Thursday, December 16, 2010

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 40. Lee Seung-Cheol

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[Series Index]

40. Lee Seung-Cheol (also spelled Lee Seung-Chul) [이승철]

Years of Activity: 1986-present


As vocal of the band Born Again [부활]
Rock Will Never Die - Born Again vol. 1 [Rock Will Never Die - 부활 vol. 1] (1986)
Remember (1987)
Bird, Wall [새, 벽] (2002)

Solo albums
Lee Seung-Cheol Part 1 [이승철 Part 1] (1988)
Lee Seung-Cheol Part 2 [이승철 Part 2] (1989)
Lee Seung-Cheol 2 [이승철 2] (1990)
Wandering [방황] (1991)
Secret of Color (1994)
The Bridge of Sonic Heaven (1996)
Deep Blue (1998)
Confession (2001)
The Livelong Day (2004)
Reflection of Sound (2006)
Secret of Color 2 (2007)
Mutopia (2009)

Special albums
The Moon is the Dream that the Sun Dreams Original Soundtrack [달은 해가 꾸는 꿈 OST] (1992)
Cheongyeon Original Soundtrack [청연 OST] (2005)

Live albums
Live (1989)
91 Irony Live (1992)
95 Secret Live (1995)
Born Again/Lee Seung-Cheol Joint Concert Live [부활/이승철 Joint Concert Live] (1995)
97 Heaven Live Hall in Se-Jong (1997)
Serious Live 93 (1999)
1999 & Live Best (1999)
20th Anniversary Live in 2005 (2005)
Live Best (2005)
He's Coming: Live Album (2008)

Compilation albums
Born Again Best [부활 Best] (1989)
The Best of Born Again (1989)
Hit Bank (1990)
Best of Best (1997)
Forever Love (2003)
20th Anniversary: A Walk to Remember (2005)
The Best Great Hits (2006)
Lee Seung-Cheol Best (2007)
Sound of Double (2007)
No. 1 (2008)
Golden Ballad + Special Live Best (2010)

Representative Song:  Rain and the Story of You [비와 당신의 이야기] from Rock Will Never Die (1986), performed live in 2002.

비와 당신의 이야기
Rain and the Story of You

아이가 눈이오길 바라듯이
Like a child wants it to snow
비는 너를 그리워하네
Rain longs for you
비의 낭만보다는 비의 따스함보다
More than the rain's romance, more than the rain's warmth
그날의 애절한 너를 잊지못함이기에
For I cannot forget the sorrowful you of that day
당신은 나를 기억해야하네
You must remember me
항상 나를 슬프게 했지
You always made me sad
나의 사랑스럽던 너의 눈가에 비들은
With rain in the edge of your lovely eyes
그날의 애절한 너를
The sorrowful you of that day
차마 볼수 없었던 거야
I could not bear to look

무척이나 울었네
I cried so much
비에 비 맞으며
Getting rained over rain
눈에 비 맞으며
Getting rained over my eyes
빗속의 너를 희미하게 그리며
Lightly tracing you in the rain
우리의 마지막 말을
Our last words
너의 마지막 말을
Your last words
I remember
사랑해 사랑해 사랑해
I love you, I love you, I love you

Translation Note:  Simple song, but in a very difficult grammatical form to translate without sounding awkward. Suggestions are welcome.

In 15 Words or Less:  Personified history of K-pop, "the Emperor of Live Stages"

Maybe he should have been ranked higher because...  Longevity is easy to underestimate.

Maybe he should have been ranked lower because...  What, precisely, was his influence? Is there any one thing that he did that particularly stands out?

Why is this artist important?
It is a tricky endeavor to gauge the Lee Seung-Cheol's influence, mostly because he managed to survive for so long in the K-pop scene. The number of albums that Lee made, and the number of hit songs in them, are simply staggering. In fact, Lee might be the only artist in K-pop history who had a number one hit song in three different decades, from 1980s to 2000s. He managed to consistently stay in Korean people's public consciousness throughout his 25 years of career -- for better or for worse. On the other hand, there is no single event or characteristic that succinctly defines Lee. In this case, one can do no better than simply narrate Lee's career, and appreciate its many turns and deviations.

Lee Seung-Cheol made his debut as the vocal for the band Born Again in 1986, the heyday of Korean rock. (Despite the name, Born Again was/is not a Christian band. The "Christian rock" genre is unknown in Korea, although there are many Christians in Korea.) It was a different world back then, as rockers were the greatest stars in K-pop. The screaming fangirls did not chase studio-produced corporate groups, but real musicians who took their music seriously. Musicians were appreciated for their musical skills, not for their looks or the dances choreographed by puppeteers. The top billing of television shows were reserved for rock groups, who did nothing but play music and sing; none of the inane talk shows that fill up Korea's entertaining programming on TV existed back then.

In the field filled with loud noises and screeching voice a la KISS, Born Again distinguished itself with romantic tunes and Lee Seung-Cheol's sensitive voice. On the strength of Lee, Born Again also attracted no only the too-serious rock fans, but the screaming fangirls of the day. Through its second album, Born Again was not only the most popular rock band of the last 1980s, but the most popular musicians in Korea, period.

Lee branched out his solo career, in which he took more of a "pretty boy with good lyrics" tactic. This was again massively successful. There were whispers that he would be the heir to the throne held by a Cho Yong-Pil, a legendary K-pop artist who was slowing down his career. (It should be a surprise to no one that Cho will be ranked very high on this list.)

All of this would meet an abrupt end. In 1990, Lee was convicted of smoking marijuana, and his long road of trials and tribulations began. He was banned from all television appearances for five years. He would marry in 1995 to a high-flying actress Gang Moon-Yeong, but would divorce in two years. Through these disastrous PR events, Lee was utterly banished -- Lee recalls that even a gig singing at a club was difficult to come by.

This was the period in which Lee grabbed his lemons and made delicious lemonade. Because he could not show up on television, he focused his entire energy on live concerts and albums. His natural talent would shine through even without television -- in fact, Lee's presence as the "Emperor of Live Stage" would stand as a welcome contrast to the lip-synching corporate bands that came to dominate the scenes starting mid-1990s. Finally in 2002, Lee reunited with Born Again to sing Never Ending Story, probably the first number one song not sung by a corporate band in around five years.

Lee Seung-Cheol then made a surprisingly smooth transition into the celebrity world of today -- in which artists are not merely judged for their music, but their ability to give an entertaining talk in silly talk shows. He would continue to survive and thrive, while continuing to make music and release albums.

From afar, Lee Seung-Cheol's career might be another colorless and forgettable one, punctuated with some hit songs that were not exactly groundbreaking. But up close, Lee Seung-Cheol serves as a valuable mirror to the history of K-pop in all of its changing iterations. At the end of the day, that he managed to keep his head over the water while others have been swept away might be quite enough to claim a spot here.

Interesting Trivia:  While being banned from television, Lee Seung-Chul flirted with acting. His feature film debut was The Moon is the Dream that the Sun Dreams [달은 해가 꾸는 꿈] for which Lee also composed the soundtrack. The film was also the debut feature for a fresh-faced director named Park Chan-Wook -- who is now better known for Oldboy and the Revenge Trilogy. The film, while attracting a small number of enthusiastic fans, was a commercial flop.

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


  1. First of all, a really big fan of your work. Keep it up the awesome work.

    As to some suggestions on translation, there were some parts that I had questions about, and that may be worded a little better.

    "비의 낭만보다는 비의 따스함보다
    More than the rain's romance, more than the rain's warmth
    그날의 애절한 너를 잊지못함이기에
    For I cannot forget the sorrowful you of that day"

    I gathered the lyrics to be that, "RATHER than the rain's romance or the rain's warmth, it is because
    I cannot forget the sorrowful you of that day" - the word -보다는 usually suggests "-rather than", and the song seems to imply that the narrator misses rain because of his lover, not because of whatever abstract qualities rain is associated with.

    "나의 사랑스럽던 너의 눈가에 비들은
    With rain in the edge of your lovely eyes
    그날의 애절한 너를
    The sorrowful you of that day
    차마 볼수 없었던 거야
    I could not bear to look"

    Perhaps it would be better translated as, "From your lovely eyes, the rains could not bear to look at the sorrowful you of that day" - the translation suggests that you took the "에" and treated as "의". But I'm not too sure on this one - it's a poetically vague and rather abstract verse to begin with, I don't know if my approach was correct here.

    I appreciate that you take the time to translate Korean as accurately as possible while delivering the right tone. It's also something that I highly value and that I hope to strive for (and, unfortunately, a value that does not seem very common). Will look forward to your feedback.

  2. wish there was tags or something, so i can see the top 50 list. it is kind of hard to back track on the site...

    i think 이승철 is a bit high on the list for the reason you stated. nothing he did really stands out...

    is 소녀시대 his biggest legacy? at this point i rather see the 9 pretty girls perform it... :X

  3. While I'm not a huge 부활 fan, I think it's a good choice to have the band represented here by Mr. Lee.

  4. Ah yes! Another "Most Influential" post. I always look forward to these, and my heart literally flutters whenever I see a new post. And now we're approaching the rankings in the 30s and will be getting to the big ones, huh?

    Of course I'm not surprised to see Lee Seung Chul, although I admit I'm a bit surprised to see him so early. But perhaps that's just my bias speaking, for I too can't really pinpoint his exact influence besides his longevity and that he's so well-liked across generations.

    Wouldn't you say though that his most representative song was "Last Concert"? Unless you were also planning to include Boohwal later down the list.

    Now that you did mention Cho Yong Pil, could he be anything but number one on this list? Ah, it's killing me. Patience is not my virtue. Guess I'll have to continue waiting.

    P.S. I agree with Y's second translation. But for the first one, I think it should be:

    More than the rain's romance, more than the rain's warmth
    For it (meaning the rain) cannot forget the sorrowful you of that day.

    Throughout the song, rain is personified as the singer himself. Here, the reason why rain longs for "you" is because it can't forget how sorrowful "you" looked that day.

    Just my thought!

  5. John Kim, there is a link called "Series Index" on top of the post -- that will take you to the entire list as it stands now.

    Blue, it was really hard to choose the representative song for LSC because he is having such a long career with many hits. (And 부활 won't be making an additional appearance.) Most people would actually think of 안녕이라고 말하지마 first when thinking of LSC. Never Ending Story was a strong candidate also. But the Korean wanted to give a nod to 부활 also.

    As to the precise ranking of 조용필, the Korean can confirm that it will be very high. Beyond that, it's corporate secret :)

  6. Y's,

    Thanks for the comment.

    As to the first one, it was challenging because where the sentence begins and ends is really unclear. In the Korean's estimation, the entire: "비의 낭만보다는 비의 따스함보다 그날의 애절한 너를 잊지못함이기에 당신은 나를 기억해야하네" is a single sentence. Translated unpoetically, it would say: "You have to remember me because I cannot forget you above and beyond the rain." (Or, "because I would forget the rain first before forgetting you.") So the Korean thinks the comparison needs to be there. Or is there an alternate formulation? One suggested by Blue is a possibility, but everything is rather ambiguous -- which is how Korean poetry tends to be.

    As to the second one, the word 비들은 is causing a huge ambiguity. As the Korean reads it, 비들은 is 비가 들어간, i.e. "rain in the eye." Looks like you are reading 비들은 as meaning 비들 ("rains") as the subject of the sentence, and it was the rain that could not bear to look. The Korean is not sure if there is a right answer here. The ambiguity is deliberate, and choosing one path of meaning destroys the other possible meaning. This is why translation is so hard.

  7. Another weird point in translation is the title itself -- it is "Rain and the Story of You," or "The Story of Rain and You"?

  8. Korean,

    Thank you for the feedback, those are good points. I admit that I didn't think about "비들은" as being filled with tears; I would expect such a phrase to be usually written as "비가 들은" or "비 들은" with a space between. (Or is the spacing a transcription issue? Spacing is so ambiguous in Korean)

    As for the title, it is a two-way ambiguity, but if I may offer my two cents, I would probably go with "The Story of Rain and You", in the sense that the "story" is the song itself, and while we do not know what untold stories the narrator's lover holds, the first option seems a little more poetic.

  9. Oh wow, I never realized that the title could be anything but "The Story of Rain and You" until you mentioned it otherwise. I still think that's right and it goes along with my interpretation of the song that rain represents the singer. Hence, the song is a story of you and me. If it was "Rain and the Story of You," it could have been called "비 그리고 당신의 이야기" to be less ambiguous.

    I'm not sure of it, but I'm assuming this song was written by Kim Tae Won? His songs are very lyrical, but they're so frickin' ambiguous and grammatically incorrect. Love the song though!

  10. "비와 당신의 이야기" is my favorite, favorite Korean song I've ever heard. Unforunately, younger Koreans (around my age) never have any idea what I'm talking about when I mention it. They all think I'm talking about that movie with the song, "비와 당신" and I guess that I just invented the last half of the song title.

    The older folks know what I'm on about straight away though. Which is a shame, because making someone sing this song for me is one of the only things that can make 노래방 bearable.

    By the way, here's a video of a foreigner singing it:

  11. I've been a silent reader of your blog and I'd have to say i really enjoy it. I'm really like korean music since "k-pop" got introduced but I'm not that into a lot of groups.. now because of that interest I got to listen to older artists.. like Lee Seung Cheol here coz some "idol" did a cover for one oh his songs. Not sure if it was released in any of his albums, but I like the song "No One Else" which he sang in the movie More Than Blue which stars Kwon Sang Woo. Now I get to be interested in more Korean singers than just the "idols".. ^.^

  12. An addendum: I'm guessing that when people at SM were coming up with names for their new 9-member girl group, somebody recalled one of this fellow's hits from 1989: "소녀시대" ("Sonyeo shidae", or "Girls' Generation").


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