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kpophistory

Hangul throughout K-pop music

K-pop only started gaining an international fanbase within the past 5-7 years and it’s incredible to see so many people around the world get into the language and culture because of it. Rarely from a design perspective and mostly from a “I want to be closer to my oppa” perspective so it’s hard to notice how Hangul has been used throughout the years in Korean pop music. From the beginning, Trot, and current day music, there has been a shift in the way Hangul is used in the design scene and in turn, musicians started picking up on how to incorporate “The Perfect Alphabet” into their work.

First, a little bit of history: Trot is rooted in Japanese colonialism. A lot of the styles of trot were adopted from Enka during the colonization period and eventually Koreans co-opted Trot as their own. The Japanese even banned Koreans from speaking Hangul and required them to speak Japanese which could also explain why the notion of “Hangul Typography” was such a late-bloomer among other reasons.

trot

In the beginning, when we start to see promotional material for Trot, a lot of the typography relied on heavy strokes and the use of a lot of different (tacky) colors. Presumably to make-up for a somewhat lacking style in the script and lack of font choices at the time. “Hangul Typography” didn’t even become a concept to Koreans until around 1985 when Ahn Sang Soo came out with his own self-titled font and really shook up the design world with his designs. Ahn’s contribution to the design scene could be seen on the same level of influence as Seotaji and the Boys song “I know” or 난아라요. Most Trot album covers follow the same formula: A photograph of the singer with tacky typography.

Fast foward to 7080:

image

We start to see some changes in the art. The typography is more subdued and the aesthetics overall are much less attention-grabbing. The font itself is interesting because we begin to see more contrast in line curvatures and the way those lines are constructed. Trot’s aesthetic could also be drawn from the flashy nature of the genre and the album art does well to reflect that but 7080 is more serene and the album covers are indicative of that feeling.

During the first generation K-pop era, we see a decline in the actual use of Hangul as English takes over the covers of K-pop albums and more so now than ever since K-pop attracts people from all over the world and English has become the only means to connect artist and fan.

images

While Hangul typography hasn’t been used much at all in mainstream K-pop, the Korean indie scene has embraced this art and implemented it in all sorts of mediums. Most notable of these bands is Jang Kiha and the Faces who have peaked interest in the return of retro among Korean youth and hopefully Hangul typography along with it. The band has infused retro-inspired typography in their album covers and has really been in the forefront with combining Hangul typography and music. The guy behind the designs, Kim Kijo, is a typographer that has been making his mark in the design scene with his retro-inspired Hangul type.

kpophistory

He’s also responsible for this fake Girls’ Generation album cover.

snsd

Check out some other ways Hangul has been used on recent media.

indie moar

Reply 1994, Kim Kijo, 전기흐른, 붕아붕아

Hangul typography is steadily becoming more known and appreciated by Koreans and even non-Koreans. Hoefler and Frere Jones have even called Hangul “The World’s Most Perfect Script”. I hope to see Hangul type in more and more media and hopefully this can spark discussion surrounding the script. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!




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  • Alex

    Hangeul is not spoken, is written. What is spoken is the Korean language. 한글은 글시이고 한국어는 언어이잖아요.

  • Alex

    Btw “hangeul is the most perfect script” this is so much biased and blind nationalistic, it might be the best suitable script by Korean language, but it wouldn’t fit at all other languages with different phonemic systems, so saying that Hangeul is the most perfect script like that, like an absolute affirmation, is plain lame.
    I like your blog and your insight about Korean typography, but those affirmations just look like nationalistic propaganda that obviously cannot appeal the foreigner trader at which your aim your blog (since it is written in English).

  • I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz answer back as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from. cheers

    • Soo Kim

      Sorry for the delayed response! Soo, the founder, designed the site and Amanda, one of the editorial directors, coded the site. Hope that helps!

  • Thank’s great post.