A Conversation with Kuk Seung Pyo: The Popularity of Korean R&B

The Korean music scene has risen to the forefront with K-Pop becoming increasingly popular. The bright-colored, high-energy music is popular with its fans worldwide, but now it’s more than just K-Pop. Korean R&B is a sub-genre that is becoming largely recognised, using some traditional elements of the rhythm and blues style combined with other international elements.

K-Pop or Korean popular music is known for its energetic beats, dance choreography and a sound that can be described as “unique” and now a billion-dollar industry. That being said a trained ear can definitely hear how the foundation of K-Pop leans more towards pop, R&B, and hip-hop, which has strong ties to African American musical traditions. Rhythm and Blues (R&B) is a popular genre of music derived from black culture and artists. The genre has had a worldwide influence on a range of musicians, fashion, and popular culture. This is no different in Korea where there has been an influx of songs rooted in R&B.

Initially, I was intrigued to see what the artists had to offer and if it could possibly live up to the R&B hits, we know and love. It might not be listening to D’Angelo, but these artists can carry their own energy, and the minute you delve into Korean R&B you can be taken into your feels and hear the soulful influences. It might not be what you’re used to, but it still deserves space on your playlist.

There are many artists at the top of their game; DEAN’s ‘Love’ ft Syd back in 2017 was popular and reached over 3 million views on YouTube and featured on the popular COLOURS music platform, SAAY received a co-sign from Chris Brown and featured under Apple Music’s “Best of the Week” with her debut single as a solo artist ‘circle’. Along with Crush, Suran, and Zion.T pushing the Korean R&B genre forward. This style of music isn’t completely new, it can be traced back to 1992 where elements of Korean R&B and K-Pop are notable in the style of music created by artists Seo Taiji & the Boys. The bands may have broken up, but their influence remains revolutionary as a musical alternative to the Japanese folk music that was influencing the charts at the time.

It’s great to see the scene growing however, it isn’t without fault as there have been some criticisms of the genre when talking about stereotypes and cultural appropriation with a fan commenting “I was listening to Korean music the other day and sometimes I wonder if they are trying to copy or mimic black people or do they love our culture so much they are trying to emulate it because sometimes with the artists I’ve listened to I can’t tell and it comes off maybe not how it’s supposed to be taken.” [insert link] It makes you wonder if the artists are being genuine or if Korean R&B is there for them to gain popularity.

Talking with up-and-coming R&B artist Kuk Seung Pyo we discuss the K-R&B industry and his career so far. Born and raised in South Korea, Kuk Seung Pyo is most known for collaborating with a variety of musicians, the cultural fusion in his music production combining a variety of beats and mixing English and Korean lyrics in his songs.

What do you enjoy the most about creating R&B styled music?

Kuk: R&B is the genre I like the most and I think that I’m good at it, I like that I can represent what I feel and personal moments that I would only share with friends and family and with R&B music it’s not just them I can share those feelings with fans.  I also, like hip-hop and would love to collaborate with maybe someone like Travis Scott and another artist called Jae Park.

Where does your passion for music come from?

Kuk: I don’t have a particular reason that makes me passionate towards music its just something I’ve always enjoyed and been into and that’s why I wanted to work in the music industry. Some of my favourite artists to listen to are people like The Weekend.

How did you end up collaborating with Caleb Cruise on your single ‘Why Do You’ and how was the process?

Kuk: I really enjoyed the collaboration process because Caleb is based in a country where the genre of R&B is really famous and popular. But sometimes it was hard because we don’t speak the same language, so communication almost became a barrier apart from that I still really enjoyed working with him.

How do you think Korean R&B fits into the identity of R&B music?

Kuk: I’m not sure and can’t go into too much detail as I don’t know how the two will work together but what I can say is that Korean R&B is expanding and its always getting better I can see the scene improving.

Last month you released the track Meaningless, what was the thought/ creative process behind the song?

Kuk: I wanted to be able to talk about the hard things I was going through emotionally at the start of this year and music would be my outlet to share that and connect with people who were also finding it a bit hard because of the current situation I wanted to be able to comfort them.

How do you respond to critics that say Korean R&B is an appropriation of Black Culture? 

Kuk: Personally, I think it would be hard to follow traditional R&B or black culture because they have their own particular style and it’s very hard as a Korean artist to emulate that, which is potentially why with Korean R&B there is more of a mix of pop than with R&B.

How do you see the future of Korean R&B changing?

Kuk: Since I’m an independent artist it’s hard to measure or predict how the future of the music industry will go, but I can say like I said its good that the Korean R&B scene is expanding and artists like me can get a start in the music industry. 

Where do you see your music career going over the next year?

Kuk: Until now I wanted to create music that had a kind of deeper R&B sound compared to now, I want to make music that is more uplifting and positive, it’s a lighter style of R&B and sound. Currently I don’t have any tour or performance plans yet, but I do have a collaboration in the works with a Korean rapper.

Since you started your music career what’s a change you’ve noticed in yourself?

So, whenever I release a new single or video I always have an expectation and sometimes that’s not met and I would go through a hard time with it whereas now I feel like I’ve grown up a lot over time because I try to think in a positive way because I can see new fans or people listening to my music and that’s where I see a lot of personal growth from when I started my music career. 

Kuk Seung Pyo Speaks With IndustryMe about Korean R&B

Do you think the music scene supports Korean artists and gives them enough recognition?

Kuk: Never, I don’t think they do… It’s because usually in Korea if you’re under a big music label then you’re pushed as an artist and your music is known but for an independent artist, we don’t have the same support or push so it’s hard to get our projects listened to and that’s the main reason I started my reaction channel. 

I would say to other independent artists that want to start a career in music that if they aren’t passionate then don’t do it enjoy music outside of the industry but if it really is their great passion and they are willing to work hard and survive the music industry then they will achieve as long as they work hard.

As an artist is it hard to connect with fans as Korean R&B has got a worldwide fan base?

Kuk: In the beginning I found the cultural differences of my fans hard but not so much anymore, the only thing that’s hard for me is like when my fans DM me they talk to me and I want to have a detailed conversation back, but I can only say thank you and I always feel like that is the biggest barrier I have with my fans and I do want to communicate more with them but that is still something that is hard for me to do.

Whats something you want your fans to take away from your music?

Kuk: I just want them to really like my music, connect, feel comforted by it and also, that it holds a special moment or place in their life.

Keep up to date with Kuk Seung Pyo on his Instagram, YouTube and on Spotify.

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