Lim Young-woong leads the evolution of trotting fandom

Lim Young-woong poses for photos ahead of the May 2 press conference for his debut album “IM HERO.” (Yonhap)

At 71, Kim Im-kyung is learning to be a fangirl.

In her three-room apartment in Seoul, Kim has turned an entire room into a shrine to her idol – Korean trotting singer Lim Young-woong – by decorating it with his posters and a collection of fan merchandise like a glow stick.

To help Lim’s songs top the music charts, she listens to her latest album through an online music streaming service all day, although she personally owns five physical copies.

She watches almost all Lim-related videos on YouTube. His name also comes up in most of his conversations with friends these days.

“I’ve never loved anyone like that in the past 30 years,” Kim told the Korea Herald.

The last time she was a fan of someone, she was in her thirties. She remembers writing a handwritten letter to a TV station about an actor she adored at the time.

The object of his affection – Lee, 30 – was the star of the TV singing competition show “Mr Trot” in 2020. On May 2, the singer released his first full album “IM HERO”.

Although Trot is the oldest genre of Korean pop popular mainly among older Koreans, its 12-track album achieved remarkable success here, having sold over 1.1 million physical copies.

Before him, Baekhyun of K-pop boy group EXO was the only solo artist to reach the coveted milestone with his album released in March 2021. Before Baekhyun, none managed to claim the title for 20 years since the author -songwriter. Kim Gunmo in 2001.

Lim is also very active in the digital music scene. Ten of his songs, including eight from the latest album, are in the top 100 of Melon, South Korea’s largest music subscription service. The rest is dominated by K-pop stars.

Lim’s YouTube channel has 1.35 million subscribers and 1.4 billion views.

On the platform, her fans — many of whom are in their 50s, 60s, and 70s — produce videos related to the star, just like K-pop fans do, like unboxing her album and reacting to tracks. and Lim’s performance.

Ryu Ho-jin hosts a livestream on his YouTube channel.

Ryu Ho-jin hosts a livestream on his YouTube channel.

Ryu Ho-jin, 63, runs his YouTube channel Young Grandpa 59 TV, which has 188,000 subscribers. Since the release of Lim’s album, he has uploaded around 60 videos solely focused on the singer.

The YouTuber covers nearly everything other fans might want to know, from ways to participate in real-time voting on TV music programs, how to successfully book concert tickets, to Lim’s schedule information.

“I provide information about Lim Young-woong and his songs to fans, but I get more courage and wisdom from them,” he said.

Lim isn’t the first star the trotting genre has produced in recent years. Another trotting singer, Song Ga-in rose to fame after winning the TV show “Miss Trot”, whose massive success in 2019 was the reason for its spin-off male version.

In addition to the genre’s general revival, Lim’s popularity can be attributed to the moving backstory of how he overcame many difficulties in life, said Son Min-jung, a music professor at National University. education in Korea. Lim lost his father when he was 5 years old and grew up in poverty.

“The main characteristics of trotting are that the music brings back collective memories about family and the losses that people experience in their lives,” said Son, who has studied the genre for the past 20 years.

According to the professor, people find solace in trotting music, especially when the country is going through tough times like when it was hit by the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

The grief and longing Lim conveys through his songs resonates with older fans as they believe he understands the shackles of life, Son added.

Kim, the 71-year-old fan, agrees with the expert’s analysis.

“Lim Young-woong’s songs touch my heart. I’m just proud of him because he didn’t give up on his dream of becoming a singer despite the hardships in his life,” she said.

Professor Son also pointed out that middle-aged and older music fans are no longer passive listeners who simply tune in to music played on television or radio.

“They are now able to use various media platforms, creating their own culture,” she said.

Music critic Cha Woo-jin echoed Son’s sentiments.

“As teenagers created their K-pop fan culture, their parents and grandparents learned a lot from them about supporting artists and building community,” he said.

While Lim’s new album had sparked debate over his authenticity as a trotting singer for showcasing other genres like ballad, dance and folk music, pundits saw it differently.

Son said Lim, overall, is still a trotting singer because he still retains the vocal timbre required by the genre, such as sounding a low note with a strong vibrato.

“The album shows how trot music can integrate with other genres to evolve. I would say it broadens the horizons of trot music,” she said.

Cha said Lim seems to have included other genres on the album to expand his fan base to the younger generation, considering he is only 30 years old.

Lim worked with singer-songwriter Lee Juck and composer and producer Jung Jae-il for the new album, key players in the country ballad scene in the late 90s and early 2000s.

“They produce music in which the memory and emotions experienced by people in their forties intertwine. It seems natural for Lim to target young listeners to support his career,” he said.

“It’s an interesting time to watch the country’s music scene make a big transition between generations.”

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)


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