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[Feature] Hot to trot: Singers reign supreme on Korean small screen

Broadcasters vie to capture audience with trot music competitions

Trot singer Lim Yeong-woong (Mulgogi Music)
Trot singer Lim Yeong-woong (Mulgogi Music)

The year of 2020 was the year of trot music, especially on the small screen.
Trot music, which is thought to have grown out of Japanese Enka in the early 20th century, developed in its own style over the years to become a favorite of older generations.

But in recent years, trot has been broadening its fan base, attracting new fans, including those from younger age groups.

The latest wave of popularity began with trot singer Song Ga-in, who was crowned “Ms. Trot” in a smash hit TV audition show of the same name in 2019 on cable channel TV Chosun. Song, who originally trained in pansori, a traditional Korean music genre, took the first place in the show and became the diva of the year.

The show combined trot music with an audition show format, of the kind often used to produce new pop groups. Viewers pick their favorite contenders and help them move on to the next stage of the audition show, as if they were the producers at a K-pop entertainment agency.

The show had another hit season earlier this year with trot singer Lim Yeong-woong becoming “Mr. Trot.”

On the back of his great popularity, Lim went on to sign advertisement deals for a whole range of products, from home electronic appliances to foods, cars and more. Lim’s co-stars from “Mr. Trot,” Lee Chan-won, Jung Dong-won and Kim Ho-jung all rose to stardom as well.

According to Gallup’s annual year-end survey result released Monday, Lim is the most favored singer of the year among people 40 or older. Lim scored a 36.9 percent rating, followed by trot singers YoungTalk at 27.3 percent and veteran singer Na Hoon-a at 17.2 percent.

Lim was also popular among people in their 20s and 30s, ranking fourth and second, respectively, in those age groups.

“The coronavirus pandemic and recent political issues are overwhelming. Trot music shows offer comfort,” one 64-year-old resident of Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, said.

The avid trot fan said he and his wife eagerly wait for new episodes of trot-related shows every week. Over the past few months, they have become “honorary judges” of such shows, evaluating each contender’s competence in front of the TV.

The COVID-19 pandemic had an unexpected impact on the “trot music syndrome.” Popular trot singers, who used to make money performing in festivals around the country, started appearing on the small screen as the pandemic axed most festivals and events. 

Screenshot of
Screenshot of "Ms. Trot Season 2" (TV Chosun)

In what may be an overkill, broadcasters are rushing to launch trot music related shows. KBS has launched “Trot National Sports Festival,” MBC “Trot People” and “Favorite Entertainment,” SBS “K-Trot in Town” and more. Cable channels TV Chosun has started to air “Ms. Trot Season 2,” MBN launched “Trot Queen” and “Voice Trot,” and MBC Every1 has presented “I am a Trot Singer.”

The trot music shows are similar in their formats, featuring similar cast members. The same trot singers also appear on other TV shows, such as variety reality shows or comedy programs, as guests over and over again.

“I turn on the TV and it is always some new trot audition show or trot music singers, followed by advertisements featuring them. I do not have a problem with trot music. But now, wherever I go, it is trot music. It is just too much these days,” an office worker in her late 50s said.

Though it is trot this time, it is not the first time that broadcasters jump on bandwagon when a new hit is discovered. In the past, TV channels have been packed with pop music audition shows, K-pop idol audition shows, cooking shows and travel reality shows, copying each other’s successful formats.

Industry experts point out that the current trend may make public weary of trot singers, and halt the revival of trot music in the long term.

By Im Eun-byel (
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Korea Herald daum