Monday, October 06, 2014

50 Most Influential K-pop Artists: 9. Shin Hae-cheol

[Series Index]

9. Shin Hae-cheol [신해철]

Also known as:  Shin Hae-chul; Crom

Years of Activity: 1989-present 


As vocal/keyboard of Muhan'gwedo [무한궤도]
When Our Lives Come to End [우리의 삶이 끝나갈 때] (1989)

As a solo artist
Shin Hae-cheol [신해철 1집] (1990)
Myself (1991)
Crom's Techno Works (1998)
Monocrom (1999)
The Songs for the One (2007)
Reboot Myself Part 1 (2014)

As vocal/keyboard of N.Ex.T
Home (1992)
The Return of N.Ex.T Part 1: The Being (1994)
The Return of N.Ex.T Part 2 (1996)
Lazenca: a Space Rock Opera (1997)
The Return of N.Ex. T Part III (2004)
Re:Game (2006)
666 Trilogy Part 1 (2008)

As a member of NoDance
Golden Hits (1996)

As a member of Wittgenstein
Theatre Wittgenstein (2000)

Representative Song:  To You [그대에게] from When Our Lives Come to End

To You

숨가쁘게 살아가는 순간 속에도
Even in the hectic living moments
우린 서로 이렇게 아쉬워하는 걸
We still want each other more
아직 내게 남아있는 많은 날들을
The many days that I still have left
그대와 둘이서 나누고 싶어요
I wish to share them with you

내가 사랑한 그 모든 것을 다 잃는다 해도
Even if I lose everything I have loved
그대를 포기할 수 없어요
I cannot let you go
이 세상 어느 곳에서도
No matter where in the world
나는 그대 숨결을 느낄 수 있어요
I can feel your breath
내 삶이 끝나는 날까지
Until the day my life ends
나는 언제나 그대 곁에 있겠어요
I will always be by your side

Translation notes:  "숨가쁘게 살아가는 순간" is weirdly difficult.

In 15 words or less:  The most significant Korean rock musician of the 1990s.

Maybe he should should be ranked higher because...  Both in terms of music and in terms of social participation, how many K-pop artists tried more different things than Shin did?

Maybe he should be ranked lower because...  How much direct influence did Shin have? How much in the current K-pop scene can be definitively traced back to Shin Hae-cheol, like the way in which one can definitively trace Korean hip hop back to Drunken Tiger?

Why is this artist important?
As we climb higher into the rarefied heights of Korean pop music history, a concise statement of an artist's importance is approaching ever closer to impossible. One could easily write a book about Shin Hae-cheol's career; unfortunately, we can only spare a few paragraphs here.

From the beginning, Shin Hae-cheol's musical career portended a daring, experimental musical vision. Shin debuted with his band Muhan'gwedo ("Infinite Track") on the Campus Song Festival, the scene-defining audition show at the time. The crackdown from Korea's dictatorship (which ended only a year before Shin Hae-cheol's debut) has neutered K-pop, making the saccharine and brain-dead soft rock (locally referred to as "ballads") the mainstream genre. But Muhan'gwedo would have none of it. Reversing the conventional pop progression that gradually built up to a climax, To You opens with a dramatic, synthesizer-induced flair and rushes full speed toward the finish line.

Shin Hae-cheol then debuted as a solo artist, engaging in a brief (and embarrassing-in-hindsight) stint of idol pop at the insistence of his record company. Then Shin finally found his musical homeland by forming N.Ex.T. (pronounced "next",) the most significant Korean rock band of the 1990s. Looking at the current K-pop scene in which idol pop has overrun the market, it is difficult to believe that a rock band like N.Ex.T. used to top the K-pop charts. But it is true. Led by Shin Hae-cheol, N.Ex.T stood firm on the foundation of progressive rock yet struck in all directions: heavy metal, thrash rock, electronica and Korean traditional music. Shin also put project albums as an individual (taking on a separate stage name of "Crom",) trying ever more daring sound and demanding the audience to simply get used to it.

But Shin Hae-cheol's musical achievement is only half of his story, as Shin is arguably one of the most socially active pop musician in K-pop history. Perhaps betraying his elite education (Shin attended Sogang University, one of Korea's top five colleges,) Shin maintained a sharp tongue that relentlessly criticized the Korean society's irrationality and hypocrisy as a proper rocker should. Shin Hae-cheol led the charge in the movement to repeal the Korean law that prohibited two people with the same last name from getting married. Shin was also the leader of the now-infamous concert in 2002, in which Psy (of the Gangnam Style fame) performed an anti-American rap number, to express his anger at the death of two young Korean girls who were run over and killed by an USFK armored car.

The best pop artists do not simply influence the artists who come after them; they change the society around them. By that measure, Shin Hae-cheol is about as influential as any in K-pop history.

Interesting trivia:  Shin Hae-cheol is often mistaken as being related to the legendary Shin Jung-hyeon [신중현], as the name of Shin Jung-hyeon's oldest son is Shin Dae-cheol, leader of the influential heavy metal band Sinawi. Shin Hae-cheol, however, bears no relation to Shin Jung-hyeon. Shin Hae-cheol is, however, a blood relative to a different K-pop legend: Shin is the second cousin of Seo Taiji. Reportedly, the two are close, often seen together fishing or skiing.

Further Listening:  A.D.D.a. from Reboot Myself Part 1, song recorded entirely as a one-man a capella.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. I totally totally LOVED HIM! I distinctly remember seeing him on TV and instantly loving his music. He had MAJOR charisma. You totally brought me back to my high school days... can't wait to see the rest of the top 50!

  2. Rest in peace Shin Hae Chul. I still can't believe it. It's so unfortunate.

    1. Unfortunately, its true. :(

  3. i heard the beginning in answer me 1988!!!


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