Thursday, January 27, 2011

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 37. Lee Sora

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[Series Index]

37.  Lee Sora [이소라]

Years of Activity:  1995-present

Discography:
Vol. 1 (1995)
Like in a Movie [영화에서처럼] (1996)
About Sorrow and Rage [슬픔과 분노에 관한] (1998)
Flower [꽃] (2000)
Sora's Diary (2002)
Eyelash Moon [눈썹달] (2004)
Winter, Lonely and Warm Songs [겨울, 외롭고 따뜻한 노래] (2008)

Representative Song:  The Wind Blows [바람이 분다] from Eyelash Moon


바람이 분다
The Wind Blows

바람이 분다
The wind blows
서러운 마음에 텅 빈 풍경이 불어온다
The empty scenary blows into the sorrowful heart
머리를 자르고 돌아오는 길에
On the way back from cutting hair
내내 글썽이던 눈물을 쏟는다
The welled tears drop

하늘이 젖는다
The sky wets
어두운 거리에 찬 빗방울이 떨어진다
In the dark streets, cold raindrops fall
무리를 지으며 따라오는 비는
The rain that chases me in a herd
내게서 먼 것 같아
Seems far away from me
이미 그친 것 같아
Seems already stopped

세상은 어제와 같고
The world is the same as yesterday
시간은 흐르고 있고
The time is still flowing
나만 혼자 이렇게 달라져 있다
And I alone changed like this
바람에 흩어져 버린 허무한 내 소원들은
My futile wishes scattered in the wind
애타게 사라져간다
Desperately disappear

바람이 분다
The wind blows
시린 한기 속에 지난 시간을 되돌린다
In the searing chill, turn back to the times past
여름 끝에 선 너의 뒷모습이
Your back, standing at the end of the summer
차가웠던 것 같아
Seemed so cold
다 알 것 같아
Seemed like I understand it all

내게는 소중했었던 잠 못 이루던 날들이
The sleepless days that were so precious to me
너에겐 지금과 다르지 않았다
To you, they were not different from now
사랑은 비극이어라
What tragedy is love
그대는 내가 아니다
You are not I
추억은 다르게 적힌다
Memories are written differently
나의 이별은 잘 가라는 인사도 없이 치러진다
My departure is held without a goodbye

세상은 어제와 같고
The world is the same as yesterday
시간은 흐르고 있고
The time is still flowing
나만 혼자 이렇게 달라져 있다
And I alone changed like this
내게는 천금같았던 추억이 담겨져 있던 머리 위로
Over the head holding memories worth a thousand gold to me
바람이 분다
The wind blows
눈물이 흐른다
The tear falls

Translation Note:  Not sure if the emotion carries over in English. Anyone have a better word for 시리다? "Searing" was a possibility because the sensation is similar, but "searing" is never associated with cold in English. 애타게 is also such a crucial word, but not sure if that was translated right.

In 15 Words or Less:  The most special voice in K-pop history.

Maybe she should be ranked higher because...  At one point, she was easily the most dominant female star for the stretch of 3 to 4 years.

Maybe she should be ranked lower because...  How much weight can we give to a vocalist, as opposed to a singer-songwriter? (See the discussion below.)

Why is this artist important?
We often obsess over shallow forms of creativity. We focus on quick, observable types of creativity and neglect to see the deep, intangible forms of creativity. In pop music, this tendency manifests itself in our worship of singer-songwriters. After all, anyone can sing. Heck, we sound pretty good when we sing in the shower. Composition, now that's creativity. A good singer is nice, but all she is doing is following the commands of the composer. There is no creativity there.

And sometimes, a transcendental talent shows up and slaps some sense into us. Lee Sora is not a singer-songwriter. She is only a singer, although the negative connotation of the word "only" should not apply at all. Her velvety, near androgynous voice that effortlessly rises and falls over several octaves is easily the most special voice in K-pop history. (In fact, the Korean is certain that had K-pop been as internationally as now and/or Lee sung in English during her heyday in the late 1990s, she would have been a world star at the level of, say, Bjork and Enya.) And few, if any, can replicate the emotions she has been able to convey with that voice.

Lee's best songs are always about deep, desperate emotions, held in unknown to anyone. The song The Wind Blows shows this very well. Woman cutting hair is always a significant event. She was holding back tears the whole time while getting her hair cut, and she silently cries on the way back, in an empty street. Express this wrong, and all you have is a cheesy, stupid melodrama. But express this right, and you are accessing one of the most powerful emotions in all of humanity.

This is the point at which we see the true genius of singing. Singing is not merely following the commands of the composer. At its best, singing breathes life into what was no more than a clay doll formed by the composer. Singing turns what was two-dimensional into what is three-, four-, five-dimensional. It requires the ability to envision the end result, the fifth dimension that people cannot even imagine, and using your talent to get to that dimension. When this does happen, it is like magic -- it just happens. But instead of applauding, people simply think it is not hard to raise a rabbit in a hat and pull it out in front of the crowd.

Lee Sora's influence is made even more meaningful by the fact that she shined in the K-pop desert populated by pretty corporate puppets. K-pop had two periods of nadir -- once during mid-1970s to early 1980s when the military dictatorship cracked down on "subversive" songs, and during late 1990s-early 2000s when the corporate groups almost choked out the scene. During the latter nadir when talentless pretty faces crowded the television screens, Lee Sora never lowered herself to vulgar sex appeal. Her voice alone gently reminded everyone in Korea what mattered in music.

Interesting trivia:  Right before Lee Sora made her debut, another woman named Lee Sora had already been a popular public personality for a few years -- as a supermodel/talk show host. Much confusion occurred in everyday parlance regarding "Singer Lee Sora" and "Model Lee Sora."

-EDIT 1/31/2011- After some deliberation, the translation of 시린 한기 is changed from "piercing cold" to "searing chill".

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

17 comments:

  1. Haha, "women cutting hair will always be a significant event." No, sometimes a haircut is just a haircut. Some I just get my haircut, and even if I get a lot chopped off it symbolizes absolutely nothing. Women aren't all that mysterious, you know.

    Anyway, I do like Lee Sora.

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  2. "Piercing" is a good translation for "시리다" here. Any other adjective would sound strange in my opinion.

    As far as "애타게," a direct translation here probably won't work...if I understand it right, that word translates as "yearning" or "longing."

    "Completely disappear" may seem like an obvious phrase, but I think that captures the emotion of the song better. If you want to go all the way, you might want to replace the whole expression with "disintegrate."

    So glad to see this profile. Lee Sora is one of my favorite Korean artists. Your last paragraph about her place in the K-pop landscape makes me think of when my students ask me who my favorite Korean singers are. I name a few indie artists whom most people don't know, but everyone recognizes the name "Lee Sora." And the most common response to that is: "Oh teacher, you like depressing music."

    Do you happen to be familiar with the Korean band Dear Cloud? Lead singer Nine (나인) has a similar voice. Some of my Korean friends actually think it's a man singing. :)

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  3. Dear Korean, I liked very much how you elaborated the "only singer" matter.

    I'm a classical musician and you could say that none of the classical musicians are "creative" because we are all playing music written by composers. But I can assure that creating the emotion, the tone, the atmosphere (let's forget about technical ability) it's the most difficult thing to do.
    It is pure creation, and you have to do it on the spot on that precise moment. It's bringing music to life!

    So I keep in high regards those performers (including pop singers) that can make you dream while you listen to them, that make you feel deep emotion; I would listen to someone just for that reason, completely disregarding the kind of music the person is doing. So thank you for pointing this out!! I enjoy coming visiting your blog!

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  4. To me the cold version of "searing" would be "blistering", but that's sort of intensely un-poetic.

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  5. It is. The sensation for 시리다 is like this -- you know when you come back from the dentist and your teeth are a little too sensitive, then you sort of forget about that and drink a glass of ice water? That sensation on your teeth is 시리다.

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  6. I'll weigh in with Maria that, while I respect some artists more for writing their own music, there are other artists where their singing is so good, who wrote the song is moot.

    Most Jazz singers sing a large proportion of songs from other writers... and I prefer it that way, because if Ella Fitzgerald were using her amazing voice only to sing songs she'd written herself, if would be like forcing a supermodel to dress in rags.

    If your voice is like Bob Dylan's or Tom Waits', you better be a good songwriter, and that's why we love and respect them and Leonard Cohen. Some artists manage to do both admirably, like Andrew Bird and Janelle Monae, and Prince, but if you sound like Eva Cassidy, or play like Jimi Hendrix I'll let it slide that "Over The Rainbow" and "Watchtower" were written by someone else.

    That said...
    I am totally smitten by Lee Sora's voice, and I thank you for introducing her. I'm listening to everything she has on Youtube, song by song, because my bittorrent server doesn't have any Sora on it.

    Wow.

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  7. Is there something significant for Korean women in cutting one's hair? A defining moment in life like becoming an adult, getting married, etc? I agree with Bonnie that, in my corner of American at least, a hair cut is often just a hair cut. Or is there something indicated in the lyrics that I missed?

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  8. Sometimes when I'm down in the dumps, a nice haircut can be a great cheer-upper. But despite how Korean media frequently portrays a woman changing her hair to signify a change in her attitude (마음의 변화), rest assured that most of the time, a haircut is just a haircut. :-)

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  9. K.C., I'm sure you know the Korean's questions policy... unfortunately, I don't know the answer to your question.

    I do know it's a trope in Japanese media that a woman whose relationship has ended will get a haircut as a way to signal a new start, which may or may not be relevant to your question.

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  10. Actually, the Korean realized why he was particularly focusing on the haircut -- in Korean, it has a double meaning. The second-to-last line speaks of wind blowing "over the head." In Korean, the word "head" can be interchanged with "hair (on the head)". This means that the wind could be blowing over the cut hair (which holds the memories worth thousand pieces of gold!) and not necessarily over the head.

    The Korean must have listened to this song a hundred times and this just occurred to him. Interesting.

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  11. Actually, I have seen 'searing cold' used before. Don't know if it's 'grammatically correct'; just pointing out that the phrase does exist.

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  12. You seem to describe her as a elegant vocalist but I would like to say she is more than that. Lee SoRa always held the position of 'producer' in almost all of her albums. She is known not to choose songs among demo tapes but to give 'orders' how she wants the song to be like plus lyrics are the core of her music. Even Korean critics don't hesitate to call her a singer-songwriter. In my opinion, she should be ranked higher because, 1. She got wide musical spectrume(She began her career with ballads leaning on Jazz and now she's showing off her rock spirit). 2. She not only got a unique voice but also a unique musical style(her 6th, 7th album got critical acclaim for it's experimental elements).

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    Replies
    1. Very much agreed with LSR developing her own style by 6th and 7th album.

      Delete
  13. 이상 빠돌이의 빠심 가득한 리플이었습니다
    DC Inside Lee So Ra Gallery
    http://gall.dcinside.com/list.php?id=leesora

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  14. Forgive me if this is an insensitive question, but would you know if something has happened to Lee So Ra in the last few years affecting her health? I'm afraid since leaving Korea nearly 15 years ago, I can only follow her career via her CDs and youtube videos. It seems that with her last two records her voice has changed from being the powerhouse it once was to being somewhat meek, tentative, even at times twee. If this can just be chalked up to maturation or just a shift in interest/style, I say good for her. But this sudden (to me, anyway) change together with her rather severe haircut (haircuts again!) of late and the fact that I rarely (if ever) see her standing anymore makes me wonder if she's doing okay. Again, please forgive me if this is insensitive or if I am bringing up something which is (or should be) common knowledge. Lee So Ra is one of my absolute favorite singers of all-time (Korean or otherwise) and I was just curious.

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  15. Thank you! This is the best translation / organization of this song that I have been able to find.

    ReplyDelete

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