Beast: 1. “Fiction”. If someone told me they’d never listened to Beast before, I would want this song to be the first one they heard. Not only because it’s my favourite song of theirs, but because it’s a good compromise between the two extremes of their music: it’s sad and melodic, but you can still dance to it. 2. “숨” (Breath). It’s either this or “Shock”, but I like “Breath” better. I feel like these two singles are still what people think of first when Beast comes up, and not wrongly; even though their sound has matured a lot, it’s in keeping with this style. 3. “비가 오는 날엔” (On Rainy Days). Again, if someone had never listened to Beast before, I would want to be sure they heard their low-key side as well. 4. “Midnight (별 헤는 밤)”. The most representative of the current Beast/Shinsadong Tiger Sound with a capital S. 5. “아름다운 밤이야” (It’s A Beautiful Night). I wouldn’t place it in my top 5, but for the sake of an introduction it’s their most recent single, and as with the best Beast songs it showcases each member’s abilities nicely.
Block B: 1. “Freeze!”. Arranging Block B chronologically is maybe not the most convincing argument for why you should listen to them, but it’s the most responsible representation. This sums up Block B’s fumbling debut year, where they tried to fuse “real hip-hop” with so-dumb-it’s-fun idol pop and only ended up with the latter minus the fun. I would play the first 1:30 of this and then move on to the next song. 2. “Halo”. The kind of single they should have released to begin with. (See also “Wanna B”, and then imagine if that had been their debut single instead of “Freeze!”) 3. “난리나” (Nalina/Go Crazy). In which they finally got it right, embracing their goofiness and underground-style rapping rather than trying to squish it to fit the accepted idol modes. The lyrics are jam-packed. “Nillili Mambo” is this on steroids. 4. “로맨틱하게” (Romantically). Their chill/jazzy side, which happens more than one might think. 5. “Action”. This is my favourite Block B song, all of the giddiness without all the posturing (and some soul horn samples to boot).
seasquared asked: omg maddie i love "stop girl" and completely non-sheepishly. can we talk about how great it is some more *____* also embarrasingly enough when i first heard timberlake's most recent single i mistook it for a ukiss song and was like "WOW THIS AMAZINGLY FLUENT ENGLISH?" before i realized my error
Absolutely! “Stop Girl” is really good, not only composition-wise but because it suits U-KISS’s voices so well, which is not something you’d suspect from their other songs. Like, I can’t really picture another group doing this. And I agree with you, the first five minutes/suite/whatever of “Mirrors” could totally pass for a U-KISS song, with some noisier production and a rap part. (“Yesterday is history/Tomorrow is a mystery” is the kind of cheesy English truism that’s right up U-KISS’s alley, too - lest we forget “Don’t deny our r-squared-pi”.)
What do you think of “Standing Still”? It’s not quite “Stop Girl”, but I think it does a good job of mixing that smoother vocal style with the Eurodance beats of their other, shoutier singles. Could it be that after five years and a lineup change they’re finally hitting their musical stride?
subdee asked: Ukiss! Do you like them? If not then B1A4. I would ask about Z:EA but I'm not sure they have five notable songs to write about (yet).
Why not all three?
I do like U-KISS! Albeit sheepishly. My primer for them is straightforward:
1. “만만하니” (Am I That Easy). What they used to sound like. 2. “시끄러!!” (Shut Up!!). The above, but grimier. 3. “0330”. What they tried to sound like. 4. “Neverland”. What they sound like most of the time. 5. “Stop Girl”. What they’re capable of sounding like. (It gets really good once the extra background noise comes in at 1:40.)
The most comprehensive B1A4 primer would come from Radio Palava, but here’s five songs that make for a good overview:
1. “Beautiful Target”. This doesn’t come first chronologically, but it’s B1A4 in a nutshell: sweet melodies, goofy-voiced rapping, hammy MV, and earworms for days. 2. “못된 것만 배워서” (Only Learned Bad Things). Establishes them early as capable of a mellower, more R&B-based style. 3. “Baby I’m Sorry”. This is the first of three (and counting) title tracks written and produced by leader Jinyoung, and fairly typical of one-half of his production style: an interesting but easy to follow melodic line over a cluttered backdrop, with an attraction to unnecessary bells and whistles (in this case autotune). 4. “너때문에” (Because Of You). This is the other kind of song Jinyoung writes, with the same melodies but more acoustic-based production and a softer edge. It’s nostalgic, yet without a referent. 5. “걸어 본다” (Tried to Walk). Hopefully this is indicative of their future direction, nominally more mature and continuing to build on this electronic pop sound. Then again, they immediately followed the darkish “Baby I’m Sorry” with the chipper “Baby Good Night”, so who knows?
And finally, my ZE:A recommendation is to listen to tracks 2-6 of Spectacular (“Aftermath” through “Never End”) and spare yourself the embarrassment of hearing any of their singles before that.
seasquared asked: TEEN TOP PLEASE because i keep meaning to see what others see in them but that keeps falling to the very bottom of my to-do list
For me Teen Top’s best songs by far are their singles, so if you’ve already heard those you may end up back at square one. In chronological order:
1. “박수” (Clap). Their debut single introduces the basic elements of their music: the smooth, nasal timbre of Niel’s voice, the plaintive melodic singing of the others, and songwriting that is better than they likely deserve. Those two seconds of silence at 1:38 alone make this one of the most musically interesting debut singles of the last few years, to the point where the MV actually fills it in in an attempt to normalize it. (Accept no substitutes for the recorded version.)
2. “Supa Luv”. Produced by Hyuk Shin, a.k.a. “the guy who [co-]wrote ‘One Less Lonely Girl’”, as it’s been publicized. Biebs got this guy’s nostalgic side; Teen Top gets his futuristic one. This one takes a few listens.
3. “향수뿌리지마” (Don’t Spray Perfume). The shimmery synths are beautiful, but to enjoy them you either have to get past or give in to the squicky concept and lyrics (as unimaginatively illustrated in the MV). This mix of cringing guilt and pop pleasure is the essence of Teen Top’s appeal.
4. “To You”. The Teen Top/Brave Bros. partnership has proven a fruitful one; even if they are getting retreads of his other work, they imbue it with a sprightly energy that’s harder to reproduce. (See also their newest single, “Miss Right”.)
5. “사랑하고 싶어” (I Wanna Love). Teen Top are vocal Big Bang fanboys; if it isn’t already evident from the fact that they have a rapper named C.A.P, here’s a video of the three youngest members goofing off to “Fantastic Baby”. While “Crazy” is their most blatantly Big Bang-ish single, “I Wanna Love” is in the same striding minor-key mode as Alive, and expands their musical range in the same way. (Bonus: The MV was filmed in Hong Kong, and the cans of pineapple at the beginning are apparently an homage to Chungking Express, which, ?!)
I’m impressed by the lyrics. “Why am *I* doing this to *you*” in with all the other stuff about how the girl is a maniac. Vixx-dudes already know this but they should be running, not walking, away from this psychotic relationship.
I really like this comment, and I agree! There are a lot of K-pop songs about obsessive relationships from both sides, but I think this might be the first one to say “No, this is wrong for both of us, I need therapy” rather than just glamourizing the angst (though it still does plenty of that). (I could be wrong; like I said, there are a lot of lyrics to comb through.)
Anonymous asked: I hope that when you say Brave Brothers has old guy/new guy sides to him, you really mean old guy/young guy, because he's done sad disco before - One Two "Starry Night" is the one I really like. Anyway, I love your Colors of Kpop review, many unexpected connections brought to light and a good way to sum up the year!
Whoops, thank you for pointing this song out. I’m admittedly not all that familiar with his catalogue beyond the major singles. Actually, to me “Starry Night” kind of brings his two sides together - the vocal line has similarities to the sad-disco stuff, but the backing track sounds a lot more like what he was doing for U-KISS around the same time (“Man Man Ha Ni” et al.).
The Colors of K-Pop project was great! I hope things like it will happen more often. It’s nice to see composers getting more attention these days.
Anonymous asked: Wow, thanks for such a thoughtful response! I ask because while B1A4 is one of the first groups I've actively liked as a musical group and as individuals, it's been difficult for me to find critical -- heck, even thoughtful -- feedback about them from BANAs. Here's hoping the only offensive thing they do is that bullshit cowboys and indians theme they pulled out for "잘자요 굿나잇." (Here's also hoping Gongchan becomes a bit more useful.) Thanks again!
Ah, I understand your question now! For what it’s worth, I think BANAs might have a worse reputation than their group does - to wit, an incident in January where some Korean BANAs reacted to B1A4 doing a dance performance with Dal*Shabet by making allegations of rape against Darlings (Dal*Shabet fans, largely male). Of course, this doesn’t reflect the majority of the fandom. But I also think that most K-pop fans are inclined to be less critical of their favourites - and of course, the idol marketing model encourages general appreciation/adoration more than measured perspective.
But yes, for now the “cowboys and Indians” thing seems to be the worst of it, and I also hope it stays that way. I hope you’re enjoying their new single! The video is gorgeous.
radio-palava said: Anon, if you’d like to engage in some critical conversation on B1A4, I’ve written a couple of things and would love to hear your thoughts! (pretty sure B1A4’s tag here on http://radio-palava.tumblr.com is more populated than any other tag I have… :) )
Anonymous asked: What do you think about the members of B1A4?
Hi! I’m not sure exactly how to answer this, but I do have a lot of general thoughts on B1A4 that I’ve been itching to put down, so I hope you don’t mind if I do that here.
I find B1A4 fascinating image-wise. They started out being presented as these sort of bland, slightly spacey cute boys: their unique marketing point, besides the blood types thing, was that all of the members were “country boys”, coming from the south, the countryside, or both, which projected onto them a sort of bumpkin-type innocence. Now, though, I think they’ve taken more ownership of their talents, especially Jinyoung. It’s as if WM woke up one day and said, “Oh, right, we have a competent songwriter in this group, we should do something with that.” I wrote about Jinyoung’s transition into becoming a songwriter-producer-idol when “Baby I’m Sorry” came out here; since then this aspect of his image has been played up in the press, and he was responsible for the follow-up single “Sleep Well, Good Night”. (And for what it’s worth, my personal ranking of Jinyoung’s compositions is: “Because Of You” > “Baby I’m Sorry” > “Bling Girl” > the song he wrote in 24 hours for Sesame Player > “Wonderful Tonight” > “Sleep Well, Good Night” > “Feeling”.)
Watching their season of Sesame Player earlier this year, I found it a bit too boring and rigid at first. I think the PDs made the assumption that because of B1A4’s naive image, they needed a lot of handholding (unlike the previous groups on Sesame Player, MBLAQ and Infinite, who seemed to take charge of their own activities with minimal on-camera interference), and so they started out being given a lot of missions, tasks to accomplish, etc. But as the show went on, the producers seemed to realize that yes, the members could carry a candid camera-type show on the basis of their personalities, without the need for extravagant missions and game time. They’re quiet, but they’re weird and interesting in their own way. I haven’t watched their season of Hello Baby yet (though I’m looking forward to Radio Palava’s take!) but I imagine it’s similarly less concerned with structure and more confident in the group’s ability to make for good television.
I don’t have too many opinions on the members as individuals, besides Sandeul, who is my favourite and also in my top 3 of male idol singers. I’d love for him to do a solo stint on Immortal Song 2. I think Baro and CNU have a lot of potential, and they’ve only been improving since debut. (Though I prefer CNU as a vocalist, not a rapper, as long as he doesn’t steal too much of Sandeul’s thunder - which seems to be Jinyoung’s job lately.)
Anonymous asked: In response to your GD review (which I liked) I just want to say there is art in controversy and you seemed bothered by 'appropriateness'. I am not sure if you covered the idea of him parodying the image of himself so what a appears to be an ego trip is like a satire of an ego trip? It might also be a cleaning out the closet concept, get all the rage and past images out of the water and start afresh?
Thanks for your message, sorry for the late reply! (The review anon is referring to is here.)
I was referring to appropriation, which oversimplified can be described as using another culture or subculture’s customs and symbolism for your own purposes; in this case, it’s borrowing from North American hip hop/gangster culture. The problem with appropriation is that it often removes these symbols from their original context, and so this leads to misrepresentation of the original and/or a portrayal that is shallow or disrepectful. It’s not that I think GD doesn’t understand the origin of the hip-hop symbols he appropriates; far from it, in fact. But I’m not entirely sure they’re his to represent, and this is where perhaps the idea of “appropriateness” comes in. For more on the subject, I would recommend reading Angry K-Pop Fan and Radio Palava’s posts on K-pop and “gangsta” culture: here, here, and here.
As for your second point, I like that idea. However, I think what initially stopped me from seeing the video in that way is that, as I said, I can’t tell if the intent of the video is to be read as parody/satire or not. The video definitely lends itself to a more close-reading type of analysis than I was able to give it, and it’s rich with symbolism aside from just hip-hop signifiers. If you haven’t read it already, Seoulbeats has a nice close reading of the MV that gets into the possible commentary on his image G-Dragon may be going for.