Korea's Indie Coffee Shop Singers
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because South Korea’s music is more than just K-pop.
By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
In sunny downtown Seoul, young Koreans gingerly sip milk tea and coffee in a quaint pastry shop. But what really completes this idyllic scene is the music of choice — the bubbly melodies of South Korea’s J Rabbit.
If the drama of Korean pop is king in Asia, then its foil may be the more subdued genre of Korean indie. Former Seoul Institute of the Arts classmates, singer Jung Hye-sun and songwriter Jung Da-woon embody this carefree spirit amid South Korea’s diverse music landscape. The indie female duo, whose homemade YouTube videos easily hit nearly 3 million views, has all the lightheartedness and soul of Feist but with the Korean flair for all things cutesy.
Fly high, everything’s all right.
It’s one reason J Rabbit has already amassed such a strong following on social media since its first coffee shop concert in 2011. “They have such a keen understanding of the basics of music, which makes their stripped-down melodies so magnetic,” explains Leslie Tumbaco, editor of Seoulbeats. J Rabbit’s joyful tunes revolve around putting some pep into your step: “Fly high, everything’s all right / Laugh aloud and begin again / Today will bring you good things.” Hye-sun and Da-woon are also quite the experimenters, often incorporating a medley of instruments — bells, violins, cellos, marimba xylophones, melodeon accordions — into their songs.
But it’s not just the sweet lyrics that make J Rabbit’s music brighten a gloomy day. It’s also the whimsical attitude that takes center stage in all the duo’s videos. In their hit song “Good Things Will Happen,” Da-woon merrily plays the piano and snaps her fingers as Hye-sun chirps along in a manner so adorable that it would put your wide-eyed toddler cousin to shame. Of course, they end the little ditty in the same way they started — full of giddiness and giggles. On special occasions, Hye-sun even whips out her rabbit hat, a nod to the Chinese zodiac year when she and her co-star were both born.
K-indie artists such as J Rabbit typically struggle with limited venues and tiny fan bases in South Korea, explains K-indie blogger Chris Park. Both within the starstruck nation and abroad, the genre is largely overshadowed by its more established older brother, K-pop. “No one lives by their music. There are very few [K-indie] bands that can sustain themselves,” Park adds. Despite the slim chance of success, J Rabbit signed with music label Friendz.net after becoming YouTube sensations in 2010. “Good Things Will Happen” is the first song off the band’s most recent album, Stop & Go, and is guaranteed to perk you up better than any morning cup of joe.
In a world of saccharine and prepackaged pop music, the time may be ripe for K-indie artists like J Rabbit who tout the happy-go-lucky way of life. As Seoulbeats’ Tumbaco puts it, “You never know what you’ll hear, and the pleasant surprises makes it always interesting.”