Unexpected Influence: Yoo JaeHa and K-Pop


July 27, 2014

I am always interested in stories about someone’s personal impact on the world. And if that impact is unexpected, then it’s all the more interesting. 

You may not be all that familiar with K-Pop (Korean pop music), but if you joined the more than 1 billion people who watched Psy’s viral YouTube video “Gangnam Style” two summers ago, you are at least a little aware of this genre of music. (I’ve been aware of K-pop for years because my wife is Korean.) 

But K-Pop is so much more than this one song. It is hugely popular in Korea and in many other parts of the world.  According to Time Magazine, it is South Korea’s greatest export with its colorful videos, catchy tunes and impossibly youthful solo artists, boy bands and girl groups. 

The evolution of K-pop, from the ballad-driven 1980’s through its current global popularity is interesting (and a fascinating and controversial study of marketing a product). But over the years, there were a few special artists who changed everything, inspired future influential artists and helped shape what K-Pop has become today. One of the most influential artists to impact K-Pop was Yoo JaeHa. Here’s his brief story:

  1. He was the first Korean artist to have a music festival named after him.
  2. He was the first Korean artist to have a tribute album recorded for his music.
  3. He was one of the first Korean pop artist to be classically trained. 
  4. He was one of the first artists to incorporate orchestral arrangements into his pop songs.
  5. He wrote his own songs and played most of the instruments on his recordings. (His writing and understanding of music brought Korean popular music to a new level.) 
  6. He is nearly worshipped by some of Korea’s most important K-Pop singers today. 

And what is the great body of work that he created to earn such a huge impact on an entire music industry? One album. One album with nine songs. All written about one woman.  He released his album in 1987 at the age of 25. Three months after the album’s release, Yoo JaeHa was killed in a tragic car accident. 

No one knows how long he or she has on this planet – there have never been guarantees. But the idea that someone could leave such an enduring legacy, at such a young age, having produced only one piece of work, is inspiring. It gives us hope that each of us can leave behind some fingerprint of our soul for those who come after us. 

Listen to the title track of Yoo JaeHa’s one and only album, “Because I Love You.”  His voice is unusual, (in fact Korean radio wouldn’t play his songs in the beginning) the melody is compelling like an ear-worm, and the lyrics are poetic (if you speak Korean). The lasting influence, if you ask any K-pop star, is undeniable. 

So what will you leave behind as your legacy? What will be better because of you?

2 thoughts on “Unexpected Influence: Yoo JaeHa and K-Pop

  1. I can honestly say that’s the first K-pop song I’ve ever heard! What a pressing question to consider: what will be better because of me? One piece, one touch, one word can make such a difference! Thanks for sharing!

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