Why Uhm Jung-Hwa Will Forever Be My Queen—and Now Yours Too

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes. All screenshots: MV via Visualazn.

The “Queen of Charisma” deserves so much better than an 18MB, 240p MV for Tum, one of her classic hits:

To remedy that, go to Visualazn for a 428MB, 720p version to download posthaste. (I’d upload it myself, weren’t YouTube to instantly ban the copyright violation.) Watch that once, then come back here.

(If you’re pressed for time, this 1080p MBC Music Camp performance will have to suffice, which has some clips from the MV. But if it’s your first time especially, I really do recommend experiencing it through the high quality MV.)

I’m only so demanding, because to understand how people really feel about their pop culture, you need to appreciate the circumstances in which they consume it. Especially of when they first encountered it, and the technology that was used.

With Tum (a.k.a. Teum, Crack, Gap), for me it was late-2000, in the small southern city of Jinju. I had no cable or satellite TV, so I was reliant on free-to-air channels. It would still be a year before I had internet on my home computer for the first time, and five more before YouTube even existed. Trance music, my first love, was literally unheard of outside of far distant Seoul. I didn’t even have a radio, feeling there’d be no point given Korea’s surprisingly few genre-specific stations. So, in terms of discovering any new music at all, it felt like I was a child in the U.K. again, frustrated at the long, weekly waits for Thursday night’s Top of the Pops.

Then one night while casually surfing those few channels, out of nowhere Uhm Jung-hwa dancing to her riff starting at 1:53/1:05 appeared, and my terrible, sleepless first year in Korea was instantly transformed into the stuff of fantasy again.

Of course the showcasing of Uhm Jung-hwa’s voluptuous body was integral to that. That’s why the CD I quickly purchased just didn’t cut it. It wasn’t like today, when you’re always just a click away from replaying your own favorite combination of amazing music sung and performed by incredibly attractive people. Back then, even with cable, a second viewing would have involved many tedious hours of watching music channels for those few precious minutes; without it, it was next to impossible. Instead, I had to content myself with the song alone, and accept that once the it left the charts and the music shows on the free-to-air channels, I’d likely never see the MV again.

That’s simply how it was with much of popular culture before the internet, no matter how meaningful it may have been to you. You just had to learn to live with it.*

Yet I don’t mean to elevate or privilege my outdated, distance-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder perspective. It’s neither superior, nor somehow more authentic than that of anyone encountering it for the first time today. It’s just mine, and part of my motivation for writing.

Indeed, the fresh perspective YouTube offers only motivated me further.

This was unexpected. Typically, the replay button is cruel to our most cherished pop-culture memories, and I didn’t expect scrutiny of Tum to be any kinder. Take the above scene from 3:51-3:54 (2:28-2:31 in the performance video) for instance. For the last 20 years, that moment of Uhm Jung-hwa looking glamorous as fuck while being mistress of all she surveys, has been indelibly burned into my brain. Only now though, can I take the time to notice all the hair in her face, which would have obscured her vision. The spell of my willing disbelief has been irrevocably broken—let alone totally ruining my long sought after screenshot.

Yet, truthfully, I’m genuinely stumped at locating any other similar oversights in the MV. It’s not perfect—the pauses are unnecessary and long, and the King Kong theme is only loosely tied to the lyrics—but there are many other objectively charismatic moments of Uhm Jung-hwa moments remaining to latch on to. If anything, being able to see it in such detail now has only further convinced me of how it much holds up after 20 years, and it’s this renewed appreciation that compels me to write. For it deserves far greater recognition as the classic it is, many more dance remixes than the single, terrible one I refuse to link to, and, again, at the very least, a decent quality video on YouTube.

Alas, that last I can’t provide. But I did put several days into finding that download for you. And I can give what is, as far as I know, the world’s very first English translation of the lyrics:

Uhm Jung-hwa—Tum

Track 2, Queen of Charisma, released November 2000.

Composer, lyricist, and arranger: Kim Geon-woo.

난 너의 생각처럼 널 위해 기다렸어 너 만을 쳐다보며 이렇게

나를 오랬 동안 그냥 두지 말아줘 이제 견딜 수 없는 나를 좀 봐

변하고 있는 나에게 너는 아무런 느낌이 없었니?

별다른 이유가 많이 있었더라도 널 생각만 해봐도 답답해

I waited for you like you thought I would, I only had eyes for you

Don’t leave me alone for a long time for just no reason, I can’t take it anymore

Didn’t you have any feelings for me as I was changing?

Even if there were a lot of different reasons for doing what you did, it is so frustrating to think about you

Chorus:

제발 이젠 내게 말해줘 너의 힘없는 얼굴이 내 생각엔

아무런 느낌 없는 너처럼 그저 희미해질 뿐이야 난 이제

더 이상 기다리지 않아 나를 언제나 바라본 널 이렇게

아무런 감동 없는 나처럼 매일 같은 날 일 뿐이야 오 제발

Please tell me now; your powerless face, I think,

is fading away, as if you have no feelings for me

I’m not waiting anymore, as you have always looked at me like this

Every day is just the same, emotionless like me, oh please

그렇게 말도 없이 나만을 쳐다보면 너무나 힘이 들어 이렇게 우린

오래도록 지쳐있긴 하지만 언젠가 끝낼 수 있는 날 있잖아

이젠 모든 걸 버리고 우리만의 기억을 생각해봐

너와 나의 사인 아주 가까웠지만 언제부터 이렇게 멀어졌니?

Gazing at me without saying a word leaves me feeling so tired, we’ve

been so frustrated for a long time— there are so many times when I want to just end things

Please put everything aside and focus only on our shared memories

You and I were once very close, when did you drift away?

(Chorus repeats and end)

I appreciate any corrections—while these lyrics were quite simple, you’ll notice I didn’t provide literal translations, as I felt that would diminish from their intended meaning. Please also do tell me your own rants or raves about Tum, or about any other of Uhm Jung-hwa’s songs (Festival is another favorite of mine!), whenever or however you first encountered them :)

*VCRs were a possibility of course, but their bulk and expense meant few 20-somethings had them.

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

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