This week, North and South Korea will attempt to improve relations through the one thing that has the power to unite people regardless of politics, personal opinions, or race: K-pop.
A carefully selected delegation of K-pop musicians have travelled to North Korea to perform for Kim Jong-un: an example of diplomacy through soft power. While Kim was reportedly enamoured with girl group Red Velvet, there were many other notable South Korean artists on the trip. Here are five that you should listen to.
Cho Yong-pil is, by many accounts, the godfather of K-pop. Having made his debut way back in 1968, Cho’s music has graced South Korea’s airwaves consistently since, and he's had a chart-topping song for every decade. However, it is his ability to synthesise and create a uniquely Korean sound of his own that makes him worthy of the title. Cho’s song Short Hair has appeared in many K-dramas and movies, including last years’s A Taxi Driver.
I Will Always Miss You
Lee Sun-hee released her first record in 1985, a fresh-faced rookie whose boyish appearance belied her girlish singing. Thirty-three years on, she is now the reigning diva in Korean pop music, whose voice is as undiminished as her star power. Because she rarely makes media appearances, her five-episode stint on the variety show Fantastic Duo made waves, with audiences voting her back episode after episode just to hear her singing on TV again.
I Will Always Miss You is from 1988, and it earned her a resurgence of attention after it was used in famed K-drama Reply in1988.
I am a Butterfly
Yoon Do-hyun is somewhat of a rarity. While most international fans of K-pop boy bands and girl groups prefer to see them perform dance routines over playing instruments, Yoon Do-hyun has unabashedly gone the other way, and plays his music with his band, YB. Interestingly, YB is the first and only rock band to have performed in North Korea in 2002. I am a Butterfly is one of their most famous songs, and truly an anthem that all audiences - young and old - can sing along to.
Like Being Hit by a Bullet
Baek Ji-young debuted in 1999, and her earlier work was in the dance genre. She was among the first to feature Latin-influenced grooves, and it was not until four albums later that Baek truly found fame through singing ballads. Since then, she has contributed songs to the soundtracks of numerous Korean dramas, including Secret Garden, Iris, and Gu Family Book. Despite her extensive ballad discography, Like Being Hit by a Bullet is definitely the standout: a heart-wrenching torch song about the pain of breaking up.
The youngest of the list, this singer debuted in 2002 when rap duo Leessang featured her in their song, Rush. Since then, Jung-in’s raspy style has become instantly recognisable in the K-pop sphere, and has collaborated with artists like Tablo, Clazziquai, and Dynamic Duo. This sentimental duet with Leessang’s (and formerly Running Man’s) Gary is the perfect introduction to her unique style.