The politics of the traditional Korean popular song style T'ŭrot'ŭ

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Son, Min-jung

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T’ŭrot’ŭ, a traditional Korean popular song style, has existed in the South Korean music scene for more than eight decades. Nowadays, the song style may not be the most popular song style in South Korea in terms of media popularity, which is mostly oriented towards teenaged listeners. However, t’ŭrotŭ functioned as a creative local interpretation of imported foreign musical idioms. T’ŭrot’ŭ was formulated in the 1920s during the Japanese colony, standardized and matured in the 1960s, localized in the 1980s, and traditionalized since then. Due to initial contact with the Japanese colony during the formative period, the song style t’ŭrot’ŭ initiated a number of debates regarding its identity, particularly its nationality during the Cold War years. As social values and the cultural spectrum transformed, t’ŭrot’ŭ became reinterpreted as a traditional Korean popular song style, differentiated from the other recently imported Western-style popular songs—e.g. rock, ballad and disco songs. In the meantime, t’ŭrot’ŭ itself had been changing throughout its history, sanitizing its alleged Japanese characteristics. In South Korean popular discourse, the concept of the song style t’ŭrot’ŭ is multi-layered: there are multiple terms for the particular song style; there are multiple meanings of the term t’ŭrot’ŭ itself; there are even multiple pronunciations of t’ŭrot’ŭ, all aligning with different generations. Different age groups remember and practice the song style differently, reflecting on their historical experiences against circumstantial politics. Thus, the history and the practice of t’ŭrot’ŭ has been deeply integrated with the socio-political and historical dynamics of South Korean society.