Wednesday, January 03, 2018

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 1. Shin Jung-hyeon

Shin Jung-hyeon [신중현]

Years of Activity: 1959-present. (Last studio album in 2005.)

Note:  Because Shin Jung-hyeon was active during the times when there was no real concept of an "album," his discography is an insane mess that includes the numerous bands for which Shin played only temporarily. The below discography only includes studio albums for solos and bands for which Shin Jung-hyeon was the leader.

Hickey Shin Guitar Melodies - Selection of Light Music [히키-申 기타 멜로듸: 경음악 선곡집] (1959)
The Add4 First Album (1964)
Add4: Shin Jung-hyeon Light Music Arrangement [Add4 - 신중현 경음악 편곡집] (1966)
Add4 - Fun Guitar Twist [Add4 - 즐거운 기타 트위스트] (1968)
Shin Jung-hyeon & Questions [신중현과 퀘션스] (1970)
The Men - Saxophone's Temptations [The Men - 색소폰의 유혹] (1972)
Shin Jung-hyeon & the Coins, the First Album [신중현과 엽전들 1집] (1974)
Shin Jung-hyeon & Yup Juns, Vol. 2 (1974)
Shin Jung-hyeon & Music Power, the First Album [신중현과 뮤직파워 1집] (1976)
Shin Jung Hyun (1980)
Three Travelers [세 나그네] (1983)
Shin Jung-hyeon [신중현] (1988)
Shin Jung-hyeon & Music Power 2 [신중현과 뮤직파워 2] (1994)
Muwijayeon [무위자연] (1994)
Kim Satgat [김삿갓] (1997)
Body & Feel (2002)
City Crane [도시학] (2005)
The Landing [안착] (2005)

Representative Song:  Beauty [미인] from Shin Jung-hyeon & the Coins, the First Album [신중현과 엽전들 1집] (1974)


한 번 보고 두 번 보고 자꾸만 보고 싶네
See her once, see her twice, just want to see her more
아름다운 그 모습을 자꾸만 보고 싶네
Just want to keep seeing that beautiful sight
그 누구나 한 번 보면 자꾸만 보고 있네
Whoever looks just once can't take their eyes away
그 누구의 애인인가 정말로 궁금하네
Whose lover is she, everyone gets curious

모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네
Everyone loves her; I love her too
모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네
Everyone loves her; I love her too

나도 몰래 그 여인을 자꾸만 보고 있네
I keep on looking at her without realizing it
그 모두가 넋을 있고 자꾸만 보고 있네
Everyone keeps looking as if in a trance
그 누구나 한 번 보면 자꾸만 보고 있네
Whoever looks just once can't take their eyes away
그 누구의 애인인가 정말로 궁금하네
Whose lover is she, everyone gets curious

모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네
Everyone loves her; I love her too
모두 사랑을 하네 나도 사랑을 하네
Everyone loves her; I love her too

In 15 words or less:  The Godfather of Korean pop music.

Why is this artist important?
Here we are now, finally at the top of the mountain. I consider Seo Taiji to have created an entire generation of individuals in his mold. What could be more influential than that?

How about coming up with the model of "musicianship" for the first time? Popular music existed in Korea before Shin Jung-hyeon. As early as the 1930s, Korea (even as a Japanese colony) had a healthy urban culture that featured recorded music and pop stars. But the pop stars of the time were hardly separable from, say, a circus act. Indeed, they often were a circus act, as the Korean pop singers of the early 20th century often performed as a part of a giant variety show (of the kind that is now almost exclusively available in casinos,) nestled somewhere within a sequence involving a movie, a skit, a dance number, a comedy routine and an animal act.

This is the world in which Shin Jung-hyeon grew up. Orphaned during the Korean War, Shin grew up at a distant relative's house and took up guitar as a teenager. His first gigs--like nearly everyone's gigs in Korea in the 1950s--were with the USFK clubs, playing American music for the GIs stationed in Seoul. Fundamentally, those shows were not much different from the variety shows of the 1930s. Shin Jung-hyeon himself found popularity as a kind of a circus act, as he was known as the short guitarist who would deftly continue playing while sliding in and out between the legs of the taller bassist.

But Shin Jung-hyeon rose above being an act, to become an artist. Not merely a source of entertainment, but an individual expressing his aesthetics through popular music. Shin Jung-hyeon is the first Korean singer-songwriter who organized his music into an "album," a thematically consistent collection of his original creation. And original it was! Shin Jung-hyeon's Beauty would go into the annals of the global rock music history, with its pentatonic sound based on Korean traditional music.

As Korea's pop culture came into its own in the 1970s, Shin Jung-hyeon continued to play a critical role as a composer and producer for the greatest artists of K-pop history such as Pearl Sisters and Kim Chu-ja. Yet a cruel twist of history cut off Shin Jung-hyeon's further flourishing. For refusing to write a song praising the Park Chung-hee dictatorship, Shin was charged with trumped-up allegations of drug use, and his songs were banned in 1975 and remained so until 1987. Banned from even from performing, Shin spent a stretch of time selling away his equipment piece by piece. It was not until the late 1990s that his legacy was rediscovered and re-evaluated, as music critics--also a new profession that had recently come of age--began to reflect on the giants who shaped the history of Korean pop music.

Interesting trivia:  Shin Jung-hyeon is the sixth artist in the world, and the first in Asia, to receive a personalized commemorative guitar from Fender.

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


  1. This made me teary-eyed! Thank you!!! I have all the feels up in my chest right now. Can't compose a proper comment, but thanks for putting a smile on my face and taking us way back. Oh god... the nostalgia is palpable.

  2. I love this write-up. Shin Joong-hyun is one of my favorite artists, and a worthy artist to hold your #1 spot.

    For readers who want to read more about him, I wrote a blog post including links for more to read and learn (see the link below), with listening material, some stuff to download, and some thoughts about him as well.

    The thing that tantalizes me about Shin is that I honestly believe he had the talent to become a global star on the level of Neil Young, perhaps as great as Jimi Hendrix, but things just kept going the wrong way for him. His manager hid from him an American record company's invitation for him to come to the US; he never found just the right singer to stay with and turn into a long-running band. He fell on the wrong side of the government censors juuuust as he was peaking as an artist and producer: everything that could go wrong did, and he STILL carved out a legacy as Korea's greatest musician of all time. IMAGINE if things had gone smoothly instead!

  3. This has been a wonderful series. It'll keep me in listening for another couple of years at least.

  4. Thanks for finishing the list. I was able to discover many artists through this list.

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  6. By the way... did you notice the Shin Joonghyun songs on the soundtrack for the K-Drama Signal (시그널)? 나는 너를, 꽃입, and 떠나야할 그사람 are all featured in that series.

  7. Also noteworthy is that Shin Jung-hyeon is the father of Shin Dae-chul - the guitarist in Sinawe. Sinawe was one of the very first heavy metal bands in South Korea, and also a band that came under a lot of government scrutiny (although nothing like what Shin Jung-hyeon had to endure). Sinawe's first album released in 1986 sold 400,000 copies - which is rather remarkable when you consider the music landscape in Korea at the time.

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