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In Session: Music, Language, and the Politics of Sound
“Call me by B-List Sorikkun”: Lee Hee-Moon Challenging the Identity of Korean Traditional/National Music
Friday, March 26, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Dong Jin Shin
Yonsei University, Republic of Korea
Since the 1990s, traditional Korean music called gugak, literally meaning ‘national music,’ has been fused with non-Korean elements in South Korea. Young gugak performers, trained in academic institutions, have constantly commercialized their medium and gained social ground like popular musicians. With governmental support for shin-hallyu—the new Korean wave based on K-pop’s popularity—many popularized forms of gugak are gearing to international tastes, which has questioned the traditional/national identity of the new derivatives. Lee Hee-Moon, a sorikkun (traditional singer/storyteller), who pushes the boundaries of traditional Korean music, got international attention through NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert in 2017 by singing his dance-rock style minyo (folksong) in the project group Ssing Ssing. Being skeptical on the concept of gugak, Lee prefers the nickname “B-list sorikkun” that frees him from the confined tradition. This paper examines the changing identity of Korean performers classified as gugak performers but more active in the popular music scene with the case study of Lee. By attaching themselves to gugak or detaching from it, the performers are constructing the new identity of Korean music in the 21st century by virtue of K-pop’s global success.