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The legacy of South Korea’s most influential singer-songwriter, Yoo Jaeha

If you are a KPOP fan, you must have heard the song Because I Love You which was covered by different artists and idols countless times. But do you know the story behind this ever iconic song/album and its original singer? Let’s dive deeper to the sweet-bitter tragedy of the Father of Korean Ballads that is Yoo Jaeha and revisit the history of the most important and greatest album in South Korea’s music history.

Yoo Jaeha was born on June 6, 1962, a time that has very much different music than the one that we have now. He was interested in music even when he was young. He learned playing accordion, cello and guitar and started singing during his elementary days. He enrolled in classical piano lessons, but neglected his exercises and wrote his own pieces instead. He was a composition major at Hanyang University in Seoul where he developed his skills at lyrics and arrangement. With his ability to play a variety of musical instruments, he developed his own genre of major key ballads, a fusion of classical and jazz music.

He became a keyboardist in Cho Yongpil’s band called The Great Birth while he was on his final year at college. Yoo wanted to write a song for Cho Yongpil during that time, so he presented the song Because I Love You which was a ballad song in a major key which was apparently rare at that time so Cho Yongpil became interested and recorded the song. But Yoo Jaeha did not like how Cho Yongpil presented the song as it did not turned the way he planned in his mind. Yoo later then ended up quitting the band because his school would not allow him to skip classes frequently because of the band tour in America.

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After graduation and the mandatory time and the military service, Yoo Jaeha became in contact with another band Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and the band leader Kim Hyunsik, another legendary  singer-songwriter who lived a short life. They became close friends and often went out for a drink after long nights of recording and singing sessions. He also left the band after some time to create his own music.

Yoo Jaeha released his album called Because I Love You in 1987. He wrote the music, the lyrics and also did the arrangements all by himself. This was the first ever self-produced album in South Korea’s music history. Most of the songs in this album are based on his own love story. The woman in his love story was the one who played the violin, oboe on the album. She was his classmate in elementary. They met again in college and dated for four years after Yoo Jaeha asked her out as a freshman in college.

Because I Love You album cover

The album was not received well after months of release as the genre was deemed as very odd during that time. It also got very little promotion and they judged his use of complex harmonies in the album as strange . He was blocked from performing on-air due to lack of vocal skills. His style of singing was thought to be lacking during that time. He only had one TV appearance in his entire life. It was on KBS’ variety show “March of Youth”. Thank you for this precious memory and seeing the talent that he has in him, KBS!

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Three months after he released his debut album, he died on a tragic car accident on Gangbyeon Expressway at the age of 25. Ironically, his tragic death made him famous as radio stations played Because I Love You to mourn his death which led to more people discovering the genius gem.

Yoo’s father used the proceeds from “Because I Love You” to create the Yoo Jaeha Scholarship and the Yoo Jaeha Music Contest, both designed to give young musicians the opportunity to further expand the possibilities of Korean pop. Winners of the contest include You Hee-yeol, Kim Yeon-woo, and Bang Si-hyuk. Yoo Jae-Ha Music Festival still goes on today.

His legacy remains alive up to this day. Countless Kpop artists have covered Yoo Jaeha’s songs. Check out the cover songs by Bae Suzy, Jinyoung, Super Junior, and WINNER!

The hit period drama Reply 1988 also  incorporated Yoo’s songs which led to the younger audience discovering and appreciating his work.

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The drama My Mister also covered his song My Reflection in My Heart as an OST sang by Kwak Jin Eon.

There was a film called Because I Love You, a fantasy-comedy about a music producer (Cha Taehyun) whose spirit, after a car crash accident, must inhabit the bodies of various other people who need some help in their love problems. The director liked Yoo Jaeha. He also incorporated his songs in the film.

There will also be a movie dramatizing the life of Yoo Jaeha and Kim Hyunsik called Season of You and Me which will star Kim Dong Hee and Jin Seonkyu. The release date is yet to be announced.

In 2018, Because I Love You was ranked the best pop album in South Korean history by a panel of music critics and music industry experts in collaboration with The Hankyoreh and Melon.

Yoo Jaeha died believing his music has failed, but his craft still living to inspire lots of people. It took 9 songs, 1 TV performance and a whole lot of explorations for Yoo Jaeha to change the direction of Korean music. This powerful album pointed the way forward for Korean pop music, and ballads in particular. His influence led to the Kpop that we have today. He may have left us physically, but his music will always remain.

Stream Because I Love You album here.

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