A monumental moment occurred when the Korean Broadcasting Service (KBS) ushered in the new year by airing “Joseon Beauty Pageant”, which broke ground by featuring rarely seen, traditional Korean music and dance.

While modern styles such as K-pop (Korean Pop) rule the airways in South Korea and have even crossed over to the West, traditional music and dance known as gugak, has seen a decline in popularity and been pushed to the wayside.

Many believed that younger viewers would not be able to relate to older, more traditional music and dance styles. So outlets were discouraged from showcasing it, until just last week, when producers decided to take a chance on highlighting gugak in their period drama, “Joseon Beauty Pageant”. Breaking barriers between old and new, the two-episode television drama airing last weekend, centered around Joseon-era beauty contestants who find love and success in reaching their dreams.



Gugak song and dance traditions. 


Contrary to what was expected, the show became a collaborative fusion of the old with the new. The soundtrack for the drama features a mashup of old and new music and dance, combining top pop lyrics and music with traditional  rhythms and melodies. Producers strategically commissioned masters of traditional music and dance as art directors, writers, composers and choreographers. Ensuring that a traditional element would be strongly represented, traditional Korean dance and music stars held supporting roles while K-Pop group Pentagon’s Yeo One and pansori vocalist Kim Na-ni played lead characters. The collaborative effort of mixing new and veteran talent was applied across most areas of the production, ensuring a smoothly blended, collaborative feel.

Despite the drama’s airing for just two days, the script took three years to write. With songs and choreography needing to be added, the seven month production precess was further complicated by having to start from scratch every time the smallest edit had to be made.


To the surprise of the production crew and everyone else it seemed, the unconventional show was met with rave reviews. Social media and the KBS website were flooded with feedback that the show helped viewers open their eyes and appreciate gugak.

Producer Kim Nae-Hyun stated that his motive behind all of this was to end the prejudice against this form of traditional music and dance; he summarized that, “It would be great if more content showcasing the charm of gugak could be made through this opportunity.”