Sunday, July 08, 2012

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 18. Kim Hyeon-Sik

We are now finished with Tier 3 - Strong Impact K-pop artists. Beginning with our number 18, these artists are considered the greatest of a given era in K-pop.

18. Kim Hyeon-Sik [김현식]

[Series Index]

Also Romanized as:  Kim Hyun-Sik

Years of Activity: 1980-1991


New Songs by Kim Hyeon-Sik [김현식 새노래] (1980)
Kim Hyeon-Sik 2 [김현식 2] (1984)
The Third Album by Kim Hyeon-Sik and Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter:  Love Songs in the Rain [김현식과 봄 여름 가을 겨울 3집: 빗속의 연가] (1986)
Kim Hyeon-Sik Vol. 4 [김현식 Vol. 4] (1988)
Kim Hyeon-Sik 5 [김현식 5] (1990)
Kim Hyeon-Sik Vol. 6 [김현식 Vol. 6] (1991)
Self-Portrait (1996)

Representative Song:  My Love by My Side [내 사랑 내 곁에] from Kim Hyeon-Sik Vol. 6

내 사랑 내 곁에
My Love by My Side

나의 모든 사랑이 떠나가는 날이
The day when all my love departs
당신의 그 웃음 뒤에서 함께 하는데
Is with you behind your smile, but
철이 없는 욕심에 그 많은 미련에 당신이 있는 건 아닌지 
I wonder if you are in the childish desire and those many regrets
No, you would not
시간은 멀어짐으로 향해 가는데
Time heads toward separateness, but
약속했던 그대만은 올 줄을 모르고
You, despite your promise, are not coming, and
애써 웃음 지으며 돌아오는 길은 왜 그리도 낯설고 멀기만 한지
Why is the way back, forcing a smile, so unfamiliar and far

저 여린 가지 사이로 혼자인 날 느낄 때
When I feel myself being alone between those frail branches
이렇게 아픈 그대 기억이 날까
Would this painful memory of you come back
내 사랑 그대 내 곁에 있어 줘
My love, you, please be by my side
이 세상 하나뿐인 오직 그대만이
Only you, the only one in the world
힘겨운 날에 너 마저 떠나면
If even you leave in these difficult days
비틀거릴 내가 안길 곳은 어디에
Where will I be held, stumbling

Translation note:  This is one of the most difficult songs the Korean has ever translated for this series.  As it stands, the translation is a total mess, because the original lyrics in Korean is poetically forced. Suggestions are always welcome.

In 15 words or less:  The voice of the 80s.

Maybe he should be ranked higher because...  Few singers defined an era like Kim Hyeon-Sik did.

Maybe he should be ranked lower because...  He did not have any impact outside of music.

Why is this artist important?
Considering the massive impact that he will make, Kim Hyeon-Sik's beginning in 1980 was meek. Although a couple of songs in his first album gained some popularity, Kim did not become a household name until his second album in 1984, with the headlining song I Loved You [사랑했어요]. But reportedly, Kim himself was not particularly satisfied with this album, in which he was mostly a vocalist for songs written by someone else.

Kim's third album in 1986, in contrast, truly had his finger prints. Kim formed a band, christened Spring Summer Fall Winter [봄 여름 가을 겨울], specifically to create his third band. (The keyboardist for SSFW was Yoo Jae-Ha.) Each band member contributed his own songs into the album, giving the album the diverse colors of rock, blues and fusion jazz. But undeniably, the keystone of the album was Kim's gravelly, Louis Armstrong-like voice, which tied together the album as a single theme.  Kim's third album sold over 200,000 copies, and is considered one of the greatest in K-pop history. (SSFW eventually spun off and became its own band, still playing to this day.)

Kim, however, was not the type who could enjoy his success into the sunset. He chain-smoked and binge-drank. He also smoked marijuana, still considered a very serious crime in Korea. Kim's health declined rapidly. When he was sober and in between the trips to emergency room, he would spend the days holding concerts and the nights recording songs. Alcohol-induced liver sclerosis finally took his life in December 1990, while he was still in the middle of recording his sixth album. Kim was 42. The title song of his last album, My Love by My Side, dominated the airwaves in 1991; the album would sell more than a million copies. As it turns out, Kim's last album was also the last meaningful album of the 1980s K-pop, as in the following year, a supernova would change K-pop forever.

Interesting trivia:  Kim attended Samcheong Elementary School in Seoul, the same elementary school as another K-pop legend of the 1980s -- Jeon In-Gwon of Deulgukhwa.

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


  1. This song from 1986 has also been recorded by Yim Jae Bum. You can find it here with 김현식

  2. WOW!! I got to Korea on June 25, 1991 and I remember hearing this song all the time. I've been looking for this song forever. Thanks!

  3. Wait a minute... didn't you have him as missing the cut?

    1. I can never make up my mind about the exact rankings, which is one of the reasons why this series is taking so long to finish. I am still not set on how I will order my top 4.

  4. "He did not have any impact outside of music."

    Does he necessarily need to have an impact outside of music in order to deserve to be where he is or higher on the list?

    1. This ranking is about being influential, and I defined "influence" to include both musical and non-musical influence.

  5. Nice song, but ... his voice reminds me of one of my neighbors that chained smoked and binge drank too. So, although very passionate, his coarse voice kind of ruins the song.

    I know who #17 should be. Hyon Song Wol from Bochonbo Electronic Music Band!!! I would love to hear one of her songs... I wonder if her child is actually from the leader and her marriage was just a cover-up... I hope they paid that officer in food and did not kill him.

  6. My link did not work :(

    One more time:

  7. Oh, one more thing - Suju's Sexy, Free and Single album is finally out and so many people are already addicted. The Korean wave is spreading like wild fire. It is amazing. Is it possible to get addicted to Kim Hyun-Sik? I doubt it, even though he was very good.

  8. Here is one of her songs: (starts at 1:16)

  9. The day all love departed from me,
    Still stays with you, behind that smile,
    But are you there in these childish desires, these lingering regrets?
    No, you're not, are you?
    Time leads us toward a furthering apart,
    And I don't know if you are coming, as you promised,
    Smiles forced, the way back...why is it so unfamiliar, so far?

    When I feel myself alone between those frail branches,
    Will this pain be all I remember of you?
    My love, please be by my side,
    Just you, the only one in the world,
    If you too leave on this dark day,
    Where will stumbling I find arms to hold me?

  10. Damn, that is one sad song.

  11. Compare his voice and sound with Jeff Tweedy's of Wilco. . .

  12. Correction: Kim Hyun-Sik died at the age of 32, not 42


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