(Top 101) #99: Promise – Kim Bum Soo

Kim Bum SooNow we come to the first of three Korean songs we find on the Top 101 list. It’s a good time to talk about just who the heck I, the master of this Blogiverse, am. I’m a second-generation Korean-American (Enough hyphens yet? No? Then add ‘good-looking’ and ‘dumb-ass’ on there), who arrived in California in 1984 after having finished first grade in elementary school in Korea. I was actually exposed to American/British music before that. I distinctly remember watching the Grammys a couple of months before getting on that fateful plane, riveted to the parade of glamour (Michael Jackson’s glove was so sparkly!) and androgyny (Not only was there Boy George picking up Best New Artist, but Annie Lennox performed as Elvis reincarnated). There was a whole new world out there, I realized, and a short time later, I found myself right in the middle of it.

In the process of adjusting to the Brand New World (and all the music therein), my interest in Korea, let alone Korean music, quickly became a thing of the past. Taekwondo? Too busy playing tennis. Kimchi? Way too spicy. Korean lessons? Heck, no, mother! It was a long, long time later, in 1999, when I found myself back in Korea with the vague notion of getting back in touch with my heritage. I was going to spend a year “discovering myself” while teaching kids English to earn rent money. Well, to make a long story short, it turned out to be a heck of a year, as I’m still here (minus the year I went back to L.A. and got my Master’s degree in English-TESL).

I’m still not sure if I’ve really discovered myself, but I sure have experienced a lot (e.g. fell in love, fell out, learned I could survive). One discovery that I have made is Korean music. Now, there is no denying that a huge percentage of Korean music is mindless dance pop being sung (or lip-synched) by pretty girls and prettier boys who dance and jump around the stage like manic Energizer bunnies. Imagine a cotton candy landscape filled with New Kids On the Block wanna-bes, and that’s pretty much it (Of course, even NKOTB scored with “Step By Step,” a solid pop piece, and so it is that there are Korean sugar-rush pop gems periodically, like BoA’s “No.1,” Rain’s “How to Avoid the Sun,” the Wonder Girls’ “Tell Me,” and the impossible-to-resist (trust me, I tried) “Gee” by Girls’ Generation).

The other major genre of Korean music is ballads, and that’s the side of the coin that shines a lot brighter. There are truly great voices to be found in Korea; notable examples being Lena Park (aka “Park Jung Hyun”) and Shin Seung-Hoon. Another one is Kim Bum Soo. He’s most famous for “I Miss You” (bo-go-ship-dah), which was featured in some Korean drama and was heard from karaoke rooms across the country. He also actually charted on Billboard in 2001, getting as high as #51 with “Hello Goodbye Hello.” Unfortunately, it’s hard to say that he achieved crossover success, since they released the song under the moniker BSK and without any hint of his, well, Korean-ness. Ugh. To be fair, he wasn’t treated a whole lot better in Korea. Not being particularly “pretty,” the cover of his debut album had him covering his face with his hand, and he didn’t make any public appearances for a long time even as his songs gained popularity, giving him the nickname “the singer without a face.” Fortunately, he eventually came out of hiding (though he’s usually seen with much of his face covered up by huge sunglasses).

I, for one, am glad that he did. “Promise” from his first album is a heartbreaker of a song, one that begs to be heard on a rainy night, as you remember someone from your past, one that made a promise but couldn’t or wouldn’t follow through. Or maybe that person was you…

99 Kim Bum Soo – Promise

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