Young singers are hot to ‘trot’
As it is one of the country’s original types of popular music, a trot performance has its own formula. Male crooners usually wear spangled suits in gaudy colors while female singers opt for flamboyant gowns that are far from everyday dresses.
They mostly sing about love, life, loss, and sometimes filial duty, with a heady nasal sound. Their voices fluctuate irregularly in order to add a vibrating quality, which can sometimes sound very unnatural.
Thus, when Jang Yoon-jeong released her first studio album in 2004 when she was in her mid-20s, it was a sensation. The singer sang about love and life with straightforward lyrics, unlike her senior predecessors.
“With Jang, the nation’s trot genre has come a long way,” said music critic Kim Heon-sik. “Everyone, even children who were as young as 6 or 7 years old, sang Jang’s debut song.”
Jang has said on multiple TV talk shows in the past that she did not think about becoming a trot singer after winning the top honor from a now defunct yet influential singing competition for college students in 1999 with a ballad.
But the country’s music industry was too tough for her to break into, so she eventually decided to sing the trot song “Oh My Goodness” as her debut after being convinced by the head of her agency.
Apparently, she cried for three days after making the decision, but it paid off - her debut trot album led her to become one of the country’s highest-paid singers.
Trot was once considered the least-preferred Korean music genre for young singers, but that is changing, largely thanks to Jang.
Most recently, Lizzy, a member of girl group After School, released her first solo song “Not an Easy Woman,” which is a trot song.
There was no reason for the 23-year-old singer to be experimental because has she already carved out a name for herself as a member of After School and its offshoot, Orange Caramel.
But she was willing to sing a trot tune and even chose to showcase her new digital single on “Nationwide Singing Contest,” which is one of the country’s longest-running music shows and tends to cater to people in their 60s, 70s and 80s.
It is rare for a K-pop star to debut on the contest, which first began airing in 1980.
Lizzy recently said during an interview with MBN Star, a local online entertainment news agency, “I loved to sing trot songs since I was young and I also became a member of After School after I passed an audition by singing a trot song.”
She continued, “You know, idol music is short-lived, so I wanted to challenge myself to something new. I also thought trot music would stay longer in the music market compared to idol music.”
Lizzy is not the first K-pop act to try her hand at the genre. Before her, Daesung of K-pop boy group Big Bang released the digital single “Look at Me, Gwisun” in 2008.
The song was composed by G-Dragon, another member of Big Bang. When it was released in 2008, YG Entertainment, Daesung’s agency, said it had no plans to make a music video for it because it was produced as a one-time event for fans of the boy group.
But the upbeat song became a hit, and Daesung even released it in Japanese. About a year after “Look at Me, Gwisun” was released, Daesung also brought out another trot song.
“Jang surely made the trot industry much younger than before,” said Kim, the music critic. “After her, the trot industry became more experimental and added a younger aspect by releasing upbeat trot songs that could appeal to younger fans.”
Lizzy and Daesung released their trot songs after they earned recognition as K-pop acts, but some younger trot singers chose the genre as a desperate last try, just like Jang.
Hong Jin-young, who is a prolific singer and a star on many reality TV shows, first started out in 2007 as a member of a girl group. But her band failed to impress K-pop fans.
Yet she bounced back by transitioning from a former girl group member to a trot singer by releasing “Love Battery” in 2009.
Now she appears in many TV shows, including the reality program “We Got Married,” in which she pairs up as one half of a fake celebrity couple with actor Namgoong Min.
Trot duo Wink also debuted in show business as comedians, but the identical twins received little success. Eventually, they released a trot album under the stage name Wink in 2008, which reaped decent success.
Of all the young trot singers, Park Hyun-bin is one of a few who chose the genre from the very beginning of his career. The singer released his debut album in 2006 and instantly soared to stardom because the trot industry was heavily dominated by male performers in their 60s and 70s back then.
“The local music market has a limited number of people who are willing to purchase music,” said Lee Taek-gwang, a culture critic and professor of English language and literature at Kyung Hee University.
“The main consumers are mostly young people, but trot music has its own market, just like idol music, and it even has a fan base overseas. For this reason, singers want to try the genre out for money, fame and their career.”
BY SUNG SO-YOUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]