The story of LOONA: yyxy


How do you close out a pre-debut project like LOONA’s? How do you bring the many ideas and sounds contained within the previous 8 solos and 4 sub-unit singles to an outcome? But Yves, Chuu, Go Won, and Olivia Hye were given this herculean task, and came together as Youth Youth by Young, aka LOONA yyxy to be the conclusion of the sweeping story the LOONAverse had been introducing for over two years.

The story of LOONA took a dramatic shift before yyxy. Odd Eye Circle injected a positive, forthright energy to the universe as a direct contrast to what came before them with LOONA 1/3 and yet, it still felt incomplete. Between the two of them they barely scratched the surface of complexity within the idea of girlhood. One could be passive or active, with little in between. To deal with this yyxy took a major lyrical shift and forgoed a more distinct musical identity for their era. In its place the videos took on the brunt of the storytelling while the lyrics focused on one thing. Each of the girls sang not about boys or a general idea of love but of self love. Differing perspectives of self-love combined to give us a more complete idea of what LOONA’s story was.


Also on KultScene: K-POP UNMUTED: 2018 AWARDS – PART 1

Yves fell from Eden and crashed into our hearts when she began the final saga with the deeply satisfying “new.” It turns the bounding confidence of Odd Eye Circle into something quietly simple. The heavy 80s synths feel immediately powerful. Where OEC were manic and excited, Yves doesn’t waiver, preferring a steadiness of strength felt from within.

This experience and strength of Yves’ voice proves to be crucial. Aided by just a bassy synth and fingersnaps, she convincingly delivers such grandiose lines as, “Willing to get closer to the sun / Flapping of the burnt wings.” “new” is a song about finding oneself through a variety of life experiences. She beings with love of a person, “My heart that wants to be like you / Gets coloured, filled with you,” but moves on quickly. She goes no further in mentioning this person to the point that it sounds more like admiration than love. This is where she deviates from her predecessors. This desire to be like someone else led Yves to consider her “miserable appearance.” In looking at herself in preparation, she took the time to see a new side of who she is. In dropping the pursuit of another and considering a mirror, she sees “the beam inside of my heart.”

Yves understands that the conclusion LOONA seek isn’t in being loved or loving someone but in how you come to make those decisions. It’s the in-between point of figuring yourself out and knowing what’s best for you.

Yves grabbed the LOONAverse by the throat and told it to calm down. All of the yyxy girls’ songs were a response to this and none of them took it to heart quite like Chuu. “Heart Attack,” her solo song, is what happens when LOONA ⅓ are graced with the influence of Yves. Big brass wills Chuu down a difficult path of big vocals and emotions. Her heart is unstoppable, at a level of obsession not seen before in the LOONAverse. “Heart Attack’s” music however, does feel familiar at times so it is up to Chuu to elevate it. None of the other girls matched her on record for pure personality, “This must be what thrill feels like, darling” she bellows in the chorus. Her voice shifting tone depending on just how happy she is.

Her unabashed sentimentality is no surprise given Yves’ influence. It is, at the same time, naive. Yves’ message has been missed by Chuu. She changes her whole life to suit this person, “All of my standards are set to you / Like the moon spinning around the earth.” She’s shoved along by growing layered background vocals and stronger synths to a point of apparent euphoria. Chuu gives everything to her vocal tone, a parallel to how she’ll give everything to the other she sings of. “I’ll give you all my heart /Take my heart,” she pleads. Her feelings are in whiplash. Taking confidence from Yves, Chuu goes too far in changing her “quiet heart.” It’s the response of someone who was waiting for confidence for too long and couldn’t handle it. Chuu never really had a quiet heart, just never had the support to know this.

Someone who really does have a quiet heart is Go Won. On first meeting, the third yyxy girl is slight and mysterious. Her voice is simple, barely going above a talk-sing type for the majority of her solo song “One & Only.” The straightforward synth of the track does well to back her up. It does not undermine her at any stage. It has bright piano chords to prop her up in the chorus and shimmering synths to match her as she highers her pitch rising to the chorus. Her voice is warm and unique but also innately familiar as if everything she sings we all know deep down.

Right from the beginning, Go Won understands the importance of self-love. “When that shadow takes a step towards me / Even the darkness feels bright,” she sees light in everything because she pours light onto everything. She doesn’t need no garden of Eden.

Olivia Hye, yyxy’s final girl, is someone who sees almost no light. She took Yves’ message as a betrayal. Her song “Egoist” is not a celebration of self-love but a lament for the heartache of how she reached it. Olivia still held onto the idea that true fulfilment came only through love of another. She was not prepared to lose them or to hear that her ideals had been wrong this entire time. “I wanted to despise you /But my heart wouldn’t let you go,” she ekes out at the beginning. Her voice, a strained apathy, fits these words perfectly.

The track’s opening piano chord starts a fraction of the way through like we have barged in on her revelation. The piano drops when her sadness turns to anger, though. Her rage slowly distorts the song into a whirling industrial clash of defiant synths and destructive percussion. The melodic whistle from the chorus is coerced into a desperate scream. The song’s expressiveness mocks the cold flatness of Olivia’s voice. To make matters worse Jinsoul follows this. Her self-referential rap is full of temptations about being in an “endless cycle” together. She is a voice that Olivia does not need right now, and it shows. As the song progresses it has nothing to else to offer. Olivia’s voice, still inert, doesn’t convince us of the words she’s singing. She still sings of fate, a fate she fears was taken from her prematurely. Her anger is still focused on the person leaving, rather than her own inadequacies.


Also on KultScene: THE 12 LOONA SOLO SINGLES RANKED

The conflict inherent in Olivia Hye and her song seemed to be a great jumping off point for LOONA yyxy to come together as a unit. Instead they did something strange: “love4eva” is a song made to situate LOONA within the larger world of K-pop. Almost every major detail links them to two other era-defining girl groups of their time, Girls’ Generation and I.O.I.

Starting with producer E-Tribe, even the announcement of their involvement was treated as a big coup. E-Tribe are known for a number of iconic hits like Hyori’s “U-Go-Girl” and Super Junior’s “It’s You,” but none quite as legendary as Girls’ Generation’s “Gee.” Their involvement was a statement but how they used the feature from Canadian artist Grimes locked in the comparison. Much to everyone’s surprise, her only involvement was in the song’s intro. Her English language declaration of LOONA’s finally being together is a riff on not just Tiffany and Jessica’s intro for “Gee” but the many times K-pop has done this the years over. The lyrics as well are a such a generic take on first love that it could be parody. The wonderfully ridiculous line about kidneys comes close to convincing me of that.

Even before Grimes’ part, it’s easy to spot the I.O.I connection as well. The precise, rolling synths immediately recall that group’s best track “Very Very Very.” “love4eva” strives for the breathless energy of that song but can’t quite go past imitation. Right at the end, yyxy go on to refer to the choreography of “Very Very Very” too, as in their ending pose they continue moving along with a heart gesture. It’s smaller than the other references but in ending the track it leaves the imprint of all of those other ideas in our mind.

This all combines to position LOONA as a group following these two. It would be hard to argue that anyone other than Girls’ Generation is the the most definitive K-pop girl group, and I.O.I were the first group since them to change how the industry worked by making competition shows the new most lucrative debut plan. LOONA have decided that they are next, stating that their form of marketing is what future girl groups will be copying.

This, unfortunately, is the final legacy of yyxy. They jumped the gun on the anticipation of their debut by dropping a genuinely interesting thematic exploration in favour of something more palatable for a larger audience. Regardless of quality, “love4eva” and LOONA’s debut single, “Hi High,” are a digression from what made LOONA interesting in the first place, their focus on the girls themselves. It was the distinction between the solo songs and the diversity of sounds and ideas that were used to build characters that made LOONA connect with so many. That yyxy could have four separate songs about self-love, all with different perspectives was frankly beautiful. They worked to define the impossibility of identity, and it sadly remained impossible to carry through to the finale.

What do you think of the LOONA yyxy era? 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.

Best K-pop Albums of 2018

best kpop albums 2018 18 top k-pop korean

Every year, the world of K-pop gives us new sounds to enjoy and compacts them into pristinely packaged album. And then, the KultScene team puts them together into an easy-to-read list based on our personal tastes. The past 12 months were no different than usual, so we are excited to present our best albums of 2018 list. Unlike our vote-driven songs list, each blurb is based on each writer’s individual feelings towards the album they wrote about and are listed in no particular order. Whether they were albums from brand new acts or ones from the biggest names in the industry, these were what the KultScene loved in 2018.

Love Yourself: Tear by BTS

Even if it wasn’t for its historic achievements (first million certified album by the Korea Music Content Association, debut at number one on Billboard 200, and a Grammy nomination), Love Yourself: Tear would deserve an honourable mention amidst BTS discography anyway. From the opening track, “Singularity” (a solo moment for member V, whose distinctive voice and style make him the perfect vocalist to match the deep, elegant tone of the song), until the last, “Outro: Tear” (BTS rap line’s best collective effort since 2014’s “Cypher pt. 3”), Love Yourself: Tear contains some of the group’s best lyrics ever. It’s also definitely their most experimental album so far. It ranges from hip-hop, soul, R&B, to pop, EDM, and even incursions on rock (“Fake Love”), jazz/bossa nova (“134340”), and latin rhythms (“Airplane pt. 2”). It’s all packed in a way that makes sense for the album’s aim to explore darker and more practical themes than its predecessor, Love Yourself: Her. With tracks like “Paradise” and “Anpanman,” Love Yourself: Tear solidifies BTS’s purpose to be spokespeople for today’s youth, while also cements the group’s rich musicality.

—Ana Clara

Warning by Sunmi

Her first body of music since 2014’s Full Moon, Sunmi is mature and dominant on Warning. The mini-album begins with the bombastic self-written intro “Addict,” her first and only completely English-language song. One of Korea’s most prominent and often most criticized female soloists, Sunmi tells her critics that they’re “already addicted” to her. She asks the repeated question “Who’s running the show?” throughout the song as if to reference haters’ questions about whether she has control of her music and career. Confidently, she answers, “Me,” as the song ends.

Following “Addict,” Warning quickly moves into lead single “Siren,” a pulsing electropop number that scored 30th on KultScene’s 50 Best K-Pop Songs of 2018. Between “Siren” and previously promoted singles “Gashina” and “Heroine” lie “Curve,” a pop track telling a lover to be careful with her, and another album standout “Black Pearl,” a funky R&B-influenced track contemplating her self-image. The tracks reach back to Full Moon Sunmi, who was a bit more sultry than the one who sings “Heroine” or “Siren,” but just as confident and in-control of her sexuality as she is now.

The mini as a whole, which ends with soft rock outro “Secret Tape,” not only explores the different sides of Sunmi we know and love, but also reveals new sides we have never before seen. Most of all, the album stands as a “warning” for those doubting Sunmi’s versatility and skill as a performer and artist. The world is Sunmi’s show, and we’re all just living in it.

—Kushal

Present: YOU & ME by GOT7

Present: You & Me is the GOT7 album we’ve have been waiting for. The repackaged album consists of all the songs that was previously released on Present: You, along with with 12 other “new” tracks. The repackage includes new songs like their Christmas track “Miracle,” the sweet ballad “Take Me To You,” and, of course a classic GOT7 feel good dance track, “Come On.”

What’s most exciting about this repackaged album is that it consists of a few fan favorites that the members have performed during their first and second world tour. Some of the subunits were rather to be expected such as JB and Youngjae’s “1:31AM,” Jackson, Bambam, and Yugyeom’s “WOLO” and “I Love It.” Whereas Mark and Jinyoung’s “Higher,” Mark, JB, and Youngjae’s “Think About It,” Jackson and Yugyeom’s “Hunger,” and Jinyoung and BamBam’s “King” units came as a pleasant surprise. Yugyeom’s “From Now” and Jackson’s “Phoenix” solo tracks highlighted of the two’s strengths; Yugyeom’s being heavily danced influenced and Jackson’s addictive raspy rapping.

Present: You & ME had a fusion of both mellow and high spirited tunes. These songs were examples that exudes the member’s individuality and different styles in music. At this point, is it even considered a repackaged album considering how most of these songs were never released before? Wow, GOT7 really loves their fans.

—Tam

RBB by Red Velvet

You can always count on Red Velvet to deliver a solid album and/or EP, and RBB was no different. The quintet’s discography may already have an EP they christened Perfect Velvet, but with RBB and its five songs and the English version of the single, it’s by far the superior one. Falling on the Velvet side of their concept spectrum, the EP is a more fun and mature follow up to last year’s The Perfect Velvet. The EP is a mix of the fun, electropop side of Red paired with the smoother ‘90s R&B-tinged tracks that define Velvet. Though the single “RBB” and “Butterflies” represent a more palatable Red Velvet sound, it’s “Sassy Me,” “So Good,” and “Taste” that join the group’s repertoire of amazing sultry deep cuts. Velvet Red Velvet is the girl group the people deserve, and though RBB didn’t get as much love in Korea as Summer Magic, it further proves that Red Velvet is currently the most versatile and musically interesting female K-pop ensemble.

—Alexis

Shoot Me: Youth Part 1 by DAY6

DAY6 recently said during an interview that when they work on each song, they regard it as the title track of the album and give it their all. Shoot Me: Youth Part 1 definitely shows this, and this is the only album so far with tracks that I never wanted to skip. The tracks are so different, instrumentation and genre-wise, but they all contain DAY6’s unique colour and signature style. More importantly, they are all musically complex in their own ways and highly enjoyable to listen to. This album saw the welcome return of Jae’s rapping in “Talking To” and brought one of DAY6’s strongest ballads to date, “Still”. Ever since their debut, but especially in the past two years, DAY6 has consistently been churning out good music and I’m looking forward to how they will continue to evolve in the future.

—Anna


Also on KultScene: 50 BEST K-POP SONGS OF 2018

The Story of Light: Epilogue by SHINee

Listening to The Story of Light is an altogether Too Much experience. Too much emotions, too much sounds. It begins with aplomb, the bombastic electro pop of “All Day, All Night” bursts with desperate love. It runs into the double singles of “Countless” and “Good Evening.” On that quick flip the passion of the opener is replaced with a confused melancholy. “Oh my god, the melodies ring out” is forgotten in favour of “The cozy darkness.” The deep house of “Good Evening” and tropical flavours of “Countless” betray their original happiness. Of course the context in which The Story of Light was created explains this. A year of comebacks following the death of Jonghyun led to a whole hour of new material for which SHINee to remember him while not forgetting themselves.

Taemin, having once had to try fill the impossible shoes of Jonghyun on “Why So Serious?”, tries again to step up to the mantle. He is more than capable, and yet, one can’t help but hear the old Taemin in everything he does. A child when SHINee first debuted in 2008, the future of K-pop was clear in his bright eyes. He retains that sense of wonder with his more modern self turning up on the absolute delight of synth pop that is “Undercover” and smashes it. Amidst the unpredictable piano of ballad “I Say,” even the utterance of just the words “right now” from Onew could make you cry. No one in his position should have the courage to use such defiant language. But he did and no one could possibly think he’s faking it. Minho’s rap, once a handicap for the group becomes a crutch. His deep voice a warm reliable sound that reminds one of the past, reminds one of a SHINee that has not quite disappeared yet. His work on the jazzy “Retro,” is mightily assured as he remembers a lover, and how easy it was to love them. Key is as exuberant as ever. The mood maker of the group, he can wrap his voice around any sound thrown his way. Key carries on as anyone would so hope he would. He races, wailing and crooning, across the more upbeat housey vibes of “Jump.” His falsetto lights it up and braces SHINee for the end of this story. As the long hour of The Story of Light comes to an end it’s hard, despite the many ideas within, not to see only one thing in its entirety. Every word from the throats of the members, every inflection of sound from all sources, every song on this album is about Kim Jonghyun.

—Joe

Blooming Days by EXO-CBX

One of the greatest things about K-pop is its love affair with highly conceptualized musical experiences, so it’s kind of baffling that it’s taken a while for any of the biggest acts in the industry to create a seven-track EP that coincide with the days of the week. Luckily, 2018 saw EXO-CBX release Blooming Days and give us a sweet soundtrack for any week. The trio spend the entirety of the album serving up funky, harmonizing-heavy pop tunes, beginning from the mellow vibes of “Monday Blues” and ending with the groovy chill of the Sunday-oriented finale in “Lazy.” While each song comes into its own, there’s an overlying warm, almost intimate feel throughout the album as the EXO’s trio of vocalists mellifluously — Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin — guide the listeners through their exploration of lush, retro-tinged pop.

—Tamar

Breathe by MRSHLL

MRSHLL’s Breathe is a R&B EP with hints of house music, soul peppered across tracks, and ingenious collaborations ranging from ph-1 to Lydia Paek. The EP kicks off with “Come Over,” a track featuring trendy tropical beats and light hip hop swagger. While “Come Over” presents an upbeat aura, MRSHLL secures his footing as his own artist by diving into the complexity of emotions and acceptance through the remainder of the album. His raspier vocals express the vulnerability and desperation in tackling loneliness, depression through tracks like “OK” and “Nohanza.”

Everything comes full circle with “Pose,” an ode to the LGBTQ community, which taps into house music and exudes a new found confidence that was lacked in previous tracks. The catchy “Get your life and pose” is a mood we call take with us into the new year. Breathe is a reassurance in going through our struggles, expressing our emotions and reaching the freedom that comes with true ownership of who we are.

 

 

 

—Nnehkai

The Connect: Dejavu by Monsta X

Space, time, and entanglement —Monsta X continues to explore these concepts and more in The Connect: Dejavu, an extension of their The Code album released last year. Fronted by lead single “Jealousy,” the EP actually does most of the conceptual grunt work with the second track “Destroyer,” a nu metal song flecked with chilling raps, amplified vocals, and dense electric guitars. Behind every utterance, every inflection, there is an honest determination to conquer against time and fate in the name of reconnecting with a loved one. All things considered, there’s due cause why “Destroyer” was previewed in the time-looping, time-manipulating music film leading up to the album’s release over “Jealousy.”

But neither “Jealousy” nor “Destroyer” can hold a candle to what’s to come next. Coming in third on the tracklist is fan favorite “Fallin,’” whose EDM and deep house influences makes this one that was meant to be enjoyed in a concert hall than through wires and headphones. Only Monsta X can pull braid together such tasteful use of autotune, electrifying synths, and processed vocals while still feeling human. There’s always an order within the lawless nature of the song, something that the final song “Special” seem to try to replicate with its hip-hop leanings but falls slightly short of.

The rest of the album is filled out with delicate, iridescent melodies in “If Only” and softcore pop beats in “Crazy in Love.” “Lost in the Dream” manages to find middle ground between this and the earlier tracks; despite the fervid raps and throbbing percussions, vocal line comes in with a dreamy lilt that saves the song from edgy territory. Clocking in at a little over 26 minutes, The Connect: Dejavu showcases Monsta X’s fluidity as artists and could possibly be their most experimental one yet.

—Shelley

Hyehwa by Jeong Eun Ji

Jeong Eun Ji’s voice is a sweet delicacy for our ears, and in Hyehwa, we not only get delighted by her crystalline vocals, but also get the pleasure to know a bit of her soul. The third solo album from Apink’s main vocalist reflects her musical talents (she was involved in the writing and composition of the whole album, and co-produced three out of eight tracks,) and her stories, as the lyrics address themes such as longings, childhood memories, and personal hardships with discovering and building identity. The stripped-down production, that swings from guitar to piano-focused songs, highlights “Hyehwa” as a candid, almost therapeutic experience in which the feelings conveyed by Eun Ji are the star of the show —with few exceptions when the instrumentals shine just as much as the singer, like in “The Box,” a folk-pop song cleverly built to involve the listener in the lyrics’s persona attempt to break free from limitations.

—Ana Clara

Something New by Taeyeon

In her 11th year as a K-pop idol (and a damn good one, at that), Taeyeon is blunt and unapologetic on her fourth mini-album Something New. Released with no promotion, the album is centered on its title track as the lead single. “Something New” is a funk and R&B-influenced song about breaking the mold of everyday life and searching for a new way of doing things. The song seems personal to Taeyeon, who has openly discussed struggling with mental health issues and acclimating to the celebrity lifestyle in the past. In lyrics, instrumentals, and vocal performance, the song is a notable divergence from previous releases.

The album jumps through different genres as the songs progress, diverging from the upbeat funk of “Something New.” “All Night Long” and “One Day” are love songs—the former with reggae influences, and the latter with vocal pop delivery reminiscent of some of Girls’ Generation’s earlier albums. “BaramX3” on the other hand, is an angry breakup song, cleverly using the Korean word baram (바람) to refer to both the wind and a cheating lover. An album standout, “Circus” is a piano ballad about the dizzying, sensory overload of new love.

Through and through, the album is open-hearted and introspective about love and self-discovery. Something New tells us that Taeyeon is still exploring the genres, trying to figure out who she is a solo artist separate from her girl group. Going deeper, it also shows us that she’s exploring herself, trying to find who she is as a person after so many years in the spotlight. Her soul-searching demonstrates she is perhaps K-pop’s most versatile artist, but simultaneously one of its most enigmatic as a solo.

—Kushal

Sun and Moon by Sam Kim

With an elegant and soothing voice as Sam Kim, it’s crazy to think that Sun and Moon is only his first full album. His latest album shows influences of pop, R&B, soul, jazz, and folk, all under one roof, which can really set one’s feelings on one hell of rollercoaster ride. A couple of songs had a charming and playful element to it, such as title track “It’s You” featuring Zico, “Make Up” featuring Crush, and “The One.” Meanwhile, others like “Sun and Moon,” “Sunny Days, Summer Night,” “If,” “The Weight,” and English track “Would You Believe” were slow and somber, very much tugging at my heartstrings.

This mesmerizing of an album makes for the perfect playlist for a road trip. There’s something about that soulful voice of Sam that just speaks to all my feelings. Each song on Sun and Moon had its own obsessive flow; pure, beautiful, art. This album is truly genius, completely worth the long two and a half year wait.

—Tam


Also on KultScene: 25 BEST K-POP SONGS OF 2018

Eau de VIXX by VIXX

Other than their eye-catching, signature concept singles, VIXX goes largely unnoticed every year when in fact they consistently put out quality and musically interesting albums and EPs. Following last year’s “Shangri La,” it seems like the group have finally outgrown the concept crutch they’ve always leaned on and embraced the eccentricity that has always made them stand out but channel it into experimental music. And with the genre-diverse Eau de VIXX, the male outfit delivered their most solid piece. The album shifts between the moody deep house and electrifying electro pop tracks (“Scientist,” “Silence,” “Trigger”) to the uber sensual (“Odd Sense,” “My Valentine”) to the disco-ey, groovy tunes (“Good Day,” “Navy & Shining Gold”). In Eau de VIXX, VIXX packaged exactly what makes them VIXX: sensuality, weirdness, and a damn good time.

—Alexis

1¹¹=1 (Power of Destiny) by Wanna One

This final release of Wanna One is a bittersweet one, aside from the fact that the songs on this album fit the season and tend towards the ballad genre, it is a sad reminder that a group this musically talented will cease to be together in the coming year. I’ve always loved how the different talents and personalities of the members come together so perfectly to create quality music, and this album is no exception. From nostalgic remakes such as “Beautiful (Part 2)” to more experimental tracks like “Awake,” the album features a diversity of tracks and gives room for each member to shine (for a group of 11 members, this is really a feat). Title track “Spring Breeze” was definitely the most comforting but heart wrenching song of the lot, but it’s wonderful to see Wanna One end their stint on such a high.

—Anna

++ by LOONA

The reveal of LOONA as a 12 member group covered three years, three sub-units, and many more songs. Waiting for them was easy, thanks to this mass of work, actually dealing with the reality of them was more difficult. They came in the form of a mini album, ++, a title that lingers in their pre-debut (LOONA ⅓ + ODD EYE CIRCLE + LOONA yyxy). It is a fast, tight mini that contains a focused but varied number of sounds and styles. Lead single “Hi High” follows the hasty bubblegum pop of songs like “Girl Front” with a smattering of high paced vocals and synths. A perfect and safe opening to LOONA that highlighted their energy over their more unique qualities. They were left to the rest of the album. The pair of “Favorite” and “Yeolgi” have big destructive beats formed around opposing productions. “Favorite” basks in it, working as a pure dance track made to show LOONA’s skills. “Yeolgi” fights back against it, their voices are softer, and along with booming brass and a siren, they call to “reach higher.” It leads nicely into the playful, dainty R&B of “Perfect Love.” Along with “Perfect Love,” the sleek electro pop track “Stylish” closes the short 18 minutes of ++ in predictably good style. The synth hook is sharp and unique. The girls also do the best harmonizing of their short career so far over it. Not one of them is left out of a stunning cap to what is a brilliant debut album.

—Joe

NCT 2018 Empathy by NCT

As overwhelming as some people find the concept of SM Entertainment’s boy band brand NCT, this year’s Empathy showed exactly how the company’s loosely-oriented teams are the perfect way to delve deep into the type of experimental electro-pop that the company has thrived on for years. With each song, from the trippy chants of “INTRO: Neo Got My Back” to the climactic “OUTRO: Vision” and all that is in between, NCT, and SM, use the platform of Empathy to put the emphasis not on the alleged unity of the act but instead on highlighting its diversity.

No two songs have similar styles or structures, and even the obvious choices, like an experimental dance track for NCT 127 and bright retro-infused pop song for NCT Dream, were turned on their head. Instead, we were served up with the Dreamies getting more dramatic than ever before on their anthemic “Go” and NCT 127 going full-on sweet with their sleek, R&B-infused euphoria of “Touch,” and the varied NCT U songs going everywhere from the philosophical alt hip-hop of “Yestoday” to the rhythmic sensuality of “Baby Don’t Stop.” “Boss” and “Black on Black,” the only other two new songs released on the album, were each professions of NCT’s prowess, but the former offered a sleek, thumping sound guided by the group’s aggressive raps and soaring vocals while the latter was all about the performance aspect of it and fittingly oriented on how certain members could capture the animalistic, hard-hitting nature of the bombastic song. The rest of the album features songs fans were already familiar with, like the stand out “7th Sense” and Ten’s captivating “Dream In A Dream,” but are nevertheless as important in showcasing the importance of NCT’s fluidity and potential to consistently reorganize its groups. It may be a bit new for K-pop —organizing artists around songs rather than songs to fit the act but it’s a fascinating attempt at changing things up and Empathy revels in the opportunity its given, offering up a buffet of a soundscape to fit every listener’s sonic palette.

—Tamar

Gemini 2 by Yoonmirae

Growth, love, and joy are at the center of Yoonmirae’s second studio album Gemini 2. The album comes after successfully overcoming the struggles and hardships recounted in Gemini. Yoonmirae still boasts a bravado that reassures listeners she’s still the baddest to ever do it and maintains her signature swagger with tracks “Rap Queen” and “Kawibawibo.” In contrast, songs like “Thin Line,” “Peach,” and “Cookie” give insight to her live as a wife, lover, and mother and the adoration she has for playing multiple roles in her life. “You and Me” is definitely a standout and most commercial of the tracks. The Junoflo collaboration is flirty, coy filled with synth-pop overtones making for a light-hearted vibe suitable for any listener. Gemini 2 is a chill, bright aura reflecting Yoonmirae’s current chapter in life, but she still boasts strong lyrics and an impeccable ability to transition between vocals and rapping.

—Nnehkai

Don’t Mess Up My Tempo by EXO

Don’t Mess Up My Tempo is EXO’s first studio album in well over a year and their first release to feature Chinese member Lay since For Life (2016), but these are not the only reasons why the EP should be celebrated. Several moments feel like blatant pastiches of the group’s earlier works, with “Sign,” an electropop track featuring the group’s signature timbre and dynamic vocals, standing out against the rest. “Damage” is a close second, however, embracing an orchestral section from their heydays and never forgetting the youngest’s penchant for spelling out the group’s name. Perhaps this is also why title track, “Tempo,” is so interesting, technique-wise. It’s not the voice mods or the up-tempo hooks that gives the single its je ne sais quoi, but the acapella-style harmonies — especially prominent during the bridge — done in classic EXO. While the album alternates between everything from Latin pop (“Ooh La La La”) to funk (“Gravity”) to R&B ballads (“Smile On My Face”), there’s never a break in continuity thanks to idiosyncrasies like these. Don’t Mess Up My Tempo is the old friend we never knew we needed.

—Shelley

What were your favorite K-pop albums of 2018? Let us know your picks in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

25 Best K-pop Songs of 2018

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Compiling the definitive best of a given year is no easy feat —especially for the KultScene editorial team. And yet here we are. As said in our part one of the top songs of 2018, we looked back on another year in K-pop and came up with a list of what we think excelled above the rest.

This year, girl groups exceeded expectations concept and genre-wise, securing spots a the top. Boy groups, both new and old, continued to reinvent themselves and deliver fresh music. Solo artists kept themselves visible and challenged even the better established ensembles. 2018 also birthed more than a handful of classics that someday we’ll surely look back on with endearing nostalgia.

Here are the best K-pop tracks of the year.

25. “Thanks” by Seventeen

Seventeen impressed with “Thanks,” which is a skilful fusion of electronic sounds and a diversity of dance beats. Despite its sweet meaning of gratitude, its lyrics also convey intensity and depth, and is matched by the constantly changing dynamics of the track. The song seamlessly transits between its rap and vocal parts, allowing all the members of the group to shine in various ways. Its hook is also very addictive and caused the song to get stuck in my head when I heard it for the first time. The impressive choreography accompanying the song is just a cherry atop this very delicious release.

—Anna

24. “I Love You” by EXID

Take the usual EXID chart-topper formula and colorful concepts, throw in some repeated samples, and we have the makings of “I Love You.” Following their throwback to the ‘90s with “Lady” earlier this year, the group continued their homage to the recent past with ‘80s-inspired pop synths and fainter drum claps with this single. Long-time producer Shinsadong Tiger and member LE methodically break away from traditional form and do away with a bridge altogether, making the song feel so seamless and digestible. The selling point was the recurring “I love you like lalala,” which besides being an absolute earworm, never felt like a one-off sample. This perfect distillation of EXID is everything we love about the group, and is one for their fans and millennials with a bad case of retromania alike.

—Shelley

23. “Get It” by PRISTIN V

Before debuting the sub unit PRISTIN V, the edgiest thing that the group PRISTIN has ever done was releasing the punk rock influenced “We Like.” And while I have absolutely no problem with the direction the girls were going, the unit, formed by five out of 10 of the PRISTIN members, was a welcome surprise in 2018. PRISTIN V’s first single, the hip-hop oriented “Get It” not only served to showcase the girls’ vocal colours in a more distinctive way, –as it’s especially noticeable in the smooth outro, backgrounded with beautiful falsettos– but was also a chance to explore a different sonority and more mature concept, which, by the way, fits them really well.

—Ana Clara

22. “Shoot Me” by DAY6

Six months after their whirlwind year of releases, trustworthy band DAY6 returned with guns blazing in “Shoot Me.” The title track of Shoot Me: Youth Part 1, it is a tad more aggressive than their usual releases. This song allowed the members to show off fiercer and more charismatic sides of themselves through their explosive live stages. As always, the instrumentation was well done, with Young K’s prominent bass line and Dowoon’s intense drumming enhancing the richness of the track. Wonpil’s vocal range was sufficiently displayed here as well, with his high notes successfully intensifying the song as it reached its climax. Better yet, the music video was not just aesthetically beautiful, it was also extremely effective in conveying the main message of this song, “vicious words hurt like a bullet” through its portrayal of a toxic relationship.

—Anna

21. “Blooming Day” by EXO-CBX

One of the best things about EXO-CBX is that it never takes itself quite too seriously but still serves up the most pristine type of groovy dance tracks. April’s “Blooming Day” moves along with a funky bass line and electronic quirks as the trio of Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin bounce along to the melody before building to the soaring, layered chorus. It’s not necessarily a song to get pumped up to, but “Blooming Day” is an exquisite display of why this trio’s vocal tones blend so so well, and will have even the most straight laced person tapping their foot along to the beat.

—Tamar

20. “Love Line” by TVXQ!

This surprise of a sweet track from TVXQ! was a total turnabout from the duo’s typical styling, but felt like a refreshing spring day where the wind is blowing softly, the sun is shining, and the flowers are all in bloom. There’s a rhythmic bounce to “Love Line” as Yunho and Changmin croon in high tones over the spritely tropical pop beat, plucky strings, and clapping melody. The laid back nature of the song demands repeated plays, drawing listeners in with its perceived simplicity and rewards those who take a moment to relax and enjoy the spritelyness of it all. It’s a bit of a divergent sound for TVXQ!, but with a decade and a half under their belt, it’s just further proof that the duo can pull off and suave, modern sound with ease and make it their own.

—Tamar

19. “Baby Don’t Stop” by NCT U

2018 proved to be a defining year for the NCT project musically and career-wise, and it all started with a handful of singles from their various units, which would all eventually come together for the NCT 2018 Empathy album featuring all 18 members. And back by popular demand, the rotating group NCT U were up first and put out two singles, with “Baby Don’t Stop” being one of them and led by Ten and Taeyong. Being the best performers in NCT, both members didn’t just rely on their crisp dance moves, but Taeyong gave us ASMR gold and, nice for a change, vocals, while Ten carried the sultry melody throughout the song. “Baby Don’t Stop” is an enthralling art house track that further stated the case that NCT is SM Entertainment’s experimental group not only with their group dynamic but musically.

—Alexis


Also on KultScene: 50 BEST K-POP SONGS OF 2018

18. “Hann” by (G)I-DLE

Usually when a song starts, I can tell if I’ll like it within the first five to 10 seconds. It took (G)I-DLE’s “Hann” one second and I was immediately hooked. Who doesn’t love a little whistling? Well, there are probably quite a few people who get rather peeved, but in this particular case it was the instant whistling in the intro that won me over. There’s no reason why this song shouldn’t be put on repeat considering it’s mesmerizing and entrancing melody. Along with the captivating “woo woo woo” that is repeated throughout the song, the moments that were leading up to the chorus would leave one on edge, anticipating the next line, again and again.

—Tam

17. “Boss” by NCT U

This year, NCT U made its long-awaited comeback this year since releasing the groundbreaking “The 7th Sense” in 2016. With a rearrangement of members, the expanded lineup released “Boss” and showed just why they’re the superior NCT unit. Marking Lucas and Jungwoo’s debuts, NCT U left the artsy for “Baby Don’t Stop” and went for a bolder, stronger concept with “Boss.” Full of confidence and packed with a just as impactful choreography, the bass-heavy hip-hop and electro track perfectly blends the swaggering raps with velvety smooth vocals, which ultimately balances out the song so it won’t steer into the “too-much” territory. In “Boss,” NCT U declares themselves as leaders, and with jams like this and other gems the NCT project released throughout the year, it’s looking pretty assertive as we near 2019.

—Alexis

16. “N/A” by Jooyoung

When everyone would rather listen to the latest from a survivor group, “N/A” from Jooyoung can sure feel like our best-kept secret sometimes. Nevertheless, it’s one we are willing to share. It follows this year’s trend of bare piano melodies, just in a more hauntingly beautiful vein. Also naked are the lyrics (few as may be), which reads like an intimate reflection. Jooyoung reverts to being boy whenever he sees the guy in the mirror. He wonders if he sees him too and asks him to hold him because he’s scared and alone. Just as he doesn’t reach a resolution to his internal struggle, so does the song. Instead an incessant buzzing noise picks up to deafening heights and garbles its way into an outro. The result? A catharsis, a purgatory of negative emotions. It may be uncomfortable to listen to, sure, but the psychological rewards are great.

—Shelley

15. “Latata” by (G)I-DLE

(G)I-DLE’s debut track, “Latata” blends tropical-house beats with a fierce hip-hop attitude that allowed the group to add their own spin to the popular trend. The repetitive “I love you” paired with musical breaks allowed us to appreciate the production of the song. “Latata” gave leader Soyeon to try her hand at songwriting with successful results. (G)I-DLE’s husky vocals were a breath of fresh air in the summer rush.

—Nnehkai

14. “Nanana” by IMFACT

After most of the group participated in the rebooting competition TV program The Unit and none of the members made it onto the debut group, IMFACT picked themselves up and put out a chill summer bop. The quintet premiered “Nanana” at KCON LA this year to a crowd of other groups’ fans and ended up blowing everyone away. “Nanana” is a shifting deep-house track that goes back and forth between moody and dancey. Due to IMFACT being a lesser-known group, the song flew under the radar this year. IMFACT has changed their concept many times throughout their career, but with “Nanana,” hopefully it’s a step on the path to cement their place in K-pop.

—Alexis

13. “Lullaby” by GOT7

Every now and then groups come out with a bop, where one or two members take the lead and it kind of becomes “their” song. Luckily, that’s not the case with GOT7’s “Lullaby,” the group’s title track off their third studio album Present: YOU, which they dropped after their second world tour ended this past summer. “Lullaby” has great transitions between all the vocalists and rappers, with each member having their well distinguished parts, attributing to the overall fluidity of the song. With it’s addictive dance beat and deep house integration, one will more than likely not be able to sit still. As if listening to “Lullaby” wasn’t enough in just one language, the group released this in three other languages; English, Chinese, and Spanish (my most listened to version of 2018 according to Spotify)! “Sweet talk to me babe/ it’s magical/ Sweet lullaby” —yup, it sure is and in all four languages.

—Tam

12. “Bboom Bboom” by MOMOLAND

2018 was the year MOMOLAND fully embraced their potential for quirkiness and fun that had presented itself due to member JooE’s charisma, which stood out thanks to fancams and a CF that went viral in 2017. Extending the concept for the rest of the girls, while still keeping their cute, girlie approach, and teaming up with Shinsadong Tiger (a songwriter that crafted some of the most iconic K-pop tunes) turned out to be the best idea for them. MOMOLAND’s first release of the year, “Bboom Bboom” is a disco-pop track whose onomatopoeic lyrics, catchy melodies and sticky sax hook make it almost impossible for you not to dance along. If you are one of those who miss T-ARA (like me) you probably liked this song. And even if you’re new to K-pop or to MOMOLAND, you probably couldn’t resist it either. “Bboom Bboom” is the celebration of the unapologetic fun that makes so many people drawn to the K-pop universe. But also, it’s a song that opened a new era for the group, whose new found identity made sure they continued to shine during 2018.

— Ana Clara

11. “The Chance of Love” by TVXQ!

Once you hear those opening “Woo woos,” they will be permanently singed onto your soul and you will not mind. By now, it’s preconditioned that whatever TVXQ! does, it’s going to be cool and sexy, and “The Chance of Love” is no exception. The song is pop with some jazzy elements mixed in giving it an upbeat yet smooth sound. Although the song sounds very Super Junior, U-Know and Changmin give it enough flair to make it uniquely their own. And with about 15 years in the industry, these guys have not slowed down, still giving us intricate dances that can captivate the viewer with just the slightest moves.

—Katherine


Also on KultScene: DREAMCATCHER TALK CAREER ASPIRATIONS AT LOS ANGELES FANMEET [INTERVIEW]

10. “Light” by WANNA ONE

With the release of “Light” earlier this year, WANNA ONE achieved an all-kill on the Korean charts, even though some saw it as one of the group’s less impactful songs. However, the song made our list for its nostalgic sound. WANNA ONE’s “Light” brings us back to the sounds that reminded us of B2ST and other older boy bands’ sounds back in the day. The track is a mixture of R&B and EDM, and perfectly showcases the band’s dancing skills with the drop of the song.

—Alejandro

9. “Good Evening” by SHINee

Only months out from an earth-shattering tragedy, SHINee finding the strength to release new music is commendable on its own, let alone with a song as striking and beautiful as “Good Evening.” Over a light tropical house beat, the members of SHINee tell their lover that they will go to them in the night. Their vocal delivery is impeccable, fusing emotion and yearning into the breathy, staccato opening verse sung by Taemin and Minho.

The song’s real shining moment, however, lies in the chorus, when the members collectively chant that they will go to their lover “before it’s too late,” echoing each other across building instrumentals. The tension gives way to a dance break and, in traditional SHINee fashion, fuses passion and groove with magical smoothness. While SHINee will tragically never be whole again, “Good Evening” made it clear that the heart of the group is still alive and beating with colorful vibrancy.

—Kushal

8. “Tell Me” by Infinite

After losing a member and pending military enlistment, 2018 was looking to be an ambiguous year for Infinite; but then “Tell Me” was released much to the relief of Inspirits. With a ton electronic and synth tunes, the upbeat pop song presented a much brighter sound than their past few singles. The music video mirrors the sound with vibrant and aesthetically pleasing sets and lighting which provides the perfect backdrops for the boys and their killer dance moves. Going from seven to six members doesn’t seem to be hindering the group in any way. And though I found myself subconsciously placing Hoya into the choreography, it doesn’t take away the fact that the look and sound is still purely Infinite.

—Katherine

7. “Look” by GOT7

Co-written and co-produced by leader Jaebeom, “Look” marked an important era in GOT7’s career. It was the lead single in an EP, Eyes On You, the first in which the members had a strong hand in the production of its entirety. “Look” blends hip-hop into a pop dance track with nu-disco at the chorus like only GOT7 can, making it one of their most layered song in their discography. Just when you think the track is going to a specific place, it changes up the tempo every couple of verses. It’s an ambient, moody track that explodes at the chorus —a true gem. Though Jaebeom had also co-written 2017’s “You Are,” “Look” signaled the group taking a bit of more creative control into their hands, something we saw more of on their follow up album Present: YOU. GOT7’s work in 2018 showed that the members are growing both as artists and a group.

—Alexis

6. “La Vie en Rose” by IZ*ONE

The winning girls of Produce 48, IZ*ONE, gracefully balance their excited emotions on debut single, “La vie en Rose.” Like it’s namesake track by Edith Piaf, it’s a song about intense desire spurred on by the type of person who will make the girls shine forever. The extent of this desire is found in the bouncing contrasts of their voices. They cover all bases with the slight and fragile work of Sakura, Wonyoung, and Minju, the unique and resourceful Hyewon, Nako, and Hitomi, to the crushing powerhouses of Eunbi, Yuri, and Chaeyeon. It’s Eunbi and Chaeyeon who drive the song, their pre-chorus provides the absolute drama of it. Without their capabilities, every other delicate touch of the production would be lost. With them a stunning harmony is felt among the big drums and the elegance of the string melodies. Eunbi and Chaeyeon’s in-between calls of “I don’t wanna make it blue,” keep the track from tipping too far towards total red. A warning that a living your life all in pink is not without its dangers. “La Vie en Rose” is unexpectedly assured and mature for a group only just thrown together.

—Joe

5. “Love Shot” by EXO

Coming in during the 11th hour of 2018, EXO graced the last few weeks of the year with their wonderful Don’t Mess Up My Tempo album, and then followed it up with a repackage and its titular single “Love Shot,” which made the wait that much more worthwhile. Beginning with lo-fi synths and creeping beats as Baekhyun leads off the track with his sweet tone, opening up the song with its crystalline verses, taunting drops, and groovy chanting. Sleek in its subdued nature as it approaches the chorus with a drop before leading into the rolling “na na na”s, “Love Shot” is a velvety smooth exhibit of EXO’s vocals, full of harmonies and layering voices atop one another to create an ambient, sensual effect. Paired with a video that rendered many a fan dead with its jaw-dropping visuals, it’s safe to say that “Love Shot” achieved its aim of being one of this year’s most satisfying releases.

—Tamar

4. “Lo Siento feat. Leslie Grace & Play-N-Skillz” by Super Junior

It’s an undisputed fact that Super Junior is a Hallyu trailblazer, opening up the doors for K-pop in the Chinese market and succeeding in Japan. And at a point in their career when most people would think they’d slow down or transition into other fields (they’re in their 13th year as a group), they did it again. Suju teamed up with Dominican-American singer Leslie Grace and the production duo Play-N-Skillz for the trilingual banger “Lo Siento.” The dembow-pop electro track mixes Spanish, English, and Korean seamlessly. It’s no wonder that “Lo Siento” made waves in Latin America and became the first K-pop song to make it onto the Latin charts. Super Junior successfully pushed the envelope both musically and culturally, collaborating with artists active in the market they were tapping into and drawing from in their music. With all the members being in their 30s, Super Junior upheld their title as The Last Man Standing.

—Alexis

3. “Love Scenario” by iKON

Some people might say it’s overplayed. I say, don’t stop playing it! No matter one’s current mood or state of being, iKON’s “Love Scenario” can cheer just about anyone up. And if it doesn’t, then well, you might be a Grinch. It’s taken over and has become an anthem for all ages, especially elementary aged students. The song has a bright sound from beginning to end which makes for a “get up on my feet” kind of jam. Contrary to some of the group’s previous heavy hitters like “Killing Me” (ranked at #28), “Bling Bling,” “Rhythm Ta” and sentimental tracks “Goodbye Road” and “Apology,” “Love Scenario” could’ve be done even without choreography, as it’s bouncy vibe would’ve been enough to enjoy.

—Tam

2. “Bad Boy” by Red Velvet

Red Velvet kicked off the 2018 with their most impressive “velvet” concept yet through “Bad Boy.” Strong synths and a solid bass pair with trap and ‘90s R&B beats for an intriguing alternative R&B track. The song’s lack of autotuned gimmicks allows listeners to embrace Red Velvet at their best. The ladies trade in their cute ad-libs and usual quirkiness for sultry melodies and a tenacious confidence. From leader, Irene’s “who dat, who dat boy” to the harmonious pre-chorus, the ladies prove how lethal they are in a cat-and-mouse game of seduction. “Bad Boy” solidifies Red Velvet as masters of dual concepts following the success of previous summer hit “Red Flavor.”

—Nnehkai

1. “Shine” by Pentagon

A simple melody goes a long way, and Pentagon illustrates that perfectly with “Shine,” a song that loops the same couple of notes with minimal accompaniments. A few vocal harmonies here and a few rhythmic percussions there provide some complexities, but the unwavering piano never reaches broken record territory. Rather we become conditioned to expect it much the same we do to a metronome; the slight pause at end of the bridge after Jinho belts out that high note is a brilliant example of that. With the chorus’s playful rhyming scheme and overall sing-song quality supplementing the no frills instrumental, “Shine” just has this juvenile charm to it that we cannot help but smile at every time we listen. And though the single would go on to be the last to feature rapper E’Dawn before he bowed out of the group, we will always be able to look back and remember the time he co-wrote one of the most definitive songs of the year.

—Shelley

Check out our video countdown for the Top 25 right here:

What were your favorite songs of 2018? Let us know your picks in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

50 Best K-pop Songs of 2018

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With another year in K-pop coming to a close, the editorial team at KultScene looked back on 2018, a year filled with amazing music, to decide the absolute best (in our humble opinions, of course). There was not a down nor dull moment in 2018; we saw long awaited comebacks, development in solo careers, and experimentation with new genres from various artists. We also had a couple of heartbreaks due to military enlistments, upcoming disbandments, and, of course, the absence of Jonghyun.

After voting on a pool of about 110 tracks, here are the best K-pop songs of the year numbered 50 to 26.

50. “BBI BBI” by IU

IU’s only release this year, “BBI BBI” is an iconic song to celebrate the decade-long career of one of the industry’s most impactful artists. Right off the bat, IU’s opening line “Hi there!” comes with a layered instrumental backdrop. It is bouncy and light on top, but driven by a deep bass and hip-hop beat right underneath. IU’s vocal delivery mimics this dichotomy—she softly whispers during verses and sings bright melodies in the choruses, but the lyrics themselves are much more revealing than her tonality.

Written by IU herself, the song tells those critical about her personal life or artistry to “keep the distance.” With confidence and dexterity, she brings out the attitude, using emphatic English lines “Yellow C-A-R-D” and “ Hello Stu-P-I-D” to send a clear message to those attempting to denigrate the stature she’s built as one of K-pop’s most enduring idols to simply leave her alone. More than anything, “BBI BBI” is testament to the complex, multifaceted person that IU has become.

—Kushal

49. “Dance The Night Away” by TWICE

Easy, breezy, lemon-squeezy. From the first ‘la la la,’ “Dance The Night Away” proved it was one of the summer’s best hits. Reaped from the same minds behind Red Velvet’s “Peek-a-boo,” the song added a little edge to TWICE’s signature bubble-gum persona. The soft, EDM track mixed a steady bass, light synths making for a catchy, easy to follow song. It definitely had me planning a trip to the nearest beach.

—Nnehkai

48. “Heroine” by Sunmi

In last year’s “Gashina,” Sunmi was cynical and offended at the fact that her lover was leaving her, but with 2018’s follow up “Heroine,” she’s cold-hearted and over it. She declares “the show must go on” in an anthemic britpop extravaganza, paired with an almost humorous choreography. Though she has long proved that she is a force to be reckoned with since her solos under JYP Entertainment, 2018 was the year Sunmi position herself as a top pop girl and K-pop icon.

—Alexis

47. “Woman” by BoA

Can we just say that the opening walking choreography is EVERYTHING! Ms. Kwon has still got it after all these years. “Woman” was released as a part of BoA’s ninth Korean studio album of the same name. This women empowerment anthem has great vocals and the high quality dancing that BoA is known for. The electro-pop dance track has a funky bass that compliments the vocals as the change back a forth between low and sultry and belting out powerful falsettos. The video overall is pretty simple and basically just focuses on the choreography and interesting fashion choices. Despite its simplicity, “Woman” is still a solid song that showcases BoA’s confidence as a veteran artist and songwriter.

—Katherine

46. “Love U” by Chungha

Chungha had a year of strong releases, and the most lighthearted among them is probably this summer bop “Love U.” Her melodious voice with her powerful dance moves creates a lethal combination, and Chungha is definitely poised for greater success and breakthroughs in the coming years. The ease with which she manages the high vocal range of this song while showcasing her best strengths is amazing and definitely shows her talent as a performer.

—Anna

45. “Black Dress” by CLC

“Black Dress” is a masterpiece from beginning to end. An interesting mix of synth-rhythms and drum claps fluctuate at different levels with a booming bass while a slight hint of a dancehall beat is heard in the chorus. CLC’s confidence and sophistication exude throughout the song as there’s something about a little black dress that emboldens you. The boldness of the song is a reflection of CLC’s fearlessness in experimentation.

—Nnehkai

44. “Our Page” by SHINee

A sense of wistfulness pervades SHINee’s “Our Page,” the group’s ambient hymn to both departed member Kim Jonghyun and an end of the group’s career as a quartet. Delicate, ambient synths and twinkling beats open up the track, which puts the emphasis on the foursome’s reflective verses and their impactful verses. Throughout, it’s clear from the SHINee-penned lyrics that “Our Page” is just as much of a promise to continue as it is a tribute, assuring listeners that the story of the group still has pages to fill while reflecting on the brightness that has been brought into the world from the act since May 25, 2008. As the song peaks during the climax, a short utterance of “you did well,” seemingly aimed at Jonghyun, closes a chapter of SHINee’s career in the most poignant of ways.

—Tamar

43. “Kiss Me Like That” by Shinhwa

The acoustics. The guitar loop. Music to my ears, literally. As veterans of the idol industry, Shinhwa has experimented with a bunch of different musical styles throughout the years, but their approach with “Kiss Me Like That” might be one of their best yet as of late. The song is already oozing with enough charisma even without watching the music video. The transitions are effortless and harmonious, and the parts are fitting of each members distinctive tones. Shinhwa kept it light but still provided the listeners with a strong sense of seduction. “Kiss Me Like That” gives a feeling of peace and tranquility; just drop me off on a remote beach somewhere while this song is blaring and I’ll be content.

—Tam

42. “Fake Love” by BTS

Hip-hop is the core of BTS’ sonic and performance identity, and rock is not exactly a new approach for them either, who have experimented with the genre in previous singles like “Boy in Luv” and “Run.” However, never have the group blended the two genres in such a cohesive way like in “Fake Love.” The combination was just the perfect choice to lead Love Yourself: Tear, an album in which BTS explored themes such as illusion and identity crisis. If rock was the main genre to represent young melancholy in the ‘90s and early 2000s –times when a huge part of BTS’ fan base were in their teenage years– today it is hip-hop and trap that best conveys the mourning of the current generation. With “Fake Love,” BTS once again proved their ability to cater to a wide range of audiences. The single became the first Top 10 for a Korean group on Billboard Hot 100, and also the highest entry-charting single for BTS, leading the album to debut on number one on Billboard 200. Between the smart production, multi hook-infused melodies, and raps that are catchy enough to drive fan made chants (“Why you sad? / I don’t know, 난 몰라”,) in additional to official ones, “Fake Love” has the potential to become one of BTS’ songs that will age better.

— Ana Clara


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41. “Touch” by NCT 127

Bright and exuberant with a touch of whimsy in the form of bright future synths and chanting “na na na”s, NCT 127’s NCT 2018 Empathy song turned the focus away from the group’s typically experimental, hip-hop-leaning sound that they’ve explored on the majority of their singles to put the emphasis on the group’s vocalists. Smooth, breezy R&B beats and funky melodies drive the song, which soars with the perky tones of the then-nine members of the act. (Jungwoo joined later in the year). Playful in its lilting, snapping nature, “Touch” is an infectious, groovy song full of energy and layered harmonizing. It’s a smooth, slightly more impish style than what this NCT team tends to go for, but it was a pleasant change that let the singers truly have their time to truly shine from start to finish. While it’s a bit irregular (pun intended), it’d be wonderful to see NCT 127 continue to occasionally lean into this sort of softer side.

—Tamar

40. “Spring Breeze” by Wanna One

One year and three months after they were finally revealed to us, Wanna One said goodbye to many with “Spring Breeze.” A group of 11, there are many perspectives to the way they say their farewells. They’re nostalgic, apologetic, thankful, and above all, hopeful. Jihoon starts them off on a regretful note and the track follows him by being almost oppressively singular. A spacious drum beat, light sporadic guitars, and keys try to weigh them down, to push them into this harmful thinking. It’s not until the first repetition of “we’ll meet again” does the music let up, dropping a dense set of heavy synths to bolster Seongwoo’s emotions. From there the track feels so much more free; a fiery rap from Woojin lights it up. The beat becomes defiant, their vocals more relaxed but bigger. Wanna One struggled, but they found a way of facing up to their huge legacy. The constant assertion that they will meet again is key to their goodbye. “Spring Breeze” uses those repetitions to bring comfort to their lover, their fans, but most importantly, each other.

—Joe

39. “Dally (feat. Gray)” by Hyolyn

“To Do List” was Hyolyn’s first single as a self-managed artist under her own label, BRID3 Entertainment. However, it was with “Dally” that she truly showed how much of a force of nature she is. Not any vocalist can handle such a breathtaking (literally!) melody with so much style! But Hyolyn is also a prolific performer, and the R&B deliciousness of “Dally,” along with the verse of rapper Gray, sets just the right ambient for urban dance, one of the dozens of things she nails as well. Hyolyn’s versatility was never a secret. But in 2018, besides Hyolyn being a singer, rapper, songwriter, and dancer, we also got to see Hyolyn the CEO: a woman in full control of her music, performances, fashion, etc. She’ll surely be great at whatever she sets her mind to do. These boss vibes shine through “Dally,” which is already one of the best moments of Hyolyn’s entire career.

—Ana Clara

38. “What” by Dreamcatcher

2018 has been a busy year for Dreamcatcher. After completing their Nightmare series, the group embarked on a few international tours spanning Europe and South America. Without taking a breath, the group released their third EP Alone in the City with the title track “What.” Sticking to what they do best, the song takes influences of rock and melds it with pop to give Dreamcatcher their unique sound. The arrangement of the song is intense from the orchestra build up to the chorus to the more mellow bridge, plus all of the different instrumentations and vocals combines to create an intricate and rich sound. They may have toned down the horror concept with their latest release, but the creepy urban setting in the video still pays homage to their dark image. The girls are found isolated in different settings, possibly hinting that they are each trapped in their own nightmares. While most of the video is dark, some of the dance sequences are performed with an ice or crystal backdrop, referencing back to the crystal snow globe that is pretty prominent at the beginning and end of the video. This may or may not mean something but I guess we’ll have to wait and see with their next release.

—Katherine

37. “Love Bomb” by Fromis_9

Approaching a first love isn’t much different from attempting to disarm a bomb without any prior knowledge of ordnance. There are so many ways you could go about it and yet, every single one looks equally right and wrong. Of all the rookie girl groups who endeavoured to take on such an idea, none were quite as successful as Fromis_9. At every step of the way, they make the right calls on the jittery “Love Bomb.” This hypothetical bomb of love tries to fool them with an erratic, almost off rhythm beat and an ever changing bed of synths. Each shift threatens to pop in their faces but it only succeeds in making them “beautifully dizzy.” It is no match for the chattering of Nakyung and Jisun, the velvet tones Hayoung and Jiwon, or the peak of catchiness in the best chorus of the year.

—Joe

36. “Honestly…” by Eric Nam

Eric Nam continues to grow as a musician with “Honestly…”. So much stands out about this release, be it the stunning instrumental, which incorporates both acoustic sounds with electronic ones, or the unique lyrics of the song, which are truly befitting of its title. The song is not like most conventional K-pop songs, set in a context of a relationship which has ended or one that is blossoming. Rather, the protagonist of the song has reached a stage where he is tired of the relationship but is afraid to break up. It is refreshingly realistic and honest, and much more enjoyable because of how relatable it is for listeners. Eric continues to showcase his vocal abilities here, and it is no surprise when his trademark high notes pop up at the dance portions of the track. It is wonderful to watch how he retains his musical identity even while experimenting with different music genres and styles.

—Anna

35. “Jealousy” by Monsta X

Ever since Monsta X revamped their sound and earned their first music show win with “Dramarama” last year, the group showed no signs of slowing down and almost immediately followed up with “Jealousy,” a poppy dance track swelling with obnoxious synths and their favorite low brasses. With its multiple layers of harmony, the constant, drawls in the chorus echoing the single’s title stand out from among the rest of the song, which all just feel like fillers in comparison. At the very least, the group was able to sneak in some humor, such as when member Wonho asks why we are talking about leader Shownu (and presumably not him). It’s not every day an idol calls out fans for their lane-swerving ways, and in that respect “Jealousy” feels fresh.

—Shelley


Also on KultScene: K-POP UNMUTED: TALKING MONSTA X

34. “Flower Road” by BigBang

Departure is a hard pill to swallow with BigBang’s “Flower Road.” The dance-pop track was released as a farewell to the veteran group’s fans, V.I.P, as BigBang embarked on a lengthy mandatory military service hiatus. The song boasts calm guitars, bass and soft hand claps while declaring lyrics like “If you are going to leave, I shall let you go” and “If you miss me come back to me, then you can love me again” offer the greatest comfort and reassurance fans could ask in their absence. Whether V.I.Ps stay or go, the artists wholeheartedly understand and will create a beautiful path of flowers no matter the choice. “Flower Road” captures the steadfast bond between BigBang and V.I.Ps.

—Nnehkai

33. “Shinin’” by Jonghyun

Jonghyun’s passing last year took everyone by surprise in the K-pop community. But his post mortem song “Shinin’” came out early this year, giving us the sound that Jonghyun has always been loved for. His passion through his lyrics and sound made us feel like he was still with us and gave us hope after the tragedy. The retro sound and the beautiful lyrics in the chorus stating “Always be with you” was Jonghyun’s hug to Shawols.

—Alejandro

32. “DDU-DU DDU-DU” by BLACKPINK

In 2018, the words “BLACKPINK comeback” came with heavy expectations. Fans and onlookers alike wanted nothing short of an anthem—a club banger complete with choreography, visuals, and confidence that very few other music acts can serve. “DDU-DU DDU-DU,” as a result, was most powerful in the simple fact that it delivered on all of those expectations. Mixing belted pre-choruses with deep trap beats and fast rap breaks, the song fuses traditional K-pop and popular hip-hop seamlessly. While female K-pop as a sub-genre has taken a more submissive, cute, and alternative turn in recent years, “DDU-DU DDU-DU” proves that confident, powerful women still have a place in the Korean music scene, and adds promise to BLACKPINK’s incoming global pursuits. It is no surprise that this song is one of the year’s most streamed, bought, and viewed—such impact is what we have come to expect from a girl group with so much prowess. Hopefully, their catalog of music expands faster in the year to come than it has so far.

—Kushal

31. “See Sea” by Hyolyn

After leaving Sistar and setting up her own music label, Bridʒ, Hyolyn announced her plans to return to the music scene with a three-part solo single project, SET UP TIME, which included the mid-tempo “To-Do List” and the R&B-pop number “Dally.” These all felt like appetizers for what was to come, though. “See Sea,” released in mid-July and the last of the series, sets Hyolyn’s signature airy vocals to a balmy beat rife with percussive claps, rolling drums, and mellow marimbas to match the season. Produced by Black Eyed Pilseung, the busy song evokes our auditory imagination through its sound recordings (e.g., the pop and fizz of a can of cola) and modulated synths in order to paint a tropical soundscape. By the final slowed down repeat of the chorus, Hyolyn’s voice is dripping with sensuality, assisted by a rip-roaring electric guitar that suggests things of heated romance on a beach. Her playful yet mature take on summer love songs makes this an automatic yes to anyone’s summertime playlists. The queens of summer Sistar might or might not have just died so Hyolyn can live.

—Shelley

30. “Siren” by Sunmi

Bringing the quirky yet sexy vibe, Sunmi rounds out her year with the release of her second EP Warning and lead single “Siren.” Every aspect of this song does a fantastic job of narrating the lyrics in which she warns a boy to leave their relationship after she hurt him. Let’s take the title for instance. Sirens in everyday life serve as a warning of danger while in Greek mythology, sirens are half woman half bird creatures that are known for their beauty and song that lures sailors with their song to shipwreck on the shores of their island. Both of these themes are reflected in the music video by the red colors and caution tape as well as the eccentric depictions of sirens in each of the rooms. Even the clever choreography of the chorus follows the lyrics of the song as move is the literal translation to the words being sang. Not only is the video visually captivating, Sunmi’s voice is on point and the pop-synth track does a very good job of complimenting her vocals. Everything has its place; from the lazy yet charming “la la la”s to the abrupt and edgy bridge. It is no wonder this song earned her her second number one.

—Katherine

29. ”Lil’ Touch” by Girls’ Generation-Oh!GG

When news dropped that three members of Girls’ Generation had left SM Entertainment, the prospect of a new subunit that could successfully meld five of the group’s most stylistically and sonically divergent members seemed unlikely. But K-pop fans have (hopefully) learned over time that doubting Girls’ Generation on any front is a mistake. On “Lil’ Touch”, Taeyeon, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sunny, and YoonA sing with sexuality and confidence characteristic of their larger group’s later releases, but the song sounds nothing like Girls’ Generation as a whole. Lifted by a heavily synthesized chord progression and bounce-clapping pulse, the song is a surprisingly welcome departure from previous Girls’ Generation, subunit, and solo releases, capturing a synergy unique only to this combination of SNSD members. The surprise star of this release is none other than Sunny, whose abilities as a powerful and dramatic vocalist come through in the bridge. One of 2018’s most unique songs, “Lil’ Touch” is exactly what the women needed to deliver a powerful contradiction: that they are a completely united fragment of one of K-pop’s most powerful and lasting groups.

—Kushal

28. “Killing Me” by iKON

iKON has this way about them where you’re never 100% sure of what direction they’ll take a song. In the case of their latest track of 2018, “Killing Me,” it felt like a crossover of different music genres. Certain moments, especially towards the beginning, gave it potential to be a mellow song. It adds in a little house influence and then amps it up all within a few seconds, and suddenly you feel like you’re in a club with the deep bass. There were so many different layers to be peeled in the song as it consisted of a rollercoaster of melodies. But in the end, it worked. The meshing of the different tunes are bewitching and no doubt meant to be a “hype you up” kind of song.

—Tam

27. “Now or Never” by SF9

Variety is the word that defines the journey SF9 has been traveling with their music. But, regardless of the genre, what makes their best songs stand out is the smart composition that places interesting elements just when you expect the song to go the easy route. In “Now or Never,” this surprise factor comes in the pre-chorus. After teasing the listener with dramatic vocals at the end of the first verse, and right when you think the song will explode, it unexpectedly goes for a minimalist melodic approach that just keeps repeating the word “질렀어” over a bass boosted beat. As we slide to the chorus, then, the melody brings up a nostalgic feeling that goes surprisingly well with the modern appeal of the instrumentals. If, hypothetically, “Now or Never” should be considered a decisive moment to determine SF9’s career, like the title suggests, I would definitely say the group passed the test.

—Ana Clara

26. “Roller Coaster” by Chungha

Chungha teeters on the edge of her own range and emotions on the blistering electro pop smash that is “Roller Coaster.” Her single from last year, “Why Don’t You Know,” attempted something similar but just about failed. It had little to no momentum and pushed Chungha too far too soon. On “Roller Coaster” she finds her key and belts out her unpredictable feelings of love. The toybox chimes and acoustic guitar give her constant contrasts on which to descend from, crashing into a chorus which she sends into the stratosphere. Her slight nasal tone on the other hand gives everything a sense of warmth. She makes all these “dangerous feelings” she sings of something exciting. It’s only dangerous because it’s changing. Chungha happens to love these tumultuous changes and it’s impossible to doubt her.

—Joe

Stay posted for our best 25 K-pop songs of 2018 (numbers 1-25)!

What were your favorite songs of 2018? Let us know your picks in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Life after the ‘Answer’: BTS’ RM embraces uncertainty on ‘mono’

When Korean group BTS released Love Yourself: Answer, in late August 2018, completing an album trilogy that reflected a narrative of self-love discovery through romantic joys and deceptions, it seemed like the septet finally figured out the formula to be in peace with their true selves. “It’s alright, I am my own salvation / (…) My sky is clear / Say goodbye to the pain,” RM, the leader of the group, raps in “I’m Fine.”

But knowing the answer doesn’t mean it’s easy to put it in practice —and that’s what we experience with mono, the latest release of the leader, rapper, and songwriter, born Kim Namjoon.

Released on Oct. 23, only three days after announcing (and merely two months after BTS’ Love Yourself: Answer!) the mixtape —or playlist, as he calls it— is composed of seven tracks all written, composed, and co-produced by RM. He collaborated with artists such as English duo HONNE and Korean rock artists eAeon and NELL.

Playlist or Mixtape

The fact that mono is branded as a playlist instead of a mixtape connects with RM’s personal habit to share song recommendations with fans through Twitter. However, it might also have been a decision that shows RM’s awareness of where the music industry is heading to. It alludes to when Drake (RM has said many times he’s an inspiration) released More Life in 2017, which was labeled as a “playlist” in a move then considered innovative in a industry still based on album releases. (If there’s any truth in Drake having inspired RM, we may add to the list of coincidences the handwritten, black and white, minimalist design of the cover of mono which resembles the art cover of Drake’s 2015 If you’re reading this it’s too late).

At the time More Life was released, lots of music critics emphasized the significance of playlists in the era of music streaming. An album, the NY Times said, is:

[A] creator’s complete thought expressed in parts. A playlist in the streaming era, by contrast, is a collection of moods, impressions, influences and references; it’s a river that flows in one direction, ending somewhere far from the beginning (if it ends at all).

A mixtape, per se, strays from the sense of commitment that an album must have to a concept. So by nature, RM would be free from that commitment with a mixtape. But with a playlist, which theoretically allows even more freedom than a mixtape, it seems that it’s RM’s intention to release the pressure to deliver a work with any congruence at all. As if he just wants to be free to do whatever music he feels like doing.

But, curiously, what we get in mono actually is consistent in its inconsistency, both in sound and lyrics. All seven tracks share the same vibe and, indeed, compose a consistent frame. The sonority of it is more loungy and chill than we’d expect from the rapper. Even if hip-hop influences are present, the playlist flows between lo-fi and alternative genres, with a few (amazing) moments of synthpop, a genre RM has shown before to be perfectly compatible with, like his & BTS’ Jungkook’s cover of Troye Sivan’s “Fools.”

As for the lyrics, it makes sense to contextualize mono as a continuation of RM’s path along with BTS in the group’s previous works; there is a connection between everything. And because RM worked in the lyrics of everything he sang and rapped, then, all lyrics written by him can be used as material for us to ask: How is the leader’s life after he found the Answer?

Credits: Big Hit Entertainment


Also on KultScene: BEING A FAN OF BTS & THEIR YOUTH-ORIENTED MUSIC AS AN ADULT

RM before “mono”

Who shall I be today: Kim Namjoon or RM?

Airplane pt. 2

The lyrics above came from one of BTS’ darkest albums, Love Yourself: Tear, in which the group addressed the deceptions faced after the happy-go-lucky illusions of the previous album, Love Yourself: Her. The Love Yourself trilogy was completed with Love Yourself: Answer, a more upbeat album in which BTS suggests to have finally learned that, in order to find love anywhere, you should first find love inside yourself. But would that lesson be enough to make them happy?

To be fair, it’s worth pointing out that in Answer: Love Myself, RM says: “Maybe there is no answer / Maybe this isn’t the answer either / (…) I’m still finding myself.” However, one could think he was content about that if things ended there. From the album design to the sound of all the original tracks, everything about Love Yourself: Answer is more about joy and lucidity than pain or sorrow. Even “Trivia: Love,” RM’s solo moment on the album, has a joyful vibe. If not having all the answers is the answer, then we’re ready to move on and live a happy life, right?

Life is not that simple to anyone, of course.

This leads us to mono. Interestingly enough, either sonically or lyrically, mono recalls more the RM of “Reflection” (the one who said “I wish I could love myself,” in BTS 2016 album “Wings”) than any other thing we’ve seen from him after that. So, was the whole path to the Answer not worth it then?

It’s not that it wasn’t worth it, it’s just that, from what it seems, it’s still not enough for RM. Understanding that it’s okay not to have all the answers is still not enough for him to be okay.

Journey from “Tokyo” to “forever rain”

The first two tracks of mono are named “Tokyo” and “Seoul,” making us feel as if RM is literally traveling, trying to find himself in different places.

A fun fact is that mono was released one day after BTS announced their partnership with the city of Seoul, in which each member has its own themed-playlist to represent what they most love about Korea’s capital. It’s not all love, though. In “Seoul,” produced by HONNE (a group who’s also familiar with the theme of seeking love in different places), RM, a native of Seoul-satellite Ilsan, seems overwhelmed by the city that became his home.

In clever wordplay (a tool RM is famous for), he sings: “If love and hate are the same words, I love you Seoul / If love and hate are the same words, I hate you Seoul.”

Ironically, “Seoul” is pronounced similarly to “so.” Then, by speaking out loud his love-hate relationship with the city, it’s almost as if he’s also speaking to himself, trying to find himself through the city.

Not having found himself in either Tokyo or Seoul, RM reaches for the moon in “moonchild,” a track that references the lyrics of “4 o’clock,” a song previously released on Soundcloud with his band mate V.

Some of the best lyrical moments from RM happen when he uses astronomy analogies (like “Magic Shop,”) and “moonchild” is indeed one of these moments: “We are each other’s night sceneries, we are each other’s moons.” Again, RM might be talking to himself the moon (him) is both the cause of his sadness (“born in the moonlight,” “born to be sad,” “all the pain, all the sorrow is your destiny”) and his relief (“only you, no one else, gives me that sense of comfort).

RM lands in “badbye,” another clever wordplay with the word “goodbye.” The depressive, short, repetitive lyrics suggests an RM falling into reality no more using Tokyo, Seoul or the moon to escape. He now has to face reality, kill the illusions and face himself: “Kill me softly / Make me into pieces of fragments,” he and aEeon sing. As the dark atmosphere of the song suggests, this process hurts. No wonder, the next track, “uhgood,” has the most painful lyrics: “All I need is me / All I need is me / I know, I know, I know / Then why do I feel lonely?” RM’s production skills also shine in “uhgood,” along with the touch of producer Sam Klempner (who previously worked with BTS in “Best of Me”). With mysterious synthesized sounds opening the song, the mood is set for RM to use his deep voice to lead us into an introspective experience, which the use of reverbs help make it even more ethereal.


Also on KultScene: BEST BTS SOUNDCLOUD SONGS

The transition from “uhgood” to “everythingoes” is one of the most brilliant moments of mono: after telling himself some of the hardest-to-swallow truths, RM seeks to rebuild himself by saying that “everything goes, at one point, for sure… everything goes by.

The constant repetition of the line “everything goes,” through a four chord progression tailored in the technique of tension-release, summarizes the whole mood of the song: whether if you’re in the highest or lowest point of the curve, whatever you’re feeling shall pass one day. It’s all temporary.

And just like that, mono ends with “forever rain,” another great lyrical moment of RM justifying his love for the rain since it is both a friend who helps him hide (“In the rain, the umbrella covers my sad face” / “In the rain, people are busy minding themselves”) and be found (“When it rains, I get a feeling that I have a friend / That keeps knocking on my window, asking if I’m doing well.)” Just like in “moonchild,” in “forever rain” RM seeks to understand himself through events of nature. And, just like in all the other tracks that led to this one, we still don’t have any solid conclusions.

The overall mood of mono is one of uncertainty and solitude  not the type of solitude of not being surrounded by enough people, but the solitude felt between one’s many selves and conflicts. But it is also a mood of continuity.

From the lowercase stylized fonts, to the lyrics full of honesty about RM’s doubts, everything about mono reflects a journey that is still incomplete, towards finding identity, love, and acceptance a journey that could be anyone else’s.

The next steps of the journey will surely be portrayed in BTS’ upcoming works. In the meantime, we can appreciate mono not only for RM’s musical versatility, but also for his courage to expose, through so many beautiful songs of uncertainty, that knowing the “Answer” is way easier than knowing what to do with it.

[Lyric translation credit: SPOTLIGHTRM]

How did you like RM’s mono? Let us know your picks for fave songs and overall thoughts in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

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

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.


Also on KultScene: (G)I-DLE’S ‘LATATA’ SONG REVIEW

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!


ALSO ON KULTSCENE: K-POP UNMUTED JUNE 2018 ROUNDUP

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?”


Also on KultScene: SHINee’s ‘Good Evening’ Music Video & ‘The Story of Light EP.1’ Album Review

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.