The current, up and coming generation of female Korean rappers is made of versatile and open-minded women with the ability to think outside the box. And while the scenario isn’t exactly ideal for them yet, as standards for female and male rappers are not the same, it hasn’t deterred new names from joining the scene. Amongst those names, ARTLOVER is definitely one we should keep our eyes on.
The 25-year-old, whose real name she would rather not reveal, is the typical multifaceted millennial who gathers inspiration from multiple experiences to create something unique. Formerly a makeup artist who has worked with severe fashion magazines, she is now ready to show her own colours through music.
ARTLOVER’s first single “Want U Back,” released on March 2nd, is a melodic tune with a retro sound that showcases her rapping and singing skills. She worked on the lyrics, composition, and art cover design for the single, which just got a music video as well.
But music, fashion, and design are not the only amount of diversity ARTLOVER has her heart on. Being Korean and based in London, she also divides her time between the two countries.
KultScene talked with her about her first single, her inspirations, and views on being a multi talented artist exposed to two different cultures.
KS: Congratulations on your first release! Please tell us what inspired the lyrics and composition of “Want U Back.” ARTLOVER: Thank You! “Want U Back” is about young love and the pain of losing it. I started out with a few chords on the piano and the rest just followed so I didn’t really plan it out beforehand. It just happened in the spur of the moment.
KS: How was working with Tae-Seop Lee (producer/mixer engineering; has worked with GOT7, Twice, DAY6, etc.)? How much do you usually get involved in the production? A: I started out with Swedish writer/producer Max Billion who has worked with a lot of dance artists such as Mike Perry, Paris Blohm, and Cazzette. When we had a solid foundation we took it to Tae-Seop who then put his touch on it. I trust producers that I work with and I always give my opinion.
KS: Your stage name is quite unique. We’ve read that you designed the art cover for “Want U Back” and that you’ve worked as a makeup artist before. How do you think all these passions and talents come together when it comes to your music? A: I would say that the practical aspect of working as a makeup artist has helped me a lot, especially when it comes to being professional and get things done. The visual aspect has always been very important to me, so it would come as no surprise that I think about this a lot when it comes to my music as well. I creative direct a lot of my videos, etc. I think that music and fashion goes hand in hand and it’s very difficult to separate the visuals and the music. KS: Being Korean but living in London, how do you see the differences between the mainstream music scene of both countries? A: Korean music is wilder for sure, more effects, bigger songs, and more parts. In many ways, it resembles western pop music and follow more or less the same pattern of trends, but with more ‘90s soul and more creative arrangements. People take pop music very seriously in Korea. Just as they approach other aspects of Korean society, K-pop has always been about perfection. KS: It is natural to expect that you will at some point be labelled as a K-pop artist by some people. How do you feel about that? And how do you describe your music and style? A: I don’t really have an issue with being labeled K-pop, as I think it helps me find an audience, especially outside of Korea. I still think that my music really stands out and doesn’t sound like anything else in K-pop at the moment. If my music was purely European or American, it’s far from certain that it would get as much attention.
KS: “Want U Back” sounds heavily inspired by ‘80s synthpop music. What are your biggest influences in music and your favorite artists? A: It makes me very happy you say that, because we used mainly old synths during the recording. Max Billion brought his collection of vintage gear from the ‘70s and ‘80s so we stuck with those. I love Madonna and Cher, but my favorite artist of all time is Michael Jackson. KS: What are your plans for 2018? Can we expect more music from you? A: We are currently working on my debut EP that is due out in June, so that’s very exciting for sure. I’m also looking forward to playing shows.
Check out ARTLOVER’s “Want U Back” music video:
What do you think of ARTLOVER’s debut? 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.
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On Episode 28 of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight is joined by musician and podcaster Rhodri Thomas to discuss Jazz and Kpop. We talk about the influence of jazz on a dozen Kpop songs. We also discuss our K-pop Unmuted picks, The Snowman by Jung Seung Hwan, and Bboom Bboom by Momoland.
Let us know what you think of K-pop in 2017’s latest and KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted 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.
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In the 27th episode of of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight, Joe Palmer, Tamar Herman, and Gabriel Wilder reflect on the best moments and songs out of Korea in 2017, and even give out some of their own unique awards.
Let us know what you think of K-pop in 2017’s latest and KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted 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.
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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).
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.
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.
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Last year, South Korea was overrun by some great new music, and some of that music came with beautifully shot music videos that had the KultScene team enthralled. So here we present our best K-pop music videos of 2017.
“Goodbye” by 2NE1
From the standpoint of my emotional attachment to 2NE1, this video, the group’s last, is still difficult for me to watch. At first glance it is easily the group’s darkest music video, filmed entirely in black and white. Starting with CL arising on a bed of roses and candles, she passes in front of projections of past music videos, concert footage, and photoshoots. Most notable is the inclusion of Minzy in the video clips, not as a passing member but sometimes as the sole focus of the video, despite the fact that she wasn’t included in the song at all and had previously left the group before the group disbanded. The visuals remain equally depressing throughout as Dara sits on a staircase full of candles, and passing shadows of Bom eventually materialize into her appearance in the second chorus.
Every depiction of group activity, from bowing at concerts to smiling for pictures, is a painful and evocative shot for fans watching. It grows even more painful when one tries to interpret the video’s abstract stylings such as Dara’s veil, the shiny curtains, etc. as having some sort of deep meaning about the group’s disbandment or future.
The most striking moment of the video, however, is the last second, when the three of them lay together on a bed, Bom and Dara cuddled around leader CL in the group’s final shot together. As a Blackjack, I’m thankful that, despite all the scandals and confusion leading up to disbandment, at least 2NE1 dropped a high-quality, gut-wrenching final video for fans to reflect on before the members went their separate ways.
“Hands Up” by B.A.P
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “hands up”? For some, it could mean to have fun, like when the DJ at the club or event tells everyone to put their hands up. For others, this phrase can make them tremble in fear, like being held up. Fortunately, unlike the negative perception that surrounds this phrase, B.A.P’s recent comeback with title track “Hands Up” off of their 8th single album Ego, is about shooting for the stars and living out that dream you’ve been dreaming about. The music video starts off with the camera pointed at the blue skies up above, panning down at member Himchan as he raises his hand. To have him be the face we all see at the beginning of the music video, with hand raised, actually makes a lot of sense considering the fact that he’s usually the first member at a B.A.P concert to tell the audience to put their hands up.
To help correlate the lyrics “Ayo, believe in yourself this moment, put your hands up to the sky toward your dream, hands up” it’s no wonder a lot of the choreography had various hands up movements for each verse. There’s a sense of empowerment everytime they lifted their hands up pointing towards the sky, to never back down and to strive towards whatever it is you want to achieve in life. B.A.P usually doesn’t have this many dancers in their music videos but it was a pleasant change, especially since it gave the video a “this is my squad and we’re going to live it up” type of arua. Aside from the 8 second (and very unnecessary) intro that TS Entertainment always puts at the beginning of every B.A.P music video, “Hands Up” is a reminder to everyone, no matter how old, to break free of whatever stigma that might be holding you back and to fight for your freedom. Let this be the new anthem to inspire.
“Power” by EXO
While the song itself might leave something to be desired, the music video is anything but. Replete with self-deprecating humor and Easter eggs, it is a fresh tongue-in-cheek change of pace from the usual deadpan concepts we are used to seeing from EXO. The melodramatic opening is a jab at the phalanges-curling “Mama” introduction, which then flips to a scene of elves on a far-out planet, a beckon to a segment the boys have done before at their EXO’rdium concerts. The narrator leafs through more pages of the comic book of a video, skipping past references to their parallel universe teaser and “Love Me Right” era, until we arrive at the appropriate page, a strip that has the members wrestling against a robot with one of Dr. Octopus’s mechanical appendages. The rest is straight out of a sci-fi action film, with every cut as busy and entertaining as the last. Nothing must have came cheap. The modish 3D animations vibe well with the 2D Cartoon Network-esque artwork, while the random transitions amidst all this to toys, falling orbs, kittens, and Power Ranger sequences are imaginative and kitschy. The editing and production value is by far one of the best K-pop’s ever seen. It’s really nice to know that at least all that EXO money is being put to a good use.
And then there’s the ending. Following the members’ show of superpowers (yes, one final nod to the pre-debut EXO lore we all hate to love), the convivial tone takes an abrupt turn for the dark and mysterious. Baekhyun falls out of the sky and into a body of water, looking suffocated and dazed. It seem like it could be a preview to something for “Sweet Lies” off of the same THE WAR: The Power of Music album, but until this cliffhanger is explained, the music video does not really have any closure. In the meantime, we can only settle on the fan theories.
“Lip & Hip” by HyunA
HyunA isn’t afraid to be herself and come out with a funny concept while remaining true to her aesthetics that she’s been showing us in her solo career. The music video for “Lip & Hip” is full of sexual innuendos and double meanings that had some viewers laughing out loud and other ones gasping and thinking to themselves, “Is this video going to get banned in Korean TV?”. HyunA owns her sensuality in a very sexy and smart way on this music video. Even if she flashes her cleavage or her derriere it doesn’t seem vulgar. “Lip & Hip” is one of those videos that if you pause it you can literally find really cool references and little well thought details that were created by amazing art direction. One really good example of this is when HyunA is sitting in the toilet, if you pause it and take a look around you’ll see how with every little detail they are defying what society thinks of femininity and how a woman should look. Once again HyunA slays us with one her funniest music videos and gives us a little to think about without really putting it on our face. Yes that was pun intended.
“Limitless” (Rough ver.) by NCT 127
As K-pop seemed to take a break from story driven music videos this year, it was a great time for groups to have some fun with the more cliched video styles. Nobody did this better than NCT 127 with the rough version of “Limitless.” It’s a grand song about connecting across the entire world, becoming a limitless version of yourself. Instead of supplementing this idea, the music video completely undermines it. It’s contained in one derelict setting, the members wear tracksuits and other odd clothes as they mess about with basically no point to anything. They start lip syncing in a shot and then stop to chew gum, they pose like gorillas, and stare blankly at the camera. Adding to that, it’s partially shot with an actual low quality camera and seemingly edited by a child who just learned how to use a computer. That’s not to say it’s all a big mess though. It is in fact so deliberate to border on genius. It feels like they’re making fun of the grandiose and silly videos of the other boy groups of the day namely BTS, Infinite, and EXO. As if they had to make an epic video with no budget and somehow ended up with the best postmodern K-pop video in history.
The song on its own would have been emotional enough, but this beautiful music video greatly enhanced it. Sungjin truly impressed with his acting in this video, especially since he could only do it with his expressions. He was shocked at first when he saw his ex listening to him perform, then showed through his expression that he was accepting how she had moved on and was with another guy, and finally a painful smile to show that he was happy for her. He embodied the song perfectly. I loved the way the music video built up to a climax along with the song, where at the final chorus the female lead smiles for the first time in the whole video, and the video brightens up along with the instrumentals. It was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time, which was perfect for this bittersweet song.
“Lonely” by SISTAR
Sometimes it’s not so much about the music video itself, it’s about the context that provides meaning to it. The disbandment of SISTAR caught everyone off guard, since they definitely weren’t lacking vitality to survive between the newer acts. “Lonely” was their goodbye, and the music video for this mellow pop ballad was a touching metaphor of their trajectory not only as SISTAR, the successful group, but as Hyolyn, Soyou, Bora and Dasom, the human beings. Even in spite of SISTAR being one of the biggest chart-topping girl groups in K-pop, what was emphasized in the visuals for “Lonely” was the ladies’ success in staying friends and being there for each other. After all, just like becoming relevant in a competitive scene is an impressive achievement, keeping good friendships for so many years in this environment is not easy either.
With a trip to Macau as a background, the music video shows a series of cute moments of the four ladies having fun together, but also being introspective and sometimes reflecting on their own. There were punctual little moments that allude to significant aspects of their history, like a scene of Hyolyn and Soyou taking a picture together, with Bora and Dasom in the background trying to make an appearance (a probable metaphor for the fact that Hyolyn and Soyou, the outstanding vocalists, received more praise than the other ladies). But what’s sweeter about those moments is that they were always followed by others when the group is complete and happy. Even when Bora is swimming alone in a pool, she afterwards found out that the other girls are behind her, watching her all the time. Even when Hyolyn, Soyou and Bora are driving and Dasom is left behind (a probable metaphor for the fact that Dasom was the least popular member), Dasom doesn’t seem rejected; she is laughing and having fun with it; and later we see them all together again. It’s for little things like this that “Lonely” is the type of music video that can make you smile and cry at the same time.
If you were a fan of SISTAR, it will bring you beautiful memories and warm your heart with all those details of the group’s dynamic. If you weren’t a fan, it will certainly touch you too, as you will be reminded that everything comes to an end, and when it happens, what’s worth remembering is the impressions you left on those you love, and vice-versa. And, for both, it’s safe to say “Lonely” is always going to be remembered as one of the most significant disbandment music videos ever.
“Dream In A Dream” by Ten
While most K-pop songs are created with a music video as an afterthought, the relationship between Ten‘s “Dream In a Dream” and the video is different: the song serves as a dedicated soundtrack to the glorious performance-focused video. There’s something innately magical about the brightly-hued aesthetics of this music video, with a vibrant, ambient colorscape that emulates an animated dreamstate. Blending traditional and modern choreography styles together, the video focuses on Ten’s expressive physicality, highlighting his delivery of the dance moves and his facial expressions. There are three different dance scenes primarily featured throughout the video: one featuring Ten in all white surrounded by backup dancers, a second where he is performing a highly-stylized courtship dance, and a third where he is on his own, as if the other two segments are part of his solo dreams. There’s surely some deeper meaning in “Dream In A Dream” than is obvious to my unartistic eye, but even at its most basic understanding it is a magnificent piece of K-pop visual artwork that is worthy of praise.
“Peek-A-Boo” by Red Velvet
In a time when the cool girl concept for K-pop girl groups is nothing but a memory, Red Velvet pulled through with their last comeback of the year and cemented their position as that b*tch. “Peek-A-Boo” is a cutesy, boppy song, but the music video told a grimmer story. Decked out in amazing outfits, the girls lured a pizza delivery boy into their house with their charms and looks and pretty much killed him for sport — and implied they had been doing it to more than a few. Music video plots are rare in K-pop, especially with SM Entertainment, making “Peek-A-Boo” stand out even more so. The girls all looked sickening and completely owned the roles they were playing. Red Velvet has proven they’re not above a bit of wickedness in their music videos (I mean they did all try to kill each other on “Russian Roulette”). With “Peek-A-Boo” though, they’re taking the infantilized imagery that both audiences and, initially, their company projected onto them and pretty much destroying them. Whether the group pursues less cute concepts moving forward is still up in the air, we’ll always have Yeri hunting down the boy with an bow gun.
“L O O K” by DIA BCHCS
Like NCT, DIA BCHCS (a sub-unit of DIA containing Yebin, Chaeyeon, Huihyun, Somyi, and Eunice) took a classic music video formula and made it weird. “L O O K” is half Friends-inspired sitcom half 80s music video. Directing team OGG Visual uses tropes from both, and adds modern takes to each, adding vapour wave and a Twitter style confessional shot, to tell the meta story of how all the members hate Chaeyeon because she’s beautiful and popular. In a cruel turn however, Chaeyeon is still the main character and she plays it with relish. Her blank angelic face is a wonderful palette for all kinds of expressions. The best of which comes at the beginning as she smiles alongside the first synth wail. It’s a catalogue of great Chaeyeon expressions. Newest member Somyi is the other standout as she hams it up at every chance. Her face at the opening couch shot is the best mix of awkwardness and cuteness I’ve ever seen. Her excessive blinking is just right.
“Move” by Taemin
One of the best songs of 2017 wouldn’t deserve less than one of the best music videos as well. The photography of “Move” is beautiful, the urban scenarios are amazing; everything is incredibly well designed to lay emphasis on the alluring presence of Taemin as he seduces us with a mature, sophisticated, brave, sexy performance that defies gender stereotypes. The main vehicle for it is the choreography, beautifully and intelligently created to draw attention to Taemin’s thin body line, that elegantly moves as if it’s guided by a strong yet subtle energy that does not present any signs of commitment to neither a masculine or feminine concept. Taemin and choreographer Koharu Sugawara have said that it really was their intention to make something mysterious and appealing by blending both masculine or feminine movements, and dear Lord, they made it.
It’s impossible to blink when Taemin moves his hips in the chorus; it’s so slow but so intense. It takes a lot of confidence to use body language with so much control; and his firm, mesmerizing gaze during the whole time in “Move” shows that he knows what he’s doing, he’s absolutely aware of his sex appeal and of the amount of energy that is being carefully discharged through the alternation of languid and powerful moves. Let’s make it clear, though, that when we say he’s in control, it’s not because there is something to be manipulated or hidden; instead, it seems that Taemin is exploring all the possibilities of himself, completely unafraid of being labelled in regards to his sexuality or gender. And again, we say: you have to be really, really confident to do such thing.
“Lilili Yabbay (The 13th Month’s Dance)” by Seventeen (Performance Unit)
For any true New Yorker, there’s no mistaking the first few seconds of audio at the start of “Lilili Yabbay (The 13th Month’s Dance).” From the chattering to the honking horns to the squealing of the traffic, this is is New York City at its finest. (Or not, depending on how you feel about Brooklyn.) And laying there, on a gross, disgusting, New York City sidewalk that nobody should ever lay down on, are the four members of Seventeen‘s performance team in white outfits straight out of a contemporary dance class. But, New Yorker-bias aside, this music video in its aqua-filtered hues is one of the most glorious dance performance videos that K-pop’s ever seen. The videography follows the fluid motions of the dancers, zooming in and out in rocky motions to emphasize each key point of the dance as the quartet moves in ways that make the viewer question both the abilities of the human body and the limitations of gravity. It’s sensual and passionate while all at once overflowing on screen with a sense of classical grace; crotchgrabs and grinding are countered by smooth motions, as the four move as one and as individual entities. Seventeen’s choreography is always impressive, but it is hard not to be awestruck by the presentation of “Lilili Yabbay.”
“All Night (Clean Ver.)” by Girls’ Generation
“All Night” captures Girls’ Generation at their 10th anniversary prime, enjoying a girls’ night out together as girls who have been friends for longer than ten years would do. From the video’s first shot, the girls’ sequined outfits and the hazy, colored disco lights set the song in a retro dance-party, matched by the song’s retro-influenced instrumentals. Like any great GG MV, the video flashes between shots of choreography (which, for this song, is surprisingly unique and complex). But unlike “The Boys” or “Lion Heart,” the camera at times takes the role of another guest at the party, quickly panning around the setting as a tipsy party goer might. This effect is even utilized in the dance shots, focusing only on one or two members at a time and making full group shots elusive throughout the four-minute video.
This video is one of 2017’s standouts for the simple reason it shows the Nation’s Girl Group do what it does best — dance, sing, laugh, and wear beautiful, shiny outfits. With unique choreography and styling, “All Night” is simultaneously the quintessential Girls’ Generation video and an innovation on their previous work. But most importantly, it makes me want to meet up with them for a night on the town.
“Teenager” showcases GOT7’s youth and playful side with laid back choreography as they dance with relaxed smiles on their faces. The simplicity of the set and mellow choreography made it all the more fun to watch. There’s no noisy background or flashy props to take away from the members just having some good ole fun, to which you can see they truly enjoyed themselves. When member Youngjae sang this line “I don’t know why I’m like this when I’m with you. I’m so excited, everything seems fresh to me,” with that big ole grin and joy oozing out of his eyes, you could tell that he (and the other members) could relate to those words. Whether the feelings came from previous dating experiences or even with a family member or friend who truly makes you feel like you’re on the top of the world. Just like anyone else out there, idol or not, one of the best feelings you could ever ask for and receive is pure bliss, and that’s what “Teenager” showed.
GOT7’s ability to go from back and mid air flips “Girls Girls Girls” to an intense choreo full of angst and emotion “If You Do” to something so chill as “Teenager” shows their versatility and development through the last four years. Of course it wouldn’t be a GOT7 video if there wasn’t any dabbing involved, although minor usage compared to their live performances but I’ll let this one slide though, considering the rest of the music video was delightful and charming.
“Spring Day” by BTS
I was first enthralled by BTS’s live performance of this song, but the music video ended up leaving such a strong impression on me. It wasn’t just aesthetically pleasing, it was beautifully shot and well thought out, with some subtle (and others not so subtle) references made to movies and books, like Snowpiercer and Omelas, which added layers to the video. These gave rise to a lot of fan theories about the meaning behind the music video, which were interesting to consider and made the viewing experience more enjoyable to watch (or examine). There were many scenes that resonated with me in particular, such as Jungkook joining the crowd running around him (3:23) or Jimin holding a pair of shoes in front of a tree (5:08). These scenes spoke to me about conforming to society, about being left alone, about loss. And whether or not this video was meant to be this symbolic or not doesn’t matter because of the emotions it evokes, accompanied by this very meaningful song.
“Will You Go Out With Me” by DIA
The best kinds of music videos do not need high production, big budgets, or fancy effects, and “Will You Go Out With Me” by DIA proves exactly that. Taken from the streets of Tokyo, it follows Chaeyeon — the group’s natural main character succeeding her appearance on Produce 101 and participation in the now disbanded I.O.I — as she roams the city and coyly messages “oppa.” Fortunately, the rather trite plot views less like an accompaniment to a song than it does a tourism campaign for the busy capital, which plays into a strength considering how the romantic, scenic backdrops of nighttime metropolis can translate to love in a strange city. The deliberate shots of ramen, cherry blossoms, railroad crossings, and claw games are all definitely attempts at capturing Japanese culture for their exotic value, but since they are also done so in a way that makes them picturesque, this furthers giving the music video depth while giving the country its free promo. The dreamy purplish filter might have something to do with this, and so might the gloomy aesthetics of the world still wet after a refreshing rainfall. It’s altogether the kind of moody and wistful that will have viewers longing for a place they have never been to on the basis of how the colors interact or on the potential of an intertextual reading alone.
“Dinosaur” by AKMU
Starting with their teasers that were full of mystery and reminded us of posters from Netflix series “Stranger Things,” AKMU let everyone know their inspiration for their music video. When the MV for “Dinosaur” was released we were able to confirm their inspirations but we also got to see other references from cult movies like Spirited Away and vintage mythical legends like the Loch Ness monster. The track itself already made us feel like we were listening to a score from a movie, but accompanied with the music video everything fitted perfectly. The MV is a little short film that depicts a dream that Chan Hyuk said he had and when onto create this track and music video. But if you instigate closer and knowing AKMU’s brothers past family financial difficulties, the meaning of the video turns a lot darker, with many fan theories out there about what the “Dinosaur” music video really means. The video is accompanied by a beautiful cinematography, a beautiful color correction, CGI creatures, and amazing drone shots that follow the brothers in their cute little story that created one of AKMU’s most memorable videos to date.
“Don’t Know You” by Heize
Part of Heize’s allure is her overall aesthetic. From her music, to her fashion, she just screams dope girl. And now, her music videos are following suit, namely “Don’t Know You.” The concept centered around 14 ways to, mind the misspelling, “loose your teddy bear,” which is really just how to get back at your former flame. The ex-boyfriend in question is a huge teddy bear, which Heize beats, throws tennis balls at, kidnaps, shoots, and pretty much anything abusive you can think about. Though the actual execution of the plot is a bit wonky, it doesn’t take away from the fashion, the photography, and the originality. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it turns out this jerk teddy bear is played by SHINee’s Onew. Heize is an up and coming artist, and with songs and music videos as amazing as “Don’t Know You,” we can bet she’ll be a household name in no time.
What was your K-pop music video of 2017? Let us know what you think of this list 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.
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In the 26th episode of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight, Joe Palmer, Tamar Herman, and Gabriel Wilder reflect on the best moments and songs out of Korea in 2017, handing out the awards that they personally deem fit and conversing about some of the hottest topics in K-pop over the 12-month span. This is Part 1 of two year-end episodes.
Let us know what you think of K-pop in 2017’s latest and KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted 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.
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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.
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, 9M– USES, 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.
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.
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.
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”).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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In the 25th episode of of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight, Tamar Herman, and Alexis Hodoyan discuss the history of Super Junior, the group’s recent comeback with Play and ”Black Suit,” and some of our favorite songs from the Kings of Hallyu.
Let us know what you think of Super Junior’s latest and KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted 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.
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As the final bars of LOONA ⅓’s “Sonatine” slowly faded out, the digital effects opened a new door for LOONA. On the other side of it are Kim Lip, Jinsoul, and Choerry. As a trio they are ODD EYE CIRCLE, a name that necessitates capital letters thanks to the moon-evoking imagery of the word “odd.” These three represent the next chapter of the LOONA story.
Writing the previous entry to this series on LOONA was a much easier task than this addition. With the added benefit of hindsight, I knew what had come after the first five girls of LOONA so could more easily chart their progression and what that meant in contrast to the three girls who would become ODD EYE CIRCLE. When the three of them did finally come together though, there was a whole new clarity to the ideas behind LOONA. Whereas the first five girls’ were moving towards a group identity as a whole, ODD EYE CIRCLE traces individuals.
The musical timeline of this trio’s solo singles are sort of backwards. You could probably look at them in forwards or backwards chronological order but for me going from Choerry to Kim Lip makes the most narrative sense. Choerry’s solo single, “Love Cherry Motion” acts as a bridge between ODD EYE CIRCLE and the previous girls. She moves away from the physical sound to something a bit more modern but with such a classic pop sound that it isn’t immediately obvious. The bubbly synths are helped by drum samples and wonderful slap bass straight from Girls’ Generation’s “Party.” Of course, it becomes quickly obvious that LOONA are moving in a new direction when the post-chorus breaks hits. The first break comes with no notice and overflows with heavy bassy electro. It’s the darkest moment of LOONA’s entire discography without going too deep into seriousness.
By itself the sudden genre change isn’t exactly a shock in K-pop anymore. As the song progresses, the break changes though. Middle Eastern sounding synths are added to the second chorus, galvanizing the second half of the song into a major change. From that break it turns into a bridge in a similar style, but not quite as heavy as before. The song slowly adds the brighter elements of the beginning before finally transitioning back into the original sound. As the bridge between both groups of girls, Choerry simultaneously shows both styles in contrast and in unison. Moving from an abrupt transition to a smooth one, she starts to bring the pop and EDM sounds together in search of a synthesis.
The lyrics mirror this as they tell the story of a girl falling in love. Similar to the previous girls she’s shy and naive, “Though I don’t know from A to Z, what love really is, The tips of my ears are tingling.” LOONA 1/3 were almost fearful of the mystery of possible love but Choerry is excited, similar to Yeojin, not a surprise given she’s the second youngest. She’s the continuation of the maknae’s (youngest’s) story; the sustained excitement about the future of LOONA lies with the youngest girls. She starts off nervous but right at end sings that “Our special days start today.”
Jinsoul preceded chronologically Choerry with her tumultuous future bass track “Singing in the Rain,” but her song propels ODD EYE CIRCLE’s mythos. Completely shedding any memory of the first five girls, she moves into an edgy digital space. The sawtooth synths and explosive percussion of her song have a dangerous unpredictability to them. Jinsoul is experimenting in the grey area between Choerry and Kim Lip. She’s the first to rap and does so with relish, adding ad libs to pre-choruses. That pre-chorus changes for the second chorus as well. “Singing in the Rain” is what happens when a group is trying to figure itself out. It’s not as experimental as “Love Cherry Motion” but it’s still not a completely polished product.
Jinsoul is much more direct as well, “For the sin of swallowing, up the afternoon sun, I’m right here, so hot,” she coos in the chorus. It’s a forwardness unknown to the other girls. She’s a girl in love, not waiting for someone but taking the lead to the point where she sings loudly about it in the rain.
The actual first girl of ODD EYE CIRCLE to debut was Kim Lip. It was quite a jump from the emotional orchestra of LOONA ⅓’s “Sonatine” to the sci-fi R&B of “Eclipse.” Compared to “Love Cherry Motion” and “Singing in the Rain,” “Eclipse” is stunningly simple. Kim Lip rides the beat with ease, her voice restrained but with a deceptive range. It has none of the eccentricities of Choerry and Jinsoul’s tracks, but feels at home beside them. As soon as she opened the song with “This is our fantasy,” it was obvious a new era had begun. Kim Lip represented a clean break for LOONA, one of sensuality and maturity.
Despite progressing LOONA’s sound, the three girls didn’t have too much in common apart from a sense of modernity. So instead of coming up with a single style that compliments them all, ODD EYE CIRCLE mashed all three separate sounds together. Their debut single, “Girl Front” has the propulsive percussion and sawtooth synths of “Singing in the Rain,” the pop sheen and slap bass of “Love Cherry Motion,” and the vocal details and oh-so-smooth bridge of “Eclipse.” Thanks to its sheer peppiness and strong chorus, “Girl Front” doesn’t buckle under the pressure of those three tracks but instead the hyperkinetic vocals carry it to a euphoric climax.
“Girl Front” is miraculous not just for putting these songs together but for incorporating them so wholly. It works to highlight the trio as individuals before bringing them all into one. Each girl sings a line from her solo track and has a part of her choreography at the beginning of the the collaborative song, making it clear that their identities are not totally defined by the group that is LOONA or even ODD EYE CIRCLE. This entire project is clearly not just an extremely long teaser for a 12 member girl group but promotion for soloists and all manner of units.
As the centrepiece of ODD EYE CIRCLE, it is also the exact opposite to what the LOONA 1/3 did lyrically. It’s a song about the girl confessing first. ODD EYE CIRCLE are similar to the other girls in that the waiting is making them anxious but for completely different reasons. They are not concerned with big questions of what love might be for them, they just want to fall in love.
Naturally LOONA are attracted to moon symbols, so finishing off the ODD EYE CIRCLE era with something cyclical made perfect sense. The final single “Sweet Crazy Love” is positioned by its video as the prequel to ODD EYE CIRCLE. The music as well puts it closer to the first five girls than anything else ODD EYE CIRCLE did by incorporating some string work. The strings open the song but are immediately obvious as not real but rather digital violins and are soon joined by an electric drum beat. Its moody R&B atmosphere is closest to “Eclipse” in sound but doesn’t have the definite stamps of each girl. There are short references in the lyrics but no direct lifts like in “Girl Front.” “Sweet Crazy Love” is caught right between the first two eras, melding ideas and sounds from both while obviously steering closer to ODD EYE CIRCLE.
It brought this LOONA cycle to a definite close but left no hints for what is to come next. ODD EYE CIRCLE took LOONA into modernity with not just their sound but with their attitudes towards love. There are plenty of genres left for them to explore, but not as many broad themes for the last four girls to live in. Regardless of how they sound, the sense of finality is going to be a major idea. They are likely to cycle back around to the very beginning, creating an ultimate group in which the individuals are all connected but more than capable of standing on their own. Which means that the last four girls are the most important. Everything has been great and extremely well planned but it will be for nothing without an ending. Or, in this case, a whole new beginning.
What’s do you think of the ODD EYE CIRCLE era? What do you think is next for LOONA? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.
https://i2.wp.com/kultscene.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Untitled-design.png?fit=1024%2C7687681024Joe Palmerhttp://kultscene.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/KULTSCENE-LOGO-2018-TRANSPARENT-RED.pngJoe Palmer2017-11-14 08:09:592017-11-14 08:09:59The story of LOONA: ODD EYE CIRCLE