The hype for Trouble Maker’s return was initially generated with a single picture posted on HyunA’s Instagram, becoming headline news all over the internet. Moreover, as an extension of their new single “Now”, the group ran unorthodox “No Tomorrow” marketing strategy, providing an extraordinary experience by bombarding audience with prerelease contents as if there were no tomorrow. …
For their new single “Now”, Trouble Maker once again teamed up with “Trouble Maker” producers Shinsadong Tiger, Rado and LE to recreate the magic. As the song tells a story about an unstable love, the music video also portrays a couple at risk with its vivid colour, unique camera angels and Trouble Maker’s signature choreography. …
Trouble Maker is back and they won’t condone banality.
Bangtan Boys, “팔도강산”. The title is an expression that means “the scenery of the eight provinces of Korea”, but in English this song is commonly called “Satoori Rap” - satoori meaning “provincial accent”. Three of Bangtan’s rappers trade off in this song in the dialects of their native regions: Suga from Daegu (North Gyeongsang dialect, stereotyped as sounding macho and tough), J-Hope from Gwangju (Jeolla dialect, stereotyped as sounding chatty and bubbly), and Rap Monster from Seoul (whose dialect forms “the basis of the standard language of both North and South Korea”). If you’re not familiar with Korean it may do well to skim the charts on this Wikipedia page to get an idea of the array of standard verb endings, as that’s where much of the diversification of Korean dialects takes place. You may also want to check the video’s subs against pop!gasa’s, which have a few footnotes (such as the one about "Is that the guy?").
"Satoori Rap" is lots of fun. Bangtan is a young group - their full Korean name translates to "Bulletproof Boy Scouts" - and the three rappers chomp into the retro-styled beat with relish, and even relief at being able to use non-standard language. If you’ve ever fretted over the line between adaptation and appropriation, this song is a good example of the former: it uses rap as an artistic form in order to express a concept that’s unique to the culture that’s making it, making use of existing cultural signifiers rather than trying on or imitating another culture’s.
In fact, satoori itself has lately been the subject of appropriation. For instance, the opening stanzas of B.A.P’s "No Mercy" are all in Gyeongsang dialect, though Bang Yongguk is from Incheon (near Seoul); Rap Monster alludes to Seoul guys putting on a Gyeongsang accent to sound manly in his verse. It’d be interesting if Gyeongsang satoori starts being used as the language of rap, in a parallel to AAVE - considering the two have similar low status relative to the standard accent when spoken, though obviously AAVE has racial and class associations that are not as strong or even present with Gyeongsang satoori.
The way the song is arranged reinforces the dominance of “standard”/standardized language, by having the two regional accents banter back and forth and then the Seoul speaker coming on to give the last word, the clowns followed by the voice of authority. The overall message is one of national unity, ultimately arguing against the regionalism it’s all about: “Why keep fighting, in the end, it’s all the same Korean…We can all communicate from Munsan to Marado.” (Bangtan have a weirdly self-conscious nationalistic streak: their variety show, Rookie King,opens with a parody of national anthem sign-on reels, and a punishment on one episode of the show required Rap Monster to sing "Dokdo is Korean Land" in drag.) Still, the song’s main source of joy is in its celebration of diversity, and, as if realizing this, the after-school-special moral gets the heck out of the way for the gleefully shouted dialect of the chorus.
Note: This essay dates back to just after “Nalina” came out in January 2012 and has not been updated past the events of mid-2012 except in a cursory way. But in light of "Very Good", and everything I want to say about “Very Good”, I wanted to finally put it up.
The boy band Block B was created by rapper Cho PD under the banner of the “Creating Korea’s Eminem Project”. His idea was to create a group that could bridge the gap between indie/underground artists and the industry’s idol mainstream, particularly in terms of artistic value: “The industry has yet to see an artist who has correctly utilized the strongest point about rap, which is delivering messages to the listeners.” (source)
There were many ways he could have gone about this. His approach was to create a group that does all the tasks a mainstream idol would be expected to (idols often refer to it as “schedule”, without an article, and it means the television and radio circuits, fan signings, etc.), while at the same time embodying a certain rockist idea of artistic authenticity, with American hip-hop substituted for rock as the music of authenticity and placed in opposition to mainstream idol pop music. But rockism only goes so far as to suggest that some music is more valuable than others; for the actual ways in which authenticity is manifested (or perceived to be manifested) in art, it’s more useful to turn to the auteur theory of 1950’s film criticism. Under this model, authenticity is manifested through:
the demonstration of technical skill (implying raw talent);
the authorship of one’s work (in this case, producing and writing); and
a consistency in theme and/or tone throughout one’s body of work (revealing the auteur’s personal vision).
After some new rules introduced in August 2012, every Korean music video uploaded onto YouTube or broadcast in Korea needs to have a rating shown at the start of the music video in a corner.
The ratings are assigned according to content, though as we would see later, the criteria by which the music videos are judged are pretty muddled. One thing that is certain though is the ruling for music videos rated “19″ are slapped with age restrictions for online viewing, as well as only being allowed to be broadcast on television after 10pm in Korea.
Despite the initial controversy surrounding the rating, we now have companies that openly encourage the rating (if only for the news worthiness), and now we have reached the point where a company (Star Empire) does not bother to dispute the ratings and just rolls with it, despite the potential for reduced commercial success.
I’m reaching old age in my K-pop listening, but it doesn’t help that the pace has been accelerating over the past year, as YouTube and the promise of an international audience (even pre-“Gangnam Style”!) drive more and more no-name entertainment agencies to seek a piece of the pie. (The folly, of course, is in their assumption that it can happen for everyone, which is not the same thing as the confidence that it can happen for anyone.) And even the big ones are looking to score more: EXO’s body is barely cold (though not yet buried) and there’s already rumours of SM Entertainment debuting a new boy group later this year.
All this is to say that as newly debuting groups have needed increasingly to turn to high-concept gimmicks to stand out, I’ve been increasingly needing those gimmicks to make me pay attention, too. So here are the two debuts this year so far that have caught my eye.
The above song is "Beatles" (yes, really) by GI (which, relevant to the above, is short for Global Icon), whose concept is a hard, aggressive, and, well, masculine sound and image (sample headline: "GI: Voluminous body? We’re real men who want to build shoulders like Julien Kang”). While I was initially impressed with their B.A.P-like readiness and aggression, my affection for the song has cooled over time. However, I’m still interested in seeing how they develop as a group. For better or for worse, I can see this turning into a Piggy Dolls-like situation where a group’s shocking high-concept debut image gets worn away over time, so it’ll be interesting to see how they attempt to sustain it - if they last longer than the end of the year, that is.
The second debut concept I’ve found interesting is for a boy group, History, whose video for "Dreamer" is below:
History comes from LOEN Entertainment, the same label as IU (whose voice is in the MV, but not her face - that’s Son Dambi). “Dreamer” is the kind of oddly structured song that often comes to maturing or offbeat girl groups (Brown Eyed Girls, who are both, come immediately to mind), and it has an appropriately nostalgic appeal when combined with the Busby Berkeley sets and outfits. Unlike with GI, however, this “musical theatre” concept doesn’t seem inherent to the group itself, and I can see History transitioning into a more generic image with greater ease. (Of course, I can’t help but wonder if that has to do with the gender divide as well. But rereading this, I’ve noticed that I’ve compared GI to a successful boy group and History to a successful girl group, so who knows.)
As I wrote last year, favourite = I wanted to listen to it, I enjoyed having it stuck in my head, and I thought about it enough to have something to say about it. (For some of these, I’ve copied or paraphrased what I’ve previously written about them; there are only so many thoughts one can have beyond “this is really good”.)
This is not a comprehensive list of everything that came out this year, nor is it a list of everything that was Objectively Good in K-pop this year; otherwise, we’d be here all month. Honestly, it’s partly just so I can say I have one of these. But it’s mostly because these are all songs I loved to listen to, and I want you to love them, too.
Alternate titles: Manpain 2012 (except two of these songs are not from 2012), Calling Double Side Kick On Their Shit, Calling Sweetune On Their Shit (if we’re being honest). Made for fun, mostly, and because what I really want is a megamix/mashup of these songs but this is the closest I’m going to get. Arranged according to flow, not chronologically. The two non-2012 songs are included for illustration: “BTD” because “Janus” is equal parts “BTD”, "Paradise", and “This Is War”; and “Heartbeat” because 2PM basically invented this shit.
Bonus fun fact: Though Sistar’s “Alone” would make a great addition to this playlist (if it weren’t about manly tears), the song on Alone that Double Side Kick was responsible for was "Lead Me".
Tracklist and composer/producer: 1. 2PM, “Heartbeat” (JYP) 2. ZE:A, “Love Is Gone” (Double Side Kick) 3. B1A4, “This Time Is Over” (Chance, one-half of Double Side Kick) 4. MBLAQ, “This Is War” (Double Side Kick) 5. Boyfriend, “Janus” (Sweetune) 6. Infinite, “BTD” (Sweetune)
If I’m missing anything, Double Side Kick or otherwise, let me know and I’ll add it in!
The place I hear pop songs most frequently is in stores, though I’m not sure if that’s just because it’s where I’m most frequently found. The group I’ve heard most often during my shopping trips is Beast - as I said in a previous post, both "Midnight" and "아름다운 밤이야" (It’s A Beautiful Night) get lots of play. Orange Caramel’s "Lipstick" and Kara’s "Pandora" are also strong contenders.
"Gangnam Style" is also everywhere - obviously, though I’ve heard quite a few stories from foreigners teaching English here who’ve received e-mails from home asking “Have you heard of this song???” But it’s everywhere in a way that seems more democratic or more part of the public than the implied imposition of shopping music. Unlike the songs I’ve heard in stores, I’ve heard “Gangnam Style” mostly in snippets - someone’s ringtone, or a clip playing in the metro, or the video playing without sound at a rest stop souvenir stand. And “X style” is a popular snowclone both in conversation and in advertising. (X is usually a place, though in most ads it’s a brand.)
Other “pop in the wild” anecdotes, by song:
A nice R&B remix of ZE:A’s “후유증” (Aftermath) surprised me in a cafe. (The original song itself is fairly popular in stores.)
I heard Super Junior’s "Spy" for the first time while shopping and I actually liked it a lot, though it doesn’t sound so great on this second listen I’m doing as I type. NU’EST’s "Action" also sounded a lot better to me in public than when I had sat down and listened to it, at least until the unnecessary dubstep breakdown, which remains unnecessary.
BTOB’s "Wow" also gets played pretty often in stores, but it sounds just as good on its own as in public.
Songs that have come up as a result of conversation are Secret’s "Shy Boy" (which a Korean friend sang the chorus of while we were talking about shy people) and Miss A’s "Bad Girl Good Girl".
According to my friend, in some gay clubs they play American dance music in the first half of the night and K-pop in the second half. When certain songs come on, many people in the crowd do the choreographed moves, though it’s spontaneous and not like a line dance.
While taking the lift to Namsan, a tour guide on the elevator with us started playing Sistar’s "Alone" on her phone speakers before she walked out. Similarly, I encountered a couple on a mountain in Suncheon playing "Loving U" over the boy’s phone speakers as they walked.
At the Buso Fortress (near Buyeo), a group of girls on a school trip started singing Teen Top’s "To You" from “ireokke na honja” through the rap, all in unison.
In Jeonju, I woke up at 2:30 AM to a crowd of people singing Big Bang’s "Haru Haru" to a backing track with a keyboard playing the melody, something like crowd karaoke, I imagine. They also sang Wonder Girls’ "Be My Baby" before retiring for the night.
Given K-pop’s increasing international profile, it’s only logical that non-Korean songwriters have been working with the industry for some time now. (Teddy Riley and will.i.am are just the highest-profile cases.) SM Entertainment, in particular, has been buying the Asian recording rights for songs for a few years now, resulting in several songs that have both a K-pop version and a non-K-pop version (usually in English). Finding these re-recordings is something of a hobby of mine, so naturally, I decided to pit them against each other and arbitrarily assign a winner based on which I like more. This isn’t going to be a regular feature, but there’s a lot more where this came from.
Today, SHINee, whose frequent use of Troelsen/Remee songs results in quite a few of these doubles. Without further ado:
SHINee, "Juliette" (2009) vs. Corbin Bleu, "Deal With It" (2007) WINNER: SHINee. The production is the big difference-maker here; it’s hard to unhear “Juliette”’s layers of reverb and harmonies, and the more hip-hop-informed beat on “Deal With It” sounds bare by comparison. This is perhaps a consequence of pitting a group act against a solo artist: with a group, the harmonization is emphasized (even if the group members aren’t the ones singing), whereas in a solo it gets pushed to the background behind the main voice.
SHINee, "산소 같은 너 (Love Like Oxygen)" (2009) vs. Martin, "Show The World" (2008) DRAW! “Love Like Oxygen” is very faithful to Martin’s original recording in both style and tone, so it really comes down to which language you feel like listening to today. (The thing about chorus harmonies still applies, but it gives a less empty feeling here.)
SHINee, "Ready Or Not" (2010) vs. Michael Mind Project, "Ready Or Not (feat. Sean Kingston)" (2011) WINNER: Michael Mind Project. Besides the chorus, these are pretty much entirely different songs, and the difference between these two versions is about as clear of a summary of the difference between typical K-pop production and typical North American pop production as you can get. I like the hardness of SHINee’s version (I think they stole that verse melody from 4minute), but the “gurrrrl” hook seriously kills it for me. Neither of these are particularly memorable, but in the end the Sean Kingston version makes for a better pop song, or at least a more coherent one.
SHINee, "Lucifer" (2010) vs. Jelena Karleusa, "Muskarac koji mrzi zene" (2011) DRAW! SHINee wins on a TKO, since “Muskarac koji mrzi zene” is a plagiarism and not a licensed version. But the latter is still solid as a remix of “Lucifer” that forgoes the original’s graduated layering in favour of throwing you into a pit of writhing snakes and Eurodance. In both permutations, the song is slightly bizarre and fully enjoyable. * For trainspotters and sociolinguists, there’s technically an English version of “Lucifer”, which is Yoo Young-jin’s demo with the placeholder lyrics. As you can imagine, “never heard this before” got a lot of play when the plagiarism scandal came out. This version is also interesting because YYJ’s influence on the SM vocal style becomes very clear - his voice sounds like Key’s, Baekhyun’s, etc.
If I’ve missed any, let me know; I collect these, after all.
Anonymous asked: asking b/c I'm very curious and feel that you'd be most knowledgable, but do you know which K-artists write their own lyrics? Specifically the rappers? I'm just wondering
Thanks for your question! As far as I know, all non-idol rappers write their own stuff, and Phantom and M.I.B (who are on the fence between idol and non-idol) do as well. Among idol groups, there’s a trend nowadays of male rappers in the bigger groups writing their own lyrics, so the list is rather long. Off the top of my head, the more frequent/prominent writers are: Big Bang’s G-Dragon and T.O.P (of course), B.A.P’s Bang Yongguk, Block B’s Zico and Kyung, Beast’s Junhyung (who also writes songs), B1A4’s Baro, Dalmatian’s (former member) Day Day, Infinite’s Dongwoo and Hoya, Jay Park (of course), and MBLAQ’s Mir.
It’s much less common among female idol rappers - the only ones I can think of are Miryo and Wonder Girls’ Yoobin. (CL can freestyle, but she doesn’t write her own raps for 2NE1.) I can’t say I’m too surprised at this gender split, given the traditional division in the pop industry between women as performers and men as creators.
Also, because this seems relevant and I love linking to random Youtube clips, here’s a clip of the JYP trainees that would become 2PM and 2AM being put through a sort of boot camp with rapper Mr. Typhoon, where they have to write a rap, perform it, and perfect it until they’ve written a good one and they’re free to go. So it seems that lyric writing is something taught as part of training, at least for certain companies. (Despite this, none of the 2PM members write their own lyrics, except for their solo work.)