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Thursday, April 26, 2012

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K-rock: CN Blue (from left: Lee Jung Shin, Lee Jong Hyun, Jung Yong Hwa and Kang Min Hyuk) has carved a spot for itself in the pop-dominated landscape of South Korea's music scene.

Rockers CN Blue stand out amid dancey K-pop


By KWAAK JE YUP
Korea Times, KF and CJ E&M

SEOUL — Since its 2009 debut in South Korea, CN Blue has been a bastion of rock in a music scene dominated by danceable electro-pop.

The band's lasting success has comforted some about the continuing mainstream appeal of rock, while detractors accuse it of peddling innocuous poppy sounds, even calling the group a "fake band."

In a recent interview with the four members, front man Jung Yong Hwa, 22, bassist Lee Jung Shin ,20, guitarist Lee Jong Hyun, 21, and drummer Kang Min Hyuk, 20, seemed to weigh in little on the controversy.

Rather than theorizing or rationalizing about their career, the quartet revel in it with ample humility, as sometimes even they are at a loss to describe the reason behind their success.

"Compared to when we were touring (East) Asia with the single "Love," (from their second EP "Bluelove") nowadays K-pop is riding on a much bigger wave," Jung says, adding that their audience and fan base have expanded thanks to the collective expansion of Korean pop music in the last year. "The stages are bigger for us. Most of our fans used to be in their 30s or 40s; now we have more in their 20s or younger."

Much like their K-pop colleagues, CN Blue has gone from a group of nobodies to superstars almost overnight, starting with the debut Korean EP "Bluetory" and its catchy lead single "I'm a Loner." Most recently, the band released its third mini-album titled "Ear Fun," with the single off it, "Hey You," topping domestic charts.

The band's continuing run of hits in South Korea and even its rise to Japanese stardom was a surprise to many, simply because it stood nowhere near the usual dancing troupe model of K-pop, now gaining popularity overseas. There were many critics, however, including popular Korean rocker Shin Hae Chul, who publicly accused CN Blue of plagiarism.

But since its debut, seeing guitars and a drum set on the stage of weekly pop music shows has become less alien, and Big Bang, the biggest K-pop boy band that relies heavily on dance, recruited a live band on stage. Even indie band Busker Busker, the runner-up on the third season of Korea's "American Idol" equivalent "Superstar K," is now gaining mass-market attention, with its recent major-label debut topping charts.

The group is also looking further afield when it comes to giving back. In March, a school named after it was opened in a small village in southwestern Burkina Faso in West Africa, partially funded by the proceeds of the band's earnings.

"A lot of times we want to help but don't know how," Jung says. "We recently got to watch a video clip of the school, now all finished and in operation. We are very proud of this."

The band's management agency, FNC Entertainment, stated that the contribution to the Burkina project, organized by the Korea Food for Hungry International, will continue on a consistent basis.

Now in their third year as a part of CN Blue, the members seem to reflect much longer when asked about their future plans and ambitions.

"The lyrics of foreign bands are so much more varied. Some of the subjects are simply unimaginable to me," Jung says, adding that the group are also stepping away from the syrupy lovesick words the fans have come to associate with them. "I want to be alone, maybe travel — alone."

"I want life to be a bit more spectacular," Lee Jung Shin says. "Our career has progressed endlessly. We need a break."

"I want to space out for a little while," adds Lee Jong Hyun, laughing.

The quartet were off to an amusement park outside Seoul for their next appointment. Hardly the break they might want, but Lee Jong Hyun glows with hope: "We're going to be together for 20 to 30 years, at least," he says.

The Japan Times is pleased to present a series of articles about Korean pop music produced in collaboration with The Korea Times and enewsworld.com.

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