Korean ‘King of Pop’ lives on after half a century

By Yoon Min-sik

Cho Yong-pil continues to evolve, cites love of music for lengthy career

Published : Apr 11, 2018 - 17:03
Updated : Apr 11, 2018 - 17:03

Cho Yong-pil is widely referred in Korea as “Gawang” -- the king of singing or pop music. The nickname is hardly an exaggeration, as the famed singer has performed everything from pop, rock, trot and folk to even songs comparable to contemporary K-pop, in an unparalleled music career.

“I found such a nickname actually burdensome. That was never my goal when I sang, I don’t know about being the top, or setting records. I just did it because I love music,” he said at a press conference Wednesday in Seoul to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his debut.


Cho Yong-pil poses at a press conference Wednesday in Seoul to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his debut. (Yonhap)

Considered one of the greatest and most influential pop artists in Korea, Cho has released 19 studio albums since his single “Come Back to Busan Port” in 1976. He holds an array of records, becoming the first Korean pop singer to perform at the Carnegie Hall and the first to hit platinum in 1980.

One of the most notable aspects of the seasoned singer is that he is never complacent about his achievements.

In 2013, he shocked virtually everyone in the Korean music scene with his new 19th album “Hello” and lead single “Bounce.” The album adopted an upbeat, bouncy tune marking a stark contrast to previous songs, a change not expected by anyone.

Cho said the key to staying relevant is studying the latest trends in music.

“I always talk about how I can continue my musical career. I keep on getting older, and there is no other choice,” he said.

Despite being one of the most revered figures in Korean music, he still seeks input from much younger colleagues in the K-pop scene.

“I listen to new songs every day, through YouTube and TV shows. I of course listen to songs by BTS and EXO. When you see the stars of today, there is a clear reason why people cheer about it,” Cho said.

He jokingly added that it is a good thing he is not competing against today’s K-pop stars. “If I came out today, I never would’ve made it. In terms of the looks -- they are just too good looking,” he said.

Cho speaks at a press conference held Wednesday in Seoul to commemorate his 50-year career. (Yonhap)

To mark 50 years of his career, Cho will hold a tour across Korea in May and June. It will kick off with a Seoul concert at Jamsil Sports Complex on May 12, moving to Daegu Stadium on May 19 and Gwangju World Cup Stadium on June 6. It will wrap up with concert at Uijeongbu Stadium in Gyeonggi Province on June 9.

The concert will be themed on thanking fans and sharing past memories, which Cho said would make for longer concerts.

Cho has been working on his latest studio album since last year, which will be his 20th full-length album.

“Some people say, ‘Don’t you have to release a song about life at your age?’ I scoff at such thinking,” he said. “Music is music, and it will be remembered in history as such. Let poets discuss life but a song is just a song.”

His unwavering love for music and his relentless will never to be complacent is what his contemporaries say is one of his biggest strengths.

Bae cheol-soo, a former singer and radio show host, described Cho as a “natural born singer” never afraid to try a new genre. This, according to Cho, was why he started music in the first place.

“No matter how long my career has been, I have to keep studying music and I keep finding new things. They shock me all the time. I’m still learning, and I believe I would have to learn until the day I die,” he said, a testament to the “natural-born singer” he is.

By Yoon Min-sik(minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)


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