Music critics pick year’s best comebacks

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Music critics pick year’s best comebacks

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The main music trend of 2014 was the return of 1990s icons. Of the many comebacks, Seo Tai-ji’s ninth album was praised as the most impressive by the majority of music critics because of its candid lyrics in which the singer looked back on his past. Provided by Seo Taiji Company

If last year’s music scene was all about the successful comeback of 64-year-old Cho Yong-pil, often dubbed the king of singers, one theme that defined 2014 was the return of 1990s music icons.

Big names from the decade - such as Kim Dong-ryul, g.o.d., Seo Tai-ji, Toy, Yoon Sang, Lee Seung-hwan and Lee So-ra - all released albums this year and competed with boy and girl groups who have wider fan bases.

But many of the old boys still achieved great success.

These veteran singers also brought much-needed vigor to a scene that is heavily dominated by cookie-cutter idol groups.

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Left: Five-member group g.o.d. reunited after 10 years and proved why they were once dubbed the gukmin band, or the nation’s band. Right: Kim Dong-ryul’s album topped many music charts even though he did not promote it at all. Critics chose his record as the least impressive, however. [JoongAng Ilbo]

In order to wrap up the year, the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, asked eight music critics to summarize what the experienced musicians have excelled in and where they have failed.

Each critic agreed that these skillful singers jazzed up Korean music because releasing physical albums was an unusual move in an industry that revolves around digital singles.

Digital singles are easily consumed but are often overshadowed a day later by another new release.

The songs of veteran singers, however, stayed longer on the music charts compared to those of idol groups.

The 1990s musicians, now in their late 30s and 40s, are also credited for shortening the gap between the young and old generations as their creations gather listeners of various ages together.

And the singers also tried to keep up with the times.

“It was quite meaningful that we could see Seo Tai-ji on ‘Superstar K6’ and Lee Seung-hwan on ‘Hidden Singer,’” said music critic Kim Jak-ga.

“Superstar K6” and “Hidden Singer” are popular modern TV shows in Korea.

Most big names from the 1990s, including Seo and Lee, kept a low profile and did not appear on TV that much during their heyday.

But Kim said singers from the past now know that visually oriented music appeals more to the public than their old styles.

The return of these musicians also encouraged older fans - who used to listen to CDs or radios - to upgrade to more modern means of music consumption.

“Their old fans also made a transition from the classic way of listening music with CDs to downloading music files from music portals,” said Kim.

“And their changing music consumption patterns made the old stars top numerous music charts even after many years.”

The music critics all agreed, however, that none of the singers were experimental or brave enough to raise social issues with their music like they used to.

And some just tried to duplicate their old success.

“It was hard to see their albums as mature creations of masters,” said Park Eun-seok. “The albums still have the musicians’ confusion and agony in them. They need more of an in-depth outcome if they want to be taken seriously as musicians.”

Kang Il-kwon said, “They produced high-quality albums but seemed to be lost between the newest music trend and their old styles.”

Of all the 1990s musicians who resumed their careers this year, four out of the eight critics said that Seo’s ninth album “Christmalo.win” impressed them the most.

According to the critics, Seo used to try his hand at new genres from early in his career and is still challenging himself in the same way.

“The album proved that Seo is a natural-born melody maker,” said Seo Jeong-min.

Diva Lee So-ra was chosen as the most impressive singer of the year.

She’s been singing classical ballads throughout her career, but she tried rock music for the first time on her new album.

“She was willing to become experimental and chose to be an artist rather than making an album that is suitable for the preference of the public,” said Park.

Four of the critics picked Kim Dong-ryul’s newest album “Waling With” as the most disappointing work. Kim’s album instantly topped music charts upon its release in October.

But Kim Bong-hyun was not impressed with his work. “It seems like he copied himself with this album,” the critic said.

“Kim tried to make the album popular rather than approaching the album from a musician’s point of view,” said Kim Ban-ya.


BY KIM HYO-EUN [so@joongang.co.kr]


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