Seo Ji-won was a beloved Korean singer (male/solo artist) from the mid 90s. Seo’s first album came out in October 1994. Above was his debut song “Another Start” (또 다른 시작). Shortly before the release of his second album, Seo took his own life. He was found dead on January 1, 1996. He was 19 years old.
If you happen to be a fan of K-dramas, you might have heard of Seo already. He was referenced in the drama Reply 1994 (응답하라 1994). To be honest, I was less familiar with Seo, compared to some of the other K-pop artists. This was because our whole family moved to Beijing, China in August 1994. Seo debuted that October. So, I did not witness (first-hand) his success. This was before the internet, so I just read about him in the news and magazines. I clearly remember reading about his death in 1996.
Above, famous songwriter Yoon Il-sang talks about Seo’s death. Yoon was with Seo just four hours before his death.
I have briefly summarized only the interview parts:
We first met as singer-songwriter.
The record company first contacted me because I write songs.
It started out like that, but he eventually became like a younger brother (to me).
On January 2, I got a phone call early in the morning.
I was told Ji-won had “attempted to commit suicide.”
I did not know he was dead.
Ji-won was very quirky. You know how like talented people sometimes tend to be quirky.
So, I first tried to understand “the attempt” in that context. I asked what hospital he was recovering at.
I was told his body was in the hospital morgue. I could not believe it.
I would like to interpret his death as a very unfortunate “accident.” I dunno… To this day, I cannot believe it.
Q: If Seo were alive today, what kind of singer would he be?
He would have been awesome. If Ji-won were alive today. Maybe even as popular as Lee Seung-gi?
What I mean is, Ji-won would have been a singer beloved by Koreans, old and young.
His talents were not bad at the time, but more importantly, he had so much potential.
He would have been a great musician, doing so well in his field.
I have gotten older, but Ji-won hasn’t. When I close my eyes, I can still picture him as he was back then.
Maybe forever. Even when I am 60 or 70, Ji-won will still (probably) remain that age.
Above was Seo’s music video to the song “With (All) My Tears” (내 눈물 모아) of his second album. The album came out three weeks after his death. The songs were already recorded, but they had not shot any music videos. So, the music video was made from old video clips + video clips from his funeral. In the K-pop charts TV show (above), many fans came out to cheer for the late Seo. The song would stay at #1 for three weeks.
FYI, the writings you see here and there (in the music video) are parts of Seo’s will and testament. I was struck by the part where Seo wrote, (maybe) he’d have been better off leading a normal/regular life (as a student) in the U.S. (Note: Seo attended middle and high schools in the U.S. He attended John Burroughs High School in Burbank, California. I just read on Wikipedia that is where the American TV show The Wonder Years was shot.)
For me, that statement says a lot about so-called “fame.” I am also reminded I don’t know much about the entertainment industry. Anyway, the song did very well even w/o its singer on stage. I think this was something unprecedented here in Korea.
More recently, K-pop singer Kang Min-kyung (of Davichi) sang the song on Immortal Songs 2. The songwriter himself, Jung Jae-hyung played the piano for her. The below video clip has English subtitles. You can watch it from 29:00. A great video clip.
I feel Seo Ji-won is/was a singer who would be loved by many K-pop fans even if he came out today. Thanks for reading!