Luk thung is the country music of Thailand

Thai: ลูกทุ่ง
Also: plen luk thung; luuk thung; loog thung; look thung; luk tung

Generally described as Thai country music, luk thung is a style of music that has become quite popular in Thailand since the 1960’s. It is generally slow paced (although there is a livelier variety), and the lyrics often deal with the plight of poor people in rural areas. In this way it is somewhat similar to American blues music. Luk thung singing is very melodramatic and emotional.

Luk thung actually began in the early parts of the 1900’s, although it didn’t establish itself as a genre until the 1960’s. It is an amalgam of different international styles, most notably old-style American country music (although today it more closely resembles pop than country). Thai luk-thung performers warble, yodel and emote in a very unique style which has become one of the biggest-selling genres in the country today.

Luk thung and another Lao pop form, mor lam, are very close in spirit and increasingly indistinguishable. Generally speaking, mor lam is faster, more traditional sounding, and sung in Lao rather than Thai, although none of these are strict rules.

Luk thung releases are often the result of a rather cookie-cutter, Tin Pan Alley-type of industry. Lyricists are hired, melody-writers are hired, singers and bands are rented, and cassettes and CD’s are produced by the truckload in the hopes that one title will capture the popular imagination.

Concerts are legion as well, since half of the money made from luk thung is from live shows. Many performers have contracts with a particular company and are paid a salary.

There are several stars who have achieved enough success to have more conventional musical careers, and who command bigger fees for live shows. Pumpuan Dongjon, who died in 1992, was one of luk thung’s top female singers. Mike Piromporn is a popular male singer (although the genre seems to have been taken over by women).

Having arisen as a rural response to music that was popular in the cities, luk thung has now itself become popular among urbanites, and has inevitably changed to reflect this. Lyrics have been updated to fit the times, and are often about city life.

The overall effect of luk thung is somewhat melancholy and soothing, if at times humorless and professional. It is worth checking out, if only to get a taste of one of Thailand’s most popular types of music. Not quite folk music, it has a unique position in the musical landscape of Thailand.

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