2017 Hyuna was the best Hyuna

hyuna hip & lip 2017

Between starting the year with a tour in North America and ending it as a mentor on the career-reboot show The Unit, 2017 was a busy year for Hyuna. With the disbandment of 4Minute in 2016, we might have thought that it would mean one less possibility to see her in the media. However, Hyuna surely made up for the absence of the group by promoting in a diversified range of activities, between solo projects and her work other Cube Entertainment artists, and it was a year filled with the best version of Hyuna the world has ever seen.

2017 was the year we got to see many of Hyuna’s previously unseen colors. Her star quality was evoked when she lent a hand in CLC’s transition of concept, plus she wrote the lyrics for their single “Hobgoblin” and styled the music video. She also took part in the trifecta Triple H, formed along with Pentagon’s Hui and E’Dawn. But it was in solo promotions that we saw the most interesting sides Hyuna showed this year — or, I dare to say, the best of her entire career.

While 4Minute always had a powerful concept, Hyuna’s sex appeal was too strong to be restricted to a role in a group (although, needless to say, she outshone the rest anyway). Noticing that, her agency branded her as an outrageous bombshell, which resulted in solo works mainly based in catchy electronic bops and sassy music videos. And, of course, the provocative duo Troublemaker, formed by her and former member of Highlight, formerly known as Beast, Jang Hyunseung (even if their comeback is long overdue).


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The exploration of Hyuna’s image through an outrageous concept, like said before, made it less credible for me, to the point that I’ve always had a hard time liking Hyuna, because sometimes it seemed that she was trying too hard to look like a bad girl. And, while I believe that she holds enough sensuality and fierceness to make it unnecessary to bring out these attributes 24/7, I also believe that the most wrongful side effect of it was making us think she was a one-trick pony. She definitely isn’t. And her latest releases “Babe” and “Lip & Hip” prove just that.

Although it’s not exactly a ballad, “Babe” was the softest thing Hyuna has ever done, both sonically and aesthetically. The lyrics about living a love that makes her feel younger, together with the music video that shows her in light colored dresses and high school skirts, were definitely surprising. The Hyuna factor was still there: hip-shaking, dancing between boys, her unmistakable rapping. But it was definitely refreshing to see a slower paced song and a bit less party-hard image from her.

Conversely, “Lip & Hip” might seem at first like another typical Hyuna song, and sonically, it is. However, it’s the concept for the music video and her performances that has brought us the most interesting side in the “sexy Hyuna” videography. If in “Red,” “Bubble Pop,” “Roll Deep,” and “How’s This?” Hyuna was firming her image as a sex symbol, in “Lip & Hip,” she is mostly arousing us to think of sexuality (hers and ours too) in a more curious and playful approach. The song talks about a girl’s confidence towards her own body, and the visuals showcase two versions of Hyuna dealing with her puberty changes and exploring the possibilities of how she can look like.

The music video has tireless close ups of Hyuna’s body parts, but it’s different this time. We can see how “Lip & Hip” differs from her previous work if we compare, for example, her chest shootings in “Red” —obviously meant for the appreciation of third parties — and in “Lip & Hip,” where they seem more like the recording of a young girl discovering that her boobs are growing. It’s still provocative, but through a different perspective. It is relevant to say that showing cleavage is not well received in Korea, and by showing hers, Hyuna is not only defying Korean taboos, but also defying us to think of why a natural part of the female body is so sexualized. If you didn’t catch this, you’ve been successfully manipulated.

This video plays with your mind, going from Hyuna dealing with braces (symbolising teenage struggles) to the rapper doing a sexy dance with a bustier (symbolising her grown woman attitude) in a few seconds. Of course, the type of scene that catches the most attention is the last one, and it will make you think “Lip & Hip” is just about Hyuna being the Hyuna she’s always been. But make no mistake: this is her most unique and clever music video so far.


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Overall, a good synthesis of “Lip & Hip’s” smart irony is the end, as Hyuna leaves home with torn pants that let you see her underwear, alluding to her previous sexy and daring figures in past releases. But, joke’s on you: she doesn’t appear internationally sexy or desirable, she’s just looking like a normal young girl, with glasses, a backpack, and a bear. After all, panties are just a piece of cloth made to cover a piece of skin, aren’t they?

Well, of course you don’t need to doubt your own sanity if you missed the point of the music video and only saw Hyuna’s body and sexy dancing. There is, indeed, a lot of intentional sexual content in “Lip & Hip,” both in the music video and in the performances she has done so far — but, that’s not all there is to it. And that’s where my complaint lies: Hyuna has always been sexy, but why is that the only concept we’ve seen of her so far? “Babe” and “Lip & Hip” have shown that she can be sexy while also exploring different nuances, and I just wished Cube hadn’t waited so long to show it. After all, Hyuna is more than just pretty lips and hips, but we don’t really see that a lot.

Now that we’ve seen different sides from Hyuna, I believe that there’s enough room for her to keep shining and doing amazing things. 2017 was the year that Hyuna showed that she has what it takes to last in this industry, and she definitely deserves to.

What was your favorite moment of Hyuna this year? 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.

Female K-pop soloists owned 2017

solo women in 2017

Throughout this past year, K-pop as a genre, industry, and community reached taller heights and deeper lows than ever before. From BTS’s astronomical success in the international market to Kim Jonghyun’s tragic and untimely passing, 2017 has been a year of both exciting and depressing extremes for fans everywhere. The erratic up-then-down rhythm of this year has made teasing out the bigger trends a bit more difficult than usual, especially in the world of female K-pop, which has been been plagued by an increasing pace of both disbandments and debuts since the year’s outset. In the effort to parse out this year’s happenings into valuable conclusions, I’ve noticed that 2017 is severely lacking in girl group bops. Girl groups have always been known, above all, to produce exciting songs that captivate public attention. And while there are a few singles that have done just that — Red Velvet’s “Red Flavor” and TWICE’s “Knock Knock,” among others — the numbers pale in comparison to years past, when the charts were stacked with a list of iconic hits from top-tier girl groups.

What has made a significant forward charge in 2017, however, is the collective presence of female soloists, who’ve made huge strides in public popularity and digital sales this year. From Ailee and IU to Heize and Sunmi and many more, solo women have made their voices heard in a way that K-pop hasn’t seen in years. A comparison of 2017’s highlights for female soloists and girl groups indicates an interesting trend in the female K-pop market: the rise of female solos, possibly at the expense of or in the absence of successful girl groups.


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Any discussion of 2017’s Korean music cannot begin without first mentioning Ailee, as her Goblin OST song “I Will Go To You Like the First Snow” is probably this year’s biggest hit, dominating charts and public consciousness throughout January and February. While not the song doesn’t stem from a traditional promotion cycle or album release, it is likely one of the most memorable songs of this year for domestic listeners in Korea, as it encapsulated not only the sentiments of one of the decade’s most popular dramas, but also capitalized on its seasonal appeal during winter months.

Ailee’s success on its own is not an uncommon finding — a female soloist definitely does achieve a major hit every year, especially when it’s an OST ballad for a hit drama. The key to what makes this year different, however, is the fact that this kept happening throughout the narrative of Korean music in 2017. Within January and February alone, former miss A member Suzy’s solo debut also made waves, along with Girls’ Generation’s Seohyun, who herself scored a number-one album. The next major hit to come from a female solo was Taeyeon’s “Fine,” which was released at the end of February but maintained its hold on the charts deep into March.

All of these releases, from January to March, each from major names and achieving anywhere from moderate to explosive success, exist in the backdrop of a number of relevant girl groups’ promotion cycles: AOA, Cosmic Girls, CLC, Red Velvet, TWICE, Gugudan, GFriend, PRISTIN, and Girl’s Day. While a few of these groups (Red Velvet, TWICE, and GFriend, most notably) were definitely successful, some of the bigger-name girl groups on this list (AOA, Girls’ Day, and a highly-anticipated debut from PRISTIN) had little impact relative to concurrently promoting female soloists.

This trend reaches further into the year: in April, Taeyeon repackaged her album, A Pink member Eunji made a successful comeback, and former 2NE1 member Minzy debuted solo. The real force of 2017’s second quarter, however, was IU, whose album Palette and accompanying title track featuring G-Dragon took over the charts from April into May. Other female soloists promoting at this time include Kisum, Davichi’s Lee Haeri, and Baek A-yeon.

While IU, Taeyeon, and Eunji made significant headway as solo acts between April and May, female girl groups Oh My Girl, DIA, and Lovelyz did not see the same success on their releases. The only girl groups who managed to distinguish themselves were EXID, with moderate success “Night Rather Than Day,” TWICE, with chart-topper “Signal,” and SISTAR, with disbandment single “Lonely.”

Girl groups made a significant recovery in the summer, though, with comebacks from the likes of T-ara, 9MUSES, Cosmic Girls, A Pink, MAMAMOO, and BlackPink in June. The latter three made waves with “FIVE,” “Yes I Am,” and “As If It’s Your Last,” respectively, and were followed by Red Velvet’s “Red Flavor” in July, which became the year’s definitive summer hit.

Unlike previous years, during which female solos like Lee Hi or Baek A-yeon sporadically topped charts here and there while girl groups would released hit after hit, female solos went on to dominate digital charts and public popularity throughout the summer. Suran’s single “Wine,” notably produced by BTS member Suga, was an early summer hit, while Kim Chungha’s solo debut “Why Don’t You Know” is considered the most promising of former I.O.I members, remaining within the top 20 of Melon charts throughout the most of the summer.

Female solo Heize then had two equally huge hits, “Don’t Know You” and “You, Clouds, Rain,” which effectively became some of the most popular songs of the year (the latter of which can thank the rainy weather at some points during this year’s Korean summer for seasonal relevance). Hot off the disbandment of Wonder Girls, Sunmi’s return with “Gashina” was a major commercial success in August, alongside summer releases from Lee Hyori, Jessi, Jessica, and HyunA.

After Red Velvet, the only summer comebacks with any impact were those of GFriend, whose most recent comebacks have had much less impact than their earlier 2017 release, and Girls’ Generation. While the latter obviously created commotion with 10th anniversary album Holiday Night, a shortage of album stock and remarkably quick promotion cycle diminished their ability to make as big of a splash as they have in the past. GFriend then repackaged their album and saw even less success, meaning the only female release in September with lasting impact was IU’s remake album A Flower Bookmark 2. Again, solos maintained the wave of success, while girl groups faltered.

As we get to the year’s end, girl groups have recovered some losses in the form of larger-name acts TWICE, EXID, and Red Velvet making comebacks. As we look at the year-in-review, however, the bigger trend still remains — female soloists have grown more forceful this year as figures of popularity and digital success, more than they were in the past.

What was so special about 2017 that made this happen? One factor is the constant disbandments of major girl groups. Astoundingly, the number of disbanding girl groups in 2017 is almost double the number of girl groups with a number-one song on weekly charts, according to Gaon. While five popular girl groups disbanded this year — I.O.I, Wonder Girls, SPICA, SISTAR, and miss A,— only three groups had a number-one song — TWICE, Red Velvet, and SISTAR (who disbanded soon after, anyway). Such a metric does discount the success of singles that weren’t number-one, including popular tracks from GFriend, BLACKPINK, and MAMAMOO, but the comparison is still striking. With the past generation of girl groups now almost entirely unraveled, a power vacuum has opened in the world of female K-pop, quickly being filled by already established female solos IU, Ailee, Heize, and others still at career peaks.

But disbandments do more than just leave room for other acts — they directly expand the female solo market. Fewer group activities for Girls’ Generation (and the current uncertainty surrounding future activity) gives Taeyeon more room for solo work, and will likely expand opportunities for members Yuri and Hyoyeon as well. I.O.I’s disbandment was the precursor to Chungha’s solo debut, as did Wonder Girls’ disbandment prompt Sunmi’s solo return, and the same can be said about the debuts of Suzy, Minzy, Soyou, and other standout female solos of this year. The end of the previous generation’s girl groups have actually fueled the growth of the female solo market at an unprecedented rate. Newer artists now have to compete with names like those of female solos already famous from past groups, with fandoms and public interest built into their name and brand value.


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This opinion may be somewhat controversial, but it seems newer girl groups have failed to capture market share the way older girl groups had. After the first season of Produce 101, the girl group market became remarkably more competitive. Following in the footsteps of successful large girl groups Girls’ Generation, TWICE, and I.O.I, companies sought to create their own large girl groups with members who attained relevance from the show. Post-I.O.I, this trend has manifested itself as eight-member Weki Meki, nine-member DIA, nine-member Gugudan, ten-member PRISTIN, and thirteen-member Cosmic Girls. With a few older girl groups like EXID and Girl’s Day still in the mix, this influx of large girl groups surging into the market alongside already established groups like TWICE, Red Velvet, MAMAMOO, GFriend, and BlackPink has largely diluted the girl group fandom, creating too many rookie groups that should be relevant, but can’t all share the spotlight at the same time.

While Post-I.O.I groups are by no means TWICE copies, they have definitely made attempts to emulate TWICE’s success by employing similarly lighthearted concepts with songs from some of TWICE’s music producers. These groups’ songs, like Gugudan’s “Chococo,” Cosmic Girls’ “Happy,” and Weki Meki’s “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend,” have appealed to fandoms who have supported the girls since their I.O.I days, but failed to captive widespread public interest that girl groups have traditionally thrived off of. While all of these girl groups have popular members, none have emerged with objectively popular music. It is not a surprise, then, that the highest-charting post-I.O.I members are solo artists — Chungha’s “Why Don’t You Know” peaked within the Top 15 of Melon and Gaon charts, while Gugudan member Sejeong’s solo single “Flower Way” has outshined and out-charted all of her group’s collective and subunit releases.

While the past generation saw popular singles from a whole list of girl groups, including Girls’ Generation, 2NE1, Wonder Girls, SISTAR, miss A, 4minute, KARA, Secret, After School, AOA, T-ara, and more, only four or five are able to produce similar results now. The rest of today’s “popular” girl groups are instead producing results like those of past lower-tier girl groups like Dal Shabet and Stellar, who are amazing in their own right, but demonstrate that the girl group market as a whole doesn’t perform as well as it used to.

Is K-pop experiencing a permanent change? Is the traditional girl group model going obsolete? The answer to these questions is entirely uncertain, especially with incoming debuts. LOONA, an upcoming girl group, seems to be following recent trends with a total of 12 members, but their twist on the traditional model is that each of them will have released a solo album before the group’s full debut. Perhaps LOONA is one step ahead, already cognizant of the power of a solo debut despite their ultimate goal of finding success as 12 members. We have yet to see how these pre-debut projects will materialize in LOONA’s presence as a full group, but their solo works have definitely found footing among groups of international fans — a sign of hopefully good things to come.

Among the many ups and downs of 2017, solo women have become more powerful in Korean music than ever before, and the rest of the industry is quickly realizing that. How exactly this affects girl groups going forward will become more clear as time goes on. We can be sure that, in the meantime, female soloists like Taeyeon, Chungha, IU, Heize, Sunmi, and others will bring us more hits to come.

Which female soloist was your favorite this year? 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.

BlackPink & 2NE1: Unexpectedly Different

On Aug. 8, 2016, YG Entertainment’s long-anticipated girl group BlackPink debuted with their first digital single album Square One with title tracks “Whistle” and “Boombayah.” Now a household name in the larger K-pop fandom, BlackPink was the label’s first girl group since 2NE1’s debut in 2009, a fact that immediately warranted comparisons to their predecessors thanks to their similar musicality and four-member lineup. As 2NE1 inched closer towards disbandment in late 2016, Blackjacks saw BlackPink’s debut as a nail to the 2NE1 coffin, and remained especially hesitant to support the new group.

Alongside an introduction post about the new group, I constructed only weeks after their debut an in-depth comparison of the two groups and arrived at the conclusion that the groups were uncomfortably similar. To summarize, both groups had four members , an edgy electropop/hip-hop infused sound, and members that grew up both within and outside of Korea among other similarities. The only small differences were in the ages of the members, visuals of each group, and the lack of an assigned leader in BlackPink.

At the time, this analysis was valuable in forming an informed opinion about BlackPink’s individuality (or lack thereof) as a group. But they have now reached their one-year anniversary, and have three more tracks, variety appearances, and other developmental factors from which a collective group character is beginning to emerge, one that was not very visible only weeks into their debut. Upon reevaluation, BlackPink and 2NE1 seem more different than we originally thought they were.


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Since their summer debut last year, BlackPink has since released three more tracks — the EDM-influenced “Playing with Fire,” campfire bop “Stay,” and bubbly electropop “As If It’s Your Last.” The group has also begun to perform on more music shows than just SBS Inkigayo (YG Entertainment’s relations with other Korean broadcasting stations has been notably cold in recent years), and has appeared on Weekly Idol, Radio Star, and Knowing Bros in addition to various CFs. For comparison, 2NE1’s activity in the same time period includes disbandment in November 2016 and the release of their last song “Goodbye” as three members before entirely parting ways in January of this year.

Despite 2NE1’s disbandment, the question remains: How does BlackPink, now a sustained and trending K-pop artist in their own right, compare to 2NE1 at its peak years ago?

At the time of the group’s debut, “Whistle” and “Boombayah” wielded a powerful impact, but failed to show onlookers that the group was very different or new. With electropop, EDM influence, rap, and some attitude, BlackPink debuted with largely the same sound as that of their YG predecessors (albeit updated to match more current music trends). Had BlackPink continued entirely on those lines, the group’s musical color would be nowhere near as unique as it is now.

But through the promotion of their more recent releases, we have seen greater variety in their discography, performance, and aesthetics. Their next release, “Playing With Fire,” utilized structural changes rarely present in 2NE1’s music and employed noticeable differences in performance and styling.

BlackPink’s member structure initially seemed almost identical to that of 2NE1, but with the release of new singles, differences slowly became more apparent. Within 2NE1, CL both rapped and sang, while Minzy debuted mostly as a rapper and transitioned into singing more over time. At debut, Jennie’s role in the group largely took after CL as a rapper and singer, but her role seems to have at least slightly changed over time — she only sings in “Playing With Fire,” “Stay,” and “As If It’s Your Last.” Main dancer Lisa, unlike her 2NE1 counterpart Minzy, handles mostly rapping in BlackPink’s three latest tracks. These differences may seem minute at first, but they clear up one of my biggest assumptions from a year ago: that each BlackPink member would take after a specific 2NE1 member. While this is still at least somewhat true — Jisoo still largely takes after Dara, and the same can be said of Rosé and Bom — any differentiation here is valued, and it becomes even more important when examining the larger structure of BlackPink’s songs.

Most of Lisa’s lines in “Playing With Fire” are found in the rap section after the first chorus, similar to her part in accompanying A-side track “Stay.” 2NE1’s songs, on the other hand, took on two structures, either a back-and-forth between rapping and singing in verses — “Fire,” “Go Away,” “Falling in Love,” “Gotta Be You,” and more — or consisted entirely of singing — “Ugly,” Lonely,” “I Love You.” BlackPink songs have developed a largely different structure, delegating singing parts to three members who do not (usually) rap, and instead having one member handle one rap section along with occasional singing lines here and there.

This structure segregates rap and singing more aggressively than YG releases have in the past, conforming more closely to other K-pop releases from groups like f(x), SHINee, 9MUSES, and others in which only one rap section is included after either the first or second chorus of the song, handled by a rapper who doesn’t appear much outside of those lines. This structure was almost entirely absent in 2NE1’s music, and demonstrates a large shift away from 2NE1’s sound that, in many ways, did not conform with that of the rest of K-pop. Here, we see BlackPink deviating from YG’s sound on the whole to be more typically mainstream K-pop.

“Stay” is also an interesting departure from the YG sound. By all means, the label excels at releasing reflective and evocative ballad-oriented music, with 2NE1’s “Missing You” and “It Hurts (Slow)” as great examples. But the incorporation of a folk-inspired sing-along chorus in “Stay” differentiates it entirely from any 2NE1 or BIGBANG song. While we have yet to see BlackPink’s somber side develop, the instrumental and melodic construction of “Stay” tells us that the group’s overall sound may be different than that of their YG predecessors.

Beginning with “Playing With Fire,” the performance and styling elements have contributed most significantly to BlackPink’s emerging individual identity. While 2NE1 opted for crazy stage costumes with bright colors, crazy shapes, and outrageous yet trendy hairstyles (see: Dara’s palm tree hair), BlackPink has opted for a style that is more traditionally pretty in the world of K-pop, wearing school outfits and elegant red carpet outfits instead of crazy Jeremy Scott designs (see: CL’s unicorn dress) and bright, feathery jackets and dresses. BlackPink’s style, which is also reflected in their choreography, facial expressions, and other performative nuances, is slightly more delicate and feminine. And despite the fact that many girl groups, including TWICE, GFriend, and Red Velvet sport more feminine fashion, BlackPink largely establishes their own trends, as their dress is high-fashion and chic, often coming from luxury brands. While 2NE1’s outfits were less flattering to facial beauty and body curves, BlackPink shows off regality and poise with their fashion, and precipitates into a more chic and feminine performance as well.

2NE1 & BlackPink: Comparing Fashion & Styling

2NE1 Black Pink
2NE1 Black Pink Teaser
2NE1 Black Pink Playing With Fire
2NE1 Black Pink As If It's Your Last
2NE1 Black Pink Boombayah
Black Pink

Many of these differences are once again visible, if not amplified, in the release of their recent “As if It’s Your Last.” While many fans felt this track was reminiscent of 2NE1, the BlackPink members explained that this song captures the group’s “Pink” side, which differentiates from previous releases that were more “Black.” And the dichotomy is clear — this song has the members smiling, making cutesy expressions on stage, and wearing school uniform-inspired outfits even in the music video.

The major difference here is, while 2NE1 had a cuter side as demonstrated by songs like “Falling in Love” and “Do You Love Me,” none of their music ever fit into a “Black” or “Pink” dichotomy, as their music was usually along a smaller spectrum within what we could consider on the “Black” side. 2NE1 was undoubtedly edgier and more hard-hitting, while BlackPink fuses some of that style with more delicate visuals and musical elements in their discography. This difference, like many of the others, leans again towards current mainstream K-pop genre, as the majority of girl groups at the moment are very, if not entirely, focused on cute concepts and feminine delivery.

Surprisingly, BlackPink’s deviation from the characteristic YG style in favor of the stylings and strategies of other K-pop groups contradicts with what the group has said in response to comparisons with 2NE1. When asked about the similarities, the members say that they “do not purposely try to be different from 2NE1,” and remain focused on maintaining the YG sound. However, as the group continues to diverge from YG’s sound and style, their response becomes less consistent with their performance and music. Rather than maintaining the YG sound, it seems BlackPink is more focused on expanding and diversifying it with contemporary K-pop colors.

Clearly, BlackPink has largely distinguished itself from 2NE1, and for that reason, Blackjacks and older K-pop fans in general may feel more comfortable supporting the group and its members going forward. As BlackPink deviates, however, it does conform more strongly to the K-pop mainstream, and for that reason among others, the group seems to lack some of the impact that 2NE1 had on the larger industry.

2NE1 were known as Korea’s top digital sellers for a while because of the sheer power of their songs — “Fire” and “I Don’t Care” exist among the top-selling songs in South Korea’s history, while almost all of their following singles have charted within the top four of weekly Korean song charts, including a total of eleven number-one singles (excluding their post-disbandment release “Goodbye”). At their peak, 2NE1 had the ability to entirely take over music charts and flatten competition, and much of their music won daesangs (major awards) at end-of-year shows. The group existed among few girl groups to amass a large fandom, allowing them to sell albums in huge quantities in Korea as well. It is for these reasons that 2NE1 was immediately considered the definitive number two next to Girls’ Generation, and the now 10year-old group’s strongest competition at each group’s respective peak.


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While BlackPink has sold considerably well and seen the development of its own fandom, the group has failed to excite the public to the same extent as their predecessors did. Obviously, BlackPink is an incredibly successful girl group, but their only single that has really taken over charts to date is “Whistle,” and some of BlackPink’s singles like “Boombayah” and “Stay” have already charted lower than pretty much any of 2NE1’s singles. BlackPink has failed to clear out competition the same way 2NE1 could, as “As if It’s Your Last” had some difficulty competing with MAMAMOO on the charts upon release. The group has also yet to win many major awards, and has not distinguished themselves as the definitive competitor next to the generation’s top-performing girl group, which is, at this point, TWICE. Instead, that title would likely go to Red Velvet or GFriend at the moment, likely because these groups have promoted more and debuted earlier, and have already captured the public attention.

It seems that, along with confounding factors like the oversaturation of the girl group market (especially with post-I.O.I debuts and comebacks), BlackPink’s blend into the mainstream has hurt its competitive viability. While the group will enjoy success, BlackPink’s music, style, and promotion strategy might need to be reconsidered if YG wants to replicate the explosive responses 2NE1 received.

Contrary to initial (and still popular) belief, BlackPink truly is different from their predecessors 2NE1, but from the standpoint of success and achievement as musicians, that may or may not be a good thing.

How different are Black Pink and 2NE1? 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.

Quick thoughts on K-pop journalism by a K-pop journalist

k-pop journalism kpop korean

International news reporting, whatever the content, is always more difficult than telling a local story. Sources are harder to reach, there are linguistic and cultural barriers, among other complications. But with K-pop there’s another special breed because of the ardent passion that fans throughout the world have for the content.

Hallyu is a fast-paced field, and often the information easily gets misconstrued. There are a lot of great sites out there releasing properly reported info in timely manners, and there are some that don’t do that.

K-pop news has really been all over the place as of late, so I’d like to address some recent issues in a short and sweet rant that uses no names aside from my own (and some outlet names) because I’m not trying to make this a call-out. I just want to point out, from the perspective of someone who has followed K-pop for over a decade and ended up writing about it (more or less by accident, but that’s another story altogether), that K-pop journalism is a bit of a mess right now, both because of creators and the audience the content is aimed at.

Fake News Thrives Amongst the Larger K-pop Fandom

There were erroneous rumors last month that a certain accomplishment by a certain band overseas wasn’t getting local (South Korean) attention. Somehow, it viral that the act was “blacklisted.” That is despite the feat getting coverage by all of the major English-language Korean outlets that cover K-pop (Yonhap, K-Pop Herald, Mwave Enews, etc., aka my daily reading) and there were news segments in Korea about it. Once the band returned to Korea, after staying in the States a few days and holding a concert in Australia, coverage was more thorough now that the act was back in Korea.

Why did that idea go viral? Because it was believable. K-pop has dealt with blacklists in the past quite publicly. But I personally don’t think that was the case, and I think the “blacklist” idea that recently surfaced was quite a good example of how fake news often looks like real news, and typically is just about what you want to believe.

Speaking of fake news, here’s the thing… Many, but definitely not all, English-language K-pop outlets are all about the clicks. Many media outlets FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD are about the clicks nowadays, because views are what’s important in this day and age. Because of this, there are often extremely exaggerated headlines to grab people’s attention. And because of the fast-paced environment, facts will often be played up without ensuring that the source is legitimate.


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My suggestion for all of this? Follow Korean news outlets that publish in English. Read reputable news sites, like Soompi or the Korea Herald, that have translators on staff and source everything from Korean reports. Why? Because you need to be able to know that something isn’t just getting made up, and that whatever you’re reading isn’t an exaggeration.

About Those Headlines…

This isn’t even just about translated material. This is about everything you read. You should know its source so that you can decide what to believe, rather than to jump on the sensationalism train. For example, there is a certain site that has a history of overemphasizing random facts of a larger article for headlines to better grab audience’s eyes…

As a journalist, I’ve had this happen. I’ve literally seen people misrepresent what my articles say. I recently wrote something along the lines of: “A Group was one of the most innovative acts” in K-pop. What they wrote: “X Outlet calls A Group the most innovative K-pop act.” Those are very different. It was small, but enough that I had to click on the site to double check that yes, they were misquoting me. I don’t know it was intentional on the writer’s part, or it merely got lost in the writing process. That’s why you should always go to source material. Not just because a random journo like Tamar Herman wants you to, but because aggregation is like a game of broken telephone. Something undoubtedly gets lost or misconstrued. It happens. I’d like to think that it doesn’t happen on purpose. But sometimes when an outlet sensationalizes something extremely sensitive, like health and legal issues, it ensures that they have lost their sense of journalistic integrity. So do your research. You. Headlines are great. But if you don’t read the article, question the article, and think about the article, you’re likely missing some important information.

This isn’t just about K-pop, but all news material. It sucks, but we’re living in the age where “fake news” is bandied about, and it’s for good reason. So just do some digging, don’t take headlines at their worth, question an article if it’s remotely intriguing, and, if you’re interested in something, click all the links until you can find the source.


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K-pop Content Isn’t Just for Card -Carrying K-Pop Fans

An article on a website dedicated to K-pop won’t think it has to explain the impact of Girls’ Generation on the industry. An article on another type of outlet will have to do so. There has been, wonderfully, an uptick in non-K-pop outlets covering K-pop. There has also, unfortunately, been a sense of entitlement accompanying them.

K-pop articles are, of course, for the fans. But every single article written is to tell the audience something. If the audience of a website isn’t the K-pop fandom, things will need to be made relatable, and the content will need to be tailored for an audience that cares about different things than the average K-pop fan does. It may be the writer’s decision, it could be an editor’s. But K-pop’s audience is growing and it’s wonderful. But it also means that you, long-term-K-pop-fan who knows which year was the best year for K-pop music in the past decade and which was dubbed the “Kpocalypse,” know a lot of K-pop facts while someone else may not. You’re an expert! The random reader is not, so things that you think are so obvious (clearly Girls’ Generation had a major impact on K-pop) isn’t really and a writer will take that into account. Things you may be interested in, like when a band is having a comeback, may be less important to someone trying to figure out why K-pop is making so much money. And that’s totally fine.

So, yeah, I guess just… think a bit first when reading K-pop news content. Before you read anything, really. Overall, just something to think about before sending cute, red-glasses wearing journos death threats on Twitter because I threw in a “Gangnam Style” reference for the uninitiated who don’t know that I have immense inner turmoil anytime anyone calls Psy a “K-pop act.”

What are your thoughts on the matter? 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.

Op-ed: Trump, BTS, & the state of K-pop journalism

Trump BTS

A few minutes before I planned to go to bed last night, I noticed something funny trending on my twitter feed: fans of the K-pop boy band BTS appeared to be getting riled up over a tweet the US presidential candidate Donald Trump allegedly shared in August, where he complimented the boy band and mistakenly called them Chinese.

But it wasn’t the Orientalist racism that sparked the outrage. It was the fact that this tweet had never been tweeted, and one of the most well-known K-pop news outlet wrote an article about it. I searched Twitter, spending a whole three minutes using the site’s Advanced Search function and couldn’t find anything except for a tweet that was clearly photoshopped. Trump, who is extremely outspoken on Twitter, hasn’t deleted any of his past faux pas, so it seems unlikely that he would have deleted (or ever tweeted in the first place, really) anything on his Twitter feed dealing with K-pop or BTS. But this website didn’t take those few moments to determine that and instead ran it as news, which many fans took as fact.

To reiterate the fact: Donald Trump has never, to my knowledge and the best of my research ability, ever tweeted about K-pop or BTS. 

After getting frustrated at the fact that a website that presents itself as a reliable news source didn’t even do the basic minimum fact-checking on what was clearly a click-bait timely news peg, I went to bed. While I slept, the article was later deleted from the site. A quick perusal of the news outlet’s social media revealed that no apology or clarification was issued regarding the original publication. Another website with a less-than-stellar track record at reporting K-pop-related stories also wrote about the tweet, but instead more fully expressed how the tweet was clearly inauthentic.

 


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As KultScene is not a news site and is based around the opinions of several writers who feel the urge to discuss their favorite topic, Hallyu, I typically wouldn’t address anything about the mistakes of other websites. But this morning, a reputable Korean newspaper picked up the article by the US-based K-pop “news” source and published a piece on their website about it. As a well-respected site with a credible reputation, this is extremely unfortunate. Despite fans tweeting to the outlet that the original source was faked, it has yet to be updated or corrected as of 10:00 p.m. EST on Oct. 27.

Clearly, the Korean outlet didn’t check facts itself, which is problematic for its own sake, but the article was written on the word of an allegedly reputable source. Since the modern state of journalism is an aggregate-heavy environment, it is probable that the Korean outlet expected that a reliable K-pop news outlet based in the US would do proper legwork to research claims that may possibly relate to the US election.

Journalism has always been about telling stories based on facts and research. The outlet that wrote the original piece about the alleged tweet has a track record of regurgitating information without doing research or — even worse — releasing information obtained off-the-record. I personally was unsurprised by the website’s article, since it’s clear they hire writers based on speediness and translating skills rather than any journalistic capabilities. When output and hitcount becomes King, basic steps of newsgathering, like fact-checking, will be disregarded.

The sad thing is that just about every US-based K-pop news source struggles from this. Aside from a handful of outlets, most of which have few reporters but rely on Korean news sources or international wires, none are truly able to be dedicated to Hallyu media and maintain a journalistic edge. Outside of Korea, newsgathering is nearly impossible and there just isn’t a large enough audience to support multiple news sites. Instead, websites depend on keeping their numbers up by spending the least amount of resources possible on the most amount of content.

Until K-pop journalism becomes a more viable, economical field, we’ll continue to see misreporting like this.

What do you think about the situation? Share your opinions in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

BlackPink vs. 2NE1: The ultimate analysis

BlackPink 2NE1

Around the time of their debut earlier this month, I wrote a detailed introduction to YG Entertainment’s long-awaited girl group, BlackPink. Now that the group’s history and its members have been properly discussed, the time has come to analyze the group’s structure and sound. While YG made it clear that he originally wanted to create a group like Girls’ Generation from rival SM Entertainment, the label ended up opting for something much more like its own act 2NE1. BlackPink’s formation, in my opinion, is definitely the safer route. Instead of pushing its boundaries to create a larger girl group with bigger visuals and personalities, YG maintains its trademark styles of fusing hip-hop and pop while emphasizing rap and vocals over everything else. Because the songs match YG’s style so closely, the question must be asked (and it is being asked all over the K-pop community) – what differentiates this group from 2NE1? The answer is, well, not that much.

I will, however, dive into the similarities and differences to provide more insight.


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In terms of members, BlackPink mirrors 2NE1 almost exactly. Jennie’s place in the group is almost identical to that of CL because her specialty is rap, but she can sing and dance as well. She gives off the same badass, hardcore vibe that is so notoriously CL. Going off of that, Jisoo mirrors Dara, serving as the visual focus of the group and handling some singing lines. The importance of her role is performance much more than any specific raw talent, which is exactly what Dara contributes to 2NE1. Rosé easily matches Bom, as both are main vocals and handle only singing lines, especially ones that require the most vocal skill and power. The most recognizable connection is between Lisa and Minzy – both are maknaes (youngest members), and are (or were) the most versatile members of their respective groups in terms of talent. Lisa handles rap and dance along with a few singing lines, similar to Minzy’s role in 2NE1 around the time of their debut.

And like 2NE1, BlackPink’s musicality and lyricism is influenced very much by the members’ international backgrounds – both groups have only one member born and raised in Korea (Jisoo in BlackPink, Minzy in 2NE1), another member who lived in Southeast Asia (Lisa in BlackPink, Dara in 2NE1), two members from English-speaking countries (Jennie lived in New Zealand while Rosé lived in Australia, CL and Bom lived in the USA), and some European influence as well (Jennie is originally from the Netherlands, CL spent a few years living in France).

blackpink whistle

And obviously, the biggest similarity is music/concept. 2NE1 (in their original four-member form), could probably sing both “Whistle” and “Boombayah.” Even though 2NE1 may have matured away from this kind of sound in recent releases (and that makes sense, since BlackPink as a group is much younger in age). “Boombayah” is absolutely reminiscent of “Fire,” although not as much in sound, but definitely in concept and line distribution (the more obvious sound comparison can be made with songs like “Fantastic Baby” and “Bang Bang Bang” by BIGBANG). Only time will tell if BlackPink will move to deeper, more evocative concepts like 2NE1 did with “Come Back Home,” or if they stay with more lighthearted yet hard-hitting songs like “Boombayah” and “Whistle.”

The differences between the two debuts aren’t significant or groundbreaking, but still definitely notable. YG definitely put more interest into visuals this time around, trying harder to pick members that match Korean standards of beauty. In the eyes of the Korean public, this probably gives BlackPink a little bit more of the attractive qualities that groups like Girls’ Generation bring to the industry. And while 2NE1 is incredibly beautiful and likeable, the group was a bit more focused on hard-hitting performances even in member structure, so we see YG deviating from that concept a little bit by pushing the visuals.

From the styling to the sound, BlackPink’s two debut songs and accompanying videos seem to be produced meticulously. In this sense, BlackPink is more polished than 2NE1 was at their debut, since YG was still experimenting with girl group visuals and sounds back then. Another notable difference – BlackPink doesn’t have a leader. While CL wielded leadership proudly, BlackPink demonstrates a little more equality among members. This leaves probably the most exciting difference – all of the members are incredibly versatile. While Jisoo is the group’s visual, she has a strong singing voice, allowing her to develop her sound further over the group’s upcoming releases in ways we might not expect. Even Rosé, the main vocal, is a fantastic dancer (well, based on their Dance Practice video that went up on YouTube a little while back), meaning her role can exceed expectations as well.

The verdict – overall, BlackPink is incredibly similar to 2NE1, and it speaks an incredibly loud message about YG’s desire to put out a girl group that could emulate 2NE1’s success, rather than try something drastic and new. Even Yang Hyun Suk himself commented on the similarities, expressing his interest in maintaining the YG style and sound. So BlackPink isn’t exactly breaking any boundaries, but they are carrying the YG name with a feminine touch, something K-pop has been missing since 2NE1 went haywire following a drug scandal back in 2014 (and a little bit before that, as well). For at least that much, I applaud BlackPink.


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The rest of my first impression of BlackPink is, however, much more nuanced. With such striking similarities to 2NE1 in structure and sound, BlackPink is YG’s way of saying that the characteristic “YG sound” is not as important as the artists themselves. Sure, it’s cool that YG as a record label has its own way of distinguishing itself, but it’s unfair to the artists to box them off within the boundaries of what YG does with its sound. Not to mention, it’s incredibly unfair to Blackjacks, who have been waiting for YG to do something about Park Bom’s scandal and give 2NE1 a comeback. The existence of a new girl group is not at all a problem, but the similarities seem to indicate that YG wants this group to carry on the “YG sound” by effectively replacing 2NE1, the girl group that contributed so much to the establishment of the “sound” in the first place. While 2NE1 might be on a downward spiral, debuting what is essentially a more polished version of them is disrespectful to them and their fans.

That being said, I plan on supporting this group, just not as strongly as I’ve supported 2NE1 (if you couldn’t tell by now, I am a Blackjack). BlackPink’s concept is a two-edged sword, as it makes them unique in K-pop right now but not at all within their label. But no matter the negatives, they are here to extend and carry on 2NE1/YG’s original mission of creating a girl group that shamelessly challenges K-pop’s neverending dichotomy of innocent vs. sexy.

Somehow, both 2NE1 and BlackPink simultaneously fall right in the middle of the spectrum and entirely outside of it. Despite the lack of originality in concept, BlackPink is full of talent, beauty, versatility and, most importantly, good music. And for those reasons, I’m rooting for them. I hope they find a way to stand out among YG’s slowly converging discography, because that may be the best, if not only, way to continue to success they’re currently receiving.

How do you feel about BlackPink’s debut and 2NE1’s legacy? 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.

SHY SHY SHY: Why Girls’ Generation-SHY Needs to Happen

TTS SHY Girls' Generation SNSD

Back in 2012, SM Entertainment announced that the Nation’s Girl Group, none other than Girls’ Generation themselves, would be putting out its first subunit group, known as TTS. As we all know, the subunit went on to (arguably) become K-pop’s most successful subunit. Composed of main vocals Taeyeon, Tiffany and Seohyun, this small microcosm of GG has sold over 300,000 albums, 3.5 million downloads, and four top ten singles in South Korea alone. Clearly, TTS is a formidable force in the world of subunits (or even girl groups on the whole — the subunit ranks among the best-selling girl groups even without GG behind them). Ever since their debut, TTS has remained relevant in the K-pop scene as a standalone group.

TTS SNSD Girls' Generation Taeyeon Tiffany Seohyun

But there was one teensy, tiny, little detail of SM’s original 2012 announcement that was particularly notable — TTS was originally planned as a rotational subunit. This meant that different subunits would be created with different members of the group. At first, this excited fans, because they would be able to see their favorite members in various duos and trios as the years progressed. However, while TTS became a staple of SONE culture, these rotated subunits never happened. Instead, TTS received comeback after comeback. And while they’ve released consistently good music, fans have been waiting for SM to live up to its now four year-old promise. Most commonly, it seems the craving for a new GG subunit has manifested in the form of SHY.


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Girls’ Generation-SHY is a hypothetical unit of Girls’ Generation, consisting of members Sooyoung, Hyoyeon, and Yuri. And while TaeTiSeo focused on jazzpop and vocal pop, SooHyoYul would put its energy into hip-hop and dance music. While TTS spent more time on vocals, SHY would display killer choreography. This is only expected from the group’s dance line, which, when on their own, gives off a very different charm than the rest of GG. While they have gone to darker concepts (re: “RunDevilRun,” “Bad Girl,” and more), SHY is edgy and badass, while regular SNSD is loveable and girly. SONES who have been waiting for something darker and more hard-hitting from the group crave a SHY debut for this reason. SM should definitely cash in on this appeal, as it further diversifies the SNSD sound and gives the girls even more versatility and longevity, especially going into their tenth year as a group.

Hyoyeon SNSD Girls' Generation Younique Unit SHY

SHY would also be an incredible and worthwhile fanservice to SONES who have followed the group for years but haven’t gotten to see Hyoyeon, Yuri and Sooyoung really shine on their own. While Yuri has been recently getting more lines (it seems her role as a dancer and visual is colliding with that of a vocal lately), none of the three have really had a chance to shine on stage as all-around performers. Sooyoung, who previously debuted in Japan as part of a duo, has also been underutilized. “Catch Me If You Can” saw the three fan an increased role in Girls’ Generation, but this trend completely reversed with the release of their following albums. “Party” and “Lion Heart” gave them minimal lines as usual, leaving fans to hope that “You Think” would give them a well-deserved share of line distribution. Given the more hardcore, dance-centric vibe that “You Think” seemed to exude from the teasers, many fans thought SHY would finally shine. However, the exact opposite happened — vocals led the entire song and saw Yuri take a few random lines here and there, with Sooyoung and Hyoyeon taking the tiny, anticlimactic rap section before the bridge. Once again, SHY fans were frustrated at their faves’ lack of spotlight. It seems that, after more than a decade of hard work, these girls deserve some attention of their own on stage.

And what better time to debut SHY than right now?! One of the biggest trends of K-pop in 2016 is SM’s hard work — we’ve seen unit and solo promotions across the board from members of Girls’ Generation (both of whom are TTS members, unsurprisingly), f(x), Super Junior, SHINee and more. Many of these releases don’t follow musical trends in Korea, because they instead incorporate more unique and diverse genres into what is becoming one of SM’s most musically eclectic years yet. It seems that SM has gone above and beyond caring about the public popularity of its music, opting for music quality and global potential instead, and using EDM and other similar “more global” genres to match these attributes.


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So considering how EDM literally stands for Electronic Dance Music (emphasis on “Dance”), why isn’t SHY debuting with some badass EDM/rap song? In fact, Hyoyeon already handled such a concept very well in the music video for “MAXSTEP” by Younique Unit, a temporary promotional group SM assembled using its best dancers a few years ago. An EDM/rap-oriented SHY song might not chart too well, but neither did half of SM’s releases this year, and SM doesn’t seem to care about chart positions as it is. So what’s stopping them? If anything, a SHY debut will add to SM’s goals of globalization — Hyoyeon is known for being by far the most famous member of the group in France and has a very sizable fanbase in North America as well. The same goes for Sooyoung, whose charms seem to be recognized in both Japan and the Western Hemisphere. A SHY debut aligns perfectly with every single one of SM’s goals right now, so it seems simply absurd why this long-awaited release hasn’t happened already.

SHY Sooyoung Hyoyeon Yuri SNSD Girls' Generation

The truth is, there are some reasons why SHY isn’t happening just yet. There are rumors of solos from both Seohyun and Yuri. It would make sense for SM to want to finish the TTS trio of solos before moving onto other SNSD-related projects, and once that’s out of the way, a Yuri solo would definitely throw a wrench in SHY debut plans as well (but still cause at least a substantial fraction of the buzz that a SHY debut would create). Not to mention, Hyoyeon is also busy with “Hit the Stage,” an Mnet competition show for some of K-pop’s most famous idol dancers as contestants. However, none of these activities mean, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that SHY can’t happen. It seems that we are closer than ever to something of that sort happening. Maybe we just need to wait a few more months, a year or two, or whatever it takes. But in due time, even SONES will be singing along with TWICE’s Sana, in a future fanchant that is yet to be created, for a future debut that is yet to happen.

Do you think SHY should be debuting anytime soon? 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.

The I.O.I Debacle: K-Pop’s Newest Conundrum

I.O.I DIA Gugudan

2016 has been a year of many changes for K-pop fans everywhere, particularly in the increasing size of groups. 12-member Cosmic Girls (WSJN), 42 quadrillion-member NCT, and most notably in the Korean spotlight, 11-member I.O.I from popular idol survival show “Produce 101,” which aired from January to April of this year.

For those of you who never watched the show, I’ll give you a quick summary [Spoiler alert!]. Mnet, one of the biggest entertainment networks in Korea, assembled a lineup of 101 female trainees from over 45 different companies to create the ultimate idol survival show. The girls were first ranked by skill level into levels A, B, C, D, or F classes. From there and on, the girls were organized into different units and tasked with performing with different songs, all while being subject to public vote.

In the end, the eleven trainees with the highest number of votes would debut as members of a temporary girl group under YMC Entertainment that would disband after one year of promotions. And this group was eventually called I.O.I, with members Somi (JYP), Nayoung (Pledis), Mina (Jellyfish), Sejeong (Jellyfish), Doyeon (Fantagio), Yoojung (Fantagio), Yeonjung (Starship), Chungha (M&H), Sohye (Redline), Chaeyeon (MBK), and Jieqiong (Pledis). Mnet made a few of the results very notable through editing and show structure — specifically, Somi placing first and being awarded the “center” position (as maknae, or youngest member, of the show’s entire 101-girl lineup), Sohye’s rise to fourth despite originally being an F trainee, and Yeonjung just making it by snagging 11th place.

Somi Sohye Yeonjung Produce 101 I.O.I

As a result, I.O.I started with incredible popularity, as all of the group’s members got tons of exposure from the show. Their first mini album “Chrysalis” sold approximately 60,000 copies and counting, demonstrating their fandom power only a month or two into their existence. And they’re not only notable in their number of fans — the group has also snagged many CFs and endorsement deals as well, showing that their popularity permeates the public itself. And while all of this is sweet and dandy, the group has also become incredibly controversial, opening up many ethical/philosophical/“is this even possible?”/“WTF?” K-pop questions for fans to ponder.


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To begin, the group itself is entirely an experiment, because it was crafted exclusively by public vote. And considering how visual-oriented entertainment culture can be, this group has weaknesses when it comes to raw talent. Among the entire 11-member lineup, the only strong vocals are Sejeong and Yeonjung, forcing the group to pursue more rap-friendly, easy-singing songs instead of those that use stronger vocals to captivate the listener. And while all members definitely have their talents and charms as amazing and talented performers (some examples: Somi is a visual-singing-dance triple threat, Yoojung brings incredible stage presence, and Chungha is a truly gifted dancer), the group has essentially become about visuals and “pretty likeable qualities” instead of any sort of musical accomplishment. The question must be asked: is this the best way to form a girl group? Does opening up member selection to vote dilute the talent, and/or place excessive limits on the way the members use (or don’t use) their talents?

With the way I.O.I looks, I would argue that it does. The group’s image boasts talented performers, but doesn’t let them show off raw singing or dancing talent for the members that do possess those abilities. It puts incredible limits on the group’s musical abilities, and, depending on who you are, it can make the performance less exciting to watch. I don’t know about you, but I watched Yeonjung’s high notes in her “Into the New World” performance literally one hundred times before I.O.I’s debut. I was hoping for more of that in I.O.I’s repertoire, but Yeonjung’s high note in “Dream Girls” is much less impactful. With the vocal caliber, song quality, and immense size of the group, that kind of stuff seems to be less of a priority for the producers.

Yeonjung Produce 101 I.O.I

Going off of that, the next larger K-pop question comes to mind — does a group as big as 11 members really work? In the case of groups like Super Junior, EXO, Seventeen, and more, the answer seems to be yes. But for a girl group like I.O.I, it isn’t. This group isn’t an innovative performance-oriented group like Super Junior; they’re not a dance-heavy pop group like EXO; they aren’t a unit-centric, talent-based group like Seventeen. Instead, they’re just a girl group with likeable and talented members that should all get a sizable amount of the spotlight. But instead, each member is left only one or two lines in the entire song, and barely anyone gets to shine at all. While I.O.I might be popularizing a larger group model for girl groups, they’re demonstrating that it doesn’t work well in terms of music and performance.

Music quality is another area where I.O.I suffers incredibly. And this is the fault of none other than their label, YMC Entertainment. The first song they released as a group, “Crush,” wasn’t entirely bad in the eyes of netizens and fans alike. The music video, however, created a lot of noise — why were they all in mismatched outfits, singing and dancing without coordination in a room that resembles the worst of K-pop’s “box music video” era? Obviously, it seems that the “Crush” music video was a quick production for fans to enjoy. But the enjoyment was limited, especially when editing and/or other management problems led to Yeonjung’s criticism for allegedly trying too hard to steal the spotlight from other members. The deletion and re-release of the video, consequently with less Yeonjung, demonstrated that the whole affair was sloppy and unprofessional from the start.

Their actual debut song “Dream Girls” was just as messy and controversial. The song combined many different styles, tempos, and rhythms, and in my honest opinion, not very well. While it is catchy, the song was very sloppy and fragmented, with main vocals getting very few lines, raps coming out of nowhere, and the center member’s mysterious absence from the front-and-center region of the stage during important parts of the song. While the song was very different in sound, the music video showed many similarities to that of Girls’ Generation’s debut song “Into the New World.” While a plagiarism suit never precipitated from the scandal, fans were left very angry. Why couldn’t a better and more unique music video have been made to complement such unique girls? Many fans were also angry about Somi’s position in the song, which, essentially wasn’t center like she was voted to be. While many argue that Somi doesn’t have to be center the whole time (and that is a legitimate argument), she was barely in the center at all. It seems like, in order for her to be the center, Chaeyeon’s “We are the Dream Girls” line at the beginning of the chorus should have gone to Somi, and some other lines could have been switched around to find a place for Chaeyeon. After all, Chaeyeon’s place at the front-and-center of the song’s tagline is essentially what the center position is for. Fan’s argued that Somi was voted to be center, so she should have been there and Chaeyeon should not have. This point actually kills two birds with one stone: demonstration of the group being mismanaged, and further evidence to show that groups probably shouldn’t be decided by vote.

Dream Girls I.O.I

To be completely honest, hearing that the group would be promoting under YMC was very surprising when it was first announced. The label doesn’t exactly have brand value, since their only real sustained claim-to-fame is Ailee. And while Ailee is very successful and incredibly talented, putting the group under YMC was bound to create problems. There have been several reports of mismanagement, whether it be scary managers or arriving late to events, and the label is essentially the only one to blame for these dilemmas. Trusting this slightly unknown label with some of K-pop’s future stars might have been the wrong decision.

Putting all of these scandals and problems aside, the biggest controversies remain. First of all, as far as I know, there has never before been a group of girls signed to one label with each girl simultaneously being signed to a completely different label. The only other remotely similar example of this anomaly is Gain of Brown Eyed Girls, who was signed to Nega Network for group promotions, while signing with LOEN and other labels for solo promotions (this was before the entire group, including Gain’s solo brand, switched over to Mystic Entertainment’s APOP sub label, of course). I.O.I’s label conflict creates a lot of problems, some of which most likely led to I.O.I’s unfortunate inability to perform on any music shows other than “M! Countdown” and “Music Bank (they were even edited out of the SBS Dream Concert 2016 broadcast).”

The dual label problem gets even larger (and even ethically confusing) when members are withdrawn from one group to be part of another. All of this begins with Chaeyeon, Heehyun, and Ng Sze Kai, who were all members of groups during their participation in “Produce 101.” Chaeyeon and Heehyun were members of MBK Entertainment’s DIA, but “temporarily withdrew” in order to participate in the show as trainees, while Ng Sze Kai (more commonly known as Shin) did the same as a member of Hong Kong girl group As One. While Heehyun and Shin didn’t make the I.O.I. lineup, Chaeyeon was voted in to join the group. It was expected by fans and netizens that Chaeyeon would remain “temporarily withdrawn” from DIA until I.O.I’s disbandment next year. It’s become pretty obvious, however, that this isn’t happening. Once “Dream Girls” promotions began to wind down, Chaeyeon was pulled from the lineup of I.O.I’s upcoming subunit lineup to promote with DIA. While she isn’t an actively promoting member of I.O.I at the moment, she’s still a member of both groups at the same time, under completely different labels. It goes even further with Jellyfish girls Sejeong and Mina, who were pulled from the subunit lineup to join their home label’s first girl group Gu9udan. Even Yeonjung was pulled from the lineup to go back to Starship Entertainment. While Starship originally said she was being pulled “to work on skills other than singing,” it’s probable that she’s coming out with her own project sometime soon, considering the label just opened a new Instagram account for a project called “Y Teen” set for release this month.

Sejeong Mina I.O.I Gugudan

The dual group membership concept creates many problems in this setting. To bring back another K-pop example, an instance that resembles the current I.O.I situation is Yeonkyung of MBK Entertainment, who was at one point a member of both The SeeYa and F-ve Dolls. We didn’t get to see many of the consequences of this arrangement, however, because both groups went inactive not too long after that announcement. Besides, both groups were under the same label, so the conflict is much less prevalent and plans can be made in accordance with both groups. Japanese record labels do this all the time — the main dancers of BABYMETAL were actually simultaneously part of another girl group under the same label (although they’ve recently withdrawn from the other group), and AKB48 constantly has concurrent members between itself and its many sister groups. The major difference is that, once again, they are all under the same management.

In Chaeyeon’s case, she finished “Dream Girls” promotions with only a few weeks before diving into DIA promotions, leaving her practically no time to rest. According to recent reports, she is even being considered for a drama, which is just astounding, if you ask me. She debuted only months ago and she is already a member of not one, but two girl groups, on top of acting in a drama?! Too much in too little time — her health must be seriously suffering. The same can be said of Sejeong and Mina, who joined Gu9udan promotions very soon after I.O.I took a break.

And there’s another conflict: neither of these groups’ releases has been successful. DIA’s “On the Road” barely managed to chart in the top fifty, and while Gu9udan’s physical sales are good (the Jellyfish trio from “Produce 101” has a pretty formidable fanbase), their track “Wonderland” keeps on falling only days after release, with negative reactions from many fans and netizens alike. The rushed nature of these releases is most likely in part responsible for their lackluster quality, crammed to coincide exactly with the time during which I.O.I goes into subunit mode.

I.O.I Subunit


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So the questions must be asked: should one girl be in two groups at the same time? Does this become even more concerning when the girl is under two different record labels simultaneously? Not to mention the consequences — I.O.I’s subunit is missing both of its main vocals. While these positions are likely to be filled by Somi and Chungha, neither of these two has the vocal prowess and technical skill possessed by Sejeong and Yeonjung. And what about health? Not only are Chaeyeon, Sejeong, Mina, and Yeonjung being thrown between labels and groups, but the I.O.I members won’t get that much time to rest before subunit promotions begin, as it is.

And there’s also probably the biggest, most frustrating conflict of all for many Korean fans — if they voted and supported their fave through “Produce 101,” isn’t it only fair that their home label not pull them out of the group while they’re still claiming their year-long prize? Is that unfair to the fans who voted for them, or should fans simply remain supportive as their idol moves between groups and promotion cycles? In theory, I personally think there’s nothing wrong with one person being part of two groups. But when the concept is carried out the way it is in this situation, I disapprove, simply because of how music releases, promotion cycles, and most of all, the members themselves are being treated.

The dilemmas are endless; I.O.I truly is a K-pop conundrum. Despite my intense criticism, I am a huge I.O.I fan in all honesty. My critique is not for the group members themselves. It’s instead for whoever thought a publicly voted girl group would reach some sort of perfect “Ideal of Idol” (what the actual I.O.I acronym stands for). It’s for whoever is managing them, whether it be YMC or the home label they’re debuting under. It’s for whoever put these eleven talented, beautiful, and amazing girls in the crossfire of a label jurisdiction war. With only three more releases from I.O.I coming our way, and whether they’re in units or not, my only hope is that some of our many K-pop dilemmas are resolved before their untimely disbandment.

What do you think of I.O.I’s controversies? 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.

How Beenzino Differs To Other Korean Hip Hop Artists

Beenzino, Beenzino North American TourThere are two prominent types of Korean hip hop artists; the one group of artists who are lyrically deep and poetic in their rhymes and the group that’ll immensely try to mimic and imitate American hip hop. Korean hip hop artists are either swagged out from head to toe — rocking snapbacks, sporting various designer brand name clothing, an array of tattoos running down their arms and across their bodies and with the occasional ones that wear their custom made gold grill sets — or chill and solely focusing on producing impactful pieces with meaningful lyrics caring less about the new Air Jordans or whether they’re seen around town driving in an adorned Maybach.

So let’s make this more specific. What are your immediate thoughts when you take a first glance at Beenzino? Is he some hard ass wannabe American rapper? Does he prance around showing off his notoriety? Does he keep his sunglasses on at all times, whether indoors or outdoors? Or is he a delicate flower? Does he shyly look away when he’s being made direct eye contact with? Read more

Here’s Why The Wall Street Journal Is Wrong About K-Drama Fans

You Who Came From The Stars“A study by Seoul National University researchers in 2013 found that loyal fans of Korean soap operas tend to be less educated, and therefore more susceptible to the genre’s unrealistic plot twists, which include old standbys like the car accident-induced bout of amnesia or the twins who are separated at birth,” reads a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article titled “Psy-chology 101: Academics Put Spotlight on Korean Pop Culture” by Jonathan Cheng. It was published on November 1 and covered the academic study of Korean pop culture including, but not limited to, the Hallyu (Korean Wave) phenomenon.

Having studied Hallyu in both American and Korean universities, I expected to not really come away with any particular feeling other than elation about the fact that my field of study was being highlighted in one of the most respected newspapers in the world. So imagine my surprise at being insulted as “less educated” because I am a “loyal fan” of Korean dramas, or what the WSJ calls, “soap operas.”

I’ve been watching them since I was in high school, throughout college and studying abroad, and now as a post-grad. But the Wall Street Journal quotes a study then lets it hang as fact without further discussing it at all throughout the rest of the article, insinuating that I’m uneducated because I’m currently binge watching “She Was Pretty,” a 16-episode show about a childhood friends who don’t recognize one another after they’ve been separated for nearly 20 years.

Siwon "She Was Pretty"

Credit: MBC, gif via irrational obsessions gottcha78 on Tumblr


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I spent a few minutes looking up this study, only to find a Wall Street Journal article from 2013 titled “South Korean Soap Operas: Just Lowbrow Fun?” that first introduced the survey to WSJ audiences. The survey they based their research on was conducted in China and had a small sample size, with only 400 Chinese candidates between the ages of 20-60 answering about their television watching preferences.

However, there are multiple issues with this survey and the Wall Street Journal’s recurring use of the results determined by Seoul National University staff in 2013 to insult K-drama fans. In fact, more than just a few people are upset by being fit into this neat, uneducated box; Chinese K-drama fans took offense with the survey, and protested the results in 2014.

The international use of a survey that utilizes such a limited sample size to represent the millions of Korean-drama fans around the world belittles the wide range of international popularity dramas have. Similarly, the point of the survey was unclear. Were the researchers trying to find out how popular Korean dramas were in China or were they trying to see international viewing trends among Chinese nationals? The difference may seem minimal, but the WSJ does not offer readers any further information about the intention of the survey or the type of questions posed to surveyees that may shape their responses.

Many Chinese students study abroad in the United States because English is important and studying abroad is perceived as something elite and a way up in the business world (Korea is similar). It seems far more likely that highly educated people in China would pick American, English-language television over Korean shows. Of course they would. Why would any educated person have incentive to pick Korean dramas, which are similar to Chinese dramas in all but production value and language, over the American, Hollywood productions? 

Most of China, actually. The Seoul National University’s results don’t seem accurate anymore, since Korean television shows are immensely popular in China today. In 2014, branches of the Chinese government met to question why Korean dramas are so popular following the wide spread success of the Korean drama “My Love From The Stars,” even as Chinese cultural products were lacking local and international appeal. In fact, members of the government considered K-dramas as such a threat to China’s cultural prowess that one called the Korean soap operas “the distillation of traditional Chinese culture.”

Regardless of perceived flaws in the survey itself, when it comes down to it it is highly problematic that the WSJ is continuously implying that Korean dramas are lowbrow based on a (limited) study that featured a handful of highly educated people dismissing Korean dramas in favor of “The Big Bang Theory,” a show about a sexy, uneducated woman who manages relationships with four highly intellectual, socially awkward nerds.

That’s how it works in California, right?

Putting the realm of reality on hold for a moment, “The Big Bang Theory” has just as many intellectual issues as Korean dramas, and maybe even more. Korean dramas are created in the imaginary Disney-esque world of Cinderellas, Prince Charmings, and Evil Stepmothers, where there are usually happy endings for all. In comparison, “The Big Bang Theory” is very much set in a stereotypical version of this world, where the blondes are dumb, the scientists have few social graces, the Jewish character (Wolowitz) is small and often thought of as “disgusting” by the other characters, and the Indian character fits into longstanding views of the effeminate Asian: Raj’s Indian background is not only used for jokes, but he fits into the stereotypical idea of the emasculated Asian male. Raj is always somewhere between straight, gay, and asexual depending on each episode, and never the most powerful person in the room but almost always the subordinate in every situation on “The Big Bang Theory.”


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Perhaps the 400 Chinese nationals who were surveyed missed out on the nuances of American (stereotype promoting) humor, but if they pick racist comedy over unrealistic drama plots, I have to question their emotional intelligence and legitimacy as the yardstick for all fans of internationally popular television shows. (That does not mean that I think anyone who is a fan of “The Big Bang Theory” is racist. The show perpetuates stereotypes, and I am questioning the survey’s validity as an accurate reflection of K-drama viewers around the world).

Sure, Korean dramas are dramatic, silly, pretty ridiculous, and nowhere near the pinnacle of fine arts. But the audience is not innately any dumber than any other fandom. Saying that a person is “less educated” because of their preferred form of entertainment, their preferred form of escape from the banality of everyday life, is a bit absurd and honestly offensive.

Watching K-dramas requires putting your grasp of reality on hold. I don’t believe that the unrealistic situations can occur, but I still laugh, gasp, and cry in a way that I don’t when I watch many other television shows. Why should one preferred form of storytelling make the audience innately less educated than others? It doesn’t, and quoting one, small survey time and time again does not change the fact that K-dramas are watched by people from all walks of life.

Korean dramas are watched in South Korea as prime time television. Yes, they’re soap operas. No, not every person in South Korea is watching them, but they are immensely popular. South Korea has one of the most literate, educated populations in the world with more than 80 percent of adults going on to university, according to The Economist. But you say “loyal fans of Korean soap operas tend to be less educated”?

Outside of South Korea, maybe you can suggest that the audience is less educated, but that’s not remotely true. According to 2013 statistics from DramaFever, one of the most popular sites for international audiences to watch Korean dramas, 53 percent of their audience had college or grad school education in 2013. In 2015, DramaFever reaches around 20 million viewers. Viki, another site where many people watch Korean dramas, goes above just having educated viewers and actually has audience members build the subtitles, including translation and editing, for entirely free.

But, after all, these are the “less educated” fans of Korean dramas.

What do you think about the Wall Street Journal’s use of this survey? How do you feel about Korean dramas? Share your picks 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.