Decolonizing Popular Music:"Japanese Color Dispute" over Trot

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Decolonizing Korean Popular Music: The “Japanese Color” Dispute over Trot

Lee, Seung-Ah


Trot is a genre of popular music in South Korea (hereafter Korea) from the colonial period (1910 – 1945), and it is still debated whether it should be understood as part of the native culture or as a component of the transplanted culture due to the influence in it of the Japanese genre enka. For twenty years after its liberation from Japanese colonial rule, Korea did not have any diplomatic relationship with Japan and banned all forms of Japanese culture, including Japanese popular music. However, since 1965 when Korea normalized relations with Japan, the question of whether trot should be considered part of Japanese or Korean culture—and therefore whether it should be banned or permitted—has been up for debate. For instance, the most famous song of this period, “Camellia Lady” by Lee Mee-ja, was banned due to its “Japanese Color.” Nonetheless, trot was the most popular musical genre in Korea even after the country’s liberation from Japan; it was also the comfort music enjoyed by Koreans during the Korean War (1950 – 53). This paper addresses the origins of this dispute by examining Korea’s political and cultural decolonization of popular culture during the postcolonial era.