DIA’s ‘Summer Ade’ album review


As they strive for a coveted summer anthem, you might be forgiven for thinking that DIA were trying to return to their roots. Amidst the clanging electronics of fifth mini album Summer Ade, there is a noticeable presence of acoustic guitars that suggests a return to a more tactile sound. DIA have never been tactile, though. Summer Ade isn’t so much as a return but totally untrodden ground. After three years of work, they’re still trying to find the foundation that they were supposed to debut into.

If things had all gone to plan, the MBK girl group would have debuted as sisters to one of K-pop’s biggest groups. Instead, T-ara were wrongfully disgraced and DIA struggled to eke out an existence in their shadow. In 2016 they had, however, a lifeline in the form of Produce 101 and Jung Chaeyeon. Her face and fame were a stopgap, but the popularity of Produce 101 doesn’t generally go much further than the actual group it forms. It’s now the turn of Kang Yebin, one of the winners on The Unit, an idol rebooting show, and current member of Uni-T. That show had a fraction of the cultural impact as Produce but it remains something to hang on to for DIA. Their roots are obscurity and their present is a constant fight against it.

DIA’s approach is defined not by the aforementioned guitars as such but by the opening one two punch of “Like U Like U” and single “Woo Woo.” “Like U Like U” is classic DIA. Bubblegum pop with winding synths and their loudest, most peppy vocals to date. Their usual forward behaviour is also present. By the time you can count to three, they have confessed, asked the boy out, and already gone on a date. It’s a gleeful final reminder of DIA’s unique brand of bewitching pop music.


Also on KultScene: RED VELVET’S ‘SUMMER MAGIC’ ALBUM REVIEW

“Woo Woo” at first doesn’t feel like too much of a departure, particularly with Yebin opening the track. Her voice typically youthful and nasally quickly turns into something different, though;by the end of her third line, she lets her words roll. There’s a sensuality to it that had been completely absent from DIA’s discography up to this point. The change in attitudes and textures is more evident than any big shift in their music.

Producers Shinsadong Tiger and BEOMxNANG take the basic structure of Tinashe’s “Superlove” and its bells and whistles to give DIA a summer bop. It pings along with great precision, matching DIA’s newfound maturity. It moves quickly to the chorus offering little variation, letting the girls test themselves. Following Yebin, Huihyeon’s deeper singing voice is impossible to resist. She’s the absolute centre of DIA 2.0 evidenced by her half-rapped, half-sung part in the second verse and the more prominent use of her singing throughout the album. Jooeun, the girl with K-pop’s most chorus-friendly voice, delivers wonderfully, and Eunchae is reaching heights never allowed to her before. It’s the girls themselves that make “Woo Woo” and the album feel so fresh.

“Woo Woo” is a song about the many contradictory feelings one has around a crush. They mention how even in just 10 minutes they become confused, start misunderstanding things. The confidence of their youth has somewhat faded, now DIA sing about how “they get tied up with one word.” Resident ballad “Grown Up” touches on similar ideas. Jooeun sings that “I was always strong, but why am I sad like this?” and Yebin follows with the poignant, “I really knew how to be happy back then, but why?” DIA powered through puberty only to find the even more daunting prospect of adulthood. The fears of being a teen they thought would wash away with ease remain, and even more confusion is added.

All is not lost, though. The epic ‘80s europop by way of New Jack Swing that is “Pick Up the Phone” is somewhat of a reprieve. Thematically, it harbours DIA’s former confidence, but musically, it feels like a step forward. It has a strong bass synth line that sometimes works with the rhythm section but also with the main synth melody. Throughout the verses, elements are added and taken away. The second verse drops everything except the beat before bringing back both synth lines as they play the same tune. It’s a move of great drama helped by these synths working together giving the song a great depth. It’s this density and sense of scale that feels new to DIA. Jueun once again is the one to give it this feeling, her voice born for the epic.


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If the opening two tracks defined DIA’s latest direction, the middle two tracks “Take Me” and “Sweet Dream” anchor it. Their breezy light textures are perfect for the end of a summer’s day. They’re comforting and tangible. Both of them feature co-producer credits from members: Jueun on “Take Me,” and Yebin on the better of the two, “Sweet Dream.” The latter has lovely slightly pulled back vocals and a laidback soundscape. It gives the song a campfire atmosphere that well serves the end of the album.

DIA’s newfound maturity infects Summer Ade with a precise sense of place. Gone are the gender-traitorous lyrics of “My Friend’s Boyfriend,” and the unpredictable dubs of “Mr. Potter.” In their place is a coherent album that represents a good step for DIA. Huihyeon singing more is a huge advantage for them, and the addition of Jueun and Somyi has strengthened them so much.

The erratic nature of DIA’s music and the strange ideas for their words were what made them unique, though. Summer Ade lacks the emotions implicit in the anxious synths of “Will You Go Out With Me” or the climactic rap of “Can’t Stop.” Granted, they are going in search of emotions now unknown to them but there was not enough of a push to truly find them. Outside of “Grown Up” and to a lesser extent “Blue Day,” they don’t fully test their capabilities. In search of a summer anthem, DIA found hidden depths of sophistication but lost the childlike temperament that made them special.

What do you think of DIA’s Summer Ade? Let us know your picks and thoughts in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Red Velvet’s ‘Summer Magic’ album review

red velvet power up summer magic album review song

By Nnehkai Agbor

Red Velvet’s latest album is here just in time to help fans beat the dog days of summer. Summer Magic is filled with catchy melodies, quirky EDM, and anticipated tracks. The quintet released its sixth mini album along with title-track “Power Up” on Aug. 6.

The Songs

The album kicks off with upbeat “Power Up,” the follow-up to last summer’s “Red Flavor.” The track boasts a beat imitating video game 8-bit-style including sound effects heard in Super Mario and Tetris. Along with sound effects from popular childhood games, Red Velvet sings a catchy, Minion-like repetition of “banana” throughout the chorus of the song. “Power Up” is brightly filled with cute ad-libs from youngest member Yeri. The song comes with perfecting timing as the summer heat is brutal across the globe. “Power Up” gets fans excited to have fun with loved ones. “Power Up” is about gaining confidence with a crush. Those butterflies mixed with summer heat make having a crush that much hotter.

The album also features the electro-pop tunes fans have come to love, and standout b-sides that include “With You,” “Mosquito,” and “Blue Lemonade.”

“With You” features steel-drums and honey vocals that take listeners to an island paradise with special loved ones. The song follows the tropical-house theme that has been popular throughout the summer. Following “Power Up,” “With You” emphasizes the saying “Christmas in July” (or Summer). The abundance of love and laughter go well with the chill vibes of summer. The song reminds listeners every day spent with loved ones is the same excitement as receiving presents on Christmas morning.


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The excitement continues with “Mr. E.” The song transitions into the stronger EDM moments of the album. Chirping birds and jungle noises accompany the lyrics of “Mr. E.” These sounds in the background liken the song to the mysteriousness of a jungle. It’s a classic crush story: Girl likes boy, but girl is not quite sure if she is reading his actions correctly. What’s a summer romance without a little angst?

“Mosquito” has a slight swagger reminiscent of the early 2000’s, with each member takes their hand at rapping throughout the track. It’s a nice treat for fans both veteran and new, as member Joy revisits her initial role as the rapper before the group became five. The lyrics are fun and reminds listeners of the annoying moments of a relationship. Heartache and having feelings taken for granted are part of a relationship. Red Velvet is stern in determining what the next step will be in the situation —either take them seriously or leave. Lingering like a mosquito is not tolerable, and the song is an ode to all of our feelings when we just want to tell someone to buzz off. The hypnotizing “zzzz” add a cute flare to the bluntness of the song.

Taking it back to their roots, “Hit the Drum” draws a closeness to Red Velvet’s debut single “Happiness.” Repetitions of “nannannan” heard through the chorus parallel to the cheerful “lalala” in “Happiness.” The fifth track on Summer Magic implements conga, bass, and snare drums for island vibes colliding with their signature eccentric EDM style. The beat of the drums seems to imitate rambunctiousness our heart’s feel when overwhelmed with love. The extreme pounding makes it feel like someone is beating a drum within our chests.

“Blue Lemonade” is a sweet R&B song highlighting the members’ vocals. Leader Irene even shows she’s more than a rapper with her soft, husky voice, as lead vocalists Wendy and Seulgi prove why they possess their respective positions. The melodies and tempo are refreshing, cool with ease as the ladies sing about a summer love. Although an abrupt transition from the earlier fast tempos, “Blue Lemonade” expresses the contentment felt after spending meaningful times with a special someone. Ultimately, the ladies say their hearts turn blue.

But perhaps the most anticipated track on Summer Magic is the English version of “Bad Boy.” Previewed at KCON New York, the track was instantly popular among fans. It does not fit the theme of Summer Magic, but still makes a great addition. Confident, cool and sultry, the song serves as a connection between the two albums. The song tells of a true femme fatale with the claim of “knowing how to make the devil cry.” The song’s English lyrics add an aura of sexiness that shows the group’s growing maturity.


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From Perfect Velvet to Summer Magic

The lyrics within Summer Magic are witty, fun, and endearing. It focuses on the magic sparked between two people. The songs come together to tell a fun rendition of the beginning stages of love. From shyness, angst, and content, all of the emotions are told through upbeat melodies for an adequate summer album. The story and melodies of the album are a reminder that when it comes to love, feel emotions wholeheartedly with confidence.

The group’s transition between the two albums comes full circle with “Bad Boy.” The inclusion of the track keeps the “velvet” aura alive while potentially serving as a bridge to Red Velvet’s next release, which could be a deeper red or velvet concept during the colder seasons.

The cheeky placement of “Bad Boy” after “Blue Lemonade” reminds listeners that the members are just as mysterious and coveted as “Mr. E,” but lethal.

Red Velvet’s Summer Magic‘s addicting choruses, energetic dances, and cheerful vocals are the epitome of summer. The members easily maneuver their way through a story everyone can relate to while maintaining the quirks that continue to draw fans. Overall, the album is a scarlet red filled with bright moments and cheery vocals. Summer Magic established Red Velvet as true summer contenders. And achieving their first all-kill on real-time charts cemented the idea.

What’s your favorite song on Summer Magic? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

K-pop mid-year review: 3 distinctive music styles dominating 2018 so far

 

The year 2018 is passing by so fast. Can you believe that we have only five months left until 2019? When it comes to K-pop, a lot can happen in a matter of a few months, but so far we’ve already been taking notes on the music styles that have been trending in charts and album releases.

While some styles are always present, like electronic dance music (Sunmi’s “Heroine”) and R&B (Red Velvet’s “Bad Boy”), and some trend styles of 2016 and 2017 are still popular, like tropical house ((G)I-dle’s “Latata,” CROSS GENE’s “Touch It,” etc.), we chose three less frequently heard musical styles that have been present in a lot of comebacks and B-sides so far this year.

Check some of them out below:

Disco / Electropop / Retro K-pop Sound

When 2017 ended with the tragic news about SHINee’s Jonghyun, I thought the K-pop industry would have a hard time hyping fans up again. But when Momoland released the catchy and comic “Bboom Bboom” a few weeks later, I was smiling again. This was exactly the kind of fun we needed! The song was produced by Shinsadong Tiger, the same producer behind some of T-ara’s most legendary hits, like “Roly-Poly” and “Lovey-Dovey,” and so “Bboom Bboom” immediately gathered comparisons with T-ara and their disco-themed hits. But, whether people were mad or glad about the similarities, the fact is that “Bboom Bboom” led Momoland to huge success. The group then repeated the formula and released “Baam,” also produced by Shinsadong Tiger.

In late May, girl group AOA had its first comeback without former lead vocalist ChoA, releasing their Bingle Bangle EP full of fun and upbeat songs. One of those songs was “Ladi Dadi,” an electropop summer jam that recalls the same vibes of the catchiest hits of K-pop circa 2010-2012. Is 2018 making people nostalgic about the old days of K-pop? All we can say is we’re having so much fun with these retro sounds!


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Mid-tempo Piano Hip-Hop

In late January, iKon scored a perfect All-Kill on Korean charts with their hit “Love Scenario,” a mid-tempo hip-hop song with a minimalist production and a bright piano accompaniment. Just a few months later in April, it was Pentagon’s time to show they could “shine” with the same musical approach, releasing the catchy and cute “Shine.” And even if it wasn’t a title track, let’s not forget “Kangaroo,” a great b-side from Wanna One’s first special album, 1÷x=1 (Undivided). “Kangaroo” is a fun hip-hop song produced by Block B’s Zico, with light beats and a mid-tempo cadency sweetly accompanied by piano chords. Those 3 boy groups killed this style and gave us some of the best songs of 2018 so far!


ALSO ON KULTSCENE: 7 K-POP MUSIC STYLES WE’D LOVE TO HEAR MORE

Caribbean & Latin Influences

In the last months of the year 2017, we could hear a few K-pop songs with influences of Caribbean and Latin music, such as SF9’s “O’ Sole Mio” and AOA’s Jimin “Hallelujah.” Little did we know that it would continue in 2018! In April, Super Junior caught the world by surprise when they released an iconic collaboration with Dominican-American singer Leslie Grace, the sensual “Lo Siento.” Later in May, it was BTS fans’ time to get delighted when they heard a flavour of salsa music on the group’s third full studio album Love Yourself: Tear with the irresistible “Airplane pt. 2.” The song was promoted on music shows and became an instant fan favorite due to the mention of cities and countries around the world, a reference to mariachis as a metaphor for the septet’s life on the road, and, of course, the Latin feels. More recently in mid-July, girl group MAMAMOO also continued their path of exploring different music genres in 2018 by releasing “Egotistic,” an elegant song full of Spanish guitars.

I think it’s safe to say Latinx and Caribbean fans are happy for seeing their culture being represented like this!

What’s your favorite sound of K-pop so far in 2018? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Debunking the “Factory” Narrative: K-Pop’s Authenticity and Shifting Gender Politics

Girl in Fine Bros video sighing while watching "I Am the Best" by 2NE1

In January 2012, the Fine Bros released “Kids React to K-Pop,” the latest weekly installment of their growing “React” series, which featured elementary school children watching and answering questions about videos—in this case, Korean pop music videos. For the Fine Bros, a pair of YouTube moguls whose 16 million subscriber base is built on videos of kids, teenagers, and fellow YouTubers reacting to viral content, K-Pop videos were merely an addition to their collection of outlandish content used to sustain weekly production quotas.

But for many of K-Pop’s English-speaking fans, the Fine Bros’ video was a modern miracle. K-Pop groups, with as few as four or as many as fifteen members, release multiple albums and high-budget music videos per year, performing with elaborate choreography and colorful fashion. In 2012, after several years of potential blow-ups and no immense international breakthroughs, few of them had much recognition in the West. Influenced by a variety of global music genres, K-Pop was, as fans believed, ready to explode in English-speaking markets once Westerners were finally exposed to it. The Fine Bros, with a significant North American viewership, were giving K-Pop a new platform for global advancement.

In “Kids React to K-Pop,” they showed the children some of the genre’s most over-the-top songs (“Bonamana” by 13-member Super Junior) and highlighted those videos’ most outlandish moments (2NE1 members struggling in straitjackets in “I Am the Best”).

“How do you think they found each other and decided to start a band?” they asked the children, knowing that their innocence (“They were probably long-time friends!” a kid guessed) would be shattered by the reality that members of K-Pop groups are chosen by companies that put them through a rigorous training regime before debut, atypical in the garage-band-rock scene of the U.S. The questions became increasingly slanted as the video progressed: “Do you still like the music, even though it was essentially created by a company and not the artist?”


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By the end of the video, the kids had decidedly negative impressions. “Lots of weird people probably like it,” one said. “If I even liked one of them, I would be liking the person that trained them,” another concluded. When made aware of the genre’s growing worldwide presence, a third cried, “I hate my generation so much! Why couldn’t I be born in the Eighties?”

K-Pop fans were furious — a genre whose musical output they took seriously had been reduced to an exotic spectacle of Asian quirkiness that Americans could dismiss as too foreign and corrupt for their collective taste. With such a dialogue surrounding the genre, it is no surprise that journalist John Seabrook’s October 2012 New Yorker article on 9-member Korean ensemble Girls’ Generation was called “Factory Girls.”

Despite some K-Pop acts gaining momentum in Western markets over time—BTS became the first Korean act to top the U.S. Billboard 200 with their studio album Love Yourself: Tear earlier this year—discourse on the genre is barely advancing. In a recent article about Korean music acts performing at the PyeongChang Olympics, TIME defined K-Pop as “music churned out by South Korea’s music-making factories.” A quick Google News search of the genre yields a variety of articles, like the recent entry from CBC News entitled “The Punishing Pressures Behind K-Pop Perfection,” that portray the genre as the Fine Bros do in their video.

Most fans will not deny the indisputable truth — there is merit to the claim that K-Pop stars are rigidly controlled by companies and contracts. During interviews, four-member girl group BLACKPINK discusses rarely being allowed to leave dormitories outside of official schedules. Passing their third anniversary as a group, seven-member Oh My Girl revealed that their management only recently allowed them to use cell phones following the success of a recent single. Sadly, the term “slave contract” is well-known to many fans, whose favorite idols have suffered at the hands of companies that hoard profits and abuse workers. Laws have been passed in attempts to rectify the situation, but work conditions for most K-pop idols are less than ideal.

This “factory” narrative, however, is more reductive than it is factual—it dismisses thousands of singers, dancers, artists, producers, managers, stylists, technicians, A&R teams, and designers as industrial robots with no independent agency. While the portrayal in TIME’s headline attracts the attention of American onlookers fascinated by outlandish foreign creations, it fails to capture the essence of K-Pop as imperfect, but not worthy of dismissal by Western audiences.

“Authentic music” fans and critics often deem K-Pop meaningless and shallow. The initial impression is understandable—it is sometimes the case that none of the members of a group play a minimal, if any, part in the process of crafting music or choreography, aside from actually performing it (which in itself somehow gets overlooked, as if many Western pop stars don’t do the very same thing). But beneath the narrative that Western media curates for its viewers, one can quickly find evidence of K-Pop stars heavily involved in their artistry. G-Dragon, leader of popular boy group BIGBANG and successful soloist, is credited as the main (and sometimes only) producer of both his solo releases and those of his group; BTS is also often known to self-produce their hits. The same dynamic is true of a variety of male and female K-Pop acts—in recent years, producer royalties reaped by idols like G-Dragon, Jinyoung of male outfit B1A4, the late Jonghyun of SHINee, and L.E. of girl group EXID have rivaled those of K-Pop’s biggest behind-the-scenes producers hired by companies to make music for groups.

Speaking of hired producers, Western music writers struggle to grasp is the idea that K-Pop’s artistry isn’t exclusively about creative musical production—to some Korean artists, onstage performance is far more valuable than lyrics or melody. Unlike the American music industry, K-Pop places heavy value on dancing ability and performative skill. In a way, this system actually makes musical performance inclusive of a different kind of talent, creating an industry in which dancers, rappers and vocalists can enjoy the fame, audience, and respect often claimed by singer-songwriter solo pop stars in the U.S. Those with legitimate musical passion, maybe for singing the lyrics instead of penning them, can occupy the spotlight. Is that inauthentic or illegitimate? To rockists or classicalists, maybe so. But to those who aren’t theory geniuses or lack a natural talent for musical composition, it may just be “authentic” as ever, and no less worthy of the praise that critics and writers give to Western pop stars who work with production teams.

The debate extends to gender politics as well. In his “Factory Girls” article, John Seabrook portrays Girls’ Generation as a group of one-dimensional personalities constructed by their companies, calling member Tiffany’s characteristic eye-smile a “jolt of cultural technology.” But it would be Seohyun, another member of the same group, who would depart from her image as the group’s chaste maknae (youngest member) and pursue a sultry vibe for her solo debut mini-album Don’t Say No in 2017. The album concept and image change were entirely her own choices, some of which she made against her company’s advice. She also recently participated in the North-South Korean dialogue on multiple occasions, becoming a symbol of peaceful intentions of the South through performances in Seoul and Pyongyang.

Just like Taylor Swift’s pivot from country to pop with her album Red or Lady Gaga’s image shift in Joanne, female K-Pop stars can be fluid performers, capable in their own right of forging unique artistic destinies. When the Fine Bros reduce them to props of an industrial complex, they are robbed of the creative legitimacy and individualism they seem to rightfully deserve.

Cutesy K-Pop girl groups are often the first to receive criticism for musical and visual concepts that strike Western viewers are misogynistic and infantilizing. And they’re not entirely wrong—the patriarchy is as strong as ever in K-Pop, and many girl groups’ biggest hits are written by men and targeted for consumption by male fans. But as these groups top the charts and become noticeable fixtures of the Korean entertainment scene, the performers themselves reach a new level of empowerment. Seabrook’s “Factory Girls” Girls’ Generation have now been a girl group for a decade, comprising multi-millionaire members who each own property and run individual ventures, and have their own public personas. On her solo reality show, member Sooyoung recently talked about popular Korean feminist book Kim Ji-Young, Born in 1982, explaining her reaction: “Things that I thought were nothing, were actually being treated unfairly just because I’m a girl.” With a platform built on her multi-gender fandom and supported by millions of dollars in the bank, Sooyoung is now one of many female K-Pop idols reading the book and talking openly about feminist issues in the media, despite South Korea’s overall aversion to the term “feminist,” which she has indeed shied away from.


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The cutesy songs may have patriarchal overtones, but the women performing the music have much more to say—the cultural structures they conquer as a group allow the members to use their newfound capital to then subvert those same structures. The Wonder Girls, formed in 2007, debuted to major commercial success singing bubbly pop songs produced by Korean singer-songwriter and businessman J.Y. Park. While the group’s popularity has fluctuated over the years due to a failed American advancement and lineup changes, the members grew to self-produce their music as their careers progressed. Member Yeeun, credited as HA:TFELT in solo releases, co-composed and wrote her entire debut solo EP Me? in 2014. By the release of their 2015 comeback album Reboot, members of the group were credited for lyrics and production on all of the album’s tracks, taking the sound of their music in a retro pop rock direction. Their subsequent 2016 reggae-rock hit “Why So Lonely” was also written and produced by the group’s members.

A similar example of growing into self-production, singer Lee Hyori debuted as a member of girl group Fin.K.L in 1998. Since the group’s disbandment in 2002, she has gone on to become one of the most recognizable women in Korean media. Moving on from the group and into a solo career, Hyori has taken greater control of her music over time, switching record labels frequently and dropping albums for which she designs concepts and writes and produces almost all tracks. Her success as a Fin.K.L member and soloist gave her the power to control her future releases—a narrative common among matured K-Pop acts, but largely overlooked in Western media coverage. From talking about feminism to performing with more empowered stylings, female members of Korea’s entertainment industry are slowly but steadily laying the internal groundwork for change to take place. The gender dynamics of innocent-seeming girl groups in K-Pop may be more complex than a face-value New Yorker article on Girls’ Generation could tell you.

Despite the advancements, restrictive body standards, contractual abuse, sexual harassment, and other horrors do run rampant in the K-Pop industry. Trainees work tirelessly against a low success rate to become stars, and many undergo abuse by companies that push them to their physical and mental limits. But in a world where Hollywood and public opinion have exiled Harvey Weinstein from public consciousness and all-but-convicted rapist producer Dr. Luke still profits off of Kesha’s albums, how can these abuses be in any way unique to K-Pop? Of course aspects of the K-Pop industry do make certain abuses widespread, but the ability to dismiss K-Pop as a whole over its ethical questions is a simultaneous failure to hold the Western entertainment industry accountable for the same problems.
So why do Western media outlets fail to report on K-Pop’s authenticity? The simple answer is convenience. Portraying K-Pop as freakishly quirky and industrially restrictive are worthwhile efforts for the Fine Bros, whose viral video series is based on reactions alone. The same is true of the articles’ authors and publishers, who profit in clicks from those curious about K-Pop’s apparent strangeness.

But the not so simple answer is racism. The Spice Girls and NSYNC may have gotten similar flack about authenticity back in the 90s, but the Korean-American dynamic of K-Pop’s newfound Western popularity makes the “factory” narrative not only musically, but also culturally objectionable. Like Americans laugh at Japanese variety shows, gawk at harajuku culture, or imitate native Chinese speakers, sensationalizing the controversial aspects of K-Pop gives the Western mind an excuse to stigmatize Korean culture as ridiculous and outlandish. Conflating K-Pop’s nonsensical moments with its ethical dilemmas for Western viewership, TIME and the Fine Bros allow the English-speaking mainstream to dismiss foreign-ness simply because it is foreign. Americans won’t have to reconcile K-Pop’s sonic, visual, and cultural values with their own if they can simply call it weird or unethical and go on with their day. Thus, “Kids React to K-Pop” was an exercise in ignorance—a lesson in xenophobia. And as more kids “react” to K-Pop as it grows in stateside relevance, we can only hope that better lessons are taught. They are only kids, after all.

SHINee’s ‘Good Evening’ music video & ‘The Story of Light’ EP.1’ album review

It’s been 10 years since SHINee debuted, a top-notch and versatile boy group that soon became one of Korea’s biggest pop acts of the late 2000s and 2010s.

Flash forward to 2018, where SHINee returns in the wake of the loss of the group’s fifth member, 27-year-old Kim Jonghyun. Jonghyun took his own life in December 2017, leaving behind remnants of his profound struggle with depression in a letter posted on social media.

But SHINee’s comeback music video titled “Good Evening” and album The Story of Light EP.1 reprise yet another seamless and moving presentation. It’s not an album nor a music video that wallows in the pain of what came before; it’s instead an everlasting memorial. In fact, one of the most breathtaking aspects of all is that SHINee returns with not simply four members but five, standing strong in light of Jonghyun’s passing as well as remembering him as he was.

The Music Video

The first six seconds of the music video are brief. In fact, if you simply watch with a devil-may-care attitude, you could miss it. However, you can see it, a vacant chair positioned with purpose for a member who is not eternally gone but always will be.

It’s a brief moment but nonetheless it hurts. Because it’s a clear and beautiful sentiment; it’s a chair seemingly left for Jonghyun.

Yes, it’s painful. But it’s a metaphysical message, saying that Jonghyun isn’t actually gone; his essence is still there.

Regarding aesthetics, Key returns with a white bandana as he flits from blonde hair to pink. Taemin greets us with plush pink lips, a Gucci T-Shirt and deep maroon hair. Onew sports tangerine orange hair, while Minho walks with class in pinstriped decor.

Their comeback music video for “데리러가” (Good Evening) places them in a kaleidoscope of color paired with an ambiance of flickering TV screens and old time movie projections. The four of them pose and prance like kings as video cameras surround them to capture their glory.

The choreography and vocals work together to create a succinct and tranquil atmosphere, a space that is also simultaneously filled with tension and wonder. And as they move, the miniature TV screens mimic in an unsteady haze.

The visuals feel intricately complicated but not in an intrusive way; it’s mesmerizing to watch. In fact, the barrage of colors and light help create a remarkable world built and solely composed by the kings themselves. And what the viewer witnesses isn’t solely based on sadness.


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There are scenes of laughter and playful banter, as the group members run under rays of sunshine, sequences that feel genuine and strong. Pair this with moments of desperation, where the members can be seen frantically moving under water, attempting to reach the lover in question. This sense of urgency proves an inspiration for fighting against all odds to reach the one you love.

The Song

The song itself is a pulsating beat intertwined with glossy vocals reminiscent of a dream. Vocally, it’s an instant and unmistakable throwback to ‘90s R&B, mixed with a compilation of new age sound. Because frankly, this is the era in which SHINee has always excelled.

Think back to the fifth album, 1 of 1, or Odd, the fourth album. Both created an atmosphere filled with intricate beats not quite familiar with today’s diluted and exhausted compositions. And with this album — The Story of Light EP.1 — they’ve done so yet again. Because SHINee’s songs take us there, to fantastical worlds beyond our comprehension, making the music they create eternally stick with you.

It should be noted that the song and overall melody are clearly inspired and arguably sampled from the 1997 hit — “Cupid” — written and performed by contemporary American R&B group, 112. The sampling and SHINee’s retelling or reinterpretation work well together, inciting nostalgia while also taking us toward a brighter future.

As the song reaches its climax, Key whispers:

I can feel we’re looking at each other through this door. Let’s see … your eyes, nose, lips, cheek.


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His mournful cry paired with the pre-chorus is a powerful sentiment:

너무 늦기 전에 너를 데리러 가
Before it’s too late, I’ll come pick you up.

This strong affirmation could be interpreted as a message for Jonghyun or an unreachable lover, and says that no matter what obstacles arise and no matter how far the distance, nothing will keep them from reaching the one they love. And even though it’s a race against time as the 달빛 or “moonlight” approaches, their passion for the lover in question or the brother they will always love, is of cosmic proportions and cannot be broken.

What’s even more miraculous, is if you listen closely it’s almost as if you can hear Jonghyun’s voice riddled throughout both the album and the music video, a faint distant memory begging to be remembered.

And to be honest, this is a song that forces one to confront his or her demons or whatever emotional pain that lingers in waiting. The song operates as a necessary catharsis for allowing emotional bandwidth to take hold, even if just for a moment in time.

The Album

Transition to the group’s sixth album The Story of Light EP.1, a six-track EP that’s filled with both an embolden SHINee as well as songs reminiscent of the group’s past releases.

While “Good Evening” serves as a dreamy pop ballad, “All Day All Night” and “Undercover” both serve as a cross between hip-hop and electro pop. “JUMP” takes us back to the sound of SHINee’s 1 of 1, where suddenly we’re taken back a few decades to ‘90s pop.

The EP concludes with “You and Me,” an uplifting track that talks about memories past that features lyrics written by Key. It’s also a song that talks about the difficulties of moving on even when the pain one feels inside is completely unbearable.

아픈 건 나뿐이야
괜찮아 보이겠지만
네게 뛰고 있는 내 맘은 장식이 아냐

I am the only one who is sick
Although I may seem okay
The heart, which is beating toward you, is not a decoration

The love that is felt for the person in question is genuine and unbinding in spite of how much the pain consumes one’s psychosis.

The Message

The Story of Light EP.1 poses as a strong resolution and signifies the next chapter of the SHINee’s journey.

Because SHINee’s back, not just with four members, but five.

What do you think of this SHINee album? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

(G)I-DLE’s ‘LATATA’ song review

Longtime fans of K-pop girl groups have, in recent years, lamented the absence of fierce, powerful girl groups. As the onslaught of cute and innocent concepts among newer groups like TWICE, GFRIEND, WJSN, and more continues, girl groups with stronger concepts have become a fading minority in the K-pop world.

But not if (G)I-DLE can help it. On May 2, the six-member girl group debuted with house-pop track “LATATA,” employing fierce dance-pop instrumentals, extensive rap verses, and onstage pyrotechnics in tow. Formed by Cube Entertainment, the girl group’s name effectively translates to Girl Children from Korean to English, among a host of other complicated double entendres.

Despite the group’s strangely infantilizing name, “LATATA” is about a steamy dance-floor encounter, beginning with a fast percussive bang followed by a bouncy tropical house beat that underlies the verses. Main rapper Jeon Soyeon, riding her Produce 101 and Unpretty Rapstar fame to the frontwoman position of the group, begins the song atop this rhythm, soon passing the verse to the group’s main dancer Soojin, who asks “What’s there to be scared about?” as she engages with her lover.


Also on KultScene: Amber Liu’s ‘Rogue Rouge’ Album Review

A surprising moment of distortion in synths and tempo, member Minnie’s “Uh oh” at the beginning of the pre-chorus is the song’s definitive vocal highlight. She slurs her words and holds her notes through her parts, capturing a hypnotic, snake charmer-esque sound that contrasts with that of the incoming faster-paced section sung by deeper-voiced Yuqi. “We can burn it up even more/There’s no tomorrow,” she declares. The percussive bang sounds again, and vocalist Miyeon sings her seduction in the chorus: “I’m singing for you, so you can fall deeper.” Visual member Shuhua’s repeated “Latata” chants—her only solo lines in the song—are a call for the lover to “sing for me, so I’ll never forget you.”

The chorus is followed by a dance break carried by a repeating synth line that resembles an electric guitar riff. When the group performs this live on weekly music shows, the choreography is tight, the members sporting strong, sensual facial expressions as they quickly shift formations.

Contrasting with other girl groups’ shyness around lovers, Soyeon encourages the one-night stand in her post-chorus rap break. As the tempo quickens, she spits, “Don’t be lazy, come to me baby,” asking her mysterious hookup to “go in deeper, swallow me up.” Her confidence is both audible on the track and visible in performances—a demonstration of the prowess she’s developed over the course of two survival shows and a solo debut since her first TV appearances in early 2016.

Returning to the pre-chorus, the song repeats the previous sequence until it reaches a slower-tempo bridge, backed by a stripped tropical house instrumental featuring an occasional tabla. After a final lengthened dance break, the song ends as Soyeon says, “Every day, every night, Latata.”


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While “LATATA” itself doesn’t deviate too much from the typical K-pop song structure of verses, pre-choruses, and choruses followed by dance and rap breaks, it is a welcome change in sound from current chart-topping girl groups with more demure concepts. Rather than attempting to emulate the success of cutesy girl groups like TWICE or Oh My Girl, (G)I-DLE seeks to revive the sounds and stylings of older girl groups like those of past Cube labelmate 4MINUTE, and widen the fierce girl group niche that is rapidly decreasing in size. And as “LATATA” enters the Top 30 of Korean music charts and tops iTunes K-pop charts around the world, it is becoming clear that the absence of powerful girl groups has been felt by K-pop fans old and new alike.

Of course, (G)I-DLE’s debut immediately calls into question the future of labelmate girl group CLC, whose songs have repeatedly failed to chart for three years now (likely due to the group’s constant flip-flopping between innocent and strong concepts across different releases). It also brings up the possibility of a rivalry between (G)I-DLE and BLACKPINK—one of K-pop’s only other powerful girl groups of the moment.

Whatever the answers to these questions are, one verdict is clear: (G)I-DLE is, in its infancy, reigniting the age-old tug-of-war of girl group concepts, an industry-wide debate whose point of equilibrium is finally beginning to shift. In the oversaturated girl group market, such a noticeable effect on the bigger K-pop narrative is more than enough to deem this debut a success.

What do you think of (G)I-DLE’s debut track? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Amber Liu’s ‘Rogue Rouge’ album review

Resultado de imagem para amber liu rogue rouge

F(x) has always been one of the most distinctive groups in K-pop, experimenting with sounds and elements not often seen until their debut, in 2009. Taiwanese-american artist Amber Liu seemed a good fit for this group that was born to be different – from haircut to clothes, the group’s rapper had her own cool style that differed from what female idols used to look like, and apparently SM Entertainment, the group’s agency, respected that.

But was it enough? Was Amber happy? How would Amber sound if she could make art in her own terms? With the release of Rogue Rouge on April 15, we have some answers.

This sixtrack mixtape was not the first time fans could see a different side of Amber, though. While in f(x) she had the position of main rapper, a role she also played in her bright/energetic solo release “Shake That Brass,” Amber has released several singles showcasing her singing voice: “Beautiful,” “On My Own,” “Borders,” and “Need to Feel Needed.” Amber also directed the Music Video for f(x)’s “All Mine,” and released a duo with f(x)’s colleague Luna, “Lower.”

One could say Amber has had multiple opportunities to do something different than what she does in f(x), and that’s true. But one can also say that, as an artist, she still has more to show and has the right to seek for creative freedom, and that’s true too.  

That being said, Rogue Rouge may not have come as a total surprise for those who paid attention to Amber out of f(x); however, the mixtape can still shine new lights on what we know about her life and career.


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Format

Releasing a mixtape nowadays might have some sort of a charm, like a countercultural alternative to the polished and well planned release of albums and EPs. It’s also a popular way for a group’s member to show their individual colours, like what happened with the solo mixtapes released by BTS members Rap Monster, Suga, and more recently, J-Hope.

In Amber’s case, though, a mixtape released on a democratic platform like Soundcloud says a little more. Rogue Rouge is an independent work, made without any connection or money from SM Entertainment. Everything about Rogue Rouge was 100% the result of Amber’s personal efforts and collaborations with friends, such as Singaporean artist Gen Neo, who co-wrote “Closed Doors” and “Right Now,” who also provided vocals for this last one; and model and photographer Stefanie Michova, who directed the music video for “Closed Doors.”

There is no confirmation that Amber is still under SM Entertainment. Therefore, the very fact that Amber is able to do this mixtape suggests that her contract with them allows the space for a bit of artistic freedom. But, if the mixtape is available for free download, it could also mean that Amber isn’t allowed to make money out of her agency.


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Music

If you’re waiting to hear anything near K-pop or f(x)’s past music on the mixtape, just know that you won’t find it here. Sonically speaking, Rogue Rouge is quite an homogeneous piece of work, sticking to R&B tunes (“Get Over It,” “Closed Doors,” “Right Now”) and pop (“Three Million Years”), with little presence of EDM elements (“High Hopes,” “Lifeline”).

The production is far from the grandiose that K-pop instrumentals sound like.ut whether it’s due to being independent work or just Amber’s personal choice, it doesn’t really matter. The simplicity works perfectly fine here. Amber’s beautiful voice and interpretation are the big stars of every single track. Even the simpler songs sound so meaningful because it’s obvious that she’s putting a lot of love into them. It is possible that her choice to go for smoother jams could be saying something about how she feels towards the effusive, loud music she has been doing as an idol. But, just like any artist who has to deal with limited creative freedom (or no freedom at all) when they’re under a group, maybe she just wanted to do something for herself.  

Lyrics

Amber wrote all the 6 tracks, with the help from Gen Neo in two of them.

They’re all in English, her native language, and most of them about heartbreak. Yes, it seems like someone broke Amber’s heart – and while such person deserves to be punched (!), seeing such a stripped and honest side of Amber’s lyricism is a delight.

amber kcon 2016 los angeles red carpet

by Alexis Hodoyan-Gastelum

It’s a not a side often seen from K-pop idols: they have to act, speak, sing in a certain way. No matter how bold is the concept, they can only go so far – and even if it’s very far, it’s only to cause an impression.

But in Rogue Rouge there’s just an adult woman being an adult woman, and it includes occasional cursing, heartbreaks, desire, the dilemmas of public versus private life etc.

Overall Feeling

From the emblematic instance when Amber spoke on social media about being neglected as an artist to how independently Rogue Rouge was done, it seems that Amber’s main wish is to just sing a story that’s all hers, rather than to prove anything to anyone.  

Rogue Rouge has no climax or wow moments. It sounds genuine, though. The lyrics for “Closed Doors,” the best track, sums up the whole purpose of Amber with this mixtape: no overthinking or reinventing the wheel; no need to run, hide or “keep on choosing sides.” This is just Amber being Amber and doing what she feels like doing. If that really is her purpose, then, indeed, she wouldn’t need sumptuous instrumentals and complex songs to do that.

In Brazil, we have a saying for when we’re gifting someone we care about yet we can’t afford something expensive: “It’s simple, but it’s from the heart.” That seems to be the case here: simple (compared to K-pop) but meaningful music. Again, I don’t know if money has anything to do with the crude sonority of Rogue Rouge, but I don’t even care, and it seems like Amber doesn’t care either. She’s pouring her heart out, and for a project that aims for expressing individuality rather than charting, that’s more than enough.

Let us know what you think of Amber Liu’s “Rogue Rouge” in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Post ‘Produce 101’: making waves in K-pop

Slightly over a year since the airing of the first episode of the boy group survival show Produce 101 Season 2, the next installment of the show, Produce 48 has been attracting buzz with the revelation of the A-list trainers involved, such as FT. Island’s Lee Hongki and former Sistar member Soyou. The continuity of this Produce series can be attributed to the roaring successes of its first two seasons, and of the groups formed following the show (I.O.I and Wanna One). In fact, one year after the program, the K-pop industry is currently dominated by several idols who participated in it. Temporary and project groups have been formed, soloists have debuted, and existing groups were revived due to the popularity of the program, proving the great impact the show has had on the industry.

Wanna One

As the victors of the program, this group naturally had a lot of popularity right off the bat. With their debut song “Energetic” winning 15 music shows and topping both local and international charts, the members gained even more fans through their appearances on several variety shows such as Weekly Idol and Knowing Brothers. Their consistent album releases and music promotions helped sustain this popularity, and their most recent title track “Boomerang,” from the album 0+1=1 (I Promise You) also did wonderfully, netting 10 wins. Since their debut, the members have ranked highly on brand value rankings among idols, with center Kang Daniel consistently in the top ranks due to his numerous appearances in shows like It’s Dangerous Beyond The Blanket and Master Key. Even though the group is due to disband in December 2018, there will be more great music releases from them to come, both as a group and as individual members, and they definitely have bright futures ahead of them.

Nu’est W

Quite possibly the most touching success story from this second season of Produce 101, the five-membered group Nu’est experienced a surge of popularity following the appearance of JR, Ren, Baekho, and Minhyun on the program. With Minhyun in Wanna One, the remaining four members (together with Aron, who wasn’t on the show) formed a subunit called Nu’est W, and attained commercial success with their title track “Where You At” off the album W, Here, which earned them their first music show win since their debut. The experienced members shined throughout the program, with all four members making it to the top 20, and their eventual success proves that effort, coupled with talent, always pays off in the end.

JBJ

As their name “Just Be Joyful” suggests, the members of this group had every reason to be joyful because they were formed wholly out of fan demand. Consisting of members Noh Taehyun, Takada Kenta, Kim Yongguk, Kwon Hyunbin, Kim Donghan, and Kim Sanggyun, the group melded together well, releasing a string of consistently good music with their three mini albums. Another group with a timeline, JBJ recently released their final album New Moon, with the title track “Call Your Name” as a sweet farewell to their fans, full of promises to meet again in the future. With member Noh Taehyun returning to his group Hotshot after the disbandment of JBJ, I hope that the members, who all have so much potential as musicians, will be active in the music industry again soon.

MXM

A project unit formed with the two high-ranking trainees of Brand New Music, MXM consists of Lim Young-min and Kim Donghyun. The duo has released two EPs and one single album thus far, with their most recent title track being “Gone Cold,” which was released in early March. While both members have their own strengths, with Young-min focusing on rapping while Donghyun has a sweet singing voice, they work together very well to create music which reflect their distinct musical identity as a duo. While still a rookie group, they are already gaining a lot of performance experience through the Asia promotional tour they are embarking on, as well as through their participation in huge events such as Korea’s annual dream concert. There is also a high possibility that they will form a new group in the future, once Lee Daehwi and Park Woojin (their labelmates) are done with their Wanna One activities, which will be a group to look forward to given the amazing teamwork they displayed back in their Produce 101 audition.

YDPP

Another project group, YDPP is a four-membered group consisting of MXM, Jung Sewoon, and Lee Gwanghyun. As fellow members of Produce 101 Season 2, their comfortable chemistry showed through the fun “Love It Live It” release, which captured the musical colours of youth, dreams, passion, and purity that inspired the formation of the group. Lee Gwanghyun also made his debut through this project, and successfully showed his adorable charms along his members. Im Youngmin also showed a more all-rounded side of himself here because he got to sing and rap. The members complemented each other very well, and while this group is only temporary (like so many others on this list), the magic of this collaboration will last forever.


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Hyungseop X Euiwoong

An adorable duo formed by the Korean trainees from Yuehua Entertainment, Hyungseop and Euiwoong have released two single albums so far, their most recent title track being “Love Tint,” which was released in April. While their debut track “It Will Be Good” was sweet and highlighted their youthfulness, “Love Tint” has a more melancholic and mature sound which allowed them to better showcase their rap and vocal skills, proving how much they have developed as musicians in the short few months between the releases. The rest of their second album Colour of Dream is also a treat to listen to, as they show several sides of themselves through the five tracks on it. If they continue releasing songs this well-performed and produced, the future for this duo is limitless.

Rainz

The second fan-created group following JBJ, Rainz is a project group consisting of Kim Seongri, Ju Wontak, Lee Kiwon, Jang Daehyeon, Hong Eunki, Byun Hyunmin, and Seo Sunghyuk. While none of the members made it very far in the reality show (the highest ranked member was Sunghyuk at 31), they gained a lot of fans due to their individual skills, be it in gymnastics, taekwondo, dancing or vocals, which they managed to display on Produce 101 despite their lack of screen time. Since their debut in October, they have released two mini-albums, their latest being Shake You Up with title track “Turn It Up.” The electronic track highlights their impressive synchronised dance and fully shows their charisma, made even stronger when the boys are together in a group. While the future of the group is uncertain, they have been busy leaving their mark on the industry thus far and will hopefully do more soon.

HNB

HNB is a boy group comprising of trainees from HF Entertainment, some of whom participated in Produce 101. As the group is undergoing an internal evaluation now, the exact number of members in the group is still indefinite. As a pre-debut release however, four members (three current, one past) of the group who were in Produce 101, namely Park Woodam, Jo Yonggeun, Jung Woncheol, and Woo Jinyoung released “I’m Your Light” to thank fans for voting for them. While the group is being finalized, Woo Jinyoung, Jo Yonggeun, Kim Hyunsoo, and Yoon Jaehee participated in another survival show, YG Entertainment’s Mixnine, in which Woo Jinyoung won first place in, hence making it into the final debut group for the show. The members have also been using V Live regularly to interact with their growing fanbase before their official debut.

Jeong Sewoon

Although he missed the debut lineup by just one spot (he came in 12th place), Jeong Sewoon has made it as a successful soloist thus far, with the release of his first mini album which came in two parts, Ever followed by After. He also completed a milestone first solo concert, and has been performing on prestigious stages such as Mnet Asia Music Awards 2017 and the upcoming Seoul Jazz Festival. His latest title song “Baby It’s You,” released in January of 2018, is a catchy and upbeat track which shows his wide vocal range and versatility as a singer. Beyond developing as a musician, he has also been active on the variety scene, with his appearances on programs like Sugarman Season 2 and Dangerous Beyond The Blankets, which he recently became a permanent cast member for.


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Samuel Kim

One of the most prominent participants on Produce 101 from the start, his absence from the final debut lineup was shocking to many, but it also sparked a new beginning for Samuel, who debuted as a soloist one month after the conclusion of the program. While he is only 16, he has proven himself very capable of showing diverse charms, from the energetic “Sixteen” to the fiercer “One,” which he released in March. Beyond his charming outward appearance, he has an outstanding sense of rhythm which shows in his dancing, making him a wonderful performer. The best part —he’ll only get better as he continues growing.

Jang Moonbok

He first caught public attention back in 2010, when he went on Superstar K2. While he initially received a lot of hate and malicious comments, he triumphed through them and emerged stronger than before, earning him the respect of netizens as well as many of the other participants on Produce 101. With his enviable long locks, he became a very distinct personality and continued standing out throughout the show. After finishing in 27th place, he recently made his solo debut through mini album Peeps, with “Red” as his title song. Far from the Superstar K2 performance which he was criticised a lot for, Jang Moonbok has been improving his singing and rapping skills and remains an icon of persistence and growth.

Yoo Seonho

The chick trainee who captured many hearts during his run at Produce 101, especially with his many bromances and the continual growth he showed, finally made his solo debut with Spring, SEONHO in April. In line with his flower-boy and cute image, his title track “Maybe Spring” is a light-hearted ballad with a sweet melody. Just like a flower that is on the brink of blooming, Yoo Seonho has room for development, but his potential is already shining through from his mini-album, with tracks that diversify his music style by incorporating jazzy elements. He has also been busy with other activities such as CF filmings, music video appearances and a web-drama that he did with his fellow Produce 101 mate, Ahn Hyungseop.

Joo Haknyeon (The BOYZ)

After ending in 19th place on Produce 101, Joo Haknyeon was added to a new boy group under his entertainment company, The BOYZ. The 12-membered boy group has released two EPs so far, and made a comeback recently with “Giddy Up” from their second EP The Start. “Giddy Up” is a playful song with a nostalgic music video concept that would appeal to viewers of all ages. As the lead dancer, vocalist, and rapper of the group, Joo Haknyeon stands out due to his extensive stage experience but also blends well with the team to create a cohesive performance.

Lee Woojin (The East Light)

Soon after finishing the show, the beloved maknae of Produce 101 joined the talented band The East Light, which has an average age of 16.6 years, but whose members mostly have predebut experience and are skilled in various instruments. Despite the members being so young, the band has a very developed musicality. This contrast is emphasized to a somewhat humorous extent in their most recent comeback with “Real Man,” their third digital single, in which they dress in cool-looking suits, until their high-pitched and unbroken voices emerge. They have a charm that is definitely unique in the K-pop industry, and is a band worth looking out for, especially since Lee Woojin, who has shown his vocal prowess among his hyungs on Produce 101, has now joined the band as a keyboardist and vocalist.

Yoo Hwe Seung (N.Flying)

Rounding out the list is Yoo Hwe Seung. He gained much attention on the show for his vocal ability, and though he finished in 39th place, he was quickly added to FNC band N.Flying, who had made their debut in 2013. Despite being the maknae of the group, both in terms of age and experience, he quickly took center stage with his vocals and has definitely added a lot of colour to the group. Their most recent comeback, “Hot Potato,” is an addictive track reminiscent of the music of their sunbaes, FT.Island and CNBLUE, but filled with the group’s own playful flavour. Hwe Seung also created a stir with his ‘five high notes’ (rivalling those of IU’s famous three notes in “Good Day”) which he displayed through his recent collaboration with FT Island vocalist Lee Hongki, “Still Love You.” While the song is a typical ballad, and both singers gave amazing performances, Hwe Seung’s moment was the true climax and left goosebumps all over.

While the contestants have mostly went their separate ways, they are all making waves in the industry and will continue to do so for a long while.

Have you been keeping up with the Produce 101 boys? What do you think of the impact they have made on the K-pop scene? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Primary & Anda’s “Do Worry Be Happy” Album Review


After a year and a half of no official releases, soloist Anda returns with the help of superstar producer Primary. They have released a four song EP, the ominously titled Do Worry Be Happy, with each song getting a music video. Known for her controversial portrayal of lesbians in her video for “Touch” and for charming Middle Eastern billionaires without ever meeting them, Anda is an artist of unique sound and visuals. Her height and distinct facial structure help her to stand out from most Korean female soloists. Her music up to now has been stuck somewhere between pop and indie though leaving her with no distinct audience. Working with Primary is a great idea then as whatever you may think of him, he is probably the most successful producer at bringing indie sounds into the mainstream. Luckily, he’s matched his best style (the British indie inspired 2 album sound) with the compelling Anda.

Sounding like a more laboured version of something off of the Drive soundtrack, Primary and Anda open with “The Open Boat.” Featuring colde, the vocalist from R&B duo offonoff, “The open boat” is lumbering melancholic electro pop. The constant rolling synths are almost suffocating, their deep tones recalling vast oceans of nothingness. They restrain Anda, her trademark whispery style of singing tries to call out. She tries to scrape it back by pitching higher. “Touch the sky” she repeats in the chorus, her voice now more ephemeral. As the song grows she seems to be winning the fight, colde helps her break free, “Don’t stop and push forward.” Yet it is overwhelmingly cold. Together they have arrived at some sort of peace but musically not much has changed. The brisk synths continue, they have become a home for the intrepid pair but we remain locked outside.


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Following this is “Zeppelin,” a song that works with Primary’s funk roots to move away from the wintery tone. “Zeppelin” is about how Anda gets out of her previous rut from “The open boat.” Her love takes her higher and higher. It’s not drastic though, it comfortably floats atop funky guitars and wavy ‘80s synths. Anda’s vocal is more childish here, and is really the only thing of interest going on. While she is distinct, it would be hard to call her voice actually good. She seems to be connecting with the wispy nostalgia of the track but not making it believable. Without hitting those feelings she would at least need to bring something strong which she can’t. “Zeppelin” should have felt fresh against the oppressiveness of “The open boat,” but it’s a mere respite rather than refresher.

The duo find their feet directly after, though, on lead single “Dressroom.” It picks up where “The open boat” left off with sombre electro pop. It immediately recalls Primary’s work on Uhm Jung Hwa’s “Ending Credit” but a little less clear. There’s a lot more space and reverb to the track. Anda, like Uhm Jung Hwa, is coming to the end of a part of her life. Where Jung Hwa is nostalgic, Anda is bitter. Her voice is vulnerable, she reverts to shouting instead of singing in the chorus. Trying to find a way out she bellows into the ether, “I broke down but I still couldn’t let you go.” It’s beautifully performed vulnerability. Anda never feels out of control, just conscious of her pain and finding ways of healing it. She has the same control in the video. She looks like she was born to be a model. Her body is being watched closely, she doesn’t take pleasure in it but doesn’t look uncomfortable either. She takes off her oversized jacket and keeps her composure. Bearing her own scars so we can forget our own.


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Album closer “Moonlight” (featuring electro soloist Xin Seha) documents the effects that these troubles have on Anda. Primary keeps the mood down but plays with the track a bit more. The beat is alive this time, a constant stream of cymbals add the subconscious texture that causes Anda’s insomnia. “It’s not the coffee you drank in the afternoon,” she struggles to get out at the beginning. Primary uses Jai Paul-like details to give the song a sense of mystery. The bubbling bassy synths and warm guitar suggest strange feelings swirling around Anda and guest Xin Seha. Together they try in vain to understand but eventually decide “I will not sleep.” A resignation to the hypnotic beat.

This unlikely pair have created an album drenched in sensitivity by coming together. Anda and Primary seem like a mismatch given the producer’s usual clientele of the best vocalists and rappers Korea has to offer. Anda pulls him down to emotional depths he had never explored prior to this, though. Her voice is so light usually, almost always a whisper, and when strained to these heights it carries so much hurt. It doesn’t break but bends against the cold electronics of Primary’s music. Sometimes it’s too cold and sometimes it’s too slight. When it hits though, everything connects for a stunning look at a disaffected youth.

What do you think of Primary and Anda’s Do Worry Be Happy? Let us know in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

The Shinhwa story: 20 years young & still going strong

shinhwa kcon 2015 kpop 15 k-pop bio

by Alejandro Abarca

by Lavanya Singh

If you think about how long Shinhwa has been around, you don’t need to look past their 14th anniversary press conference, where member Jun Jin put things into perspective for everyone: “The members of Girls’ Generation were in elementary school when we were in SM Entertainment. Jessica and Hyoyeon wrote us letters back in the day.”

That was six years ago.

On March 24th, Shinhwa celebrated their 20th anniversary. Rightly, the band is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running boy group in the world that hasn’t disbanded or had a member leave in 19—well, 20 now—years. A closer look at the band and its popularity, however, pegs Shinhwa as artists who transcend numbers and charts, and who have found permanence in an otherwise transient industry.

The Start

The six members of Shinhwa debuted on March 24, 1998 under SM Entertainment, performing the single “Resolver” on KM Music Tank. To say that the band had a rocky start would have been an understatement—accusations of being a copy of label-mates H.O.T and the controversy following the Sokcho water accident that overshadowed the promotions of their song “Eusha Eusha” soon sparked rumours of disbandment. With the exception of some songs, the group’s debut album did not chart well, leading people to speculate that the band may have been a bad investment for SM.

With their second album “T.O.P,” however, came an edgier concept and mainstream success. “T.O.P.” won Shinhwa their first major music award for “Best Music Video”, and the trajectory only went upwards after that.

A Long Line of Firsts

As both fans and writers, we know how much modern K-pop owes to the so-called first wave of Korean music. Not only was the era a fantastic prelude to the all-encompassing force of nature that K-pop would eventually become, but the artists who defined that wave also left behind a legacy that would inspire and drive the future generations. Seo Taiji and the Boys, for example, gave Korea quite possibly its first tryst with R&B, and member Yang Hyun Suk later established one of South Korea’s premier entertainment companies, YG Entertainment. S.E.S, one of K-pop’s early girl group successes and the first girl group from SM, would later go on to inspire numerous other girl groups.

For as long as they’ve been around, therefore, it’s only inevitable that Shinhwa’s legacy be an ode to their popularity. What’s surprising, though, is knowing just how much contemporary idol and fan culture owes to the band and their fandom, “Shinhwa Changjo”. (The name means “making a legend”, aptly complementing the band’s own name meaning ‘myth’ or ‘legend’.)

In 2002, while still under SM, the band released their sixth studio album, thus officially becoming the longest-running act in K-pop. A year later, while reviewing their contracts, SM offered to renew contracts with all members except vocalist Dong Wan. Rather than splitting up, Shinhwa decided not to renew their contracts with SM, and departed from the company as one unit, signing later with Good Entertainment. As somewhat of an unspoken trend in K-pop, artists who leave one company for another often experience a wane in popularity. Shinhwa, however, is one of the only bands in K-pop whose members went on to have incredibly successful careers despite a company change and the mandatory military enlistments. In fact, their first Daesang (or Grand Prize), for the seventh studio album Brand New, came in 2004, almost a year after leaving SM.

shinhwa chanjo bio kcon la 2015 15 los angeles

by Alejandro Abarca


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But just because they left the label that formed them didn’t mean Shinhwa broke away from SM entirely. In 2013, member Min Woo looked fondly upon his time at SM, saying: “[Founder] Lee Soo Man is truly an amazing person. From each member’s hairstyles to everything we did on stage, he took care of us meticulously. He used to talk to all of us about every little thing.”

Following their mandatory military enlistments, Shinhwa became the first K-pop group to establish their own entertainment company in 2011. For a while, the band was locked in a legal battle with SM Entertainment and Joon Media (formerly Open World Entertainment) for profits and use of the name ‘Shinhwa’. The case was, however, settled in 2015, and Shinhwa Company (which had been dubbed ShinCom for the duration of the case) came into existence.

Shinhwa was also one of the early trendsetters in the industry in terms of musical control. While their creative license was limited under SM, the members participated actively in the production of their albums after leaving. By that time, most members had released solo music and found their personal styles. The result was an eclectic combination of sounds on future albums, making the band a truly versatile act.

It’s not just their music and their exceptional team spirit that set Shinhwa apart, though: the band was the first in the industry to break away from the mainstream style of the time. When much of K-pop focused on trendy skinny jeans and bright colors (think SHINee’s “Replay” era), Shinhwa adopted a much more sophisticated style with clean-cut suits and cropped hair—quite uncommon for popular acts at the time.

Also uncommon was Shinhwa’s dedicated fandom, Shinhwa Changjo, who, honestly, were fandom goals before the term went mainstream. Shinhwa Changjo are credited with starting the popular rice wreath trend—it was member Hye Sung’s fandom who first sent rice wreaths to support his solo concert in 2007. Shinhwa’s fandom was also the first to have planted forests in support of their idols.

The Making of Legends

Part of the reason why Shinhwa remains a groundbreaking act in K-pop is, as The Atlantic put it, their “smart self-awareness.” In an industry that’s sometimes too full to the brim with new acts, Shinhwa chose to evolve and mature in their own timeline, striking an attractive balance between age and trends. The result? Hilarious variety shows and appearances where the members didn’t, and continue to not, hesitate in poking fun at themselves, all topped off by the very refreshing devil-may-care attitude that came with spending years in the industry (I will never be able to hear the words “Do you smell something burning?” without laughing.)

In fact, despite their seniority in the industry, age hasn’t ever been something that’s held Shinhwa back: the band has embraced their late 30s with fervour and humour, even going so far as to admitting that having a “battle of stamina with younger groups” is pointless. Now that they don’t have the “weapon of youth”, they’ve turned their focus on charms that suit their age.

There’s the cheeky SNL Korea broadcast where the members dress up as exhibits in a museum—only the exhibits are their younger selves from a decade ago—with visitors standing around, confused about who they’re supposed to be. There’s the sarcastic “Idol Retirement Insurance Plan” skit, where the members sold insurance plans to idols in the climax of their careers that included obsessive fans to stalk them and make them feel young. Or, if you need something else, there’s the infamous “Farting chorus” broadcast—which is exactly what it sounds like.

That’s probably the most endearing part about Shinhwa—with the passage of time, they made their own interpretations of what they were supposed to be, both as individuals and as a group, and molded the expectations to fit them than the other way round. As a unit, it makes them relatable. They never shy away from sharing both their successes and their struggles—the members have always been vocal about arguments among themselves, but have also been quick to admit how their long bonds have made working together easier. In a recent interview about their 13th studio album, member Jun Jin put the feeling into words: “If it weren’t for Shinhwa, Jun Jin wouldn’t exist.”


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It isn’t just the marvelous teamwork; it’s also the fact that Shinhwa has never been a group that downplays their concerns, both as artists and businessmen. Group leader Eric expressed his anxiety about working in an industry where Shinhwa is one of the only groups left from the first generation: “We have no role models, nowhere to get advice. I think we have to grasp our future direction ourselves as we continue to work.”

They’ve also never had qualms about admitting to concerns about their company—Eric once talked about how Shinhwa realized that running a company was different than being an idol when they had to monitor how much money they spent on meals. Somewhere down the line, Shinhwa shed the skin of idols and became human, which brought them to closer to their fans.

Speaking of which, part of the reason why they remain popular favorites is also their relationships with their fans, which has always been more like that of bickering best friends and less like the typical fan-idol interactions. In fact, the group has never been hesitant to call out fans on their behavior. As a story about their first fan-sign goes, member Dong Wan told the fans that “Shinhwa is definitely not responsible for your lives.” He received some flak for that, but Dong Wan defended himself, saying that the “fans’ love could sometimes be over the top.” It was an example of how Shinhwa were mature since their early days, not caring about gratuitous fanservice and establishing a relationship of mutual trust with their fans.

K-pop is an ephemeral industry: every burst of fame and omnipresence is followed by a plateau where new groups come in and take over, and fandoms are inherited down the generations. Yet, Shinhwa is one of the only groups from the first generation of K-pop to not only continue making music, but to be loved by fans and the industry alike. They remain among the groups for which the word “groundbreaking” rings utterly true—because of their acceptance of the changing times; because of their self-deprecating and brilliant humor; and, most importantly, because of their steely resolve to always be one unit for themselves and their fans. They never take themselves very seriously, and that’s what makes them so endearing.

If you’re just starting out with Shinhwa, check out the remake of their music video, “All Your Dreams,” which was released on the 20th anniversary of their debut.

What’s your favorite Shinhwa song? Let us know in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.