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.
It’s Gayo Daejun season, and SBS has been preparing their big showpiece for the past month, a producers’ showcase called The Color of K-Pop. Four major composers/producers - Sweetune, Shinsadong Tiger, Brave Brothers, and Kim Dohoon - have been assigned supergroups to write a song for, with proceeds from the singles going to charity. And these groups are super: the two boy groups each include members from 2AM, Teen Top, Infinite, Beast, and MBLAQ, while the two girl groups have members from Sistar, Secret, After School, KARA, and 4minute. The groups will perform these songs at SBS’s Gayo Daejun on December 29 in ostensibly a kind of battle or face-off, but mostly a celebration of the diversity of sounds in mainstream K-pop.
The songs are all very good, and make a solid introduction to each producer’s signature sound. Overall, what I was most struck by was how fresh all of them sound, even the most retread-y ones. They’re unaffected by current trends, with nary a dubstep wobble or shuffle (horse dance?) beat to be heard. It could be the new energy of the reconfigured groups, or the freedom this kind of project affords; and it’s worth noting that these four producers do the bulk of their work for smaller agencies, not the Big Three.
Here’s a quick overview of each song and its producer:
Kim Dohoon is perhaps the least well-known of the four Color of K-Pop producers, with perhaps the most diverse resume: he’s a go-to composer for both FNC Music, agency of idol bands FT Island, CN Blue, and AOA, and for Cube Entertainment, where he works primarily with G.NA and BTOB. His style seems to be having no style, instead immersing himself in whatever mode he’s working in, whether it’s New Jack Swing or hair metal power ballad. For “Mermaid Princess” he’s chosen a variation of Ace of Base-y reggae pop, balancing light melodies with well-chosen instrumentation. (Check that sax solo!) The structure is fairly straightforward, but the melodies are interesting enough that they bear repeated listens.
When Sweetune’s Han Jaeho and Kim Seungsoo put their collective mind to it, their songs are some of the best being made right now: each of the singles listed above is polished and unique, retaining their personal stamp but freely experimenting with different styles, from traditional Korean music to calypso. Unfortunately, they tend to phone it in with their other songs, and “Tearfully Beautiful” is the same unambitious, pleasantly glossy pop we get from most of their filler tracks and OST work. Dramatic Blue was drafted as the vocal group, and they all sound great together, but Sweetune’s focus, as usual, is mainly on melody, with little opportunity for the kind of vocal acrobatics some of these singers are capable of. Still, they can make a catchy song with their eyes closed, and this is perfectly sunny and sweet. It’s not challenging, but maybe that’s beside the point.
Brave Brothers is another producer with uneven output, not so much effort-wise as tonal. The plural in his name is apt: there’s the old guy who made hypnotic, completely subtlety-free dance tracks with U-KISS and Sistar, and then there’s the new guy who makes smooth, sad funk with Teen Top and, uh, Sistar. “That Person” is the work of the second guy, and fits comfortably alongside “To You” and “Alone”. Maybe a bit too comfortably, but I’ve talked about Brave Brothers’ tendency to reuse his ideas before, and anyway this is more homemade mashup than straight rewrite. It helps that he knows who he’s working with: both Hyuna and Sistar’s Hyorin are here doing exactly what they do best.
It appears they gave the “Dramatic” moniker to the wrong group, because Shinsadong Tiger is nothing if not the king of drama, riding a wave of minor key resolutions and moody acoustic instrumentation since his work on Beast’s 2011 album Fiction and Fact. (The outlier is his electro-disco work for T-ARA, but even "Lovey Dovey" is a shade darker than its previous incarnation as “Roly Poly”.) “Yesterday” is the most over-the-top yet: an anguished intro that smashes into a turbulent sea of electronics and upright piano before righting itself, eventually dropping into a stormy half-time breakdown that threatens to disintegrate completely before returning to the main melody. It’s kind of like the Ultimate Beast Single, but it’s heartening to know that total self-indulgence only makes S.Tiger’s work more interesting.
subdee asked: I support conspiracy theories re: Brave Brothers! For instance, around the same time Alone came out, he also changed Brave Girls' style and image to support this "don't want to be alone anymore" theme, and wrote "Nowadays You" in the early Big Bang style he and G-Dragon developed together. I personally suspect strong nostalgia was at work around that time.
P.S. Here’s an acoustic cover of that Teen Top/Big Bang mashup:
Thank you, this is amazing!
Yeah, it’s interesting that he seems to dictate the general style of the songs and then adapt them for whatever group it is, as opposed to, say, Sweetune, who have a specific set of sounds for each group they work with (cf. this compilation of their work for Infinite, KARA, and Rainbow to…2011 I think?). I didn’t even think to look at Brave Girls, but that would be the most logical place to see what he’s up to.
Teen Top, “To You” & Sistar, “나혼자 (Alone)” (mashup by 0oPeopleDidntKnowo0). The day "To You" was released, Brave Brothers, the producer of both tracks, pre-emptively tweeted that he had started working on it before"Alone", and in fact intended the latter as a sort of extension of “To You”. My immediate reaction (and that of many others, judging by the initial Internet response to the song) was indeed to hear “To You” as a watered-down version of “Alone”, the rough draft waiting to be fleshed out. But the more I listened to it, the more I heard the differences rather than the similarities - or rather, the more I found strengths in the differences rather than weaknesses.
Teen Top fall squarely into guilty-pleasure territory for me, as useless as that designation is - my total enjoyment of their singles is always tempered by the rapper with a blasé view of child abuse and the gross noona-baiting. But I think they’re a good example of when “just singing the melody” works just as well musically as technical singing, and their singles work with their callowness and undeveloped voices rather than despite them, from the minimalism of “박수” (Clap) to the bubblegummy synth shower of "향수뿌리지마" (Don’t Spray Perfume). Conversely, Sistar’s greatest asset will always be how strong their voices are. So “To You” and “Alone” work as opposite sides of a coin: “To You” is light, “Alone” is heavy; the key instruments in “To You” are bass and drums, while in “Alone” the emphasis is on the strings and piano; “To You” is funk, “Alone” is disco. Even the music videos have opposite colour schemes.
Since there is a canon relationship between these two songs, this mashup works not just to satisfy an itch, but to present the two songs as closely together as possible to reveal the links. It sounds good, but it’s not quite the same thing as “To You”, and definitely not the same thing as “Alone”. And this is a bit tin-foil-hat of me, but I find it interesting that the part that works best is the second verse - which is also the part where Niel sings "ireoke na honja" (“like this, alone”) and, in “Alone”, the part where Hyorin sings “oh, ma boy”. (For a similarly satisfying Brave Brothers supermix, see Teen Top’s “Crazy” mixed with Big Bang’s “Last Farewell”.)