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[Eye Interview] 250 redefines once-tacky 'ppong' music as fresh, trendy

By Park Ga-young

Published : July 29, 2023 - 16:02

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Producer and DJ 250 performs during his concert Producer and DJ 250 performs during his concert "Have you now know" at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts on July 14. (Sejong Center)

Producer and composer 250 did not say a thing or sing a line during his concert that started at the unusual time of 9 p.m. on July 15 at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.

Without uttering a word, 250, pronounced "Lee O-gong," also known for producing songs for K-pop girl group NewJeans, captured the audience with his music. The stage setting seemed designed to focus on nothing else but music. When the singers and saxophonist that 250 had collaborated with on his last album emerged onstage, they positioned themselves on the side and behind a scrim curtain, revealing only their silhouettes to the audience.

Through his concert titled “Still don’t know?,” 250 brought to life his album "Ppong." The album, dropped last year, got him four awards, including Grand Prize and Best Electronic Album, at the 20th Korean Music Awards in March.

Even for a top performing arts expert, 250's performance was novel. Ahn Ho-sang, the CEO of Sejong Center, known to have overseen innumerable performances, was also in attendance and commented on how "fresh" 250’s concert was.

Some audience members wiped away tears while others danced to the intoxicating music.

Producer and composer 250 performs during his concert Producer and composer 250 performs during his concert "Have you now know" at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts on July 14. (Sejong Center)

“Ppong” is a mix of EDM and trot. It is also a result of 250’s contemplation of what both the ppong or ppongjjak sound and K-pop are.

The initial offer for his album was made in 2015, which was unusual for a producer. He chose to delve into ppong because he believed it to be an inevitable part of Korean pop music.

"In order for music to become popular in Korea, it had to be mixed with elements that would be accepted by the Korean public. Therefore, the focus was on identifying the elements that needed to be blended to achieve mass appeal, rather than catering specifically to music enthusiasts or those who appreciate originality," 250, whose real name is Lee Ho-hyeong, told The Korea Herald during an interview weeks before the concert.

"The task was to examine which elements, when combined, would result in successful assimilation into mainstream music culture."

He admitted that at the beginning he also misunderstood that he could become a ppong musician by wearing glittery stage outfits -- an image associated with ppong singers.

“I believed that I could just pick and choose these elements like items and everything would work out. However, that wasn't the case,” he confessed.

“In reality, there was a process of getting rid of the things I was trying to portray in my music,” he said.

The process took long -- a whopping seven years. A series of five short documentaries titled "In Search of Ppong" that he released along with the album shows how the album was created.

What’s ppong?

For a long time, despite captivating many listeners, ppong, short for ppongjjak, a slang term used for trot music, was regarded as tacky.

However, 250 believes ppong embodies the emotional essence of popular music in Korea.

"The term 'ppong-gi' (the energy or emotion of ppong) was coined during the process of Western music from other countries becoming localized in Korea. It couldn't help but be involved,” 250 said.

Perhaps he has unlocked the secret code to achieving widespread success with his quest to discover the true essence of "ppong," as evident in the chart toppers he produced for K-pop idols like NewJeans.

250 is behind not only "Attention," "Hype Boy" and "Ditto,” the group's hugely popular debut songs that came out last summer, but also songs like "ETA" from their second album, which came out last week and has already swept the music charts.

(Beasts And Natives Alike) (Beasts And Natives Alike)

Next up: 'America'

250, the producer behind massively popular global hits, had never traveled abroad until last year. It was in 2022 when he went to Hamburg, Germany, to perform at the Reeperbahn Festival. This June, he took his music to new heights by embarking on a tour of five Japanese cities.

For his next album, he will explore what American music means to him.

“Throughout my life, most of the music I enjoyed was American music. So, if I, as a Korean, liked American music, then what kind of American music did I like?” he asked.

When he says, “American music,” it does not necessarily refer to the music from the US. What he means is Western pop songs, many of which arrived in Korea through "the filter of the American music industry,” and had an impact on the same generation in Korea.

“Just like 'Ppong' was the process of chasing the nostalgic sounds for a man born in 1982, 'America' will be also a part of the process of seeking the sounds that pursue the nostalgia of such a man,” he said.

As he continues to pursue his music with his unique style, he expressed his desire to become a musician who captivates the curiosity of those seeking something distinct in their listening experience.

“I hope that when a new song is released, people who want to listen to something different, who want to hear something intriguing, will give it a try,” he said.

250's first album, 250's first album, "Ppong," received the Grand Prize at the 20th Korean Music Awards in March. (Beasts And Natives Alike)