A Look at the Music Accompanying Massive South Korean Rallies

South Korean protesters
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File

South Korean protesters beat their drums as they march during a rally calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in Seoul, South Korea. 

Any good South Korean protest needs a soundtrack, and the music that accompanies the massive rallies on the verge of bringing down President Park Geun-hye includes the mournful, the tongue-and-cheek and a smattering of defiance from "Les Miserables."

Music resounds in the crammed streets around South Korea's presidential palace. It's both a rallying point and communal glue as crowds that organizers estimate at more than 1 million gather each Saturday to try to topple a president who prosecutors say allowed a corrupt confidante to pull government strings.

The songs are often modified versions of hits from South Korea's long and vibrant protest culture, which came of age rallying against military dictatorship in the 1980s.

Where the old songs of defiance tended toward somewhat monotonous chants by militant, fist-swinging protesters, however, the new tunes are often short and funny. They are often sung by families and young couples.

Protesters, for instance, cheerfully sway as they sing a tune that mostly just repeats the word "Resign!" Another song taps into lofty language in the country's constitution. Several harken to a recent tragic ferry sinking.

Here is a small sampling of the many songs that have accompanied historic protests in Seoul in recent weeks:


This fast-paced call for Park's arrest is one of the most popular songs at the protests.

The song by Yoon Min-seok calls Park, her allegedly corrupt confidante Choi Soon-sil, members of the conservative ruling party and the media "criminals," “treacherous servants" and "ugly accomplices" who have made people's lives hell.

The chorus goes "Resign! Resign! Resign! Resign now! Park Geun-hye, immediately resign! Imprison! Imprison! Imprison! Imprison now! Imprison Park Geun-hye!"



This was released by folk singer Han Young-ae in 1992 and has since become one of the country's most popular protest songs.

It's heavy with social commentary and laments a people who "don't know what really matters and just run without knowing where they're going" and "ignore the truth."

In the chorus Han sings, "Hey, God, who's asleep, please wake up. Like you did with the old colors of the sky, make things harmonious."

Toward the end, the song expresses a desire for solidarity by turning "hate to love, anger to forgiveness, isolation to sympathy and impulsiveness into patience."



This one was released in 1994 by the rock band N.E.X.T., which was led by the late vocalist Shin Hae-chul. Before his death in 2014, Shin was influential for both his music and biting social commentary.

The song's narrator remembers a chick, called Yali, that he bought as a child on the way home from school, the grief he felt when it died and how that experience shaped him as an adult.

The song was a big hit when it was released and has become an anthem about death and grievance. It resonates also because of its use by relatives of the victims of a 2014 ferry disaster, which killed more than 300 people, mostly schoolchildren, and was partially blamed on government incompetence and corruption.

The chorus goes: "Goodbye, Yali, are you flying in a world that has no pain? ... Did flowers blossom at your small burial mound this year too?"



The song most frequently heard at the protests is a short and humorous improvisation of a decades-old song South Koreans sing while rooting for sports teams at stadiums.

Song writer Lim Han-bin changed the howling chorus of "Arirang Shepherd Boy" from "ya ya, ya-ya-ya-ya, ya-ya-ya-ya, ya-ya-ya" to "haya, haya-haya, haya-haya, haya-ya."

"Haya" means "resignation" in Korean.

The song goes on to describe Park as a "puppet" who "screwed the nation."

"Arrest Park Geun-hye. .... Cough out all the money you have gobbled up," the song goes before shifting to the chorus again.



The short tune written and composed by Yoon Min-seok simply repeats two lines paraphrased from South Korea's Constitution.

It expresses the pride of protesters, whose jovial mood is partially based on the belief that they are taking matters into their own hands to restore the country's democracy, which they say has been undermined by Park's scandal.

The song repeats "The Republic of Korea is a democratic republic" twice before adding, "All authority in the Republic of Korea originates from the people."



This solemn song, also by Yoon, is linked to the 2014 ferry sinking. A chorus of yellow-shirted singers sings it while standing with relatives of victims on a large stage that has become the center of the protests.

The lyrics include, "Darkness cannot defeat the light; Lies cannot defeat the truth; the truth does not sink; We do not give up."


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