By Kong Tae-hee, Han Yong-kee
At a time when speed metal had taken over the Korean metal scene, Boo Hwal made a splash in the music world with their Korean-style rock ballad, ``Heeya.'' One of Korea's iconic bands, Boo Hwal's countless hits over the past 25 years include ``The More You Love'' and ``Never Ending Story.''
What does it mean to be a long-time pop musician in Korea? Let's narrow down the question. What does it mean to be a pop musician from the 1980s during a time of rapid development in Korea to the start of the 21st century?
This is a suggestive question. Korea achieved ``compressed development'' in a short period of time in all areas, including the social and economic sectors. An unimaginably rapid speed of development triggered a spiritual imbalance, which resulted in social issues.
``Compressed development'' or ``compressed growth" signifies rapid development achieved in a mere couple decades ― instead of 100 years, the development time of other countries. Korea achieved ``compressed development" in the economic, political, cultural and social sectors and continues to develop today.
What's interesting is that this ``compressed growth" or ``compressed development" spread to areas such as popular music and culture, as well as the economic and social sectors. The public's view of stars has also changed. Korean pop musicians earned success and the public's love, but not necessarily respect as artists nor familiarity among listeners. Both are now required of stars.
To win the public's love in the 21st century, musicians must balance charisma and familiarity. Until the mid 1990s, artists earned the love and respect of the public with a veiled mystery and charisma. But now as we enter the multi-media age, the artist must have both charisma and familiarity, two factors that seem impossible to coexist.
The leader of Boo Hwal, Kim Tae-won, has starred in a KBS variety show ``Qualifications of a Man'' since 2009. Before that, he was known as the charismatic leader of a rock band. He had a powerful, unapproachable image and looked as if he could hit an aspiring singer on the head for saying the wrong thing. His image contributed to the rebellious and charismatic image of all rock bands in the 20th century.
In the show ``Qualifications of a Man,'' Kim Tae-won earned the nickname, ``nation's grandmother." The placement of the word ``nation" before a name or occupation in Korea symbolizes love and respect. And such titles as ``nation's something" are not given simply to those at the top of their field. The fact that baseball player Lee Seung-yeop is still remembered as the ``nation's hitter," despite an unsuccessful year in Japan's Central League, while baseball player Choo Shin-soo was not awarded such a title after an amazing year in the Major League last year, is a good example.
In this regard, Kim Tae-won was successful in earning the nickname ``nation's grandmother." His personal image appealed to a nation, enhancing Boo Hwal's image in the process. Rather than luck, the success of Kim Tae-won's ``nation's grandmother" character can be attributed to his charisma as the leader of a rock band of many hits. With Boo Hwal for 25 years, Kim Tae-won never lost sight of his roots as a musician.
As seen on ``Qualifications of a Man,'' Kim Tae-won is not overly talkative and does not pursue forced laughs. We feel familiar with him as the ``nation's grandmother" and cheer him on when we see him in commercials because his laid back and down-to-earth image is honest. He shows viewers how he is, without exaggeration.
Familiarity and honesty could be the two most respected traits in modern Korean society. Kim Tae-won and Boo Hwal have succeeded in having both, and continue to grow. For the first time, a union of charisma and familiarity was drawn by Boo Hwal, or, to be exact, its leader, Kim Tae-won, in the world of pop music. The result is another form of Korean ``compressed development."
Kong Tae-hee is a program director of OBS Gyengin TV and Han Yong-kee is a PD of Arirang TV. They co-produce ``LIVE H'' that is broadcasted in 188 countries. The program features live concerts to promote Korea's pop culture worldwide and is produced in well-known clubs near Hongdae (Hongik University), the heart of band music.