50 Most Influential K-pop Artists: 16. Jo Seong-Mo

[Series Index]

16. Jo Seong-Mo [조성모]

Also romanized as:  Jo Sung-mo

Years of Activity: 1998 - present? (last single in 2010)

To Heaven (1998)
For Your Soul (1999)
Let Me Love (2000)
No More Love (2001)
Ga-In [가인] (2003)
My First (2005)
Second Half (2009)

Representative Song:  To Heaven from To Heaven

To Heaven
To Heaven

괜찮은거니 어떻게 지내는거야
Are you ok? How are you doing?
나 없다고 또 울고 그러진 않니
You are not crying again because I'm not there, are you?
매일 꿈속에 찾아와 재잘대던 너
You were so chatty when you visit my dreams every night
요즘은 왜 보이질 않는거니
Why can't I see you nowadays?
혹시 무슨 일이라도 생겼니
Did something happen?
내게 올 수 없을 만큼 더 멀리갔니
Did you go even farther away, so far you can't come to me?
니가 없이도 나 잘 지내 보여
I look like I am doing fine without you so
괜히 너 심술나서 장난 친거지
You are upset and playing a joke with me
비라도 내리면 구름 뒤에 숨어서 니가 울고 있는 건 아닌지
When it rains, maybe you are crying, hiding behind the clouds
걱정만 하는 내게 제발 이러지마
That's my worry, so please don't do this to me
볼 수 없다고 쉽게 널 잊을 수 있는 내가 아닌걸 잘 알잖아
 You know I can't forget you that easily, just because I can't see you

혹시 니가 없어 힘이 들까봐
If you think I am suffering without you
니가 아닌 다른 사랑 만날 수 있게 너의 자릴 비워둔 것이라면
If you left your space empty so I can meet another love
그 자린 절망 밖에 채울 수 없어
That space can only be filled with despair
미안해 하지마 멀리 떠나갔어도
 Don't be sorry, even if you are far away
예전처럼 니 모습 그대로 내 안에 가득한데
You are filling me up looking just like the way you did
그리 오래 걸리진 않을거야
It will not take that long
이별이 없는 그곳에 우리 다시 만날 그날이
The day when we will meet where there is no more parting
그때까지 조금만 날 기다려 줘
Until then, wait for me just a little bit

In 15 words or less:  The logical conclusion of the "ballad" movement.

Maybe he should be ranked higher because...   He is the only singer in K-pop history who has two albums that sold more than 2 million copies.

Maybe he should be ranked lower because...  Somehow, he is simply not remembered that much.

Why is this artist important?
Many critics term the 1990s as the golden age of K-pop. Although such characterization is hardly indisputable -- how many international sensations did 1990s K-pop create, compared to the 2000s K-pop? -- it does have certain legitimate bases. One such basis for the claim is that the wide variety of available genres in K-pop. The "industrial" K-pop machine that would choke out the music scene did not yet arrive in the 1990s. The strong tradition of rock music from the 1980s K-pop continued into the 1990s, while the new waves of hip hop, R&B, reggae and techno were taking root in Korea.

From this perspective, the genre that ruled the 1990s may be considered the greatest K-pop genre, the crown jewel of the golden age. And there is no question what that genre is: "ballad", a term denoting easy listening, adult contemporary music with light beats and saccharine lyrics. In the first half of 1990s, it was Shin Seung-hoon who owned the genre. In the second half, it was Jo Seong-mo. Owing to the fact that his career peaked before online file sharing became prevalent, Jo Seong-mo holds the distinction of being the only K-pop singer who sold more than 2 million copies of two different albums, a feat that not even the more influential luminaries of K-pop could match.

Jo also set another trend: a proliferation of music videos as a mini-movie. The music video for To Heaven starred Lee Byeong-heon, an A-list Korean actor, and cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars to make -- both an unprecedented step for a K-pop music video. To Heaven would lead an era of "epic" K-pop music videos, some stretching to as long as 20 minutes.

Interesting trivia:  Jo's songs, including To Heaven, are often about dead lovers. In an interview, Jo said those songs were inspired by his older brother, who died early in a car accident.

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