Time Magazine, the world’s largest weekly news magazine, has been known to dip into international waters to report on Western globalization and its affect on other countries. In the November 15th issue, Time praised South Korea’s mass urbanization efforts on different levels, including music. In an evaluation on Korea’s growing political and cultural freedom, Drunken Tiger’s story is referenced as one key example of progressive social liberation.
“Freedom has been an important factor in the career of hip-hop star Tiger JK, who performs as the one-man act Drunken Tiger. The story he told me shows the link between Korea’s new openness and its ability to innovate. Back in the 1990s, Korean popular music, or K-pop, was popular only in Korea. Its highly stylized, color-by-numbers dance acts were tightly controlled by the industry, and created all the excitement of a sing-along with Barney. Tiger JK had no interest in playing along. After spending his teenage years in Los Angeles, he returned to Seoul in 1995, hoping to break into the hip-hop scene. But his chatty raps and freewheeling shows were too unusual for Korean music executives. Producers of TV shows promoting new music scolded him for diving into the audience during performances. He even got booed.
Tiger JK peddled recordings of his raps at alternative clubs and built up a following at college campuses with his rebellious shows. About five years ago, other, more famous K-pop stars started seeking him out to praise his music — then adopted some of its elements, like shout-outs to the crowd. TV producers began asking him to dive into the audience. “They were waiting for me to do something wild,” he says. Last year, Drunken Tiger won some of the country’s most prestigious music awards. Tiger JK says it’s because he’s become “safe.” Actually, it’s because Korean society has become as audacious as him. K-pop today is considered the cutting-edge force in Asian popular music. Exports of K-pop nearly doubled in 2009 to over $31 million. “Korean artists became the freedom warriors” for young Asians everywhere, says Tiger JK.
While it is normal for artists to be cited in music magazines such as Spin, Billboard, Rolling Stone, etc., when artists are seen in Time, it is a sign that they are not just a musician, but a major cultural icon. Congratulations, JK.
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