Like any other genre of Western popular music in the postwar period, rock was introduced to South Korea via the U.S. Armed Forces, a powerful symbol of postwar American hegemony. Until the late 1960s the U.S. military camp shows, clubs, and radio broadcast remained the main source of Western pop, providing opportunities for Korean musicians to hone their skills and enrich their repertoire. While this might be seen as a classic example of cultural imperialism, it actually developed a much more complex pattern of glocalization, especially in the case of rock music. The Korean appropriation of rock—which we refer to as “rok”—unfolded new sensibilities of the youth counterculture, mounting a considerable challenge to the conservative, militaristic nationalism of the Park Chung Hee regime.
The supremely talented guitarist and composer Shin Joong Hyun and his band, the Add Four, led the way from the U.S. military base to the Korean audience in 1964, along with their rivals, the Key Boys. Other Korean rock bands, then known as the “group sounds,” followed suit. Group-sound rok flourished in the live music salons, outdoor festivals, and go-go dance clubs, captivating the youth in the 1960s and 1970s. As the authoritarian regime started noticing and clamping down on the “threat” of the youth culture, Shin Joong Hyun and other group-sound musicians were making a breakthrough in the mainstream popular culture. In 1975 the regime banned and censored Shin and other musicians, criminalizing the youth culture.
In analyzing what sparked off this monumental culture clash, we find that rok's reimagination of nation as a community of peace and love caused the harsh reaction from the regime, whose doctrine of “national culture” was heavily influenced by the militaristic vision of the Japanese Empire.