Album Review: "Seo Taiji and Boys III" (1994)

Seo Taiji and Boys’ third studio album, "Seo Taiji and Boys III", follows two massively successful albums in the two years prior. The trio’s third album, while not quite as successful as the first two, still sold more than 1.6 million copies, and is amongst the best-selling albums in South Korea.

Moving away from their hip-hop origins, the third album saw the trio move into the genres of heavy metal and rock. The lyrics in the songs on this album were somewhat controversial, critical of older generations of Koreans, the education system, and the pressure placed on the country’s youth to succeed in the academic sphere.

The song “Classroom Idea”, although being approved by the government run Public Performance Ethics Committee, was banned from television and radio, and the group were accused of back-masking Satanic messages.

The album was originally released on 13 August, 1994, with a fifteenth anniversary edition with bonus tracks being released in 2007.

Unlike with other South Korean albums of the time, Seo Taiji made the decision for the album to be partially recorded using Amercian session musicians in Los Angeles. Such famous American session musicians featured on the album include guitarist Tim Pierce and drummer Josh Freese, along with turntablist DJ Qbert (for the scratching on the tracks “Classroom Idea” and “It’s My Business”).

The album version we will be reviewing today will be the fifteenth anniversary edition.

A third version of the opening track “Yo! Taiji!” comes alongside the third album, this time coming it at just forty-five seconds in length.

The second track to appear on the album is “Dreaming of Bal-hae”. This alternative rock number holds an interesting place in the history of South Korean music and even South Korean culture. The song voices the hope of a unification of the two Korea’s, speaking of the importance of peace on the Korean Peninsula.

“Dreaming of Bal-hae” even went on to be included in high school textbooks following the song’s publication. And, in April of 2018, the song was playing during the inter-Korean summit as the two leaders - South Korean president Moon Jae-in and North Korean Chairman of the Workers’ Party Kim Jong-un - closed out the meeting.

Third on the list goes to “Through the Eyes of Children”. The song, a simple melody, features lyrics where Seo Taiji talks of getting older, his memories of a childhood full of joy, and the nostalgia that goes with those feelings. The ballad would barely be discernible from a Western ballad if it weren’t for the Korean lyrics involved. But, it is a beautiful song that tugs at the heartstrings even before you’ve translated what it’s all about.

The fourth track on “Seo Taiji and Boys III” belongs to “Classroom Idea”, somehow one of the most controversial songs in K-pop history, not for it’s metal-infused rock score, but for its lyrics. The song condemned the South Korean education system for creating a stressful environment by pressuring students to perform and succeed academically, while stifling students creativity and mental health.

Seo Taiji, who famously never finished his high school education, had himself and the group labelled as a negative influence on the younger generation. Despite this, the group’s popularity with the South Korean youth had never been higher.

The song’s criticism of the South Korean education system and the government of the time was not the only reason that the song came into so much controversy, however. It was also claimed by some that - when played in reverse - “Classroom Idea” had a gloomy, demonic voice attempting to carry out the Devil’s Message. Despite the sound being audible in reverse, it was almost impossible to transcribe, and was largely refuted. However, rumourmongering and controversy refused to subside, leading to the group’s promotions of the entire album to be cancelled earlier than anticipated.

The fifth track on the album is “It’s My Business”. The up-tempo, fast-paced number really digs into the fact that this entire album has moved away from the hip hop genres of the group and ventured into the heavy metal sound that swept the globe during the early 1990’s. Elements of this song might even be considered “screamo”. While the backing track is personally very enjoyable for myself, the sound of the voices over the top do push it out of the style of music I would usually listen to.

The album’s sixth track, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, has lyrics you would expect from a song of it’s title. Much like the previous two tracks, it features the heavy metal sound the group had begun experimenting with, although the singing featured on the track is closer to the singing we have come to expect from the group in the past, with less of the “screamo” vibe to it.

“Seo Taiji and Boys III” features “Eternity” as the seventh track. Unlike any of the other songs featured on this album, however, “Eternity” features orchestral strings to the backing track, which were played by Japan King. The song sounds like it could have come directly from an opera, a musical, or a Disney film, sounding nothing at all like the heavy metal and rock vibe much of the rest of the album provides.

This song also provides Seo Taiji with the opportunity to showcase the amazing duality of his vocals. Not only can the group sing heavy metal, rock, and pop, but can also feature a beautiful, breathy nature to them.

This was, throughout listening to all four Seo Taiji and Boys albums, probably my favourite song.

The eighth track to appear on the album is actually an instrumental version of a song earlier in the tracklist. “Dreaming of Bal-hae (Instrumental)” is the only instrumental track on the album.

The ninth and final song to appear on “Seo Taiji and Boys III” is the song “I’m Going to Erase You”. Unlike all of the other songs on this album, “I’m Going to Erase You” was written by group member Yang Hyun-suk. “I’m Going to Erase You” manages to feature an incredibly extraordinary blend of genres, much in the way that many modern K-pop groups (especially those with Yang Hyun-suk’s future company YG Entertainment) now do on a regular basis. Sounding like an orchestral ballad to begin with, the song then manages to switch to an early 2000’s pop punk vibe, and even features some of the heavy metal sounds used earlier in the album.

When the album was re-released for its fifteenth anniversary, seven more tracks were added, the vast majority of which came from the ‘95 Farewell to the Sky concert. These tracks included: “Opening (‘95 Farewell to the Sky)”, “I’m Going to Erase You (‘95 Farewell to the Sky)”, “Now / To You (‘95 Farewell to the Sky)”, “Farewell to Love (‘95 Farewell to the Sky)”, “Taiji Solo (‘95 Farewell to the Sky)”, and “Classroom Idea (‘95 Farewell to the Sky)”. The only other track to be added to the album for the re-release was “‘07 Classroom Idea (Remix)”.

Have you listened to the second comeback album of the original K-pop group with “Seo Taiji and Boys III”? We certainly recommend it (but we also recommend going back and listening to the first two albums as well)! Give it a listen and let us know what you think by commenting on our socials @KpopWise.

Ford Carter

Ford Carter is an online blogger studying journalism who's hundreds of articles across half a dozen fansites from the music and television industries have now been read more than 300,000 times. From his home in regional Australia, you'll often find him binging kdramas or rewatching old editions of the Eurovision Song Contest.

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