Monday, March 12, 2012

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 21. Lee Seon-Hee

[Series Index]

21. Lee Seon-Hee [이선희]

Years of Activity: 1985-present

Oh the Good Old Days [아! 옛날이여] (1985)
Lee Seon-Hee vol. 2 [이선희 vol. 2] (1985)
The Lost Promise [잃어버린 약속] (1986)
This Place Where the Love Sets [사랑이 지는 이 자리] (1988)
With a Round of Laughs [한바탕 웃음으로] (1989)
Why Only Me [왜 나만] (1990)
Walking in the Memories [추억 속을 걷네] (1991)
A Small Boat [조각배] (1992)
A Bloom of Chrysanthemum [한 송이 국화] (1994)
First Love (1996)
Dream of Ruby (1998)
My Life + Best (2001)
Adolescence [사춘기] (2005)
Oh Love [사랑아] (2009)

Representative Song:  Dear J [J에게]

Dear J

J 스치는 바람에
J, in the glancing wind
J, 그대 모습 보이면
J, when your trace appears
난 오늘도 조용히 그댈 그리워 하네
Today again, I quietly long for you

J 지난 밤 꿈 속에
J, in last night's dream
J, 만났던 모습은
J, your visage I met
내 가슴 속 깊이 여울져 남아있네
Remain dyed deeply into my heart

J 아름다운 여름날이
J, even though the beautiful summer days
멀리 사라졌다해도
May have disappeared far
J, 나의 사랑은
J, my love
아직도 변함없는데
Still remains unchanged

J 난 너를 못잊어
J, I cannot forget you
J 난 너를 사랑해
J, I love you

J 우리가 걸었던
J, at the place we walked
J 추억의 그길을
J, on that road of memories
난 이밤도 쓸쓸히 쓸쓸히 걷고 있네
Tonight again, I walk all by myself

Translation note 1:  Does anyone have a good word for 모습? -UPDATE- Translation is updated with two different English words for 모습. (See the comment section below for details.)
Translation note 2:  This song actually had an English version, as Lee Seon-Hee released one album in English. The translation, however, is the Korean's own.

In 15 words or less:  The greatest female singer of the 1980s.

Maybe she should have been ranked higher because . . . The peak of her popularity was matched only by the peaks of the greatest figures of Korean pop music.

Maybe she should have been ranked lower because . . . Her own music came after her peak, and was not all that special.

Why is this artist important?
Korean pop music's dark ages unofficially began in 1975, when a number of prominent pop musicians -- most notably Shin Joong-Hyeon -- were banned by the military dictatorship, ostensibly because of their marijuana use. For the next decade, the pop music that played on television and radio would be vacuous odes to Korea, created at the behest of the dictatorship. When the dark ages ended, the pent-up energy of creativity and talent exploded onto the scene, leading to approximately 15 years of golden age in K-pop.

Lee Seon-Hee was one of the harbingers of that golden age. She first gained fame by winning the Fifth Riverside Music Festival with the song, Dear J. Her strong yet clear voice was a class of its own at the time, and her signature boyish looks -- Lee always kept her hair short and wore pants only -- appealed to young men and women alike.

(Aside:  here is a crazy thing about Korean pop music scene in the 1980s -- it had a number of these pop music festivals that acted as a debutante's ball for aspiring new musicians. Each festival was televised, put out a live album of the contestants, and the winner was headed for an instant fame. Korea had the American Idol before there ever was the American Idol.)

She is ranked here for one reason:  the pinnacle of her popularity was unmatched by anyone ranked below her. (Although, in fairness, Kim Chu-Ja came close.) At her peak, every single song on Lee's album -- not simply the first three or four -- was being played on television and radio. Her enormous fan base ranged from early teens to people in their 60s. 

There certainly may be knocks on Lee as an artist. She did not release an album entirely of her own music until 1996, well past her prime. Lee's clean-cut image was more palatable to the South Korean dictatorship at the time, making it easier for her to appear on television than, say, the wild and unkempt Jeon In-Gwon of Deulgukhwa. But when it comes to the greatest divas in the history of K-pop, Lee Seon-Hee's name would be on the short list.

Interesting trivia:  Lee parlayed her popularity into a brief foray in politics, as she served as a Seoul city councilwoman from 1991 to 1995.

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


  1. Good god... was not expecting that voice at all.

  2. And she was the original singer for the theme song of 달려라 하니 :D

    1. fuck yeah! I was going to mention this too

  3. 모습 = presence, shape, trace.

  4. It's not pretty in lyrics, poetry, or prose, but I like "visage" as a translation of "모습".

  5. My dictionary lists figure, form, shape and image for 모습

  6. "trace" and "visage" won, and the translation is updated. Still not happy with using two English words to translate one Korean word, but this will do for now.

  7. I sent her a fan letter in 1988 and actually got a reply.. Written in her own hand on carrot shaped stationary. I was immediately in love. Bought all her tapes ( most of which I think I still have).

    Thanks for the memories.

  8. which album as she released in english? i'm a really big fan of hers but i've never heard of this album


Comments are not available on posts older than 60 days.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...