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.


Also on KultScene: KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted: May Recap

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.


Also on KultScene: Goodbye, SISTAR: our thoughts & memories

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.

KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted: May Recap

kultscene k-pop unmuted ep 2 episode podcast may 2017 releases
KultScene is happy to announce that, in celebration of our third anniversary, we are beginning a collaboration with K-Pop Unmuted, a podcast dedicated to delving deep into K-pop.

In the 18th episode of K-Pop Unmuted, Stephen and Joe discussed releases in May 2017 from Solbi, Kim Lip, TWICE, B1A4, Triple H, and April.

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.

Let us know what your favorite songs of May were 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.

Aeon Dream Studios talks ‘To The Edge of the Sky,’ BTS, & dreams [interview]

It’s only been about a month since their visual novel demo To The Edge of the Sky was released, but Aeon Dream Studios has already achieved great success with a 4.9/5 user rating on Google Play and over a hundred thousand installs. With beautiful graphics and an intriguing storyline set in 2077 featuring BTS members as characters in an enigmatic government organisation, the demo has definitely whetted the appetites of fans who cannot wait for more. We spoke to the game’s creators at Aeon Dream Studios about their new game as well as their future plans and dreams.

Kultscene: Thank you for taking the time to talk to Kultscene. To begin with, could you all introduce yourselves and your roles in the company?
Ajané Celestin: Hello! I’m Ajané Celestin. I’m the CEO, Creative Director, and I also write and act as the Editor.
Chieu Nguyen: I’m Chieu Nguyen. I’m the Art Director and Lead Artist responsible for most of the visuals in our games, mainly character art and user interface.
Eglė Dilytė: I’m Eglė Dilytė. I’m the Lead Creative Writer, main scriptwriter, and I also work as our Social Media Coordinator.

How and why did you decide to found this company?
AC: Chieu, Egle and I met up on Tumblr as fans of visual novel games. We became friendly with each other and since Egle and I were writers and Chieu was an artist, I asked them if they wanted to make a game. We decided to see what would happen and go as far as we could go. We didn’t imagine things would get this far, but we’re very happy it has.


Also on Kultscene: The Sonic Identity of K-pop girl groups: Implied Meanings and What The Future Holds 

What first inspired you to create To the Edge of the Sky, and more specifically, to model your main characters after the BTS members?
AC: We’re fans of BTS’ music and their concepts and aesthetics constantly inspired us last year. As creators, we began to see more ways we could flesh out some of their story concepts in a visual novel game format and also thought that ARMYs would probably be interested in such a game.

Characters of the game modeled after BTS members (image via To the Edge of the Sky)

What were the challenges you faced in your creation of To the Edge of the Sky?
CN: Definitely time pressure. We had about two weeks for this demo while still planning on our previous game, so it was rough trying to get the assets done while still maintaining our usual quality. Fortunately, the first part of the demo was finished like how we envisioned it.
AC: As Chieu said, it was mainly time. Chieu had already done promotional artwork because we were gearing up to create the demo, but I suddenly came up with the idea to do it before I headed to their Newark concerts in March so we could hand out the promotional artwork. We challenged ourselves to create a concept from scratch as well as artwork within roughly a 10 day period. However we were able to achieve it and are grateful to receive the positive responses.

You’ve posted online about your plans to present the idea for To the Edge of the Sky to BTS’ label, BigHit Entertainment, how do you intend to achieve that?
AC: As anyone who has been paying attention to BTS knows, they are reaching their peak right about now, so it is very difficult to contact them. Right now we are in contact with someone local to Seoul who may be able to assist us with that further.

To the Edge of the Sky has become very popular on the Internet, especially among ARMYs (BTS’ fandom). What would you like to say to the new fans of your game?
ED: Well, first of all, hello and welcome! Thank you for playing our demo and thank you so much for your kind words and support. This might sound a little cheesy, but we feel energized by all the love and we’ll continue to work hard for everyone.
AC: I’d like to say that we’re really, truly grateful for all the kind and positive comments we’ve received. We had no idea To the Edge of the Sky would be so well received. We put everything we had into it during the short time we had and are so grateful for the ARMYs that gave us positive responses at the Newark concerts and through social media and emails. We can hardly believe it but To the Edge of the Sky is nearing 400,000 downloads within two months of its release and we’re really grateful for the thousands of positive reviews so far. Thank you for also becoming fans of the game and we promise we will do our best to develop this game for you.
CN: Thank you so much for your generous support thus far, it means a lot to us. We will continue to work hard and hope that you could see this game come to fruition with us.


Also on Kultscene: Introducing KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted: Produce 101 

So far only a demo for To the Edge of the Sky has been released, what will come next following this release?
AC: After we finish our current project, we are planning to work on developing the next part of To the Edge of the Sky. We want to give ARMYs more while we continue to work on making this a full game.

Where do you see your company in the next five years?
ED: With a much larger games library and still creating more, it’s been my wish and I think all of ours really to be able to work together and create together until we die of old age. And I hope we’ll be able to produce more content than just visual novels.
CN: We would have more games out with higher quality, and it would also be nice to have a larger fanbase. We are never satisfied with the status quo and are always seeking to improve the quality of our work. Therefore, it is my hope that in 5 years time, we will create even better games and be able to reach out to a wider range of audience.
AC: In five years…It’d be really nice if we had a few different series. It’d be really nice if we could produce more games like To the Edge of the Sky, where genres are crossed over, as well as our own, completely original work. I want us to continue to become better developers, writers and artists and make a variety of different games for all kinds of people. It would be interesting to do work outside of games as well, under our brand name.

Check out Aeon Dream Studios and their current works here!

Have you tried out To The Edge of the Sky? Are you a fan? Tell us what you think 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 sonic identity of K-pop girl groups: implied meanings & what the future holds

k-pop kpop sonic identity girl groups twice signal picture pics pictures photo photos

This is the third and last part of a series in which we discuss the changes in the music of K-pop girl groups throughout the last decade and what these changes say about the environment within which they thrive.

Remember how in the first article I described T-ara’s music as the sonic portrait of an era? Well, now the music of Twice and the newer girl groups can be seen as the portrait of our present one. It is noticeable how the increase of beats per minute, the shortening of intros, and the diversity of changes in melody and arrangements during the songs reflect the haste of today’s society for new things and their little patience for anything that takes too much time. Think of 2NE1’s songs for example. The concept and lyrics for “I Am the Best,” released in 2011, are still super cool, even for 2017. But doesn’t it sound a bit “slow” today?

Of course, this is not a phenomena exclusively seen in K-pop. All over the world, and especially in American pop music, it has been observed how hit pop songs have been seeing shorter intros (try even finding an intro in Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna’s “This is What You Came For,” for example) and taking less time to get to the chorus. Max Martin, the god of modern pop songwriting who wrote several number one hit songs from Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” to The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” said it himself: “Pop music follows the evolution of society in general. Everything moves faster. Intros have gotten shorter.” Though 2NE1’s songs from just a few years ago made good fits for the Facebook generation, K-pop songs of today are more appropriate for the Snapchat generation. It’s not particularly different in Korea, where the obsession for progress and technology is a way of life.

A sign of the modern times in K-pop is the profusion of musical styles that are blended within the songs. Striving for progress has led South Korea to open up their markets in the past few years, which has had major effects on K-pop also, beginning with the growing presence of more and more foreign composers and producers in the K-pop market. As a result of this, K-pop has become more open to other music genres and arrangements have been much more diversified than they used to.

While the need for speed and the uptick of music styles bring a contemporary appeal to K-pop, the increase of cute concepts and aegyo (cute) elements in the songs — so different from the empowerment that we saw dominate the last generation of girl groups– counterbalances the modern vibe in a curious way, suggesting that even though the girls are living in 2017, they still reverberate traditional (patriarchal) values from Confucianism and its standards of femininity. Although this philosophy is no longer dominant in Korea, its influence is still strong.


Also on KultScene: Kevin Kim talks ZE:A disbandment & new beginnings with radio show ‘SBS PopAsia Live’ [interview]

The intersection between progress (modern sound, embracement of foreign and innovative music genres) and traditionalism (cute, fragile, submissive, and non-proactive female behaviour) can be heard in songs like WJSN’s “Would You Kiss Me,” a surprising mix of sweetness and edginess, with futuristic elements and trap beats blended into a fluttering pop instrumental, innocent melody, and aegyo speech.

The Role of Music Creators As Curators

The way creators design the sonic identity of a song or group of songs in order to give the audience a specific feeling, which in turn subconsciously tells a story about the society we live in, is quite interesting. Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan made an impact in the 1960’s when he stated in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man that “the medium is the message,” believing that the form of a medium carries just as much meaning as the content. Based on that, the way music is shaped to sound might say a lot about the one who’s creating it or performing it.

In this matter, blending both modern and traditional elements, like explained above and also in the previous articles in the series, might be K-pop’s way to tell society about its values: to achieve progress and prosperity without losing their traditions.

We can’t incisively say that this is the agenda of the K-pop industry, but it surely means something. This idea might take different forms depending on the context, and that’s what is more interesting. There are infinite ways of giving a certain vibe to a certain song. When you think of it that way, creators (composers, lyric writers, producers) and music executives (yes, them too, since they get to decide which songs will be recorded and which won’t) play the role of curators, deciding which elements would be present in order to convey a concept.

These statements make even more sense in the field of K-pop, where music is not only a sonic instrument but a whole experience that defines visuals, dancing, fashion, and even the personality traits of the group members. In the book Globalization and Popular Music in South Korea: Sounding Out K-Pop by Michael Fuhr, this is described as “performance-centered music.” Therefore, it’s not difficult to imagine the amount of creativity and work that is demanded from music creators.

But what would these teams have in store for K-pop?

What’s Next For K-pop?

twice kcon los angeles 2016 la 16

by Yasamine Entesari

K-pop has always aroused love and interest for being creative and unapologetically fun. It catches you when you merely watch a video or listen to a song, maybe not realizing why it’s so enticing. Analyzing it might explain why it’s so catchy and so representative of what Korea is or aspires to be, but don’t think we’ve deciphered it yet. Just when you think K-pop is going on a certain direction… It changes.

When Twice released “Knock Knock” in February, fans were quick to describe it as something similar to everything the group has been doing since its debut. In fact, the first verse sung by Nayeon, the easy choreography, and the repetitions of “kung kung” and “knock knock” (just like “shy shy shy” in “Cheer Up,” as well as the mnemonic “ne” syllable sound and “I’m like TT” in “TT”) might have given you an impression that it’s the Twice you’re used to listen. But don’t let yourself be fooled; it was the most daring move the group has made since their debut, simply because it was very, well, simple.


Also on KultScene: 12 visually appealing K-pop music videos

Against their previous singles, “Knock Knock” has little surprises in terms of song structure and production, sticking to one genre only and having a very simple verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure (no pre-chorus, for the first time). The melody is also very linear and presents rare moments of high notes. The harmony consisted solely of a E – Abm – C#m – A chord progression, making it the least complex harmony from the group so far.

Analyzing those factors, you could think Twice was going the opposite way and becoming simpler. You wouldn’t be wrong: their latest release “Signal” delivers a less noisy instrumental, with less sonic turnarounds, slighter drums, lower bpm, and a more homogeneous melody.

Like we said in our last article, many thought of 2014 as an apocalyptic year for K-pop, and coincidently, that was the birth year for these groups who brought a new concept of what it sounds to be a young girl in Korea. 2017 is also being pointed as a decisive one for the future of K-pop. May we expect the birth of something new again? Or has K-pop’s heyday peaked and we’re watching it plateau?

There is more interesting data to be added to the guessing game: a recent and curious apparent trend, American pop music seems to be slowing a down a bit. Right now, in the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 chart you can hear songs that present either slower tempos or less polluted production, like a smooth jam that reminisces the old days of Michael Jackson and Motown and an easy listen, dembow riddim oriented song yet still cleanly produced by the current king of love songs, for example. K-pop is known for occasionally gathering inspiration from what is trending in America. If the slow-down of music is truly coming, how will K-pop respond to that?

The year 2017 might be another turning point for K-pop, and it’s already heading to its second quarter. Being the most relevant girl group at the moment, Twice just might be in the front row of the beginning of a trend of calmer songs, although the elements of cuteness will hardly die. After all, K-pop constantly has to reinvent itself, but some things will always be there.

What are your thoughts on the future of K-pop girl groups? Let us know 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.

Introducing KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted: ‘Produce 101’

kpop podcast unmuted kultscene produce 101 broduce

KultScene is happy to announce that, in celebration of our third anniversary, we are beginning a collaboration with K-Pop Unmuted, a podcast dedicated to delving deep into K-pop.

We’ve wanted to host a podcast for a long time as another aspect to KultScene’s approach exploring all things Korean pop culture from a foreign perspective. So when the opportunity to collaborate with K-Pop Unmuted arose, we knew that it would be a perfect fit. We hope you enjoy, and we would love to hear feedback on our first episode. (And all future ones too!)

In episode 17, the first collaborative episode of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight, Alexis, and Tamar discussed Produce 101 and what we thought of Season 1 and Season 2’s editing, favorite moments, and how it’s having a larger effect on the Korean entertainment industry. We also discussed Lovelyz’s “Aya,” EXO-CBX’s “Ka-CHING,” and VIXX’s “Shangri-La” as our favorite songs recently released.

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.

Let us know what you think of Produce 101 and KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted 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.

Text to Text: DIA and Terrence Malick’s modern romance


I have a certain affinity for DIA that few other people seem to have. There’s an oddness to them that feels organic. With most K-pop groups, weirdness usually manifests every now and then in their music, their videos, or their personalities on variety shows. With DIA, it’s a mixture of all of them and more. Although not too different at first sight, their latest video for single “Will you go out with me?” is possibly the strangest direction they have taken to date.

I was dumbstruck to see a video by a Korean girl group that was inspired by Terrence Malick. For those of you who don’t know, Malick, once the revered king of American independent cinema, is now a divisive critical figure. His films are bracingly humanistic, finding minute details in broad locations like the Pacific Theatre of World War II or the creation of earth itself. After a hiatus of 20 years following his first two films, Malick’s style began to change. His work became more dense and abstract, alienating much of his early fans. It is those who have fallen out of love with him who were quick to criticise his latest film Song to Song for its copious use of his now favourite motifs. Whispered voice-over, characters walking backwards, sparse use of dialogue. These are the things that make a Terrence Malick film, and these are the things that DIA used.

Song to Song is a film about relationships, Austin, Texas, and relationships taking place there. Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, and Michael Fassbender are all musicians stuck in a confused love triangle in one of America’s foremost music scene cities. Their relationships do not play out as usual, though very little time is given to the character’s stories and how they connect. More important are the small moments when they are together. Very little is spoken, but so much is revealed through their body language. Anyone can understand this intimacy; it’s at once distant thanks to how little we know about them but utterly romantic because each gesture is clearly filled with history. Rooney Mara’s eyes are her tell. Her gaze can dart around, looking everywhere except in the eyes of her lover or gaze with force and love as if she can’t look anywhere but at him. Malick’s current style is boiled down into those eyes.


Also on KultScene: Kevin Kim talks ZE:A disbandment & new beginnings with radio show ‘SBS PopAsia Live’ [interview]

It’s hard to believe that DIA could replicate something this intricate, and the truth is they don’t really. What they do, however, is use his motifs to frame their story into something that is in some ways a continuation of Song to Song; a continuation of how Malick sees relationships.

“Will you go out with me?” opens with a short scene that is 100 percent Malick. The camera slowly glides behind Chaeyeon as she walks through Tokyo, looking at her phone. She does the backwards walk to face the camera and the hushed poetic voice-over. While I see this mostly as a set up for the main body of the video, it has its own particular similarities with Song to Song that are not quite as evident as these motifs.

The voice-over sees Chaeyeon thinking of a boy she knows. It’s somewhat unclear as to how she relates to this boy except that she has feelings for him. She says she shouldn’t call and that she misses him today more than ever. It sounds like he could be her boyfriend or an ex. This lack of definition turns out to be story of the song and video, though, as we see that Chaeyeon is trying to pluck up the courage to ask him out. The blurred boundaries of her relationship are like that of Mara, Gosling, and Fassbender’s in Song to Song. We see each of them meet and interact as a trio, but Mara is simultaneously sleeping with both of them. She sees Fassbender, who is a top music executive, because he can further her career ,and seemingly is genuinely in love with Gosling. But due to the lack of concrete details, both of these explanations could not be called completely true. The difference between Mara and Chaeyeon is maybe that Mara wanted to keep the hazy lines of her relationships so as to maintain a distance from potential heartbreak.

The specificity of the location is also key. Malick always presents his characters not just in terms of how they react with one another, but also in how they interact with their environment. In Song to Song, the ever present sunlight keeps characters from hiding themselves as they walk through music festivals or in the rocky Texan deserts. Where Malick likes to reveal his characters in more natural settings, “Will you go out with me?” drops Chaeyeon under the neon skyline of Tokyo. The absolute lack of nature tells us she will not be finding an intimate spot for her and the boy. She is swaddled by artificial light yet does not stray away from it. In fact her interaction with this space is the most interesting part of the whole video.


Also on KultScene: IU’s Red Shoes: A Torment or Saviour?

The main story of the video shows Chaeyeon texting the boy, sending him pictures of where she is with her groupmates. The video distills Malick’s hands off approach to relationships even further, making the bond purely digital rather than gestural. It makes perfect sense to me that if Rooney Mara’s character went on a trip like this she would most certainly send pictures to Ryan Gosling’s character and many texts lamenting how much she misses him. Chaeyeon doesn’t even have to be in the same room as the boy she is pining after to create a relationship. If small details truly reveal how a relationship works in today’s world, how someone texts is probably the biggest indicator of this.

The unlikely pairing of nine young Korean girls and an elusive film director is certainly a new one. DIA continue to craft peculiar perspectives on K-pop, previously making fun of ridiculous aegyo (cuteness) with the satirical “My Friend’s Boyfriend” and using Harry Potter in a way that makes you think, “what has this got to do with Harry Potter?” in “Mr. Potter.” “Will you go out with me?” has proven to be surprisingly profound. Through their own unique style and that of Terrence Malick, they have shed light on what it is to be in a relationship, which when distilled further (as they both would be compelled to do) illuminates what is to be a human.

What do you think of these comparisons? What’s your favourite DIA song and Terrence Malick film? Let us know your picks and 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.

Kevin Kim talks ZE:A disbandment & new beginnings with radio show ‘SBS PopAsia Live’ [interview]

Kevin Kim, SBS PopAsia, SBS PopAsia with Kevin Kim, ZE:A

Courtesy of SBS PopAsia

As K-pop fans who know the bare minimum of the Korean language, it’s always a struggle to try to tune into a radio show whenever our faves are on. Unlike K-dramas or other TV shows, live radio shows don’t have subtitles — unless a merciful fan translates and uploads a bootleg version (#Blessed). But like the dramas and TV shows, these subtitled versions always come days or even weeks later. Moreover, what’s usually even more difficult as a foreign fan is living in a country that doesn’t necessarily accommodate your daily K-pop fix. However, that’s about to change — or at least for Australia, and therefore English speaking fans all over the world — thanks to ZE:A’s former member Kevin Kim. With his new radio show, SBS PopAsia Live with Kevin Kim, the K-pop star will answer all your Hallyu questions and fulfill your all your fangirl and fanboy needs.

Kevin has been in the entertainment industry for well over a decade in both Korea and Australia, where he spent most of his adolescent and teenage years. He’s always carried an enamoured passion for music, since his early days in Australia when he took part in an array of musicals and a choir that went onto doing international tours. He carried his love for everything entertainment with him back to Korea, where he joined idol group ZE:A as the lead singer. Fans were gifted with Kevin’s talent time and time again, even if the Korean music industry failed to recognize his skill during his time there.

It’s unfortunate that things didn’t pan out the way they perhaps should have, but everything happens for a reason, right? They say opportunity doesn’t come knocking on your door twice, but in Kevin’s case, it did. We recently caught up the K-pop star over the phone from Australia as he makes his big move from Korea. He talked about his most missed Australian foods, life after ZE:A, new solo music, and what we can expect from the radio show.

Hi Kevin! Thank you for setting aside time to do this interview KultScene Congratulations on hosting SBS PopAsia! How do you feel about becoming a daily host?

Kevin Kim: Hello! Well, I’m very honored to be with SBS and doing PopAsia Live starting on the 29th. I’m very excited about it and I’m looking forward to it!

Can you tell us a little bit about SBS PopAsia Live with Kevin Kim?

KK: I’m going to play a lot of K-pop songs and also V-pop, C-pop [on the show]. I’ll also be sharing all my thoughts with the fans and try to give [them] more information about K-pop. [The show will] mainly [be about] Asian pop, fans, and stars.

You were the host of Hotbeat on Arirang for over four years. How and do you think your previous experience hosting has helped you prepare for this new MC gig?

KK: As you said, I’ve been doing radio for four years now with Arirang radio station. [Going into this,] I’m very confident because I’ve been sharing a lot of thoughts and messages with our fans, [receiving their feedback], and I think it will be great to see what the outcome will be like. I just want to feel the vibe here in Australia. You know, the K-pop fans here, they’re also very excited about Korea, the stars, all things Hallyu as well, so I would love to share [my knowledge with them] and see how everything will turn out.


Also on KultScene: Artist Spotlight: Kevin Kim (ZE:A)

What prompted your decision to leave Korea and to go back to Australia and start MC-ing?

KK: The main thing was I wanted to just, you know, after [ZE:A’s] disbandment, I wanted to come back to take a rest because I’ve been away [in Korea] for about 10 years. I wanted to restart myself with something special, which is SBS and the radio show that I’m hosting. I’m going to be doing more of my music and I’m working on my solo album as well, so hopefully I can turn that out sometime this year.

How’s it like being back in Australia as an adult after pursuing your career in Korea?

KK: Oh, good question! You know, a lot of things have changed. I was surprised by all these shops and restaurants. There’s been a lot of changes [from 10 years ago]. It’s been a month now since my arrival [back in Australia] and I’m still adjusting [laughs], but also having fun.

What’s your favorite or least favorite thing(s) about being back?

KK: Well first of all, I missed the food; Meat pies, sausage rolls! You just cannot find — well, they did have Australian food there in Korea as well, but not as good as here in Australia, so food was my thing! And also, my friends. I haven’t seen them for years. I never had the chance to come to Australia to perform as ZE:A, so [now that I’m back], I want to see what it’ll be like.

What will you miss most about living in Korea? The fast internet connection? Just kidding, but really…

KK: Well, obviously that [fast internet] [laughs]. I miss basically everything, [like the] members. It’s only been a month but still… I don’t know, it kind of feels weird, I guess. Just leaving everything there and being here by myself. I’m used to sharing everything with the members and all, but now that I’m here by myself, it’s a bit lonely. But I’m A-okay! You get used to it [laughs].

You’ve been apart of ZE:A for seven years, so how is it like to transition back to daily life in Australia?

KK: It’s not hard, actually, because I was born in Korea but I was raised here [in Australia], so I’m basically used to the culture and the people here. Except for all the changes, you know? So I’m trying to [figure out the changes and] all that. Aside from that, everything is like a daily thing to me.

How did the members react/feel when you told them you were moving back home? Do you have any plans to go back and visit any time soon?

KK: Well, they are doing their own thing now, so, I guess — We still keep in contact through a messenger app, so every time we come up with the motion [idea/concept] for movies, albums, we just share it all in our chat. We don’t really feel sad about being solo and doing [our own] promos; we’re always happy for each other [and seeing each member] do their own thing. That’s how we feel right now; we’ll always support each other.

It’s not a definite goodbye to Korea, I mean, [moving back to Australia] is just another challenge for me. I’m also trying to expand. I had a great opportunity that came through to me, which was SBS. Also, my old agent, Martin Bedford, I knew him from when I was in high school, he contacted me about a year ago when I was in Korea and I was surprised that he still remembered me, so maybe it’s all destiny [for me] to be here again. To tell you a little detail about Martin Bedford, [he runs] the agency that Russell Crowe was in and Olivia Newton John [is currently under], and now I’m here with Martin and SBS PopAsia. Like I said, I’m going to expand my career as Kevin from now on.


Also on KultScene: Top 5 English Covers By Korean Male Singers

How does it feel seeing all the outpouring amount of support from your fans on your new endeavor?

KK: I’m so excited to see [what’s to come] and like I told you, I haven’t been here as a solo artist or as ZE:A, so I think the radio show that I’ll be doing will be a great gateway [for me] to be connected with the K-pop fans here in Australia. I think I’m going to show more of me and share everything that I’ve been doing and [have] experienced in Korea as well. It’s very exciting!

It’s been over a year since you released Collection.” Can we expect any future music projects?

KK: Well first of all, I’m so looking forward to making a single or maybe a full album here in Australia. I’ve worked on a lot of songs throughout my career as [a member] of ZE:A when I was in Korea, so I have a lot of things to share and a lot of things to show. There’s a lot of exciting things that I am getting ready for ,so I hope I can show our fans my style of music. With the Collection album, I really wanted to show [listeners] what I was capable of. That song was inspired from a fashion show that I went to; I just had the idea of this word,“collection,” and that’s how it lead me to creating the song.

Just for fun, what’s your most played song right now and who are some of your current favorite artists?

KK: My number one is Michael Jackson. He’s always been my favorite artist and biggest inspiration. There are tons and tons of artists I’d like to recommend, but right now my favorite artist is Chris Brown. I’ve been listening to his latest song “Privacy” [a lot]. I also like Justin Bieber too.

Any final words for KultScene’s readers?

KK: Thank you for having me! I hope you guys are ready to hear my show on SBS PopAsia Live, which starts on the 29th, Monday through Friday, every day at 6 p.m. AEST. I am also working on my songs and I’ll be releasing my singles and album here in Australia and also in Korea in the near future. Hope you guys will be ready for that!

* Interview was edited for clarity.

SBS PopAsia Live with Kevin Kim will be a one-stop show to stay tuned for all things Asian pop, featuring the latest music, news and interviews from Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Thailand. It will air Monday to Friday at 6 p.m. AEST on SBS PopAsia starting May 29. Listeners can also tune into SBS PopAsia Digital Radio by downloading the SBS PopAsia mobile app or by streaming live on their website.

Kevin Kim, SBS PopAsia, SBS PopAsia with Kevin Kim, ZE:A

Courtesy of SBS PopAsia

Do you have a favorite K-pop radio show or podcast you listen to? Share your experiences 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.

Jambinai on blending Korean & western music styles to create unique post-rock

Courtesy of Nah Seung Yull

You may not know them yet, but Jambinai is a post-rock Korean indie band to take note of. The five-member group blends traditional Korean instruments with western rock to create hauntingly dramatic music. Inspired by the world around them, they’ve created a unique, experiential sound that sets them apart.

Though they’ve had countless acclaim in the past for their releases, Jambinai has never performed in New York City before. But on May 17, the quintet will head to NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge for their first ever Big Apple show.

Ahead of their NYC debut, Jambinai’s Lee Ilwoo and Kim Bomi did a Q&A with KultScene:

Thanks for taking the time to talk to KultScene. How’s everything going lately?
Lee Ilwoo: We are touring in Europe for a month and have a show everyday. It’s tough but really exciting.

You’re making your NYC debut next month. I know you’ve toured quite a bit, but how does it feel to be playing in New York?
Kim Bomi: I’m very happy. Because New York is the center of all culture, as everyone knows. So I’m looking forward to our first show in NYC.
LI: We have toured Europe several times, but this is our first time in NYC. So [I think that] just a few people are going to come our show. But we are going to do our best!

Any things you want to/do see while you’re here?
KB: I want to visit Blue Note [Jazz Club] again, personally. Actually, I went there seven years ago. I spent a lovely time there and I’ve never forgotten those memories. So I want to try again of possible. But I’m not sure because we don’t have much time. We have to move to Chicago the day after.
LI: After the show in NYC, we are going to have to head to Chicago immediately. So it’s so sad not to have some time in NYC.

You have a unique approach to post-rock that looks different from just about everything else coming out of Korea nowadays. How did Jambinai get started?
KB: When we first met, we just wanted to try make some new sounds. Because nowadays, Korea has so many bands who make some new blend [of] local music with western styles. But it’s not a good match for Korean traditional instruments. For example, in that music, Korean traditional instruments just follow or copy western [styles]. We thought about that, [and it’s] not good. So we talked about how can we find different way and better sound.
LI: I like post-rock music and I’ve [been] inspired from [it]. Some bands blend post-rock sound with violin, cello or other western classical instruments. It was so nice and fresh to me. Actually, I tried to blend Korean traditional instruments with rock sound so people listen to Korean traditional sounds, but I didn’t know how. But the bands who blend classical instruments with rock sounds gave me some ideas.

What’s your creative process like?
KB: In my case, playing the haegeum, I’m influenced by Ilwoo. Because he composes all [of our] songs first and then I have to arrange my part; [I] can blend good on songs [sic]. And sometimes I’m influenced by a movie or novel or other genres [of] music. Recently, I’ve read a novel. The name is “EXPANSE.” It’s [a] sci-fi novel. It was very interesting and I can use the feeling[s I felt from reading it] when I play.
LI: I’m inspired by many bands and Korean traditional music. Korean traditional instrumentation is really unique. By Western standards, some Korean traditional sounds are just noise or [have a] weird pitch. But that gives [me] many ideas to make us unique. And issues around me also inspired me.

“They Keep Silence” was one of NPR’s top songs of 2016, which the writer said it was because of the “righteous anger” the song evoked in relation to the Sewol Ferry, which was a national tragedy. Why do you think such a locally aimed song resonated with one of the US’s most prominent media outlets?
KB: Because the song’s story is just about humanity and justice. Even if you don’t know what that lyrics mean, the song has some powerful emotions. Because when we play that song, we pray for the [deceased]. I think that emotion has been passed on to people.
LI: There are a lot of English pop music fans in Korea. They don’t understand what that means, but they feel the image of the song. “They Keep Silence” has Korean lyrics, but I think it can give the image of the tragedy or make people feel sadness and anger, even if they don’t know Korean.

Why do you think now, almost a decade since you began, your sound resonates with people across the globe?
LI: I don’t know. Maybe [because] we use traditional instruments for post-rock and it looks unique. Many people are used to western instruments like guitar, piano, keyboard, etc. So, I guess people feel our instruments are fresh.

Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for the “They Keep Silence” video? It begins with a quote by Martin Luther King Jr., and then shows Jambinai playing, first calm and then eventually descending into more of a metal sound. What sort of feelings did you hope the video would evoke?
KB: We want to never again [feel] like this tragedy[sic]. So we want people remember the tragedy and think about justice, at least [the people] who listen to that song.

Though that song was extremely popular, are there any other songs of yours that you think new listeners would, or should, listen to?
KB: Recently we’ve [re]arranged our old song called “Paramita” from our first album. But you can only listen to this song at our show. So please come to our show!

Jambinai’s music is so tied to Korean sounds and history, so how will the recent political shakeup influence your music now?
KB: Actually I’m not sure. But we’ll always sing about justice [while] the world goes wrong. This is a basic duty of human beings.
LI: If something is going to happen, it’s going to inspire me to make music or lyrics.

Korean indie music is gaining in popularity, but what are some difficulties that you guys have faced as performers?
KB: It’s very hard to survive as performers only. I hope it gets better.
LI: The fandom of the indie scene in Korea is really weak and small. And many Korean people think that using acoustic guitars and singing a love song is indie. So if someone tries to make their own sound, it’s obviously very hard to live and play in Korea.

What do you think of the Korean music scene in general?
KB: Korea has many music genres in the indie scene, but most people don’t know about that, because media broadcasts only play K-pop. So I hope that [indie] will be broadcasted more widely.
LI: K-pop and K-hip hop are the best popular music in the Korea.

What do you guys draw inspiration from?
KB: All of this world!

Are there any artists you’d like to work with if you get the chance?
KB: In my case, personally, Thom Yorke. I love him.

What’s next for Jambinai? Are you guys working on any new music?
KB: Nowadays, we are talking about some new album casually.

The artist’s written responses have been lightly edited for clarity. Interview facilitated by 7000Miles.

Jambiani make their NYC debut at Le Poisson Rouge on May 17, at 7PM. Buy tickets here, and let us know what you think about the band 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.

The sonic identity of K-pop girl groups: the birth of a new generation

sonic sound kpop k pop k-pop girl groups gfriend

This is the second part of a series in which we discuss the changes in the music of K-pop girl groups throughout the last decade and what these changes say about the environment within which they thrive.

In the last article, we talked about the things that define the K-pop sound and described some sonic features on K-pop songs of the previous generation girl groups, such as T-ara.

Nowadays, the songs that made T-ara so famous probably wouldn’t have the same impact – although that shouldn’t mean they have to disband! Anyway, songs that still carry some of their peculiar characteristics are barely released these days, and when they are, they don’t go too well on charts.

The distinctive traits of the catchy dance songs of the golden days of T-ara can be heard, for example, in “Doo Doom Chit” by Crayon Pop, the most recent single of the group. Its tempo, EDM production, and singing style makes it a typical song that could have been a hit in 2012 or 2013, but had a weak performance in the charts of the year 2016.

The dramatic trait, in its turn, hasn’t been forgotten. In OST ballads and songs released by groups like Gavy NJ and Davichi (both specialized in ballads), you’ll still hear lots of trot-influenced melodies. But in K-pop, it has gotten a new colour. Although the traces of “ppong” are rarely heard nowadays; the dramatic melody, the high note that makes you feel like the singer is crying or begging for something hasn’t died, but today, it has notably less melismas and variations than before. How many vibratos have you ever heard on a single released by Twice or WJSN? Not many.


Also on KultScene: 8 misheard K-pop lyrics pt. 7

How Do K-pop Girl Groups Sound Today?

twice kcon la 2016 16 usa los angeles

by Yasamine Entesari

It’s funny to think about how in 2014 people were buzzing about “the end of K-pop” due to the amount of scandals and weak music releases because from that point on, we can say that the shaping of girl groups began to change. In that year, we saw debuts of groups vocally distinctive such as Mamamoo, Kiss & Cry, Wings, Purfles, and Red Velvet. From these, only the first and last remain successful in their own concepts.

From 2015 on, all the new and successful girl groups are going the cute girl route. The only exception would be Blackpink (who fit a more conventionally feminine concept than we’d expect from a YG Entertainment girl group, but still maintain an edge to its contemporaries). Others had their moments, like IOI (“Whatta Man”) and CLC (“Hobgoblin”), but we can’t even take these into consideration since IOI’s music video strangely alternated scenes of the girls dancing in a sexy way while dressed in leather with scenes of them acting all aegyo (cute) and doing cute friendship stuff (plus disbanding). “Hobgoblin,” for its part, was… well… essentially a rejected 4Minute song.

In general, the new generation of K-pop girl groups gravitate around the same ideas. The sound of these groups consists in overloaded production, full of strong and fast beats balanced by synths and keyboards that bring the stereotyped dreamy girly vibe to their songs.

The most relevant girl groups that debuted in the last three years are:

2014 – Laboum, Berrygood, Lovelyz, Mamamoo, Red Velvet, and Sonamoo
2015 – Twice, CLC, GFRIEND, Oh My Girl, April, and DIA
2016 – Cosmic Girls (WJSN), IOI, Gugudan, and Blackpink
2017 – Pristin (so far)

It is interesting to observe that while Mamamoo, Red Velvet, and Blackpink have their own sound (as much as it is possible), most of the other groups listed make the same kind of music. When you listen to their songs or when you make comparisons like this, it might seem like an easy formula, but you’ll never really know how many ingredients a K-pop song has until you dissect one (or try to compose one).

Nowadays, K-pop girl group music is heavily influenced by synthpop and retro music, especially ‘80s new wave; examples: GFRIEND’s “Fingertip” and April’s “Muah.” However, these traits are combined with 808 beats, strong basses, and EDM or trap elements, as heard in Twice’s “Like Ooh Ahh” and IOI’s “Dream Girls.” Moreover, the music is very accelerated; very high-tempo (listen to Twice’s “Cheer Up,” IOI’s “Very Very Very”). The listener has no time to wait; they want the most amount of fun in the less amount of time.

Entertaining the listener the most in the less amount of time possible includes not making their ears get used to a single melody so easily. Just because it’s a 4-bar verse doesn’t mean all lines must have the same melody. A few examples are WJSN’s “Secret” and Twice’s “TT.” Both have pretty much one melodic pattern every two lines before the chorus, and sometimes even more. It’s okay if there are some pauses in the drumbeat to be funny or weird in a cute way. The members are fragile little princesses and they show it not only by singing, but also talking in a very aegyo way in the middle of the song, like we saw in Pristin’s “We Woo” (“You’re my superhero!”). The line between just talking and rapping is very thin and you can have as many raps as you want in a song and at any time, like in Berrygood’s “Love Letter,” where the rap works as the verse before the chorus, and there’s also another “rap” after the second chorus.


Also on KultScene: EXID’s ‘Eclipse’ album review

Another way of bringing the feminine cutesy to the song is by adding parts where the singers intone verses that make them sound like cheerleaders. Examples: Sonamoo’s “I Think I Love You” (“Love you!”) and Oh My Girl’s “Cupid” (“Hey, cupid has shot my heart”). This cheerful feeling is also transmitted by a harmony that is mostly formed by major chords, which also gives a pure and innocent vibe to the songs, as heard in GFRIEND’s “Me Gustas Tu” (chorus’ chord progression: G C D G Em C Am D G – post-chorus: C D B Em C D G) and Oh My Girl’s “Liar Liar” (chorus: Ab – C# – Ab – C#).

Interestingly, intros can’t be too long. Remember, you can’t keep your listener waiting for too long, they’re in a rush! Examples: Laboum’s “Shooting Love” and Gugudan’s “A Girl Like Me.” Pretty much five seconds into the song, you’re already in the first verse of the song. Also, the less distinctive the singer’s voice sounds amongst the voices of their group mates, the better. Singers must sound like an homogeneous entity, a choir that sings in really high tones like in Lovelyz’ “Wow” and April’s “Tinker Bell.”

To be fair, GFRIEND is a great exception to the homogenous entity fad. They’re one of the few groups we hear nowadays that explore more of their vocal potential through less linear singing, more vibratos, and more space for their tones to differ from each other. To be fair, Mamamoo and Sistar (mostly due to Hyoryn’s outstanding position) do it too, but they don’t fit the standard we’re analyzing now.

mamamoo wheein hwasa solar kcon ny 2016 new york

by Katrina Lobaton

Above, we purposely chose only songs with a music video in order to show that this is the standard that sells, since it’s chosen to promote an artist or album. Also, it is also important to keep in mind that we’re talking about the new generation of K-pop girl groups, with focus on those who debuted since 2014. The members of these groups are very young, just like their target. “Adult” girl groups are still around, though, and they still make music suited for their concept, like Girls Day and EXID recently showed. However, trends in culture are often mostly focused on youth. Therefore, with the generation shift, more established groups gradually began to shy away from the spotlight and younger groups who brought back the focus on the cute concept, as discussed above, took center stage. In the next article, we will discuss what those trends might tells us about culture today.

What’s your favorite K-pop girl group that debuted in the last couple of years? Let us know 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 sonic identity of K-pop girl groups: intro

twice knock knock sound kpop girl group

This is the first part of a series in which we’ll discuss the changes in the music of K-pop girl groups throughout the last decade and what these changes say about the environment within which they thrive.

A common notion about Seoul and South Korea is that everything changes very fast. That’s not surprising for a country that turned a weak economy in less than 30 years into a great one, producing high quality education, technology, and entertainment; K-pop unarguably is one of the country’s biggest exports today. However, global attention attention towards South Korea has increased over the past few months exponentially, both due to President Park Geun Hye’s impeachment and the risks of potential nuclear conflicts involving North Korea. But while Korea and most of the world keep an eye on the political turmoil, the promotion of K-pop abroad isn’t showing any sign of slowing down.

For a country that has always been relatively closed off to the rest of the world, Korea seems to be starting to take more seriously the idea of exploring other countries besides China and Japan to promote their cultural and entertainment exports. Female vocalists Hyuna, CL, and Hyolyn had American tours within the last year and a half; BTS’ Wings tour wasn’t only restricted to the US, but also had a Latin American leg; SHINee held their first solo concerts in Canada and the US; rookie group K.A.R.D. will tour in the US and Brazil in the upcoming months; Hyolyn just signed to Spinnin Records, and Rap Monster recently dropped a collaboration with American rapper Wale. K-pop is indeed going head-on.

With so many changes going on, it undoubtedly affects how K-pop sounds as of late. But firstly, a question that intrigues many researchers and music critics: What is K-pop even supposed to sound like?

The K-pop Sound

Even if we claim a certain song sounds or doesn’t sound like K-pop, when it comes to a specific sound, there really is no definite concept of what the K-pop style is. Other than the fact that is largely sung in Korean and the instrumentals are mostly electronic (and even this might have exceptions), there is not a specific sound that can be considered K-pop. It can be anything: electropop, reggae, hip-hop… As a matter of fact, even the fact that it mixes lots of styles has become a very singular thing about K-pop. For example, Twice’s “Cheer Up” mixes electropop and drum’n’bass with touches of dubstep, and even Brazilian tecnobrega.

From a song structure point of view, K-pop is described by songwriters and critics as a style that pretty much has no rules. If Girls Generation’s “I Got a Boy” (considered the Korean “Bohemian Rhapsody”) doesn’t crack your head hard enough, a few moments of active listening to some K-pop songs will have you finding the most diverse song structures. Raps can come in any part of the song. Verse and pre-chorus might have so many variations that you’ll only know what they are when you finally get to the chorus.


Also on KultScene: The K-Pop Phoenix: The New Generation of Girl Groups

As for the melodies and lyrics, the more “full” the lines seem, the better. The pause between lines are often really small; moments where you hear no one talking or singing are very rare in many songs. Harmonies are also something that differentiates K-pop, since there is no specific commitment to stick to a harmonic field during the entire song. As a matter of fact, having a major change in the pre-chorus or chorus might even be a winning thing.

As you might have noticed, listening to a K-pop song is pretty much like a rollercoaster experience: it’s intense, it’s loud, it has up and downs, and you’ll only know it’s over once you’re suddenly assaulted with silence. One expression to describe K-pop would be: too much information. That’s pretty obvious if you judge K-pop by watching the music videos (that’s how many K-pop fans got into this world), since they’re so full of visuals, colours, and energetic dancing. The instrumentals are earworms as well, but you’ll never really understand how obsessed with overage K-pop is until you fully analyze the way songs are made.

However, it hasn’t always been that way. Before the Hallyu fever, and even in its beginning, K-pop songs tended to be more easy listenable (compared to what they are today) while preserving very peculiar attributes, like melodies that resembled to Korean trot music, as we hear on the chorus of songs like Brown Eyed Girl’s “Love.” The structures and harmonies of the songs were simpler, rarely escaping from the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus formula, and sticking to the same chord progression through the whole song, like we hear on Wonder Girls’ “Irony” or “Tell Me.” Put these against the amount of melodic and harmonic changes heard in a contemporary song like Oh My Girl’s “Coloring Book,” which also has more beats per minute and higher notes than the previous songs, and you’ll surely spot how K-pop has changed in the last decade or so.

Take, for example, the case of the iconic group T-ara. Taking a general listen at their discography, there is a sense of homogeneity and consistent audible identity in their work, especially their biggest hits, which combined American pop trends with other elements that resembled traditional Asian roots.

The unmistakable I–V–vi–IV chord progression and its variations appeared often, such as we hear, for example, in “Why Are You Being Like This” and “Roly Poly”, which chord progressions are the same you hear on Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” and Jennifer Lopez’ “On The Floor,” two huge American pop hits contemporary of T-ara’s.

As for the singing, as the ladies blended their voices in a homogeneous and almost linear way, with little variations in the notes, it reinforced the feeling of unity and cohesion in the group. Homogeneity, harmony and unity are very strong values in Korea, and this is frequently observed in K-pop through lots of aspects, such as the strictly synchronized choreographies, and of course, the vocals.

On the other hand, for songs with a more melancholic mood, like “Time to Love” and “Day by Day,” the cultural roots appeared through melodies that had what researchers describe as “ppong.” This a peculiar melodic trait that recalls a bit of europop — like you hear in the choruses of songs like Modern Talking’s “You’re My Heart, You’re My Soul” or Alphaville’s “Sounds Like a Melody.” But also, it echoes the sadness found in Japanese school songs, which in its turn resembles the Japanese colonialism of Korea, according to Michael Fuhr in the book Globalization and Popular Music in South Korea: Sounding Out K-Pop.


Also on KultScene: T-ara & the China Influence

This Japanese sound also highly influenced trot music, Korea’s oldest popular music genre. Said trait can be also heard in T-ara’s “Number Nine,” which is the epitome of blending modernity and tradition, with the girls singing a dramatic melody over EDM beats and with a chord progression that smartly combines tension and relief in the pre-chorus and chorus but stays neutral at the raps and breaks.

The homogeneous mix of those catchy chord progressions with sonic touches that resemble traditional roots played over electronic dancing beats helped making the sound of Korean girl groups a great representation not only of K-pop, but of Asian pop as a whole. Songs like Kara’s “Step”, Girls Generation’s “Oh” and all the aforementioned T-ara songs, were a masterful synthesis of a continent that was rising to modernity while remaining proud of their traditions. It was perfect. No wonder they all achieved so much success in China and Japan, as well as in Korea.

Contemporary K-pop girl groups’ songs rarely follow the same patterns. However, at that time, it was more than enough to win the hearts of the listeners. As the formula got worn out, and K-pop simultaneously reached larger audiences to the point of having lots of new acts fighting for the attention of the public, there was the need to reinvent their sound.

K-pop girl group music has been through more substantial changes in the last years than the music of their male counterparts, and these changes offer interesting insights on the shifts happened in global culture and society as well. K-pop did not cease to be a creative combination of tradition and modernity; however, these two factors are currently arranged through different elements in a way that says a lot about what’s going on in the world. In the next article, we will discuss the song traits of the new generation of K-pop girl groups.

What’s your favorite K-pop girl group song of yesteryear? Let us know 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.