If you are a parent of a rap-obsessed teenage son or daughter and have ever tried to have fun with them at a noraebang (karaoke room), chances are, you have realized how difficult it is to bridge the generation gap through songs.
This cannot be the case in Korea only, but here, the emotional gap could be especially wide because we have trot music - arguably a traditional Korean pop music genre, which has long been popular among older adults but has largely been detested by young Koreans. Well, this was until the new generation of young trot singers exploded into fame, most notably Jang Yoon-jung, 27, whose debut single "Eomeona! (Oh My Goodness!)" has brought a lot of young people out to listen to trot music.
Although there were far younger trot singers than Jang (like Moon Hee-ok who made her trot singer debut when she was a high school student), the debut of the pretty-faced Jang with versatile vocal ability - she won the grand prize in a 1999 Riverside Song Festival in Seoul with the Latin dance number "Naeane Neo (You Inside Me)" - was sensational enough to encourage many more young and attractive singers to get into the trot music scene, including Park Hyun-bin, 24, and the girl group LPG.
<**1>"With simple and easy melodies and lyrics, trot songs are ideal vehicles to convey various human emotions," Jang said in an interview. "But more than that, (they are) the type of songs I`ve found pleasant to sing.
Such unprecedented success of the young trot singer has even attracted Super Junior, a 12-man boy band best known for their powerful dance routines and harmonies, to the trot music scene. Half of the members - Lee Teuk, Sung Min, Kang In, Hee Chul, Eun Hyuk and Shin Dong - formed a group within the group, Super Junior T, last month and released their first trot single "Rokkuguh."
"I remember Kim Soo-hee`s `Aemo,` which is my mom`s all-time favorite song, beat Taeji Boys` `Hayeoga` to top a weekly KBS chart in the early `90s," said Eun Hyuk, 20, who once competed with his former schoolmate Xiah Junsoo of Asia`s top boy band Dong Bang Shin Ki to be the best dancer in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province.
"Trot is like the Korean version of hip hop music. It`s always direct in tone of voice and message," added Kang In.
For many Super Junior fans, their trot singer debut sounded almost like an insult to the Korean rock spirit, if not a kind of cult comedy. It took, however, only three days for the new sextet to top the weekly album sales chart. Ironically, "Rokkuguh" (the reverse of "Guhkkuro," which means "reverse" in Korean) sounds like "Rock Go."
"Frankly, trot songs are not easy for me to sing because there are so many vibrations in them," said Lee Teuk, the leader of the entire Super Junior group. "But I think the songs have power to make everyone feel upbeat."
Many argue over the origin of trot music, saying that the genre was born under the heavy influences of Japanese Enka songs, and thus it falls short of becoming a traditional Korean pop music genre. "Highway Stars," a recent film about a rocker-turned-trot singer is in fact a remake of the 1997 Japanese film "Saran-Q No Enka No Hanamichi." The Enka singer in the Japanese film has been replaced by the trot singer in "Highway Stars."
Still, though, many argue that today`s trot songs are in the tradition of Korean pop music because the style of singing in trot has transformed dramatically into something uniquely Korean over the past few decades as a result of ceaseless experiments by trot singers and song writers.
"Any musical element can be transfused into trot to create a new trend in trot music," said Yoon Myung-sun, who wrote both "Eomeona!" and "Rokkuguh," commenting on the current trot syndrome. "Traditional trot songs were predominantly about sorrows and tears, but recent trot songs of younger musicians deal with a variety of topics."
There could be more controversies about the identification of the genre as traditional Korean music, but it is undisputable that trot`s popularity contributes a lot to bridging the gap between generations. At least it seems far easier for young singers to do trot music than old ones do hip-hop.
By Lee Yong-sung