The Rebirth of Trot: K-pop’s Predecessor On the Rise Once Again

Trot Picture (1)With K-pop taking the world by storm lately, it is easy to believe that South Koreans have always preferred upbeat, electronic melodies and energetic, crowd-moving rhythms. While that may have been the case, there was another genre that won over people’s hearts long before idol music came into existence — K-pop’s predecessor, trot music.


Recent fans of Korean popular music may be unfamiliar with what exactly trot is, but it has actually been loved for nearly a century for its unique folk-like singing style and a rhythmic blend of traditional and modern instrumentals. The trot genre dates back to Japanese imperialism in Korea, before the division between the North and South, but it has gained traction mainly after the Korean War when popular musicians at the time such as Lee Mi-Ja emerged. People were immediately entranced by its two-beat rhythm, distinctive kkeokk-ki technique, and melodic vibratos.


The 1970s, however, was when trot truly took off as South Korea became more industrialized, hence television exposure becoming more widespread. Due to the popularization of TV broadcasts, music programs naturally followed suit, introducing the nation to the frontmen of pop music at the time — Nam Jin and Nam Hun-A. Other musicians have also begun to capitalize off of this surge, bringing the likes of Cho Yong-Pil to the limelight as well with his hit “Come Back to Busan Harbor.”


Trot music continued to bask in its glory days until the early 90s when electronic dance music suddenly made its way into the scene. Slowly trot began to fizzle out, mainly appreciated by the older generation who were there to live out its heyday. What we now know as K-pop quickly took over, building an entirely new culture of its own.


That isn’t to say that trot has completely declined into obscurity. Currently, musicians such as Hong Jin-Young have continued to spread the joy and familiar sounds of trot music, ensuring that the genre will truly never die out. Many idols have also paid homage to traditional trot songs by singing their renditions on music programs and variety shows. Early last year in 2019, a music show called “Ms. Trot” provided a platform for trot singers to showcase the wonderful, special sounds the genre holds.


Trot music to this day is still loved by many, and modern artists are continuing to expose new generations to everything the genre has to offer, including its color and history. The Korean music scene proves itself to be a diverse one, not completely overshadowed by bubbly pop music, and that is indeed thanks to trot.


Julie Kim

Asia Journal

(Los Angeles Times Advertising Supplement)