Kisaeng, who had been hereditary female performers in pre-twentieth-century Korea, became modern professional performers during Korea’s colonial period (1910–45). Among them, some talented kisaeng attained high status in modern media as vocal performers, even while the general reputation of kisaeng steadily declined in the colonial period. These kisaeng performers who sought artistic success in the new media occupied two categories. One was yŏryu myŏngch’ang (female master vocalists), who excelled at Korean traditional music, and the other was kisaeng kasu (kisaeng singers), who specialized in modern popular music. Despite their shared social and cultural roots, these kisaeng performers have rarely been examined together in recent scholarship, which has tended to adhere to the disciplinary distinction between traditional and popular music. By examining the activities of yŏryu myŏngch’ang and kisaeng kasu in the same frame, this article demonstrates the ways in which both groups of kisaeng performers, rather than simply being transmitters of Chosŏn music culture, contributed to the modern diversification of music in colonial Korea. It further shows that these kisaeng, who were accomplished artistically, sought wealth and recognition as modern professionals in the colonial Korean music market.

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