Kim Hyun-chul returns with some new friends: The singer often cited as popularizing city pop in Korea is back with ‘Sail’
Veteran singer and producer Kim Hyun-chul just released his first full-length album in 13 years, and he’s brought an entire army of Korea’s leading artists along with him.
Girl group Mamamoo, power vocalist Baek Z Young and indie rock bands Se So Neon and Rooftop Moonlight are a few of the nearly dozen artists who lent their voice to Kim’s 10th album “Sail,” released Sunday.
The album is densely packed with 17 new songs that Kim composed and arranged himself, rare in today’s local music industry when artists often get by with only releasing singles and EPs.
“I’m so amazed that I can release this album. For a long time, I thought that I would end my singing career with just nine albums,” Kim said during a conference on Wednesday, where he took time to break down the album track by track for the press.
One of the biggest changes that Kim is bringing to his music this year, which also marks the 30th anniversary of his debut and his 50th birthday, is shifting his focus onto the people around him, not just himself.
“During the first three albums that I released in my 20s I acted like I was the best, but as I grew older, I began to better understand my own abilities and limits,” he explained. “I feel smaller now than before, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m just trying to create things using the talents that I have, and share the stories of others.”
“When I look back on the past 30 years, I think I was able to come this far only through the support of my fans and the media who helped me ‘set sail,’” Kim added, explaining his decision to name the album “Sail.” “I thought it was time to raise my own sail now as a way of returning the favor.”
Although “Sail” includes nostalgic folk songs and sorrowful ballads, more than anything, the album shares a message of hope and encouragement.
“Sail” starts off with Kim singing “Blue Sail,” a remake of the 1986 hit track by Korean folk duo “Poet and Village Chief” (translated), which inspired Kim with optimism for a better life when he first heard it as a high school student, the singer revealed.
Tracks “We Can Fly High” and “Flower” also encourage his listeners, especially younger listeners, to not give up despite challenges and remember how valuable their lives are.
“It’s become a big issue in recent days, but young people who seem to have a bright future often decide to end their own lives,” Kim said as he explained the motive behind writing “Flower.”
“When you ask a flower whether it knows it’s a flower, it might not, and only realize it after its petals fall. But I want to tell everyone they are a beautiful flower.”
Kim sings in both “We Can Fly High” and “Flower,” but for over half the tracks in “Sail,” he hands over the microphone to other artists. While some are old acquaintances, others featured on the album are emerging artists in their 20s who Kim had to search for online in order to get their company phone numbers and ask if they could collaborate.
“I think getting to know the people you work with is part of the music-making process,” he said.
Lee Kyung-eun, his wife of 17 years, contributed to writing the lyrics of the track “Don’t Leave Me Alone,” where Kim sings of the couple’s steadfast love for one another.
Since releasing his last full-length album “Talk About Love” in 2006 and becoming a father of two, Kim had spent a long time away from music and kept himself busy by working as a radio D.J. and professor, managing his own entertainment agency and making TV appearances.
However, an encounter with a young musician inspired Kim to pick up music again.
“I’ll never forget it. When I was taking a break, George approached me saying that he wanted to remake my 1989 song ‘After A Long Time.’ I really liked his version, and I decided to make music myself after hearing it. Sometimes it’s the young artists who inspire older musicians.”
Kim invited George to sing the track “Drive” on “Sail.” Five of the songs on the album, including “Drive,” were actually released on a preview for “Sail” titled “Fe’s 10th” earlier this year, which also contained the love ballad “Two Girls Love a Man” sung by Mamamoo’s Wheein and Hwasa.
Kim has a lot he wants to offer fans on his debut anniversary. He’s set to hold concerts at the CKL Stage in Jung District, central Seoul, from Thursday through Saturday, and also release “Sail” as vinyl records next month. The singer also hinted that he would release a new album sometime next spring, inspired by music from artists even older than him, like Jung Mi-jo and Choi Baek-ho.
The industry is getting ready to greet Kim with a royal welcome as well. Radio program “MBC FM4U Artist Special” will air a four-hour special on the singer, during which it will play Kim’s most beloved hits and invite the artist to sing live.
Kim’s return coincides with the resurgence of “city pop” in Korea’s music scene, something the singer has been credited for popularizing in the country. The genre, characterized by its 1980s-style soft jazz tones, has been recently taken up by young artists like Heize and Baek Ye-rin and also reappear in “Sail.”
“My colleagues and I didn’t make this type of music, it was the times that we were living in that created it,” Kim said. “People say that young listeners today like city pop, but I think it’s rather that the era we live in now that likes it. I’m thankful that I’m living in times like these.”
BY KIM EUN-JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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