.

That suddenly reminded me of an incident I was involved in. Four years ago, I was in charge of “Chef Battle,” a JoongAng Ilbo series that advocated the globalization of Korean cuisine. A team prepared Western-style steak using Korean beef, and all the tasters were speechless. I never had such a profound experience tasting beef. But the other team won.

Of course, the winning team did a great job applying Korean cooking, using delicacies from various regions and coming up with a unique idea. They fit the goal of globalizing Korean cuisine, so they deserved the title.

However, I am curious who would have won if we had just judged the dishes by taste and skill. Why weren’t we focusing on the taste when it was a cooking competition? We may have been obsessed with our sense of mission. We felt obliged to advocate Korean cuisine and the need to make our traditional gastronomy international, so we didn’t give points for superb taste and ingredients.

Now that I think about it, it’s been a while since I listened to music. I am delighted to hear of the overseas success of Korean pop stars. But I am not familiar with their music and, frankly, the latest pop music doesn’t impress me. But “K-pop Star” reminded me that there is Korean music by talented Korean singers that addresses our emotions.

I wonder if we have given up on traditional music because foreign fans like sophisticated K-pop sounds, integrating soul, R&B and hip-hop. Because it is hard to share the underlying sentiment while we share the trend, we may have sacrificed our own spirit out of the obsession to export Korean culture. Have we disregarded old-fashioned music while pursuing sophistication? Has this sophisticated music made us happy?

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 12, Page 35

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By YANG SUNNY

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