K-pop, the Korean take on hip hop that has swept through Asia over the last decade, may be facing a fresh challenge from singing sensation Khemarak Sereymon, whose latest single blends the Korean word for “love” (Sarang) with the Khmer word for “you” (Aun) in the ballad’s title.
Call it KK-pop, K-Khmer, or whatever you want, but what’s undeniable is that the swiftness with which it surged to the top of the Kingdom’s charts signals that Khmer artists can rise above K-pop imports just as Koreans learned to make the hip-hip brand and other generic western imports distinctively Asian.
Sereymon’s luxurious voice is at its best when he’s in agony, though its full range has yet to be tapped and there’s a hint of Sam Cooke in there. He’s a singer who continues to soar above his lyrics, like he’s awaiting a songwriter who can hear the depth of authenticity he pours into songs that more often than not are banal.
The video for his latest video also jars with the purity of his vocal appeal: it’s all dressed up in ostentatious clichés – business suits, a run in with a gang of cell-phone snatchers, a chase that leads to a ballerina, a slap across the face followed by a kiss, and a date on a yacht that ends, apparently, in a drowning.
Khemarak Phearun, the singer’s brother and a songwriter at Sunday Production – which manages Sereymon – told 7Days the use of a Korean word was meant to grab attention. “It’s like adding a bit of foreign spice to enhance the taste of local dish.”
“What makes Sereymon special is that he always sings with all his heart,” Phearun said. “When you put your heart into your song, it comes out so perfectly. People can’t imagine how much effort we have put into the production of each album.”
Sereymon is adored by Cambodian youths – it doesn’t hurt that he’s a delight to the eyes – and is being carefully marketed as a symbol of their aspirations.
It’s a shame his managers haven't looked beneath the surface of the younger generation’s dreams, but Sereymon has a voice that can survive the cheap appeal it’s being subjected to so far.
The video for Sarang Aun is here.