2019 brought diverse Korean music to Hawaii

By Nadine Kam I

Hawaii isn’t exactly overflowing with concerts by national artists, and certainly not Korean performers, but looking back, this has been a banner year.

First, Up10tion appeared at The Republik on June 9, though without Kim Woo Seok and Lee Jin Hyuk because they were in the midst of “Produce X 101” filming.

Then in August we welcomed eSNa and Ladies Code’s Ashley Choi and Lee So Jung, who performed at the Korean Festival in Kakaako.

More recently, the winners of the “Miss Trot” Korean survival show staged powerful performances at Hawai’i Convention Center on Nov. 15. Joining winner Song Ga In were Kim So Yoo, Jung Da Kyung, Sook Haeng, Hong Ja and Jung Mi Ae.

I wasn’t a fan of trot because it is such an old-fashioned style of singing, derived from enka during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the early 1900s. It was the music of assimilation that began to die out with the rise of K-pop in the 1960s, but it seems to be making a comeback with a younger generation.

To give you an idea of the idiosyncratic nature of this phenomenon, it would be similar to a mass of Americans starting to sing big band, swing and boogie woogie music. I really don’t think that’s gonna happen anytime soon.

🎧: Song Ga In and Miss Trot concert finale

🎧: Jung Da Kyung and Sook Haeng

I was really intrigued by Miss Trot winner Song Ga In’s cool “Fame” collaboration with controversial hiphop/rap artist MC Mong, and when I went to the concert I thoroughly enjoyed the mostly upbeat, strong vocal performances. Only Hong Ja sang the sort of melancholy songs that give this genre a bad name since these days everyone seems to want to be happy, not depressed.

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👁: Jay Park “SEXY 4EVA” at Hawaii Theatre

Then, a few weeks ago, former 2PM artist Jay Park wowed the crowd at Hawaii Theatre. I didn’t know too much about his music, so did a whole lot of cramming ahead of time, watching all his latest music vids. I’m more of an R&B than hiphop/rap fan, so thought, oh well, I’ll just go see what he’s about.

I was totally blown away by his performance. He really proved himself to be one of those prized all-rounders, great at singing, dance, rap and personal style.

The audience was so loud, they came close to drowning him out. Before the show, we were warned that we were not to take photos or video of the show. If they saw our phones light up, they said we would be escorted out. I wasn’t about to lose my phone or seat, so planned to be behaved. Well, as soon as he hit the stage, all the phones went up. They would have had to throw the whole audience out.

The concert was so amazing at one point I rushed the stage. There was a crazy girl next to me though, screaming “I love you” at Jay (hers is the voice in my video) and trying to crawl on top of her friend to get on stage. At one point I was clobbered on the head, so I decided to retreat.

After the show, my friends and I had to walk past the stage entrance to get to our cars so we decided to wait and see him exit. There had been a meet-and-greet that I could have attended, but unfortunately I thought it would be after the show. But when I got there I was told he had to fly out to Seattle immediately after the show, so the meet-and-greet had already taken place. Sad. Anyway, I’ll definitely go see him again if he comes back next year. It seems like he loves Hawaii enough to do that. And there are certainly enough people eager to welcome him.

And the year is not over. Coming up at 8 p.m. Dec. 27, Dok2 will be appearing at The Republik. The South Korean rapper launched his first solo U.S. tour Dec. 6. Tickets are on sale at eventbrite.com for
$47.12 to $131.22.

Miss Trot coming to Hawaii

By Nadine Kam I

Miss Trot Hawaii Concert 2019
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 15
Where: Hawai’i Convention Center
Tickets: $35 to $250 at eventbrite, Palama Supermarket, Fabric Mart, 88 Supermarket, Tournet Hawaii or call 808.922.1122.

Miss Trot Hawaii is coming to town. It’s a concert featuring Song Ga In (featured in the promotional photo), the winner of the popular South Korean entertainment survival show, “Miss Trot,” plus five runner-ups voted by judges in the “American Idol”-style show. Joining Song will be Jung Mi Ae, Hong Ja, Jung Da Kyung, Sook Haeng and Kim So Yu.

By now you may wondering what is trot. It’s a form of music that originated in Korea in the early 20th century under Japanese colonial rule, when elites tried to mimic the latest Japanese styles due to forced assimilation and trot emerged as a melding of Japanese and Western music. As a matter of survival, Koreans had to pretend they didn’t like more traditional forms of art, music and dance. At this time, many Korean elites also adopted Japanese names. It was a sad time in Korean history, and current political friction stems from an inability to forgive Japan for atrocities dating to 1910.

In Korea, trot is known as ppongjjak, recognized by its repetitive rhythm and distinct vocal inflections. It continued to be popular into the 1960s, but became passé with the rise of K-pop, that made it feel like your dad or granddad’s music.

It has a really old-fashioned, dramatic vocal style that sounds its age, at nearly 100 years old, but what makes it interesting and topical is that Miss Trot winner Song Ga In recently collaborated with controversial artist MC Mong on his comeback album, “Channel8,” and she’s come under fire for that association.

🎧 Here’s the MV for “Fame” with Song’s vocal dominating the end:

Mong has been persona non grata in South Korea for eight years because he had pulled out half his teeth to avoid mandatory two-year military service. Apparently, those with poor health, including those without a minimum number of teeth, are exempt from service. For evading the draft, he was sentenced to a six month suspended jail term, one year probation, and 120 hours of community service. To date, his attempts at a comeback has been thwarted by negative sentiments and protests of anti-fans who have managed to block his appearances.

Will this time make a difference?

Well, online comments regarding his latest attempt has been just as negative as ever, with statements like, “All these thugs are the same … they come crawling out like cockroaches once they run out of money” and “Ok. We’ve seen it. You can go back now.”

But perhaps young listeners who don’t know his back story will have more say. His title track, “Fame,” is ranked No. 1 on Melon and “Channel,” featuring Park Bom (who has also come under fire for her participation on his record), is ranked No. 2. 

The fusion of genres in his song, “Fame” (about regret and guilt, with the message to be humble) is really cool so I can see why Song wanted to do it, to reach a whole new audience that otherwise would not be interested in trot. I think the TV show became popular for that reason. Today’s young generation is just not used to hearing that kind of powerful vocal so it sounds fresh compared to the high-pitched, nasally whine of so many K-pop girl groups.