There are certain non-Korean musical acts and songs that are just HUGE in Korea but are pretty much unknown anywhere else in the world. I’m not talking about people like Robbie Williams and Westlife, who have huge fan bases in Europe, if not the U.S. I’m referring to acts like Michael Learns To Rock, Carry N’ Ron, Jessica (not the Simpson), Rockwell, and Carole Kidd. Who? My point, exactly!
It can be rather frustrating, because my Korean acquaintances ask me about them, and when I give a blank stare, they become bewildered that I wouldn’t have heard of such “superstars.” I think Korean movies are largely to blame for this phenomenon. Directors pick obscure Western songs to put in soundtracks–probably because they’re cheaper to license–and when the films hit big, voila, those English songs are instantly elevated into “classic” status, despite the fact that maybe 5 people in the U.S. may have ever heard of them.
One good thing to come out of this is that yes, I have to admit that some of these songs are actually pretty darn good. Jessica’s “Goodbye” is a touching ballad (used in some movie where a guy has a terminal illness and has to say–what else?–goodbye to his wife), Carole Kidd’s “When I Dream” (from an awesome Korean spy thriller titled “Shiri”) is a perfect jazz lullaby, Rockwell (Berry Gordy’s son!) not only had that Top 10 stalker song with Michael Jackson on background vocals but also had a killer ballad in “Knife.” But above all, my favorite BIKO (“Big In Korea Only”) song has to be “Casablanca” by Bertie Higgins.
Apparently, Mr. Higgins had a fairly sizable hit with “Key Largo” (guess he really liked his movies), but “Casablanca” trumps it in every way. To listen to the song is to walk into a cinematic time warp, with the opening lines setting the dark, romantic mood from the get-go: “I fell in love with you, watching ‘Casablanca.’ Back row of the drive-in show, in the flickering light” And it never lets up from there, describing a love and a break-up that you really only get in movies (i.e. glamorous and haunting, without any messy, mood-killing real-life details like screaming, swearing, weeping until the snot starts flowing, you know what I mean). The song, like the film, should have been a classic.