This is the first of a 15-part series on the stars and trends in “hallyu,” or the Korean Wave, which is gaining global popularity particularly in Southeast Asia and Latin America. The Korea Times produces this special project in cooperation with the Korea Foundation and CJ E&M. — ED.
Members of the four-strong boy band CNBLUE pose for the camera at a gallery of the Korea Foundation in downtown Seoul. The popular group have recently released their EP titled "Ear Fun." / Courtesy of enewsworld
By Kwaak Je-yup
Since their 2009 debut in Korea, CNBLUE have been one of the few rock bastions in the ultra-competitive local music scene dominated by danceable electro-pop.
Their lasting success has comforted some about the continuing mainstream appeal of rock, while detractors have accused them of packaging innocuous poppy sounds, even calling them a “fake band.”
At a recent interview with the four members, front man Jung Yong-hwa, bassist Lee Jung-shin, guitarist Lee Jong-hyun and drummer Kang Min-hyuk, seemed to weigh in little on the controversy, which has been their biggest asterisk since they began.
Rather than theorizing or rationalizing about their career, the barely 20-somethings reveled in it with ample humility. Sometimes, even they were at a loss to describe the reason behind their success.
“Compared to when we were touring (East) Asia with the single ‘Love,’ (from their second EP ‘Bluelove’) nowadays K-pop is riding on a much bigger wave,” said Jung, adding that their audience and fan base have expanded thanks to the collective expansion of Korean pop music in the last year. “The stages are bigger for us. Most of our fans used to be in their 30s or 40s; now we have more in their 20s or younger.”
Much like their K-pop colleagues, CNBLUE have gone from nobodies to superstars almost overnight, starting with their debut Korean EP “Bluetory” and its catchy lead single “I’m a Loner.” And they have not stopped since, writing and performing new material across the Korean and Japanese
Most recently, they released their third mini-album titled “Ear Fun,” with the single “Hey You” topping domestic on- and offline charts.
Their continuing run of hits in Korea and even their rise to Japanese stardom came as a surprise to many, simply because they stood nowhere near the usual dancing troupe model of K-pop, now noted across the world. There were many critics, however, including Korean rock legend Shin Hae-chul, who publicly accused CNBLUE of plagiarism and also called the band unworthy of bearing that term.
But since their debut, seeing guitars and a drum set on the stage of weekly pop music shows has become less alien. Big Bang, the biggest K-pop boy band that relies
heavily on dance, hired a live back-up band. Even indie act Busker Busker, the runner-up on the third season of Korea’s “American Idol” equivalent “Superstar K,” is now gaining mass-market attention, with their recent major-label debut topping local charts.
"The format of live television shows hasn’t changed much and so we have a few improvements we would love as a band,” said Jung. “We’re content with the fact that we can let our music be heard.”
And they certainly have pushed themselves hard on that front.
According to lead guitarist Lee Jong-hyun, in the first four months of this year, they have had 30 live showcases, including nine concerts outside their usual domains of Korea and Japan.
The group is also looking further afield when it comes to giving back. In March, a school named after them was opened in a
small village in southwestern Burkina Faso in West Africa, partially funded by the
proceeds of the band’s earnings.
“A lot of times we want to help but don’t know how,” said Jung. “We recently got to watch a video clip of the school, now all finished and in operation. We are very proud of this.”
The band’s management agency, FNC Entertainment, stated that the contribution to the Burkinabe project, organized by the Korea Food for Hungry International, will continue on a consistent basis.
Now in their third year as CNBLUE, the members seemed to reflect much longer when asked about their future plans and ambitions.
“The lyrics of foreign bands are so much more varied. Some of the subjects are simply unimaginable to me,” said Jung, adding that the group is also stepping away from the syrupy lovesick words the fans have come to associate it with. “I want to take some time out and be alone, maybe travel — alone.”
“I want life to be a bit more spectacular,” said Lee Jung-shin. “Our career has progressed endlessly. We need a break.”
“I want to space out for a little while,” said Lee Jong-hyuk, half-joking.
They were off to an amusement park outside Seoul for their next appointment, at least a two-hour ride from the central business district downtown, where the interview took place.
The four members of CNBLUE all looked exhausted from their non-stop schedule, but glowed with hope.
“We are going to be together for 20 to 30 years, at least,” the guitarist said firmly.
For more, click on www.enewsworld.com.
씨엔블루는 2009년 데뷔 때부터 댄스 팝에 빠진 우리 대중가요계에서 외로이 록 음악을 하는 몇 안 되는 음악인이다.
어떤 이들은 이를 보고 록 음악이 대중들에 아직도 어필한다고 했고, 어떤 이들은 그들의 음악이 가짜 밴드라고 했다.
하지만 최근 인터뷰에서 정용화 (보컬), 이정신 (베이스), 이종현 (기타), 강민혁 (드럼)은 이들을 꼬리표처럼 따라다니는 이 논란에 대해서 할말이 없어보였다.
반론을 목적으로 자신들의 음악세계에 대해 거창하게 늘어놓거나 심오한 이론을 말하기보다 현 위치를 즐기면서 겸손함을 잃지 않는 멋진 모습이었다.
“우리가 성장할 수 있었던 요인은 복합적이다. 케이팝 활성화도 큰 도움이 됐고 일본에서 인디밴드로, 정식 데뷔 후 꾸준히 활동한 것 등 모든 것이 큰 도움이 됐다. 무엇보다 많은 선후배 가수들의 노력이 있었기 때문이다. 덕분에 과거와 비교할 수 없을 정도로 무대 규모나 관객의 수가 많아졌다. 팬들도 3-40대 위주에서 10대 20대 친구들이 많아졌다.” (정용화)
‘외톨이야’로 데뷔한 이후로 이들은 여태까지 주목할만한 성공에도 불구하고 쉬지 않고 달려왔다. 최근에 발표한 3번째 미니앨범 ‘Ear Fun’과 싱글 ‘Hey You’도 국내 차트를 석권했다.
요즘 인디 밴드 버스커 버스커에 열광하는 사람들, 또 빅뱅도 월드투어를 발표하며 해외 실력파 밴드와 함께하는 걸 봤을 때 이들의 영향은 결코 적다고 할 수 없다. 댄스가 주를 이루는 우리 가요계에도 앞으로 밴드 바람이 불지 않을까 한다.