[Theme of December '2021 ICON'] Lee Mu-jin How Singer #63 Became ‘Singer-songwriter’
[Theme of December '2021 ICON'] Lee Mu-jin How Singer #63 Became ‘Singer-songwriter’
  • Oh Kwang-soo (Poet, Pop culture critic)
  • 승인 2021.12.01 00:45
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  His start was Singer #63. It did not take a long time for him to be stamped as a new singer-songwriter born in 2000. He made his presence to the world in a JTBC audition program Sing Again : for the Unknown ending last February.

  Lee Mu-jin selecting Han Young-ae’s Anyone There? as the first match song bewitched the audience and jurors with his rhythmic and livelily soulful vocal and outstanding guitar skills. When he sang the opening verse “Hello, anyone there?” with a slight frown on his face, the audience recognized he was something. His appearing was so powerful that the official Youtube video was viewed 23 million times. At a stroke he was mentioned as a highly probable winner and cut a brilliant figure as the competition continued. He unrolled his musical talents on the basis of his excellent arranging skills alternating between this genre and that. And he kept increasing the expectations arranging and singing the songs of Lee Moon-sae, Shin Hae-chul, Cho Yong-pil and a duo G-clefs in Lee Mu-jin’s ways. In the end he drew a successful conclusion taking the third place after Lee Seung-yoon and Jung Hong-il. Lee Seung-yoon was comforting as a folk singer and Jung Hong-il showed his maturity as a rocker; both were excellent singers. However, there were some who gave higher score to Lee Mu-jin’s potential in a way.

  In the pop music world, people were excited saying a sing-a-song-writer comparable to Jason Mraz and Ed Sheeran was born in Korea. He was not only excellent as a song-writer but also was not inferior to a multiplayer vocalist alternating between high and low tones. He has many good points : the voice no one ever might get sick of no matter how many times he hears; and his looks give comfort and trust to others. It was the appearance of a young singer who has shared some easiness of Jason Mraz and some genius of Ed Sheeran, according to the pop music world’s comments.

  He was totally unknown till then but was famous, to some extent, among those of his age. Lee Mu-jin, having played his father’s guitar since his elementary school days and been familiar to music, dived into the world of music entering Seoul Institute of the Arts in 2020. When in college Lee Mu-jin shot a video of playing the guitar and singing Sting’s English Man in New York with his friend on a corridor and posted on SNS it became quite a topic. People already had had foreknowledge that he would be accepted on a stage for professionals since then.

  It was through a JTBC show Famous Singers for which Sing Again top three men were cast that he proved his true worth after the debut. In each and every show Lee Mu-jin showed his stunning singing ability singing with Lee Seung-chul, Lee Sun-hee and IU.

  Traffic Signal, a song written by himself and released in May, was the song sufficiently showing his true worth the public had recognized in advance.

  Now I set my destination/ but I am blocked/ Long way to go/ A friend of mine, angry with his face red/ hit upon me/ Already took a step/ pressing myself to go/ hard to walk/ A friend of mine, frightened with his ashy pale face running away/ spin around in my brain/ on the keyboard-like road/ a lot of circles/ all stop or roll, all under the command/ Not different for me/ Red or Green?/ that short three seconds between them/ that yellow light of signal/ emptying my brain/ Do not know/ I’m quick or slow/ Only I know it’s all yellow before my eyes.’

  This song livelily describing a story of youth just becoming an adult compared to a traffic signal has the wide support of the late teens and the early 20s, his age group. He has earned the wide support of the youths who go through the same struggles, making a song about the chaotic times of a mere beginner compared to a beginner driver.

  The song did not create a sensation when first released. But after Lee Mu-jin sang Rain and You, one of the Hospital Playlists OST this song entered the music chart at the high rank again. And at the same time a song titled Assignment released on SNS and Youtube first won popularity. This was his song written by himself as an assignment turned in sending messages to a professor who always gives students lots of assignments.

  As you see in Traffic Signal or in Assignment, Lee Mu-jin’s strength lies in his naturalness without any artificiality. He sprang up as a best-selling singer shaking the chart on releasing each song. During a period not even as long as a year, Lee Mu-jin became a sudden star like poet Byron who had said, “I awoke one morning and found myself famous.” We may see his face and hear his voice from this commercial and that.

  What is Lee Mu-jin’s strength as a singer? First, his distinctive musical talents. He not only stimulates retro sensibility compared to other singers but also honestly tells us stories of the contemporary young generation with songs. In his songs are more frank and candid expressions than others’.

  Lee Mu-jin as a singer is not different from a blank sheet of paper. So he makes us expect him more. It is clear that he is a singer who has potentials to jump up higher than now. What would people call Lee Mu-jin in the future? Already thrilled to see it.



  Oh Kwang-su is a poet and pop culture critic; graduated from Chung-Ang University, majoring in creative writing; wrote a poetic collection It’s a Crazy Thing to Say about Love Now, a poetic review Poetry Is Beautiful, essays on pop culture The Golden Age of Romantic Crowns and so forth; working as a pop culture critic.

Translated by Park Eun-sun


* 《Cultura》 2021 December (Vol. 90) *

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