Friday, January 20, 2012

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 22. Kim Chu-Ja

[Series Index]

22.  Kim Chu-Ja [김추자]

Years of Activity: 1969-1988

Before It's Late [늦기전에] (1969)
Kim Chu-Ja Stereo Hit Album No. 1 [김추자 스테레오 힛트 앨범 No.1] (1970)
Kim Chu-Ja Stereo Hit Album No. 2 [김추자 스테레오 힛트 앨범 No.2] (1970)
Stereo Hit Album No. 3 [스테레오 힛트 앨범 No.3] (1971)
After Tonight [이 밤이 가면] (1972)
Beautiful Sunday (1973)
Kim Choo Ja (1973)
Where Should I Go (1974)
Kim Choo Ja (1974)
Now (1974)
Deserted Island [무인도] (1974)
Kim Choo Ja (1980)
Kim Choo Ja Vol. 1 (1980)
Kim Choo Ja Vol. 2 (1980)
The Way [가는 길] (1980)
Blow, the Wind [불어라 바람아] (1980)
Kim Chu-Ja Comeback [金秋子 컴백] (1988)

Representative Song:  It's a Lie from After Tonight

It's a Lie

It's a lie
거짓말이야 거짓말이야
It's a lie, it's a lie
거짓말이야 거짓말이야
It's a lie, it's a lie
사랑도 거짓말 웃음도 거짓말
Love is a lie, smiles are lies too

It's a lie
거짓말이야 거짓말이야
It's a lie, it's a lie
거짓말이야 거짓말이야
It's a lie, it's a lie
사랑도 거짓말 웃음도 거짓말
Love is a lie, smiles are lies too

그렇게도 잊었나
Is it really forgotten like that
세월따라 잊었나
Forgotten with the time
웃음 속에 만나고
Met in the smiles and
눈물 속에 헤어져
Parting in the tears
다시는 사랑 않으리
I will never love again
그대 잊으리
I will forget you

그대 나를 만나고
After you met me
나를 버렸지 나를 버렸지
You left me, you left me
거짓말이야 거짓말이야 거짓말이야
It's a lie, it's a lie, it's a lie
거짓말이야 거짓말이야
It's a lie, it's a lie

In 15 words or less:  Queen of the 70s; Korean pop music's first sex symbol.

Maybe she should have been ranked higher because . . .  Few other artists have dominated a decade like Kim Chu-Ja did.

Maybe she should have been ranked lower because . . .  She did not create her own music.

Why is this artist important?
Kim Chu-Ja ruled the 1970s. This short and simple statement is quite enough to describe the entirety of Kim Chu-Ja's spectacular career. To be sure, her career was greatly helped by the genius of Shin Joong-Hyeon, who supplied the trend-setting psychedelic and soul music. But like with Lee Sora, the vessel of creativity matters. Without Kim Chu-Ja, Shin Joong-Hyeon could not have realized his vision either.

And boy, did Kim ever realize Shin's vision. Until Kim Chu-Ja, pop music in Korea featuring a woman was an ossified formula of the Japanese-influenced trot music sung in high pitch by a woman who was standing still, like a plastic mannequin with a voice box. Take, for example, the album cover of Lee Mi-Ja, the epitome of Korean female trot singer who preceded Kim Chu-Ja by about five years:

In contrast, take a look at Kim Chu-Ja's album cover.

And of course, this one.

Even in the conservative Korea of the 1970s, everything about Kim Chu-Ja was sexy. Her sultry, breathy voice charged Shin Joong-Hyeon's songs with implied debauchery. Unlike the emaciated female celebrities that would come to dominate the scene for the next 20 years, Kim Chu-Ja had plenty on her body that she was not afraid to show off in her dances. She wore tight jeans or mini skirts, with cleavage-boasting tops to boot. In short, Kim Chu-Ja was Korea's first female pop star who overtly used her sex appeal.

That is not to say that Kim Chu-Ja was no greater than the cheap pretty dolls that litter the Korean pop music scene today. Ultimately, it was her undeniable musical talent that made her the icon of the decade. But awakening the raw animal spirit that still animates Korean pop music to this day was Kim's defining achievement. If you got into K-pop because of KARA's butt dance, you have Kim Chu-Ja to thank.

Interesting trivia 1:  Kim's song It's a Lie was banned by the military dictatorship, on the allegation that it instigates distrust. The military government also suspected her dance in It's a Lie to be a hand signal for North Korean spies.

Interesting trivia 2:  When Kim refused the marriage proposal by her manager, her manager struck her face with a broken bottle. She received over 100 stitches and six plastic surgery operations as a result.

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


  1. There she is! I wasn't wondering whether she'd make your list, but if you'd put her in the upper half or the bottom half. I love her psychedelic sound and thanks to this post, I'll have to search out more of Shin Joonghyun's solo work and other artists he wrote for.

    1. It's definitely getting harder and harder to properly rank people. I changed my mind so many times about where KCJ should go.

    2. @refrsh_daemon: Try starting here --

    3. You should check out Pearl Sisters, who Shin Junghyon also produced, and who have an awesome psychedelic sound. I recommend their song "커피 한잔" (A Cup of Coffee) - I'll have to check out KCJ - the Korean has definitely piqued my interest.

    4. Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. My playlist is now enormous.

  2. I love these articles, you're getting me so curious about other types of Korean music. Thank you for the education :)

  3. Wow, thanks for this article! I love finding out about these soulful Korean musicians who are so different from contemporary pop singers. One singer I found on YouTube and whom I love is Yoon Si Nae. I really dig her super-funky early stuff, but it's hard for me to find much info about her in English, and I can't find mp3s of her songs that I like. :/
    Everybody start liking Yoon Si Nae so her mp3s will become available! Do it!
    TK, thanks so much for showing the very interesting history of Korean pop. And thank god for Youtube.
    On another note, I don't think a singer should be thought less great as a musician just because they don't write their own songs. Are songwriters less great just because they can't sing? Do people say that someone like Yo Yo Ma would be a great musician, except that he only plays covers? Singing is not just a talent, it's a skill. A vocal virtuoso deserves as much respect as someone who is virtuosic on an instrument (whether or not Kim Choo Ja is a virtuoso, I don't feel qualified to say!). There's also a case to be made that the disrespect for singers who are not songwriters is often sexism in disguise... just like the disrespect for Asian musicians who "just copy" "American" musical forms is often racism in disguise.

  4. I read that they might remaster and re-release her albums, but that was several months ago and have been unable to find out anything since.

  5. The albums of her doing good tbe Shin Joong Hyun songs are excellenthe. Alooking listen to Kim Jung Mi who also does a few albums of Shin Joong Hyun songs. A beautiful voice. My favourite is the Shin Joong Hyun and the Men which is male singer Jang Hyun doing Shin Joong Hyun songs on Side One and Shin Joong Hyun with "the Men" on Side Two. Brilliant!


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