The Shinhwa story: 20 years young & still going strong

shinhwa kcon 2015 kpop 15 k-pop bio

by Alejandro Abarca

by Lavanya Singh

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

That was six years ago.

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

The Start

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

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

A Long Line of Firsts

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

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

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

shinhwa chanjo bio kcon la 2015 15 los angeles

by Alejandro Abarca


Also on KultScene: Thank you KCON LA for ending my 14 year Shinhwa drought

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

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

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

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

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

The Making of Legends

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

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

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

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


Also on KultScene: Shinhwa “We” album review

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 12 LOONA Solo Singles Ranked


Finally after a year and five months, the very last LOONA girl, Olivia Hye, was revealed. It’s a testament to the time and effort put into the project that so many people were eagerly anticipating this moment and the moments still to come. LOONA has given us probably the most interesting debut roll out in K-pop (all music?) history, considering that twelve girls were rolled out over that year and a half through twelve solo singles, 4 sub-unit singles (with more to come), and countless fan theories about what it all meant. To look back on this all before the last unit finish out the debut project we ranked the twelve solo singles.

12. “Around You” by Hyunjin

Hyunjin has the undesirable position of starting us off with her solo track “Around You.” Produced by Lee Juhyung of Monotree, “Around You” is by no means a bad song. Its reverberating piano refrain is in fact a gorgeously simple riff to build a song around. It is helped along the way by some more crisp stabs of the keys and glances of guitar details. Structurally the track falters though. By moving towards a more conventional chorus and adding more parts “Around You” loses the fragility of its opening. That frailty worked wonders with Hyunjin’s equally weak voice as she sang of her foolish patience, and if it had remained small and instead gone for a big change at the climax it could have held onto that power longer. This begs the question though, could Hyunjin have even been able to pull that off? I guess we’ll find out with LOONA’s debut.

 

11. “Love Cherry Motion” by Choerry

Choerry is the member of LOONA who exists on all sides of the Mobius. To the uninitiated that just means she can interact with any of the other members right now. She’s also one of the most energetic of them all and musically both of these traits are very clear in “Love Cherry Motion.” Her bubbliness comes through right from the beginning and makes the song as fresh as it should sound for the summer. Its pre-chorus delves into deep bass EDM territory and finally culminates with Middle-Eastern style synths to change things around. Switching genres on a whim is an overdone staple in K-pop at this stage and “Love Cherry Motion” feels like LOONA was pandering to that. Without her story, the song would be just another version of that. Producers Ollipop, Hayley Aitken, and Kanata Okajima do handle it well though. They let the darker sound take over for the bridge before transitioning back into the softer side with an ease they seemingly wanted to avoid at first. They tell the story of Choerry’s flexibility in the story of LOONA but also how it feels for a young girl to fall in love.

10. “One and Only” by Go Won

The last few girls of the LOONA project were unlucky in that they had to live up to increasingly high expectations. It’s a somewhat unfair prospect given that the solo songs as a whole are meant more as calling cards for the particular members rather than singles built to chart. Go Won’s “One and Only” is, like her, slight and mysterious. Produced by Darren “Baby Dee Beats” Smith, “One and Only” is shimmering but simple synth pop. Go Won delivers an equally simple vocal in variety of ways amid the synths and processed drums. She half-chants half-raps her wonderful feelings of self-love brought on by the moonlight, raising her pitch with each line, mimicking the ascending synth; Go Won’s self-love is simple but comes from hard, repetitious work. But, apart from the bridge, “One and Only” undergoes essentially zero structural changes. It is straightforward to a fault, the song doesn’t really have to go anywhere, but that’s because Go Won doesn’t either. She is happy being her one and only.

 

9. “Eclipse” by Kim Lip

Kim Lip changed it all. From the opening chords of “Eclipse” and Lip’s more mature voice, it was clear LOONA were starting off on a new path. “Eclipse” grows with impassioned ease, building an eclectic bed of sounds through which Lip can sing between. Even from just the music video she was by far the most natural performer, blatantly a girl the group could be built around. Produced by Daniel “Obi” Klein and Charli Taft, “Eclipse” was a new style for LOONA with a silky variety of synths. The bridge is a moment to savour, fingersnaps and gorgeous vocals slowing things down to reveal the depth of what Kim Lip can do. Over time however, “Eclipse” grew somewhat tired. It feels too busy in comparison to LOONA’s more simple moments and not busy enough compared to what the ODD EYE CIRCLE girls would do after her. Its impact came from its surprise factor but couldn’t hold attention much longer after that.

8. “Egoist” by Olivia Hye feat. Jinsoul

Closing out the solo cycle of LOONA was Olivia Hye and her song “Egoist.” Olivia enlisted Jinsoul to feature as well as taking on her future bass sound. “Egoist” is a less volatile and unfortunately less interesting take on what Jinsoul previously displayed, though. The production, by Artronic Waves, LAB301, and Pablo Groove, is filled with great and varying details, from the repurposed whistles to the always growing percussions. Olivia can’t quite match the song for personality though. She is at first cold, and from among bassy moody synths and piano she sings of a broken relationship. She’s hiding her feelings, and in their place she only shows pain. As the song moves forwards, stronger more expressive synths take over from the piano. They lift Olivia not to express her emotions but forget them. She learns to love herself but unconvincingly so, leaving the song a bit lacking.


Also on KultScene: WJSN’S “DREAMS COME TRUE” MUSIC VIDEO & SONG REVIEW

7. “Everyday I Love You” by Vivi feat. Haseul

LOONA’s sole Chinese member Vivi faced a similar challenge as Hyunjin, failing to make her song strong enough to stand alone despite her weak voice. For this, the LOONA team went for a throwback vibe. On “Everyday I Love You” Vivi reveals her feelings through hushed, breathy vocals over some quintessential 90s beats, while synths shimmer as a guitar nervously plucks out an accompaniment. Everything comes together for an exciting chorus. In the absolute highlight of the track, the aforementioned guitar slides to introduce the chorus, it’s a cliched technique at this stage but that is precisely why it works so well. Horns join as Vivi pushes her small voice to high pitched delights. It’s one of the most simple but fun moments in all of LOONA’s discography.

 

6. “Vivid” by Heejin

LOONA began as they meant to go on, with Heejin and Monotree releasing “Vivid.” As an opener it is odd but no less polished than everything that followed it. “Vivid” is a brash confident offering from Heejin. Her voice goes up and down with ease, as she inflects her words with a cheeky rasp over filtered brass and piano. Her ease as a vocalist and acting in the video were a clear warning that these girls were here for serious business. At first watch I thought she was a new soloist, completely ready to take on the likes of Lim Kim with a more youthful quirky take. But even knowing that she is only one small part of an unknown whole doesn’t change how good this was though.

5. “Heart Attack” by Chuu

Vocally none of the girls quite matched Chuu in terms of personality on their solo tracks. She teases us at first, leaving small breaths between each line as she gradually rises to the chorus. As soon as she reaches it though, she drops the intensity only to rise it towards the end once again. From there she doesn’t have a chance to breathe, showing some of the biggest vocals LOONA has seen, with raps and adorable little “ooh oohs” for added color.” Ollipop and Hayley Aitken return to the LOONAverse to once again bridge gaps between the girls. Here they bring back the orchestral elements of LOONA ⅓ but don’t shy away from more modern beats and details. They weave a variety of horns, pianos, and synths around Chuu’s voice, constantly challenging her to one up herself. She matches them step for step and they come together brilliantly on the climax, letting go of any restraints that might have been holding them back.

 

4. “New” by Yves

Yves bit the apple and led LOONA out of Eden with her solo track, “New.” Similar to Kim Lip she opened her era with supreme confidence, showcasing strong vocals and dancing as she easily performs to the retro stylings of Brooke Toia, Daniel Caeser, and Ludwing Lindell; it’s 80s synth pop through a modern lens. The production is deceptively simple, with just synths, a beat, and Yves’ voice. In the first verse, the beat doesn’t fully reveal itself at first, starting with just finger snaps and a bass drum but in the second one, an ascending high hat is added, slowly rising to the chorus. Those same few elements are used in the chorus and to great dramatic effect: the synths are heavy and satisfying, and Yves’ vocals airy but totally under her control. This magnificent drama tells a story of self-confidence, a tale that Yves acts out with such sincerity.


Also on KultScene: K-POP UNMUTED: JAZZ & K-POP

3. “Singing in the Rain” by Jinsoul

Behind the languid chorus of “Singing in the Rain” lies LOONA’s most complex song to date. Jinsoul’s luscious future-bass track (produced by Caesar & Loui) juggles a number of sections, all of which come together in the end to crushing effect. It opens with the most exciting and varied drum beat I’ve heard in years, and slowly rises and falls. The complexity is helped by her vocal range, as she was the first one to rap and sing in her song giving “Singing In The Rain” an edge when it comes to the second verse. A different pre-chorus is also added for the second chorus, lending the song a surprising, driving intent. It’s essentially a series of overlapping and intersecting circles, growing in intensity with every new one added. The track culminates with the genuine Hollywood euphoria Jinsoul had been looking for. “I used to be untouchable and dangerous” she sings, suggesting a wicked unpredictability to her.

2. “Kiss Later” by Yeojin

No track was helped more by Monotree and LOONA’s dedication to using real instruments and orchestras than “Kiss Later”. Yeojin’s solo is a Broadway musical-inspired pop explosion that really fits the young girl’s voice. It starts off with a soft, shimmering melody, and Yeojin uses her tinny vocals to great effect before the song crashes into a frenzy of strings, horns, and percussion. It’s such a satisfying pay-off, and lends the rest of the song an unwavering kinetic energy. The music blends masterfully with Yeojin’s voice as she likes to talk-sing at times, even as she playfully follows the pointed details of the track with great strong syllables. As the youngest member of LOONA, her anxieties are rendered almost like a game. She understands that there are adult concepts at play and can avoid them, but doesn’t, and still has the most fun out of anyone. There hasn’t been a song in the last few years that quite matches “Kiss Later” for fun on every level.

 

1. “Let Me In” by Haseul

Ending LOONA’s first year was Haseul, with her soft voice whispering confusion of her identity on “Let Me In.” The song is the key to understanding the first five girls of LOONA, a track that rejects common pop rules in favour of building a unique world. Written and Produced by 오레오 [Oreo] and arranged by 웅 킴 [Oong Kim] “Let me in” is a purely orchestral song with no regular beat or modern instruments. Among this Haseul restrains herself at first. Her voice, pitched beautifully high, tells of a love so strong she feels like she is becoming one with her lover. These joyous feelings are highlighted by stunning musical details, including the tweets of a piccolo, delicate pulls of a harp, and, most of all, the strings that constantly change. It builds a sense of history made believable thanks to Haseul tiptoeing right up to her range; her voice is strong but vulnerable. Overall, Haseul and “Let Me In” define the identity struggle that the whole LOONA project was about. On the cusp of womanhood, these girls felt the push and pull of various paths and this song contains the dangers and joys of all those paths.

How would you rank all of LOONA’s solo singles? 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.

WJSN’s “Dreams Come True” Music Video & Song Review


WJSN/Cosmic Girls had a pretty disappointing 2017. After releasing the best song of their short careers “Secret” along with an otherworldly concept to match their name, they turned to something more simple; “I Wish” had elements of the girl group’s concept in the music video but none in the music, and “Happy” was a complete 180 turn. Sticking to concepts isn’t something that groups should always do, and it is in fact often discouraged. But WJSN’s was perfectly pitched with “Secret.” So it’s no surprise then that they see a return to that style with their new single “Dreams Come True,” a strong return to form.

Song

Even though it comes months later, “Dreams Come True” feels like a direct sequel to “Secret.” This time helmed by producers Full8loom, WJSN bring their unique vocal flavour to a mix of europop synths and orchestral pop. Full8loom do a good job of replicating e.one’s style on “Secret,” combining electronics and an orchestra to create WJSN’s cosmic sound. The synths give it the classic sci-fi feeling while the orchestral elements sends it into the stratosphere.

It is clearly not a rehash though. “Secret” was decisive, an almost complete song right from the beginning. “Dreams Come True” takes more time to reveal itself. “Secret” would swap between its synths and strings within a section whereas “Dreams Come True” devotes whole sections to a particular sound, slowly adding elements to prepare for the climax. “Secret” was a song about hidden feelings, the anxiety of simultaneously falling for someone and barely knowing who they are while “Dreams Come True” is about bridging that gap, a song about gradually building the courage to give yourself to someone.

As the music begins its ascent, it is ambiguous. The girls are tasked with being the major deviations at the front of the song. WJSN have a lot of vocalists that have similar sounding voices but with noticeably different timbres when lined up. In the first verse it moves from Seola’s divinely clean voice, to then a quartet of Eunseo, Mei Qi, Bona, and Xuan Yi. Eunseo goes against the grain type by pitching high, accentuating her slightly nasally voice which meshes well with Mei Qi’s sensual whisper. Bona is more conventional and sets up the true alien of WJSN, Xuan Yi and her tiny and distinct, almost vacant voice. The sense of nervousness is clear with each one’s delivery: Eunseo complains that, “When we pass by we seem like strangers,” and Mei Qi replies, “And I hate thinking about it.”


Also on KultScene: K-POP & THE COLLECTIVE BODY PART 2: SEVENTEEN, COSMIC GIRLS, & NCT

Dawon takes advantage of the diminutive Xuan Yi to bring the power and lift the song as only she can. She represents the bubbling confidence of WJSN as she bellows, “It’ll become a miracle, It’ll pull us together, It’ll make our dreams come true so…” This line has its own weird internal rhythm. Dawon is fitting as much as she can into the bar, ignoring usual resting spots. Whether or not she is ready to believe what she’s saying, she knows she doesn’t have a choice but to trust it.

From there the chorus hits,at first with a thud and then grows as it goes on. It’s given time to breathe and slowly differentiate itself from the verse, andit finally ends with the opening signature synth which even Cheng Xiao can ride with ease into outer space.

Exy’s rap represents the biggest vocal shift of the song and the music follows her. Holding on to the electro tone of the chorus, it shifts into dubstep as Exy slows things down and opens with the ominous line, “I am in the dark.” Her rapping is nicely crisp but gets slightly more emotional as it goes on, increasing in tempo as she starts to move out of the dark. Finding courage, the beat intensifies and continually adds drum fills that changes the second verse.

The bridge’s stunning quiet moment is the highlight. It has time for four of the girls to sing variations of the same scale, while the track reduces itself to just strings, a few keys, and some beautiful harmonies. It’s a stunning moment of clarity and tension, as if the whole song was leading to this point rather than the actual climax. It contextualizes the cosmic dramas of their lives in terms of their lover’s dreams. “You and me to be drawn as a dream, it will be done as you dream,” they repeat, finding the hope of their love in the short moment of peaceful stillness among the shifting scales of the track.


Also on KultScene: STRAY KIDS: JYP’S NEW DIRECTION

Music Video

“Dreams Come True” continues one of the better visual collaborations in K-pop as Kim Zi Yong and Fantazy Lab return to direct the music video. It is definitely a sequel to “Secret” as we see some references from it including the book with the iconic phrase, “Have you ever felt cosmo inside of you?” In “Dreams Come True” the girls are separated by space and time and are faced with the threat of a giant wormhole opening up over Seoul. There seems to be human versions of themselves that inhabit Seoul and the cosmic versions who are in a heaven type area who stay connected via phones. They work together to call down Bona from her flying space bed, and she flies straight into the wormhole, destroying it.

This is all communicated much more elegantly in the video by Kim. No one is better at connecting the real and imaginary worlds with special effects than he is. He uses a large amount of smaller moments to build his world. Each image has very simple fantasy elements executed perfectly, but this formula is slightly tired at this stage. Compared to “Secret” it’s not much better or worse but doesn’t have the same surprise factor. It also has an unnecessary and ugly bluish colour grade. If they had gone for something closer to the wizarding world of the teasers, there could have been a lot of room to try new things. Kim Zi Yong’s aesthetic has worked well in a number of concepts and would have been unique enough to separate itself from obvious potential Harry Potter comparisons.

Overall

WJSN’s return to the cosmos has turned out to be as appropriately dramatic as can be though “Dreams Come True” lacks the dense, unique production of “Secret” that lends it its immediate qualities. Structurally though, “Dreams Come True” betters “Secret.” It produces an epic scale from disparate parts coming together and finally disappearing so the girls can dream clearly.

What do you think of WJSN’s single “Dreams Come True”? Share your thoughts 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.

Stray Kids: JYP’s new direction

Ever since the conclusion of JYP Entertainment’s survival reality program Stray Kids, where the nine members of the group took part in various challenges set by the company to prove that they were able to debut as a whole group, the victorious (and complete!) group was busy with promotions for their pre-debut EP, Mixtape, which featured the group’s tracks that were mostly performed during the program.

Following its release, Mixtape proved to be a fan favorite and topped charts in the States, and also proved to encompass the essence of what is unique about this group and, by extension, showcased the new direction that JYP Entertainment is taking in debuting this group. All the seven tracks on the EP were composed in some way by the members of Stray Kids, be it in lyric-writing, songwriting or arranging. In particular, the members of “3RACHA,” a previously established trio within Stray Kids consisting of leader Bang Chan and rappers Han Jisung and Seo Changbin, wrote the lyrics for all the songs and took part in the music composition for six of them. The ownership and individuality shown here is rare in the K-pop industry, considering this is a group who has yet to officially debut.


Also on Kultscene: Artist Spotlight: Samuel 

It is even more surprising considering JYP’s usual management of their groups. With the exception of rock band DAY6, whose debut EP was also composed of songs created by the members, JYP’s boy groups mostly started out with EPs and title tracks composed by Park Jinyoung himself (i.e GOT7’s “Girls Girls Girls” and 2PM’s “10 Out of 10”). The members of these groups eventually went on to create their own music for their later albums and title tracks (i.e Jun K’s “Go Crazy,” JB’s “You Are”) after a few years, which is a common practice in the industry. Stray Kids releasing Mixtape could thus be an indication of a shift in JYP Entertainment’s priorities for their new groups: no longer are they optimizing safe and polished debut performances but instead highlighting releases that showcase more musicality and creative freedom. Perhaps this is to align with the current trend of self-composed music in the industry but whatever it is, it is definitely paying off for Stray Kids.

The exceptional composing skills of the members, especially the members of 3RACHA, were constantly displayed throughout the program, an instance being their rap face-off with YG Entertainment trainees, where Changbin and Jisung wowed with their original track “Matryoshka” (from their third mixtape, Horizon).

Since last January, the trio have been releasing their original tracks through SoundCloud and YouTube, with a total of three mixtapes out at the moment. The exposure they received as trainees does explain their prowess now especially for long-time trainee Bang Chan, who has so-far single-handedly done the producing and mixing for most of 3RACHA’s tracks, with Changbin and Jisung contributing to the lyrics.

The trio’s experience shows in their works, and really helped the entire boy group establish a very unique musical identity right off the bat. With the music video of “Hellevator,” the title track of “Mixtape,” racking up millions of views on YouTube before the reality show even premiered, anticipation was high for Stray Kids thanks to this intense song which highlighted the various strengths of the members, in particular their synchronized dancing. The group continued to impress with their music through the missions on the show, where they took on challenges such as performing at a live broadcast and busking on the streets.

While the group as a whole is definitely still a rookie one, especially with regard to the vocal areas, Stray Kids has proven that they can (and do) distinguish themselves from other rookie boy bands, not just musically but with their fresh personalities as well. Often displaying tough and charismatic images on stage, they played up their youthful charms on the show once off stage and even now on the occasional V-live broadcasts that they do. With an average age of 20 (youngest member Jeongin is a 2001-er), the members are cute and playful especially when they interact with each other.


Also on Kultscene: Weki Meki’s “Lucky” Album Review

Speaking of which, the unity of this group is remarkable, despite only being formed a few months before the show. Perhaps this is where Stray Kids differs most from Sixteen, the survival show from which TWICE was created in 2015. In Sixteen, the 16 members competed against each other to get into the seven member group (it was later changed to nine members), which naturally created a lot of rivalry among the members. Stray Kids, on the other hand, was promoted and run as a show where the group “fought” with JYP to debut together. Their adorable friendship and dynamic were on display from the start, and got viewers passionately rooting for the group to stay together. The most unique part of this survival show was the lack of competition between the members and the cooperation they displayed. There was very little “fighting for the main part” that often goes on in such shows, and instead, there were so many moments where the more experienced members sacrificed their own practice time to help those who were lagging behind or in danger of elimination. The hard work and effort that the whole group put in to help each other improve led to heart-wrenching and tear-jerking moments for members and fans alike when a few members ended up being eliminated through the course of the show (they were eventually brought back in the final mission), further endearing the group to the viewers.

With all the hype and popularity Stray Kids has already gotten so far, their debut is definitely a highly-anticipated one. It still has to be proven if the “free-reign” direction JYP is taking with this group will last in the future, but for now, it’s producing results and I cannot wait to see how far this group will fly from here.

Have you been keeping up with Stray Kids? What do you think of the new direction JYP is taking with them? 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.

Weki Meki’s “Lucky” Album Review


Following the resignation of CEO Na Byung Joon under controversial circumstances, Fantagio Entertainment and all its artists’ short term futures were in doubt. Weki Meki were one of those groups and had apparently been preparing a comeback as the news broke. Thankfully things settled down enough for them to bring their follow up to debut mini WEME and divisive single “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend.” They have done that in the form of Lucky, their second mini album which seems to be going as far from their debut as can be. “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend” was a song of many contradictions and the album it came on was equally filled with ups and downs. As an album, Lucky is tonally much more coherent and an easier listen. Let’s find out if that’s a good or bad thing.

As is common in K-pop minis, Lucky opens with an intro track by the same name. I love K-pop intros. At their best they are abstract representations of the albums that follow it. They don’t have to follow pop rules so tend to be the most unconventional K-pop can be. They can also be like “Lucky,” acting as a slightly remixed and shorter version of the single it precedes. Alongside “La La La” producer Rodnae “Chik” Bell; Hyuk Shin, MRey, and Ashley Alisha (all members of the Joombas Music Group) are the composers here and don’t do much to alter “La La La.” It sounds like they put the harsh processed drums of “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend” underneath and added heavier bass. As an intro it doesn’t differentiate itself enough from the follow to warrant inclusion.

The lead single “La La La” is, unfortunately, similarly derivative of much more interesting songs. In what seems like a response to criticism of their debut, “La La La” has the energy of “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend” without any of the eccentricities. It replaces the electronics with a variety of guitars and brass in favour of a more traditional pop stomper style. Vocally, it stifles them. The members are restricted to trying more soulful singing and straightforward rapping. On “IDLYG” the girls could just about match the gleeful twists and turns of the track, pulling it into something that works. On “La La La” they do nothing to change the direction of the song.

This is best evidenced by the chorus’ lack of movement. Musically it has an almost imperceptible change which could have been fine if the vocals went somewhere. The “laaaaa la la las” and the cheeky rap one liners are nowhere near enough, though. Wherever you lie on the “IDLYG” scale, this is a major disappointment as the highly anticipated successor.


Also on KultScene: ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: SAMUEL

Luckily though, Weki Meki may soon become the queens of b-sides if their albums continue work like this. “Iron Boy,” produced by the Full8loom team, is the third track and a delectable slice of 80s style electro pop. Like all great retro tracks the key to success is a juicy bass line. On “Iron Boy” it gets things going alongside Doyeon’s slight but sultry voice. From there it blends more physical elements like a guitar with some wonderful synths. Like “La La La,” its structure doesn’t do anything new. But crucially it has musical progression. By the time the chorus comes along there is now spurts of brass and fluctuating synths. There are layers to its production and the members fit it well; Sei and Suyeon’s vocals in particular stand out, as they seem just about caught in the back of their throats in a childish but powerful way.

“Metronome” is much more modern. Producers Trippy and Le’mon weave a heavier house riff around the more indifferent vocals of the girls. A piano is used to create some sense of emotion in contrast to the bassy synths. It is in a sense monotonous like its title would suggest. The song transitions using the piano parts but does so with such nonchalance that it suggests that Weki Meki feel that thin line between dancing and emoting.

Full8loom return for the final two tracks “Colour Me” and Butterfly, both of which continue the retro theme. “Colour Me” is very much in the Bruno Mars mold of nostalgia. Disco synths and funk beats meet to create a super comfortable feeling. It gives the girls some room to stretch their vocals, even more than previous songs. In the pre-chorus there are some great harmonies, and the chorus has a variety of strong high pitches and whispers.


Also on KultScene: K-POP UNMUTED: 2017 AWARDS – PART 2

“Butterfly” is the epitome of a winter cash in. It’s plodding retro bass drum and chimes are cliched almost to the point of parody here. It is a cover, however, of “Butterfly” by Loveholic, and these parts are there to make it relevant to the Winter Olympics. The chorus remains utterly impressive. Bonus points for the adorable sign language choreography. Minus points for reminding me of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

Lucky is a settler for Weki Meki. Their rocky debut might have slowed their potential ascent thanks to Doyeon and Yoojung’s fame but it also made them distinct. Lucky doesn’t quite have the ballad lows or the “Fantastic” highs of WEME, and honestly suffers for it. Given a stronger single it could have been the perfectly solid mini they needed. Instead it falters right from the beginning and spends the rest of its run time trying to catch up. It is slick from there on in but not quite unique enough to match the Weki Meki we have come to love or hate.

Let us know what you think of Weki Meki’s “Lucky” 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.

Artist Spotlight: Samuel

What happens when you put together Latin roots and K-pop? The answer lies in singer and dancer Samuel Arredondo Kim. Known as Samuel in the K-pop scene, he was born in Los Angeles to a Korean mother and a Mexican father, making him one of the few Latino K-pop stars. He became a huge hit at just 15-years-old, proving that age is really just a number.

When Samuel, now 16-years-old, first made his solo debut last August, he immediately caught my attention as well as the attention of many others. And not just because of his unique cultural background. He possesses certain star qualities and a seemingly inborn talent that distinguishes him from others in the industry. His career began at a very young age when he appeared in commercials for a Volkswagen dealership in Bakersfield. In these videos, we see a young and goofy Samuel, gushing about the cars on screen, constantly flashing a cheeky smile. He even sports an oversized suit and tie and speaks fluent Korean, adding to his more-than-adorable image. His comfort and ease in front of the camera makes it obvious that Samuel was born to be a star.


Also on KultScene: K-pop Unmuted: 2017 Awards — Part 2

At age 11, he moved to Korea to begin his training with Pledis Entertainment. While a trainee, he was in the lineup to become a member of boy group Seventeen and appeared in the live broadcast series, Seventeen TV. In these broadcasts it is not difficult to spot Samuel as he is the youngest of the group and quite visible. He is so small compared to the others, that before watching the video, I questioned whether or not he was a part of the group and whether or not his skills would be up to par. However, when he starts to dance, there is no doubt: it is indeed the young prodigy. In fact, he dances with such skill that he blends in with the rest of the group despite the obvious height difference. Unfortunately, Samuel left Pledis Entertainment and was unable to become a member of Seventeen.

That’s okay though, as it did not stop Samuel from pursuing a career as a K-pop idol. In fact, it was probably for the better as he embarked on a path that would transform him into the Samuel we see today. Shortly after leaving Pledis Entertainment, he signed with Brave Entertainment and became one half of the hip-hop duo 1Punch. They debuted in January 2015 with “Turn Me Back,” the title track of their album, The Anthem. The music video shows Samuel, now a preteen, sporting dreads and an outfit that is highly characteristic of the hip-hop genre. Though his appearance is drastically different, it is still undoubtedly Samuel as only he could possess such advanced dancing skills at such a young age. Although the “Turn Me Back” music video does not adequately show off his full skillset, Samuel is still able to give off a hip (yet adorable) vibe that catches people’s attention.

Not long after their debut, 1Punch disbanded after fellow member One joined YG Entertainment. However, Samuel retained his stage name “Punch” and collaborated with American rapper Silentó in “Spotlight.” This catchy single won them the 26th Seoul Music Award for Global Collaboration, and Samuel later went on tour with Silentó. The fact that he was able to go on tour at his young age proves he has the stamina and qualities of a star and was a good indicator of his future successes.

Samuel’s next big moment came when he joined the survival reality show Produce 101’s second season at the beginning of 2017. He immediately stood out to viewers with his indisputable talent, and even co-choreographed his team’s performances. One of Samuel’s most memorable performances was his performance of Chris Brown’s “With You,” where he displayed incredible footwork and, to the viewers’ pleasant surprise, even lifted his shirt to give a quick peek of his abs. It’s evident through this performance that Samuel has grown and matured so much since he first began his career in Korea. He was such a favorite throughout the show, that people were shocked when he ultimately did not end up making the cut for the 11-member boy group.


Also on KultScene: Best K-pop music videos of 2017

Samuel’s true breakout moment came in August 2017, when he finally made his solo debut with “Sixteen,” the title track of his album.. Just when we thought he couldn’t get better (or cooler), he did. Sixteen was so successful, that the first batch of physical copies sold out, with the title track reaching number one on the iTunes worldwide album charts in Vietnam, Indonesia, and other Asian countries. It’s clear to see why: “Sixteen” is such an irresistibly fun bop that it’s quite impossible to not feel the urge to jam and dance along to it. In the video, we also see an obvious transformation in the young idol’s image. Instead of the adorable persona he once exhibited, viewers find themselves charmed by his cool charisma and attractive visuals. If that wasn’t enough, his vocals and choreography once again improved by tenfold, wowing fans even more.

Not long after that, Samuel released his second album, Eye Candy, in November 2017, which didn’t disappoint with its equally catchy songs. His most recent release was his birthday single, “Winter Night,” which he released January 16, one day before his birthday. Although the rhythm is slower than what we are used to from him, it still shows off his awesome vocals, proving that he is capable of a diverse range of musical styles.

As Samuel has already accomplished so much at such a young age, it’s exciting to see what else he will achieve as he continues to grow in his career and all eyes are on him to see what he does next.

Let us know what you think of Samuel 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.

25 best K-pop songs of 2017

best kpop songs 2017 17 top tracks k-pop k pop

There’s no denying that it’s a solemn time for the K-pop community. But it’s during sad times that it’s important to think about what puts a smile on our faces, and for a lot of people, that’s K-pop. Throughout 2017, artist gave us a lot of songs that made us feel happy and made us dance, which then gave us a lot of good times. And while it was hard to narrow down our absolute favorites of the year, here are our 25 best.

25. “Love” by DEAN feat. Syd

DEAN’s emotional sensitivity is always present on his music, but with “Love,” he takes on a very sexual topic in a very respectful yet sensual way. The song features American singer-songwriter Syd as the love interest in this song. Her voice fits perfectly with DEAN’s, creating the sensual mood of the track. The lyrics talk about a new relationship that seems to be full of sexual tension as they tell each other on the song, “I got intentions baby, But, I’m gettin’ restless babe, I need your blessin’, baby I’ll love you if you let me baby” which bring us to know that DEAN’s is very respectful and aware of consent in a relationship; whether it is about sex or taking the relationship slowly he can wait as long as the other person wants and until they are ready. “Love” starts with a little bossa nova and samba melody that transforms into a very minimal tropical record that seems very fresh and connects perfectly with the new relationship that the lyrics talk about. The beats keep a steady base that explodes at the climax, very similar to how a relationship starts and slowly builds up and gets filled with love as time passes by. DEAN’s solo at the end of the song represents how madly he is in love while the music changes drastically and gives of a feeling that you are in cloud nine. And, of course, nobody can forget the lyric when DEAN sings in a very sexy voice, “I’ll f*ck you if you let me baby.”

—Alejandro

24. “You Are” by GOT7

For their second comeback of the year, GOT7 went ahead and switched it up again, further proving just how multifaceted these guys are. In a very unexpected move, J.Y. Park allowed the group to release a single co-written by one of the members, JB. “You Are” diverts from the hip-hop and trap sounds from their previous singles and presents a smoother, dreamier, synthier soundscape. The song is just as contrasting as JB is: velvety smooth vocals yet with an EDM, uplifting vibe. It’s impossible not to smile when listening to this song, for the members’ deliveries is probably their most tender and, dare I say it, sincere yet. “You Are” might not have done well in Korea, but it let audiences know that GOT7 is working towards producing and writing their own tracks in the near future. We can only expect bigger, experimental switch ups by them next year and we can’t wait.

—Alexis

23. “Plz Don’t Be Sad” by Highlight

After ditching their old company, the majority of Beast formed their own company Around Us Entertainment and returned as a new group, Highlight. Their first release as Highlight was the bright song “Plz Don’t Be Sad.” Written and produced by Junhyung’s production team Good Life, the song is about the boys doing anything in their power for you to smile. And with such a vibrant and upbeat song, it is very hard not to. With their first song, Highlight chose to break away from the typical sound their former group’s singles went for and instead offered up an extremely catchy chorus full of “woah ohhs” that are bound to get stuck in your head. The video is fun, and features colorful images of the group doing random things while the chorus has them dancing around in bathrobes. Everything combined makes absolutely no sense, but you ultimately can’t help but smile at the ridiculousness.

—Katherine

22. “Kokobop” by EXO

From the title alone, you would expect this song to be a super summer bop, and of course EXO did not deliver less than this. But what we couldn’t predict is that “Kokobop” would be a reggae-based instrumental song. More surprisingly, elements of trap and EDM were present as well. Does this combination work well? To be honest, I’m still not sure, and maybe that’s why this was one of my most listened to songs of the year. There’s something intriguing about “Kokobop” that makes it grow on you. I guess it’s one of those songs you just find noisy and a bit messed up when you listen for the first time, and then you get trapped listening to it again and again, trying to understand where does the chillin’ “awooo”’s, “down down baby”’s and “oh oh oh”’s connect with such aggressive trap beats and the loud breakdown. Those alone, however, are very fun moments, and that’s more than enough for “Kokobop” to have been one of the catchiest tunes of the year.

—Ana

21. “Camo” by BoA

The long reigning queen of K-pop BoA returned and graced us with the presence of her new single “Camo” this year. The song starts off with a staccato base beat that crescendos slightly to the chorus, but the tempo of the song overall does not change much allowing the tune to flow seamlessly and without effort. The video also does a very good job complementing the elegant style with a bold red and black color scheme and the optically pleasing effects that occur throughout the video. The song, video, and dance all give off an edgy and sophisticated mood which is complemented even further by BoA’s sultry voice. “Camo” may not be as in your face as many songs are now a day, but it still was able to capture it’s audience with minimal effort; something only a 17-year industry veteran has no trouble achieving.

—Katherine

20. “Eclipse” by Kim Lip

Kim Lip began the ODD EYE CIRCLE era with an easy confidence on this smooth electro R&B track. “Eclipse” grows with impassioned ease building an eclectic electronic bed of sounds for which Lip can emote between. Even from just the music video she was by far the most natural performer, a girl the group could be built around. Produced by Daniel “Obi” Klein and Charli Taft, “Eclipse” was a new style for LOONA but nothing too progressive by itself. It more than makes up for that in its silky variety of synths. The bridge is a moment to savour as well, as fingersnaps and gorgeous vocals slow things down revealing the depth of what Kim Lip can do.

—Joe

19. “Shine Forever” by Monsta X

After the initial release of their first studio album The Clan Pt. 2.5: The Final Chapter in the first quarter of the year, Monsta X did the K-pop thing to do and followed up with its repackage, Shine Forever. With this, we were also introduced to the eponymous “Shine Forever,” a natural future bass follow up to the electronic-heavy “Beautiful.” Staying true to its genre, the prominent bassline and synthesizer inform listeners of the song’s modernity, albeit at the expense of a more enthralling hook. Indeed, trends seem to trump over a classic refrain, but if we can ignore this minor musical faux pas for the pre-chorus and raps that’s always been the focal point within the group’s discography, the rest of “Shine Forever” is actually quite fetching. Life is too short to fuss over diction when I.M’s iconic “One and only like a holy” is the best introduction to a narrative since “Once upon a time.” The progression to the pre-choruses only gets better as more layers of claps and percussions are overlaid to amount to an exciting climax. The boys’ eternal preoccupation with beauty and light reaches new heights with “Shine Forever,” making the single yet another valuable contribution to their growth.

—Shelley

18. “Babe” by Hyuna

Hyuna had us used to expect fun, bold, sexy and irreverent songs everytime she makes a comeback. So, who would expect something like “Babe”? Although it still has some of Hyuna’s trademarks, like her rap and proper beats for an energetic choreography, “Babe” is different from everything she has done so far, and that change was very welcomed. In this cute, delicious synthpop jam smartly filled with some trap, hip-hop and tropical house elements, Hyuna sings about a lover that makes her feel like 25, 24, 21-years-old when she is actually 26. Youth has always been an implicit background for Hyuna’s works, due to the fact that her solo works revolved around concepts of partying, exploring sexuality, and others associated to teenagers/young adults’ yearning for living life to its fullest; but with “Babe,” the feeling of youth shows us a different side of her. Driven by a lighter production and a girly melody, “Babe” leaves the impression that, this time, Hyuna’s sassy and fun personality is flowing naturally, with no need of a concept that would push her to show it.

—Ana

17. “Goodbye” by 2NE1

While this song passed over the radar of most K-pop fans this year, Blackjacks like me will never forget the emotional weight of this track’s dropping. Singing over a beautifully repeating guitar riff, CL, Dara, and Bom reflect on the unbearable pain of splitting up: “Don’t look at my tears that can’t hold onto you/Just don’t go.” CL’s vocal performance is especially evocative, questioning, “Does anyone know, does anyone know/how it makes me feel?” repeatedly throughout the choruses, and demonstrating through her vocals alone her attachment to the group even after its disbandment. The song is beautifully simple, demonstrating that even after break-up, 2NE1 is a name known for musical quality. And the lyrics of this song, many of which imply some future continuity for the group — “until the day we meet again,” “when winter passes, spring will come again,” and the self-explanatory Korean-to-English translation of “안녕 (Annyeong/Goodbye)” also signifying “Hello” — indicate that 2NE1 is a name that may (hopefully) return in the future as well.

—Kushal


Also on KultScene: 50 best K-pop songs of 2017: 50-26

16. “Energetic” by Wanna One

The highly anticipated debut of Wanna One, a group created from the top 11 winners of survival show Produce 101, definitely didn’t disappoint. Right from the piano intro, “Energetic” was a perfect match for the skills and image of the group, where their individual strengths were harnessed to create this catchy dance track and they could each be highlighted. The vocal thrills provided by members Jaehwan and Sungwoon further tightened the song, and when paired with their synchronised complex choreography this performance was such a joy to watch. It’s no wonder that their popularity, both domestically and internationally, continued to skyrocket after this debut track. While they’ll only be active till the end of 2018, I’m looking forward to the amazing music they’ll be releasing till then.

—Anna

15. “Untitled, 2014” by G-Dragon

If you’ve ever wanted to see the unadorned side of Kwon Jiyong, better known as G-Dragon, look no further because “Untitled, 2014” is the open book he’s been waiting for you to see. When people hear the name “G-Dragon,” they think of his styling and swag; G-Dragon the rapper. But Kwon Jiyong, the artist, the musician and singer, is what made “Untitled, 2014” the treasure that it became. G-Dragon illustrated his sentimental and compassionate side with this ballad and he made all of us “soft.” With the accompaniment of just a piano, it allowed listeners to focus in his voice and his emotions without being caught up in anything else.

—Tam

14. “Black Suit” by Super Junior

There’s something innately satisfying about seeing a K-pop group well into its second decade able to come up with something that feels very much in accordance with their biggest hits but that also improves musically. Serving both as a testament to the act’s malleability and capabilities, “Black Suit” does just that. Like all of Super Junior’s biggest hits, there’s an immensely danceable, repetitive hook of a chorus. But, as with their other more recent singles, there’s a sense of maturation in the swing-infused, brassy sounds of the retro-tinged song that may be a surprise to people who haven’t kept up with SuJu’s most recent releases. Though two of their main vocalists, Ryeowook and Kyuhyun, are serving in the military, there’s nothing remotely disappointing about this dynamic single as its energetic tune serves up both Super Junior’s typical sense of playfulness and their finely-honed vocals.

—Tamar

13. “All Night” by Girls’ Generation

Alternative title track “Holiday” is, from a lyrical standpoint, likely more direct in celebrating Girls’ Generation’s success and long-lasting togetherness. To me, however, “All Night” is the more powerful 10th anniversary release for the legendary girl group. Embracing EDM and vaporwave influences on this retro-oriented track, GG demonstrates how easily they devour new songs and make them entirely theirs, demonstrating the endless versatility characteristic of K-pop’s face-value girl group. Seamlessly moving between melody and pseudo-rap, the song shines most in its chorus, which is at first minimalist but grows in speed and power with each iteration. Along with dubstep brilliance in the bridge, “All Night” is indicative of the fact that Girls’ Generation is a musical and performative force in the international music industry that cannot be, and should have never been, ignored. 10 years in, they continue to innovate on the concept of dance pop in ways that reflect their maturity from girlhood into womanhood.

—Kushal

12. “Spring Day” by BTS

Expectations were high for BTS’s comeback in early 2017, due to the enormous success of their previous single, “Blood, Sweat and Tears.” Some got disappointed when the long-awaited song was the mellow “Spring Day.” But, honestly, at that point, BTS was already standing in such a high place (even though no one could imagine how immensely they’d still grow over 2017), that the only way to ruin everything would be by releasing something really really bad —and that’s not the case of “Spring Day” at all. The song is very touching and shows more emotional colours of the boys, something that was great to see after constant fierce and powerful comebacks. Of course, being a work from BTS, a group that is making their mark for their carefully planned concepts, “Spring Day” is not only a cute song about missing someone. The word “spring,” in this context, represents the flourishing of a new phase, perhaps a more mature one, after their previous concepts that focused on youth. Just like the season of flowers, “Spring Day” was, for them, a beautiful prelude to a series of bright moments, that would end up becoming their most memorable year so far.

—Ana

11. “Limitless” by NCT 127

Hip-hop is not a genre we associate with SM Entertainment’s current generation of K-pop idols, so when NCT 127 first debuted last year, skepticism arose. However, any doubt went poof right at the start of 2017, when the group dropped “Limitless.” With the help of SM’s two best rappers (yes, I went there, don’t delude yourself otherwise), a slew of outstanding dancers, and vocalists with honey smooth tones, NCT 127 delivered one of the most powerful performances of the year. With a grime base, “Limitless” offers pulsating beats, tempo changes, and a climatic chorus sung by all the members — a rarity in K-pop. In probably one of the most competitive eras in K-pop, NCT 127 proved this year that they’re ready to take on the big boys, and it all started with “Limitless.” SM finally debuted their most well-rounded group, with members that both embody what everyone has always loved about K-pop so much and what the scene is becoming as of late. The NCT concept is still a confusing one, with its various units and rotating lineups. But we for one hope NCT 127 is a permanent one, for they have the potential to become a staple as early as next year.

—Alexis

10. “Peek-A-Boo” by Red Velvet

Red Velvet capped off the best year of their career so far with “Peek-A-Boo.” The girls encountered wicked attraction in “Rookie,” a comforting love in “Red Flavor,” and on “Peek-A-Boo,” all of those emotions get tied up into anxiety. Producers Moonshine, Cazzie Opiea, and Ellen Berg Tolbom build a minimal bass of bubbling synths and a drum beat as they slowly let those anxieties creep into the song. Horns blast in and out, a xylophone style synth is there (for the trademark childish sound of theirs) and the girls ad-lib at every moment they can (sometimes of fear “oh gosh!” sometimes of excitement “let’s go!”). These details reveal how they feel about falling in and out of love. They struggle to define it while trying to convince themselves that they are “fine fine fine.” There’s an unpredictability to the way Red Velvet realise a song. It’s a feeling totally unique to them, and it makes them the most exciting act in K-pop.

—Joe

9. “Easy Love” by SF9

As the first male dance group to be formed by FNC Entertainment, which is more well known for bands such as FTIsland and CNBLUE, SF9 does showcase fancy choreography in “Easy Love,” but what stands out more is their vocals and the music production of the track. With four rappers in the group, it’d be hard for each one to stand out, but SF9 does precisely that with each having a distinct style in their parts. The build up to the chorus and the chorus itself are also done well, with traces of EDM present but with the interesting melodic lines constantly being highlighted, especially in the chorus where there is a lot of both upward and downward movement. It’s only been a little over a year since their debut but SF9 show a lot of promise and will definitely be able to release even better music as they grow as artists.

—Anna

8. “Don’t Recall” by KARD

Scoring a top 10 position on this list is a feat for any artist, let alone a new one. Let alone a pre-debuted one. Let alone a pre-debuted co-ed one! KARD is completely unique in the K-pop world, from tropical house-inspired musical stylings to a refreshing co-ed member lineup. And “Don’t Recall” captures exactly what makes KARD an exciting addition to the world of K-pop, with innovative, gender-bending choreography (gender-bending by K-pop standards, that is), an enticing blend of male-female vocals, and stunning post-chorus dance break. While the group itself will need to keep innovating to find a variety of sounds and styles that suit them, KARD’s “Don’t Recall” is an amazing demonstration of what co-ed member structures could mean for musicality in the K-pop world.

—Kushal

7. “Red Flavor” by Red Velvet

One of the year’s iconic bops, Red Velvet came through guns blazing with “Red Flavor.” The title itself sounds so similar to their group’s name — seemingly fitting of a song most definitive of the group’s musical and performative character to date. Paired with its quirky and slightly overwhelming music video, RV succeeded in capturing the essence of a quintessential summer track in the context of their own quirky aesthetics and musical stylings. With building instrumentals and bouncy vocal harmonies in the chorus, Red Velvet establishes and carries their own trademark Red Velvet sound, a factor useful in maintaining popularity at this point in their very successful career as a girl group. “Red Flavor” is undoubtedly going to be one of the most-remembered 2017 K-pop songs, an iteration of K-pop girl group summer almost desperately needed in the power vacuum created by some untimely disbandments between this year and last.

—Kushal

6. “As If It’s Your Last” by Blackpink

Usually when a song is one of those three-fers kind of deal, the end result makes its listeners question who let it slide by production. But what happens when production is one of the most renown, one of the most prolific? Teddy, YG Entertainment’s veteran in-house producer, lets experience speak for itself and challenges just how many distinct compositions he can fit in approximately three and a half minutes with “As If It’s Your Last,” and for the first time in K-pop hot mess history, it doesn’t suck. The beginning is something of a red herring, where synths and a pounding bass digresses away from whatever subset of EDM it was supposed to be, and make way for a variety of upbeat drums. The gritty front that the girls assume rapidly dissolves as well when the song unexpectedly makes a turn for the bright and poppy. The displaced hook lends the song its ultimate “Pink” quality, which is truly refreshing in light of all the “Black” concepts the group have done up until then. Thanks to seasoned producers, Blackpink is able to enjoy elements of house, pop, moombahton, and more. Now if only they were able to come back with more than a single a year…

—Shelley


Also on KultScene: K-Pop Unmuted: Super Junior – ‘Play’

5. “Never” by Sons of the People from Produce 101

2017 was the year of trop-house in K-pop, and while it’s arguable whether we were done with the genre by the mid-year, seemingly out of nowhere we were bamboozled by a gem in the most unexpected of places: the competition show Produce 101. Produced by Hui, Wooseok, and E’dawn of the Cube Entertainment group Pentagon, they gave the show their song “Never” for the concept challenge and was performed by Sons of the People. While the beat is a bit repetitive, it is the overall performance and vocals what made the track impactful and impossible to resist. Consisting of a lineup of members of which almost all of them ultimately made it into Wanna One (#JusticeforJonghyun, never forget), “Never” seemed like the one that was ready to be a single. From Woojin’s sleek and assertive rap to Seongwu’s surprising vocals to Minhyun’s angelic visuals to Jaehwan’s iconic belt, how could this song not reach an all-kill on the charts? In a way, it was “Never” what sealed the deal for the members, for it showed just how much star power and talent they had and how cohesive as a group they could be. The managed to take your typical trop-house song and made it into a hit. And it is so popular and a great live performance track that Wanna One rearranged it to include the rest of the members and perform it at their shows.

—Alexis

4. “Move” by Taemin

It’s hard to explain the magnificence of “Move” as a song itself without alluding to its music video or to the very figure of Taemin. After all, musically speaking, it is possible that another vocalist could have done a decent or perhaps even a good job, but it wouldn’t be the same thing; it wouldn’t sound as if the song was straight tailored for someone who’d connect every move of their body to every note of this simplistic yet exquisite melody. The chords and the basslines of “Move” are almost like sonic representations of Taemin’s eyes in the music video, it’s not even funny. The single resembles the groove of pop legends such as Prince and Michael Jackson, whose work had influenced Taemin in previous occasions, and it’s indeed a performance-oriented song. But these aren’t the only reasons that make this song so perfect for him. Neither 80’s influence nor songs made for dancing are rare in K-pop. But when it comes to artists who can carry a song so full of sexual tension with that level of elegance and artistic maturity, especially in such a young age, Taemin is definitely one of a kind. There are many moments in which “Move” could have taken a different direction in order to sound more like a catchy mainstream hit, but I love the fact that it didn’t. There isn’t one distinctive, outstanding moment, as this is definitely not a song that guides you to one specific highlight. Instead, it keeps you holding your breath during the whole time, never allowing tension to be released, and almost forcing you to pay attention to every word Taemin’s singing. The SHINee member handled this song amazingly and presented us one of the most fascinating moments of the year.

—Ana

3. Sunmi ‘Gashina’

Explosive in its dark synth-pop glory, Sunmi’s “Gashina” is the unapologetically vengeful breakup track that defined much of K-pop in the final months of 2017. With dancehall elements and dramatic, ‘80s-styled beats, the song is a sultry banger that’s filled with double entendres as the former Wonder Girl questions why her former love has turned their back on her pretty, and perhaps thorny or even bitchy, self. Confidently explosive, this is one of the fiercest songs K-pop has seen in years and Sunmi’s dominating, feminist-forward style captured the attention of all of Korea through the gun-shooting and gender-role-swapping choreography of “Gashina.” Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of this from Sunmi as she takes ownership of her return to her solo career.

—Tamar

2. “Not Today” by BTS

In stark contrast to the mellow “Spring Day” off of the same You Never Walk Alone reissue, “Not Today” is the badass sibling and solution for fans of BTS’s dynamic powerhouse sound. It attempts to replicate the underdog hubris of their “Dope” days and large scale, militaristic production of “Fire” while retaining its own identity so as to not get lost within the group’s body of similar works. The inflections in Jungkook’s “겨눠 총! 조준! 발사!” (“Point, aim, shoot!”) battle cry and RM’s monologue in the introduction among other details definitely makes this their most combative song to date. Beyond using their platform as a means of resistance and a call for action, the electronic inspired track feels cinematic too, with blaring, dramatic synths cueing imminent peril. Those synths, in addition to the purposeful lyrics, continue to resonate with us even as we cap off 2017.

—Shelley

1. “Really Really” by WINNER

After losing their lead vocalist, WINNER could have played it safe and returned with the sort of mellow music that they started their career with. But instead, they amped up their sound with the addictive rhythm of “Really Really.” Nothing was quite as trendy this year in K-pop as breezy trop, and this song was the epitome of that with its relaxed beats, dynamic drops, and full-bodied synths. Co-written by Kang Seungyoon and Mino, there’s an immense sense of what WINNER wants to be without Nam Taehyun. Split pretty evenly between rappers and vocalists, the single plays up the band member’s individual skills, with the finely-crafted house track emphasizing their soft blend of hip-pop to create a sound that’s both captivating and fun to dance to.

In a pretty crappy 2017, “Really Really” arrived not only to reinvigorate WINNER’s career but also give the K-pop world a work that was vibrantly uplifting. It’s a good look for the now-quartet and they continued it with their follow-up singles (“Island” and “Love Me Love Me”) and hopefully next year will see even more of that from them.

—Tamar

 

Make sure to also watch our video countdown of the best songs of 2017!

What was your favorite release of the year? 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.

50 best K-pop songs of 2017: 50-26

While the year may be closing in a very sad and unfortunate manner with the passing of a K-pop icon, artists consistently delivered memorable songs throughout 2017. This year saw a lot of great moments from some of Korea’s most popular new acts, while newer acts also proved their worth with addicting, sleekly-produced music. Trop was the king of this year’s K-pop trends, but far from the only genre of music that saw its moment in the limelight.

Check out the first half of KultScene’s 2017 best K-pop songs list below:

50. “Circle’s Dream” by Subin

Subin is trapped in an endlessly repeating contradictory cycle in her self-written and composed single “Circle’s Dream.” She is told that she is round and that’s good, but then that it’s not. She wants to be angular, to pierce her lover, to make him feel like how he made her feel. Yet she is also trapping herself within a recurring musical structure, as an acoustic guitar plucks an incisive riff throughout the song. It is the only angular part of Subin’s song yet has no variation. Her stark synths come in late but their slow rhythm only accentuates the repetitiveness. Each element is perfectly realised to tell her story. Her voice completes it. Its soft and sweet but particular pronunciations like denggeureureu are key. This word alone combines both the round and angular sides to her. It has repetitions but in order to say it properly she still has to roll her tongue. Subin has enwrapped her whole song with the confusing ideas in her head. No solo idol has ever produced something of such pointed precision.

—Joe

49. “Wee Woo” by Pristin

If “Wee Woo” had been released at the 2012-ish heyday of Hallyu, Pristin’s debut song would be considered legendary right now. It’s barrage of shifting sounds and onomatopoeic vocals are absolutely classic. The Pledis Entertainment regular songwriter Bumzu brings a bright and breezy feel to the whole production with disco electric guitars taking the brunt of the work. This allows the girls room to deliver the most hooks in a single song EVER. Each part is so complete on its own you could take them individually and create five more songs around them. The fact that they all come together for something that doesn’t feel so monumental is the greatness of “Wee Woo.” It’s arrogant in its effortlessness all the way down to making the primary hook out of the most simple term of jowahae nol jowahae (“I like (you) I like you”).

—Joe

48. “Beautiful” by Monsta X

Monsta X’s cultivated sound and signature unruly charms finally comes together for the consummate “Beautiful.” Perhaps because it is supposed to be representative of the group’s first studio album, the single feels particularly significant. For one, there’s really nothing quite like the opening out there. Scattered with a prominent distorted electronic beat that is quickly followed up by Jooheon’s explosive raps, the real hook is not in the chorus but here in the introduction, where the task for the listeners to not mimic the unique noises or the clever near-rhymes is near impossible. The vocalists dwindle down the excitement sometimes without sounding monotonous, almost acting like the Apollonian restraint to the Dionysian madness. The constant shower of peculiar oscillations, whirs, and horns all make up the perfectly organized chaos that Monsta X is known for, and though “Beautiful” did not grant the boys their first music show win like it should have, it will always remain a tour de force in our hearts.

—Shelley

47. “Where You At” by NU’EST W

With their revival in popularity following some of the members’ appearance in Produce 101 Season Two, this subunit of Nu’est (missing member Minhyun who debuted in Wanna One) released this flashy track which stayed true to their unique music style. Bursts of electronic instrumentals are mixed with a calm piano backing track and adds a lot of contrasts to the song. It also highlights the strengths of each member, with Baekho’s explosive high notes complementing Ren and Aron’s softer and sweeter voices. JR’s rapping is as stable as ever, and he definitely shines more back in his own group. It’s wonderful to see this talented group get more recognition for their talents, and I can’t wait to see the full group back together again soon.

—Anna

46. “You Were Beautiful” by DAY6

The February release of the band’s “Every DAY6 Project” can be said to be their most successful, especially domestically, and it’s not difficult to see why. The raw emotions brought out by the members coupled with the sincere lyrics create a sentimental rock ballad which truly tugs on the heartstrings of listeners. The end of the bridge in particular, where Young K and Wonpil’s voices are layered, is such a beautiful and emotional climax of the song. Even though it appears simple to sing along to (and is apparently a favourite among other JYP singers for karaoking), the song is actually very vocally challenging due to the large range required, and the effortless way the DAY6 members sing it shows just how skilled and well-trained they are.

—Anna

45. “Tomorrow, Today” by JJ Project

After debuting ahead of GOT7’s debut with the exuberant “Bounce,” JB and Jinyoung returned as a more matured rendition of JJ Project this year and it was absolutely glorious. The two vocalists released this sweeping, introspective song about the very-millennial topic of making decisions and fearing regrets. The track provides the perfect forum for the pair to show off how well their vocals work together, with the duo harmonizing over guitar riffs, tapping percussion, and mellow synths. “Tomorrow, Today” is reflective in its warm approach to soft rock, and hopefully we’ll see more of this from JJ Project in 2018. It was a complete turnaround from their first iteration, and definitely more suited for the pair’s artistic style and capabilities.

—Tamar

44. “Don’t Know You” by Heize

Heize’s “Don’t Know You” is a very groovy song full of percussions with a slight mixture of disco, hip-hop, and R&B, which features the soloist using deeper vocals than what we’ve been used to hear from her. The overall appeal of this songs starts at the beginning of the track with the repetitive beats and the introduction of the synth drums that follow different tonalities on the record that give great texture to “Don’t Know You.” Her famous ad-libs are also present on this song as she goes from high to low tones, which are achieved by the reverbs added on the vocal track, that create great contrast between her sexy sweet voice and her solid rap parts. The harmony is very steady throughout and creates a great chill up-tempo track perfect to dance and groove to. Heize continues to show great promise with her experimental sound.

—Alejandro

43. “Tequila (feat. Hoody)” by G.Soul

One can’t help but want to book an immediate flight to somewhere like Bali while listening to “Tequila,” especially with the brutal winter quickly approaching much of the States. Hoody’s bewitching voice alongside G.Soul’s multifaceted vocals make for the perfect combo in this dancehall track, ideal for both a cookout and the club. Lyrically wise, “Tequila” might not be appropriate for all age groups, as G.Soul sings about only wanting a one night stand. But if you’re someone who’s over the generic “let’s fall in love” type of style that is prevalent in K-pop the majority of the time, this song’s for you. The lyrics aren’t candy coated or sleazy, but come off rather… inviting. This wasn’t meant to be a flashy song, which is what made it even more enjoyable. Although G.Soul wasn’t hitting those high notes (that I love so much) like he usually does, it wasn’t a lack felt by this song.

—Tam

42. “Wake Me Up” by Taeyang

It is no news that Taeyang can hold a ballad like no other, and in 2017, he gave us two great ones. “Wake Me Up” doesn’t have the same degree of emotional complexity of “Darling,” the other single from the album, but it’s its apparent simplicity what makes this song amazing and addictive. Objectively speaking, it’s a very linear song with no surprise factors when it comes to its structure. It might even seem like Taeyang doesn’t have much to say in “Wake Me Up,” but it’s definitely not because he’s lacking emotions. In reality, what we see is that he just doesn’t know what to do with them. Everything in “Wake Me Up” sounds gorgeously inconclusive and mysterious — from the airy sounds and atmospheric, echoed beats, to the lyrics that offer more questions than answers. No wonder the most touching moment of the song is when he’s constantly repeating “Is it love?” while delivering breathtaking high notes. Overall, Taeyang’s vocal performance amidst the ethereal instrumental creates just the right vibe for a song that is about love, but mostly about confusion and doubt. After so many years, you can still count on Taeyang to get you in your feels.

—Ana

41. “Honeymoon” by B.A.P

Coming out during the fall when it should’ve been a summer jam, “Honeymoon” is a delightful EDM track from B.A.P’s seventh album Blue. The whistling at the beginning of the song left the remainder open for interpretation; this song could’ve been a sweet one, much like the title suggests, or a somber one. I’m glad it wasn’t the latter. “Honeymoon” puts listeners in a lighter mood, whereas previous songs were dark and heavy, all the while still executing a clear message. “With the overflowing stars from beneath the palm tree. A film on the shining freedom and bright youth,” they sing. Through this track, B.A.P wants to remind us to live life to its fullest, fulfill your heart’s desires to its grandest and emphasises that today’s youth will be the game changer in society going forward.

—Tam


Also on KultScene: DAY6 explores love & friendship through recent ‘Every DAY6’ releases

40. “Chase Me” by Dreamcatcher

Taking the bubbly girl group image and tossing it out the window, MINX re-debuted early this year under the name Dreamcatcher. Not only did the group have a new name, but they also gained two new members and an interesting concept and sound. Taking the term re-“vamp” quite literal, the group came out with a dark and creepy concept straight out of a horror movie. The video for “Chase Me” takes references from classic horror movies like The Shining but also has cuts to choreography to showcase the girls dance moves. The song begins with pianos and then picks up at the chorus. Adding31 to the darker image, the song melded hard rock elements with a dance pop track to create something very dynamic. There’s something about the mixing of heavy rock instrumentals and feminine voices that is very appealing. Although the song sounds like it’s straight out of an anime, it is also an interesting new sound that’s refreshing to the K-pop world.

—Katherine

39. “Never Ever” by GOT7

Ever since debut, GOT7 have switched up their sound with every release, experimenting with different styles and concepts, and their first comeback of the year was no different. “Never Ever” follows in the same angsty direction as “If You Do,” yet this track mixes electronic and trap sounds while giving it their signature bubblegum spin. Vocally, JB and Youngjae can always be counted on to deliver outstanding choruses and ad-libs. But reveal of the year was that “Never Ever” is probably the song where the rap line is collectively most stable and the flows, while different, work together. GOT7 is building up a name as a dance group whose choreographies are insane, and “Never Ever,” with its glitches and heavy bass, is the perfect performance track in their building discography.

—Alexis

38. “Love Story feat. IU” by Epik High

One of the two title tracks off of Epik High’s new album, “Love Story” is a beautiful song about love lost. The steady drum beats coupled with the sometimes frantic sounding piano and, later on, the smooth orchestra creates a complex yet easy sounding melody that balances well with IU’s sweet voice and the rap verses of Tablo and Mithra Jin. Along with the concept video of a girl reminiscing about her past relationship through videos and photos on her phone, it sets the perfect setting for a song about heartbreak and loss. As expected with most of Epik High’s collaborations, the group and the featuring artist blend perfectly to portray the story being told.

—Katherine

37. “Wake Me Up” by B.A.P

A lot of the times, K-pop consists of clichéd lyrics and similar concepts. There are times when a number of artists will put out a string of songs, music talking about love, relationships and breakups. Again, the repetitiveness. Just when you feel like you’ve had enough of that sappy stuff, B.A.P appears with an eye opener like “Wake Me Up,” a track that touches on societal issues and mental health to stimulate one’s ear buds. The song has a compelling beat, a sound so strong, it’ll act as the pillar that will hold you up when one is fighting off their inner demons and struggles in life. “This is an endless tunnel, in darkness with no light. Wake me up, wake me up. I need to find myself,” they sing. B.A.P wanted to push awareness and wake up a society that looks away and pretends that issues like racism, judgement, and depression aren’t real issues because these things are very much on going and continue to be real life problems.

—Tam

36. “Palette feat. G-Dragon” by IU

As one of Korea’s most prominent artists, IU on “Palette” seems to be comfortable with her fame and life, assuring both herself and her listeners that she’s changing in ways she embraces. Her lyricism uses cute examples, from changing color preferences to hair length, to demonstrate that she, “Knows a little bit about [herself] now.” The song’s instrumentals are a more alternative play on classic, theatrical IU releases. While the trademark ticking noises and sound effects are present, the song itself is slower and wispier, updated to match a more modern vibe that she seems to have grown into. The top female star of Korean music in the past decade, IU demonstrates that she remains focused on making hits, but now, on her own terms. With the help of a strongly performed and well-placed rap break from G-Dragon, IU on “Palette” lets us further into her excited, changing young adult world. Where she goes next from here, however, we’ll be watching.

—Kushal

35. “Dinosaur” by AKMU

AKMU is known for creating beautiful music, but with “Dinosaur,” the duo really surprised us: they finally added some EDM to their music while managing to make it their own. The electro beats and synths that appear through the track’s melody seem very stripped down and almost make it feel like an acoustic electronic song. The opening guitar in the beginning of the song especially feels like an homage to their earlier music. The synthetic kickdrums that blast before the beautiful notes from Suhyun during the chorus melody and are present through the whole track, giving it an unique mystery to the track. We also get more singing from Chanhyuk instead of his typical talk-like rap, which was surprisingly beautiful. Their voices blend and harmonize perfectly with the synthetic beats that made it an upbeat chill song for the summer. AKMU really had a lot of fun creating this track and used every tool that electronic instruments can give you as a producer. The song is simple but very detailed with a beautiful, heartwarmingly catchy harmony and a light beat that is very uplifting and instantly makes you feel good.

—Alejandro

34. “Dream In a Dream” by Ten

SM Entertainment’s Station project has produced a bit of a mixed bag this year, delivering some truly great pieces of music amid a majority of lackluster ones. But “Dream In a Dream” was one of its glorious high notes. The ambient, east-meets-west styling of the song serves to relay the performance-heavy music video, which highlights Ten’s immense dance skills. Providing a soundtrack to the highly-stylized, contemporary dance video, it’s a song filled with drama and passion. But even as a stand alone track, “Dream In a Dream” delivers something truly special through its symphonic instrumentals relaying Ten’s echoing declaration of love. Lush synths and pulsating beats guide the track as it layers traditional Asian strings and into the atypically-structured melody. So far, Ten has participated in both this and NCT U’s “The 7th Sense,” two hauntingly beautiful, choreography-focused singles, and if this is the direction SM continues pushing him in, it may be the thing that could breathe new life into this era of all-too-similar K-pop male acts.

—Tamar

33. “Shall We Dance” by Block B

Ever since Zico cemented his status as a hip-hop icon in Korea, Block B has pretty much taken a backseat on the ride. And after a couple of quirky, even cutesy releases, it seemed the group had gone awry of the sounds and concept they made a name with. That’s why when they dropped “Shall We Dance” it was way more impactful. More in tune with the “trendy” sounds Zico is known to produce for his solos, the track explores different urban Latino sounds, which particularly stood out this year when artists are still releasing trop-house songs. “Shall We Dance” is groovy, smooth, and just as the title suggests, dance provoking. Being an older male group with a diverse lineup of talented members, it’s important for Block B to color outside the lines and continue to push the envelope as they have always done. And with this song, they did just that.

—Alexis

32. “Girl Front” by ODD EYE CIRCLE

“Girl Front” felt like a particularly important moment for LOONA. When LOONA ⅓ debuted as a unit they were still fairly unknown, a weird project group going about their own thing. By the time of ODD EYE CIRCLE, they had significantly grown with more people both at home and internationally taking notice. The fact that they absolutely nailed it came as no surprise to me, but how they did it was so impressive. By combining the songs of three girls (Choerry, Jinsoul, and Kim Lip) producers Ollipop and Hayley Aitken created something unprecedented in K-pop. “Girl Front” has the peppiness of “Love Cherry Motion,” the dense, propulsive beat of “Singing in the Rain,” and the electronic sheen of “Eclipse.” It’s a miracle that it all comes together to form something coherent let alone this good. The girls give it the last edge of excitement with non-stop vocals as they bounce off one another with glee, building a climax of unstoppable motion and further push forward the most exciting story of the year.

—Joe

31. “I Wait” by Day6

“I Wait” was the first release of the group’s ambitious project, which set a high bar for their following monthly singles. The opening of the song draws the listener in with somber synthesized keyboard notes and dreamy vocals. The mellow beats gradually increase to the more aggressive instrumentals of the chorus, showcasing a much harder sound than what the band has been previously known for. The song continues to bounce back and forth between a softer sound and the heavy chorus, which creates and interesting medium. The video itself isn’t really anything special but somehow still complements the song with the changing graphics and effects. Overall, “I Wait” fulfilled its purpose of drawing in the audience with a new sound, showcasing the band’s versatility and ability to deliver quality songs throughout the year.

—Katherine


Also on KultScene: 7 K-pop music styles we’d love to hear more

30. “MIC Drop (Steve Aoki Remix feat. Desiigner)” by BTS

“MIC Drop” was already a good song before Steve Aoki’s remix, but with his production, the producer added the aggressiveness that the track needed to be fully solidified as an anti-haters anthem for BTS. He did this by converting the hip-hop track into a hip-hop, R&B, and EDM infused song that made us remember the old BTS from their debut era. The track is energetic and gets you pumped up as soon as you listen to it; V’s deep voice and RM’s raps are major highlights from this record. The lyrics take a very sarcastic tone that even if they seem cocky it makes us sympathize with them. With the new added English lyrics in the chorus, the song makes everyone want to stand up against haters and face them off. BTS creates yet another ode for outcasts and bullied kids all over the world by once again taking on topics that usually K-pop bands don’t talk about.


Also on KultScene: Astro ‘Dream Pt. 02’ Album Review

—Alejandro

29. “Darling” by Taeyang

This ballad stands out with its somewhat unconventional structure and chord progression, but it’s truly beautiful and addictive when listened to in its entirety. The way that Taeyang’s smooth voice connects the various parts of the song elevates it and showcases his impressive range and ability. His raw emotions are showcased front and center here too, especially with the way the song “progresses” in intensity from verse to verse. It’s soothing and intimate all at once, and allows Taeyang to present a more honest side of himself, as compared to being a charismatic star glorified by the limelight.

—Anna

28. “Hola Hola” by KARD

Over the course of three project singles, KARD was able to develop a musical formula that worked. The tropical house and dancehall that undergirded “Oh Nana,” “Don’t Recall,” and “Rumor” provided a strong foundation for when they finally did make their official debut with “Hola Hola,” a timely and bright synthy number perfect for the summertime. Being co-ed is more than just a gimmick for this group; the exchange between tender vocals and throaty raps is the contrast listeners need to keep engaged. The chorus, on the other hand, shifts its weight onto an island beat, and while it would be easy to dismiss this sudden move as overly simplistic, the hypnotic effect is undeniable. It sweeps the carpet from under our feet and displaces us in a chimerical paradise. It is a nice recess from Jiwoo’s spunky rap midway or from any other strained moments, providing us with a sensual and personable comfort. “Hola Hola” only marks the beginning, but already the internationally beloved group has been dealt a good hand, and are making all the right plays to keep momentum going.

—Shelley

27. “Cherry Bomb” by NCT 127

Without a doubt, “Cherry Bomb” definitely encapsulates the sound of NCT127. The different mixes of genres that create a very fresh and futuristic sound create a unique style for the band that has everyone falling in love. The track starts off with a heavy bass and the repetitive “Hurry, hurry, avoid it, right Cherry Bomb feel it yum,” then goes off to Mark’s and Taeyong’s rap, with the pair proving to be the real standouts for this track, while the bridge explodes with Taehyun’s, Doyoung’s and Taeil’s beautiful vocals that melt any listener’s hearts. The song is filled with background synth noises, singed hooks, and creepy sounds that create a very chaotic but interesting track that is reminiscent of the album cover and the title of the song. It’s a classic, sassy and rebellious track and shows great direction for the boy band.

—Alejandro

26. “O Sole Mio” by SF9

Is it possible for someone who lacks rhythm AND coordination to find themselves swaying ones hips and body with precision to the entrancing latin sounds of “O Sole Mio”? This track comes from SF9’s third mini album, Knights of the Sun, only one year after their debut. Rather then SF9’s usual upbeat dance tracks, “O Sole Mio” is captivating in it’s own mellow way. The transitions between the vocal and rap lines were smooth and well-versed, building up to a tender climax without it ever being over the top. The fusion of latin pop to K-pop is still new, but, let’s be real: we all could’ve used a break from some of the generic sounds we’ve heard this year, and the fresh sound of “O Sole Mio” delivered just that.

—Tam

Stay tuned for the second and final half of our Best K-pop Songs of 2017 list, which will contain the top 25.

What was your favorite release of the year? 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.

Astro ‘Dream Pt. 02’ Album Review

The boys of Astro have done it again. With the release of their fifth mini album Dream Pt. 02 at the beginning of November, they have proven that it’s possible to fall even more in love with them.

In many ways, this latest album marks a transition into a more mature concept for the group. A follow up to Dream Pt. 01, released earlier this year in May, Astro exhibited a more cutesy and boyish concept, as demonstrated by the album cover displaying a pastel sweet shop and the track list being released as a drink menu. But when the teaser images for Dream Pt. 02 were released, there was an obvious difference. In contrast, the new album cover showed six desks and six different colored books to represent each member, suggesting a studious concept. Additionally, the boys’ solo shots also exhibited maturity through their intense gazes and darker colored attire. The wardrobe shift used throughout the album imagery is largely a reflection of the change in weather, but it is also a representation of the change in concept. Whereas, the wardrobe for Dream Pt. 01 consisted of light-colored summertime button-ups, the wardrobe for Dream Pt. 02 consists of dark-colored suits and turtlenecks.

The maturity continues with the music, too. Right from the start, the listener’s attention is captured with the catchy opening notes of “With You.” Being the lead vocalist, it only makes sense that Moonbin’s smooth voice begins the song and entire album. The track begins relatively slow-paced, with Moonbin promising his undevoted attention to his love interest. An obvious transition begins when Sanha comes in, describing the girl’s beauty, and the song’s tempo quickens, building hype in typical Astro fashion. Right before the chorus, MJ comes in, his voice reaching ridiculously high notes, taking this song, as well as the boys’ skills, to new heights. Halfway through the chorus, there is a pause, strategically creating anticipation for what comes next, and the beat drops with all members coming in singing “with you.” Although the use of “with you” can be repetitive, this track does a good job creating an upbeat and fresh introduction to the album and their new concept. Whereas in Dream Pt. 01, the boys dreamed of the girl, “With You” demonstrates the bold move the boys take in already imagining themselves with the girl.


Also on KultScene: Red Velvet’s ‘Peek-A-Boo’ song & music video review

The next song on the album is the title track “Crazy Sexy Cool,” which really demonstrates the act’s matured sound. As opposed to the cheeky smiles and boyish energy Astro exhibited in their last single “Baby,” the boys exude a mature charisma in “Crazy Sexy Cool” with their new, smoother sound, making this a perfect choice for their latest comeback. As the title suggests, this song gives off a “cool” vibe with its slower, but still relatively upbeat, tempo and the boys’ falsetto voices. The smooth tempo of the song reflects the lyrics as they describe the irresistible charms of and chemistry they have with the dream girl. Eunwoo’s distinct and clear voice is especially showcased as he begins the chorus, hitting all the high notes and making listeners swoon.

The music video for “Crazy Sexy Cool” also demonstrates a stylistic change; it begins with a very peaceful scene of the boys sleeping and possibly dreaming, accompanied by a lullaby in the background. The calm is interrupted by a series of loud noises, startling the boys awake to a scene of themselves as the music starts. As always, Astro’s insanely exceptional but underrecognized dancing skills are showcased in the video, and it seems like their skills have only improved. With their crazy footwork and incredible ability to stay in sync, Astro leaves us in awe of the ways they are able to move their bodies. The overall vibe of the video is “cool” and more mature than “Baby,” as demonstrated by intense and piercing gazes that are unexpected yet seductive at the same time, catching us off guard in a good way. However, the boys still occasionally exhibit some of their classic cheeky smiles, reminding us that it is indeed, Astro.


Also on KultScene: 6 Highlights from BewhY’s ‘The Blind Star’ Los Angeles stop

Following the “cool” concept, the next track “Butterfly” carries with it a similar vibe. This song has a huge build-up, beginning as a muffled track with the audio slowly but surely clearing up. This time, Eunwoo begins the song with a “Hey girl” so smooth that it makes hearts melt while demonstrating how his voice has evolved to a more charismatic sound. Throughout the song, the boys compare the girl to a butterfly, cautious and afraid that at any moment, she will fly away. Their caution is reflected in the pre-chorus, as the tempo slows down to a steady beat before picking back up in the chorus. After the chorus, Rocky swoops in with his low husky voice, rapping about the effects this girl has on him and asking her to stay with him. Towards the end, we see a perfect pairing of JinJin and MJ, with JinJin rapping his feelings while MJ’s sings his signature high notes in the background to complement the rap. The caution that is shown through the lyrics and instrumentals exemplify how the boys have matured in the way they approach love. Instead of a carefree attitude, they recognize potential complexities and approach it accordingly.

Starting with “Run,” the album shifts to a more affectionate tone. The song opens with some smooth vocals and a muffled beat that slowly transitions to an intimate guitar melody. Sanha opens by singing about a dark evening sky, matching the serenity created by the acoustics. In a style that’s becoming quite characteristic of this album, the music pauses again before the chorus, allowing the listener to reflect on the lyrics that were just sung, before diving right into a catchy chorus. Eunwoo leads the first chorus this time, his sweet voice so filled with an intensity that convinces the listener of his earnest pursuit of the girl. After one more repetition of the impassioned chorus, the song ends similar to how it began — with a fading vocal and closing with just the melody of a guitar. This track, in my opinion, is the highlight of the album. It demonstrates how the boys have grown to be more intentional and sincere- each conveying his love and determination in his own way, through his own vocal style. I’m going to be real honest and say that when I listen to this song, I almost want to cry because of how sweet and sincere it is.

The concluding track of this album begins with a piano solo, signifying a more ballad-y tune. It makes sense for the last song to have the slowest tempo as throughout the album, we have seen a gradual decrease in pace. Eunwoo begins this track by singing about a lost love, which explains the more reflective nature of the song. When MJ comes in after Eunwoo, the pain in his voice of being separated from his love is clearly heard. After the chorus, JinJin comes in with a rap but it is less energetic than his previous rap from “Butterfly,” mirroring the regret he feels for not treating his love well. However, his rap picks up speed and his voice gains more energy as he describes how he will change and pursue his love again. In fact, I feel as if the entire song gains more energy as the boys sing about the lessons they learned and the hope that their love will be rekindled. The song ends with the piano solo we heard in the beginning, however, after the increasing passion of the song, the listener now interprets the tune of the piano solo as hopeful instead of sorrowful. This song makes for a perfect conclusion to the album as it illustrates the hope that comes with maturity and growth. Because of the lessons and experiences the boys have gone through, they are able to approach love in a new, refined way as reflected by all the songs on the album.

This entire album sticks to the concept of Dream very well and is a perfect representation of how the band has grown since their last album: the boys of Astro go from dreaming of a relationship with their love interest to singing about their dream girl to reflecting on a former love that they dream of rekindling. Every member shows incredible vocal growth and the rich combination of their unique voice creates emotions that the listener can’t help but feel themselves. Even the lyrics and messages conveyed show a more matured way of thinking. The album begins with a high energy that gradually simmers down to a contemplative song of hope. For Astro, it may be a closing song hopeful of the future of their love life but for fans, it’s a song that teases them with what’s to come from the next album from these talented boys.

What do you think of Astro’s latest album? Let us know your thoughts in the comment selection below! Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all the K-pop news.

Red Velvet’s ‘Peek-A-Boo’ song & music video review

red velvet peek-a-boo peekaboo mv music video song review

By Alexandra DiBenigno

Red Velvet returns to the K-pop music scene with the release of their spooky new song, “Peek-A-Boo,” off their second full album, Perfect Velvet. The group has been busy this year, releasing multiple singles like “Rookie” and the summery hit song “Red Flavor.” But, the girls throw away their cute image for a newer, darker one in their latest track, which will surely be on the top of everyone’s fall playlist.

red velvet peekaboo gir peek-a-boo review mv song

via kibaems @ Tumblr

Song

The latest single by the five-member girl group demonstrates each member’s strength, while also showing off their strong harmonization skills. The song has a funky beat highlighted with a strong bass in the background and usual club house beats used commonly throughout their music. However, Red Velvet diverts from the usual by carrying the chorus with their heavenly harmonization and repetitive “peek-a-boo” line, bringing a singable chorus that many international ReVeluvs (their fandom name) to enjoy.

Yeri’s rap especially shines, with the maknae (youngest member) finally given multiple lines and showing if off with quick lyrics, seamless flow, and an overall strong delivery. Joy and Seulgi’s lower vocals bring a sexy addition to the already club boppin, mature song, while Irene delivers her usual strong rap with ease. Throughout the song, the main vocalist, Wendy, flaunts her impeccable vocals without actually overtaking the song, as was seen in “Red Flavor.” Instead, each member is given the opportunity to display their vocals or rap without any one individual hogging the spotlight. Overall, the song has fair line distribution, something ReVeluvs will surely appreciate.

red velvet peekaboo song gif mv peek-a-boo

via leaderirene @ Tumblr

“Peek-A-Boo” is a well-balanced song that includes obvious K-pop tropes, while keeping to the unique style that the girls have perfected after three years of successful comebacks. While this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a step in the right direction for the group as they continue to mature and leave their girly image behind.


Also on KultScene: Monsta X’s ‘Dramarama’ song & music video review

Music Video

red velvet peek-a-boo gif peekaboo mv

via the-overdose @ Tumblr

Overall, the music video is one of Red Velvet’s finest, showing off unique cinematography and filtering, plus sparkling outfits and eerie imagery. With obvious Halloween vibes, outfits, and settings, it’s a shame SM Entertainment didn’t make the decision to release the video prior to Oct. 31st because the music video screams “K-pop Halloween fun!” But, regardless of the release date, “Peek-A-Boo” is a fun homage to old-time scary movies and is the perfect transition video as the fall season winds down.

red velvet peek-a-boo gif review song mv peekaboo

via sowonis @ Tumblr

The music video is unusually violent for a girl group, with guns, knives, and razors being seen throughout. Not to mention that what seemingly appeared to be a storyline about a group of women who enjoy the thrill of new love, yet quick leave their men behind when it got boring, ended in a plot twist about them maybe disposing of the pizza delivery guy and a bunch of others.

The choreography is, as always, quick, difficult, and catchy. The girls never shy away from a challenge when it comes to their choreography, and this latest single is no different. Irene and Seulgi shine in the center during the chorus, both showing off the exceptional choreography that Red Velvet is always known for during their comebacks.

red velvet peekaboo peek-a-boo mv gif

via leaderirene @ Tumblr

With endless symbolism and imagery, their latest music video is surely to leave an everlasting impression on viewers and showcases the girls’ immense talent.


Also on KultScene: 6 Highlights from BewhY’s ‘The Blind Star’ Los Angeles stop

Overview

Red Velvet have grown as a group throughout the years and always bring a fresh, new style to each comeback that stands out amongst other K-pop girl groups. In comparison to their earlier singles this year, “Peek-A-Boo” showcases a maturer side to the group, both musically and physically. Previously, the group had showcased a sultrier sound through their “velvet” concept, mainly the R&B songs. But this track is the first where we see them actually drawing from both sides and make magic together. Released in February of this year, “Rookie” embodied the common imagery seen throughout K-pop girl groups, with frills and bright colors being displayed throughout the music video. Although slightly less evident, the summery hit “Red Flavor” still showed a younger, girlier side, too. But, with this latest single, the members have become women and aren’t afraid to show it off by incorporating sexier vocals and imagery, whether through their expressions or clothing. It’s a refreshing, and overall more appealing side to the already unique group.

While “Peek-A-Boo” can be seen as their sexiest comeback, Red Velvet still makes sure that their vocals, raps, and talents shine through whatever clothing or dance moves they might be displaying. It’s a song that appeals to both Koreans and international music fans alike, and enable them to continue to stand at the forefront as one of the strongest girl groups in K-pop.

What do you think of Red Velvet’s latest comeback single? Let us know your thoughts in the comment selection below! Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all the K-pop news.