K-Pop Unmuted: BTS ‘Love Yourself: Her’

In the 23nd episode of of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Alexis Hodoyan, Tamar Herman, and the admin of @USBTSARMY discuss BTS’ latest album, Love Yourself: Her, their favorite songs on it, and what they think of the boy band’s ascent in the international market.

[Please note that this was recorded shortly after the album’s release and prior to any major news regarding charts and album sales.]

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 K-pop in July 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.

David Anthony on songwriting & succeeding in the K-pop market [interview]


It’s no news that many of the songs released by Korean and other Asian acts are written and produced overseas: some of the biggest K-pop hits from the last few years were made by songwriters based in the Americas and Europe. It’s not like you have to have been born or raised in Korea to understand what it takes to write a song that Koreans will love. You can literally sell thousands of copies and have your songs placed with top class K-pop acts such as EXO and Twice without ever really having been in Seoul.

That’s the case of David Anthony, a British songwriter and producer who has placed around 20 (and counting) songs with huge Korean agencies like SM Entertainment and JYP Entertainment. He talked to KultScene about how he got into the K-pop market and what it has been doing for him.

“You can be in the toilet or in an one million dollar studio, it doesn’t matter. What matters is your creativity,” said Anthony. He’s been in the music business for years, but it was when Korean agency WM Entertainment got interested in his creativity that he saw his life (and income) changing. His entrance into the K-pop market was the song “Liar Liar,” which ended up being recorded by girl group Oh My Girl.

“Liar Liar” would become the first of many times Anthony worked with Oh My Girl – he also wrote and produced “I Found Love” and their latest comeback single “Coloring Book.” “They make happy & positive pop songs, and I love making them because it’s just fun. I would say we are a good match.”

Also on KultScene: Meet iDR, The Man Behind EXO’s “Love Me Right”

In spite of having always been into catchy, fun, and feel-good pop music, boy and girl groups, and all the elements that make a great K-pop song, the K-pop world was something unknown to David Anthony – and somehow it still is. “I’m still learning, to be honest.” It’s only been nearly 18 months since “Liar Liar,” but Anthony is already able to see what makes K-pop so different from other music styles and markets. “First, the openness. K-pop is more accepting, there is so much creativity to be allowed. It’s like a big party. No one is being, like, too cool to listen to this stuff.” Second, but no less important, it’s the financial reward. “Because there’s just so much money to be made and so many productions.”

Anthony certainly understands there’s money in the market: even his non-single cuts gave him remarkable rewards, like EXO-CBX’s “Cherish” and Twice’s “Only You.”

“‘Cherish’ was my first cut with EXO[-CBX], I wrote and produced it on my own, and it was actually the second highest seller song of the album. I was so pleased because it sold around 100,000 copies itself and the album sold about 400,000” “Only You,” in its turn, was featured on Twice’s fourth mini album, which sold incredibly well in Korea, Japan, and also made Twice the first Asian girl group to enter the Top 30 in the United Kingdom. “I got my first Top 30 in my own country due to an Asian group!”

But this wasn’t all: getting a song recorded by the most relevant K-pop girl group of the moment also improved Anthony’s relationship with JYP Entertainment, resulting in him writing and producing the debut track “How Old Are You?” for JYP’s latest act, super young boy group Boystory, in collaboration with JYP head Park Jinyoung. The group’s first comeback, expected for December 2017, is also planned to feature a song by Anthony.

“K-pop for me has been a very natural process,” he said. “When I heard the acts I really wanted to connect with. I knew I could make that type of music. I just needed time, connections.” It seems to be working pretty well for him. But, of course, this doesn’t mean it’s easy. “They just don’t give anyone a cut. You have to be bloody good.”

When asked if his creative process was affected by his relationship and experience with K-pop professionals, he said that he didn’t really have to make drastic changes. “It’s just about doing what I’m doing – and love doing – with a slight tweak here and there to, hopefully, fit what they want. I knew I just needed to make sure that the final product was high quality.”

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

Well, at least for Anthony, we can assure that the future still holds quite interesting things: besides the above mentioned comeback of Boystory, he’s recently contributed one of the songs featured on B.A.P.’s last mini album, “Blue,” and potentially has upcoming music with Oh My Girl and other Asian acts yet. (The B.A.P track, “All The Way Up” has since been embroiled in a rights controversy, about which Anthony said he wasn’t aware that the song couldn’t be sold to different artists in different countries. According to the CEO of The Kennel, Anthony’s music publisher, Hayden Bell, it was a newcomer mistake. Anthony has since apologized to TS Entertainment and B.A.P. for the misunderstanding).

According to Anthony, both the competition behind the scenes and among K-pop acts explains why few songwriters and producers are getting into this small circle. “Demos these days have to be so good because the competition is so high, so you just have to be on top. [And] in Korea, there are so many products being released, so naturally some are gonna be better than others.” But, at the end of the day, David Anthony is proof that even though, nowadays, the K-pop market might seem a little bit more accessible for non-Koreans, it’s not for everyone, and the bar is surely not low. But Anthony has what it takes to make his music click with K-pop companies and audiences, and will keep doing so as long as he can.

What’s your favourite song written by David Anthony, amongst the ones we’ve mentioned? 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.

K-Pop Unmuted: KCON & Produce 101 Releases

In the 22nd episode of of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight, Alexis Hodoyan, and Tamar Herman discuss what it was like being backstage at KCON 2017 LA and New York, and how Produce 101 is shaping K-pop right now. We also discussed new music, including Henry Lau’s sentimental “That One,” Sunmi’s groundbreaking “Gashina,” and HyunA’s age-defying “Bebe.”

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 K-pop in July 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.

Ego tripping, & not, in Korean female rap


korean female rappers rap women cheetah jessi yoon mirae tasha tymee

In rap music, ego tripping is the attitude of an individual who brags about themselves in a display of confidence and high self-esteem. Despite not being a necessity for rap lyrics, the confident swagger of ego tripping is definitely a part of hip-hop culture. When it comes to Korean hip-hop, it’s not uncommon to see men rapping about how amazing, rich, and successful they are but, when it comes to the ladies, ego tripping is not as well received in K-hip-hop.

Probably the most relevant female names in Korean rap right now, Jessi and Heize, illustrate very well how Korea feels about female rappers. They both rap, sing, write songs, and have been contestants on the female rap competition show Unpretty Rapstar. However, their styles are very different, and it’s this difference that may explain why Koreans prefer Heize’s music over Jessi’s.

While Heize’s music has more R&B elements and her delivery is a softer rap style with sentimental lyrics that stays away from the more abrasive side of hip-hop, Jessi’s music varies between melancholic ballads and hard-hitting rap anthems. It is on those raps, though, that Jessi showcases the figure that made her become a reference of a “tough unnie” (or ssen unnie in Korean, like her single by the same name), a confident and intimidating female with strong opinions, who raps unapologetically about her skills, looks, and overall awesomeness.

Also on KultScene: This is NOT a competition, Jessi slayed her Los Angeles show

Jessi’s outspoken behavior on the first season of Unpretty Rapstar in 2015 gave her huge success among the global K-hip hop audience. But all of this popularity hasn’t translated into sales for Jessi, at least not in Korea. Her latest mini album, Un2verse, was released in mid-July, and ranked number four on the Billboard World Albums chart a month later, but only reached number 64 on the Gaon Album Charts, the chart of the best-selling albums in Korea.

On the other hand, while we’re writing this in late-August, Heize’s latest mini album /// (너 먹구름 비) is at number 47 on Gaon, even though it’s been almost two months since it was released. Her current single off the album, “You, Clouds, Rain” featuring Shin Yong Jae, is charting at number three at the moment on Gaon. The first single from the album, “Star”, achieved an all kill (a number one position on all of the most relevant Korean charts); this is something that has never happened to any Korean female rapper before. Ever!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afxLaQiLu-o&w=500&h=281]

Another female hip-hop artist worth mentioning is Yoonmirae (also known as Tasha of MFBTY), the Queen of Hip Hop in Korea, who is kind of an exception. Like Heize, she has reached number one on the charts, —but only with pop ballad songs released as OST for TV dramas, similarly to how Heize’s only peaked with less softer tunes; proving that even though hip-hop itself is a vehicle for empowerment, displays of boasting and self-confidence from Korean female rappers are not as well received as songs that focus on vulnerability and romantic relationships.

Yoonmirae, for example, has paved her way as the most relevant Korean female rapper mostly due to songs in which she raps about her personal struggles as a biracial person in Korea. She became an icon of resistance, representation, empowerment, and freedom for women and multiracial people. Even though she’s also an amazing singer with a delicate voice, it’s her rapping what made her the legend she is, though none of those rap tracks topped charts. Yoon is a strong, fierce woman; she has a bass in her voice when she raps, she curses, she does ego tripping all the time, and she has absolutely no fear or shame to sound cocky.

However, even with all these features and history, Mirae’s most famous solo rap tracks are “Memories” and “Black Happiness,” which, in spite of having straightforward and sensitive lyrics, are ballads. Meanwhile, songs like “Pay Day” or the tracks she released with MFBTY, her hip-hop group with her husband Tiger JK and Bizzy, in which she shows more confidence and brags about her power and confidence, sometimes even confessedly ego tripping (“Oh yes I’m ego trippin’ / Middle finger I’m flippin’ / Oh yes I’m chain heavy / So much ice, look how I’m drippin’”), are never as successful as her softer songs.

Other female rappers who have similarly released ego-trip tracks have also seen minimal success: In “Gucci,” Jessi boasts about driving her own car, being “self-made,” speaking “nothing but the truth,” and having a “gangsta attitude.” In “Cinderella,” Tymee, another Unpretty Rapstar contestant, calls herself “hip-hop god mama” and “rap queen.” In “My Number,” Cheetah, who won the first season of Unpretty Rapstar brags about how being “a TV show champion” made her “a rap star, a celeb, and part of the fashion people.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhRUyVMkaNI&w=500&h=281]

What do all of these songs have in common? They were released by bold spirited women who are greatly talented and with considerable notoriety in Korea. Everyone knows who Jessi, Tymee, and Cheetah are. They’ve all been prominent figures on Unpretty Rapstar, and they have thousands of followers on social media. But did their singles sell as well as Heize’s? No.

jessi los angeles show concert belasco jessica h.o

And that’s not due to their lack of skills. Cheetah and Jessi were, respectively, the winner and runner up on season one of Unpretty Rapstar and are largely respected as rappers, being called on to participate as guests on rap competitions or features in songs of male rappers quite often. Tymee has one of the most long-lived careers as a female rapper in Korea, being respected as an underground rapper way before turning into E.via, who was sometimes mocked by her controversial concepts, but still praised for her rap skills after switching over to her Tymee name.

Heize, for her part, is a talented and well known rapper too. She was even on Unpretty Rapstar as well. So, basically, what distinguishes her from the ladies we mentioned above is the fact that her style is way more focused on her own fragility and emotions towards sensitive aspects of life and love.

It certainly is not due to the lack of sonic appeal of each woman’s songs either, since all the previously mentioned tracks follow the same hip-hop trends we’ve been hearing in male rappers’ songs on the music charts. It may just be that South Korea isn’t ready for a chart-topping abrasive female, opting for the more sentimental side of these hip-hop artists.

Also on KultScene: ‘Unpretty Rapstar,’ crooked or boost to female Korean rappers?

We’re not going for any girl-hate here, but why is Heize’s music easier to consume than music released by women who have no pudency and are not ashamed of taking pride for their qualities and achievements? Are people not comfortable with women ego tripping?

And this is not an isolated trend to Korean hip hop. We can see this mirrored in K-pop as well, where the resurgence of cute K-pop girl groups have pretty much annihilated the ones with a stronger and empowering concept. (But that’s a story for another time…) It’s simply important to note that this is not something that exists in a vacuum.

So why is this happening? It may or may not have something to do with personal taste in South Korea, where coffee house music reigns, or maybe even with cultural factors. As foreign fans, it’s easy for us to point out the sexism and patriarchal values that explain why a man is most likely to achieve success and respect for bragging about himself than a woman is. But it also may be disrespectful, and imprudent, to single out Korean culture since we’re not Koreans.

The fact that Heize stands between Korean rap’s hottest names is indeed something to be celebrated, but the ideal scenario would be to have other female rappers join her. The problem is not a lack of talented female MCs, so why not?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9ZPYxqZQ2I&w=500&h=281]

The female rappers we previously addressed are nothing but a few examples of women who are just as deserving as Heize or any other male rapper that is on the charts right now. If Jessi, Tymee, Cheetah, or Yoon Mirae were men, or if they had stuck to a ballad-ish emotional concept, they would certainly sell better in Korea. It’s unfortunate they haven’t been able to reach the success Heize has at the moment by being themselves. And while Heize’s success is well deserved, the larger theme is that some people are still intimidated by strong, empowered females. But, whatever the reasons for their confidence and ego trips be a limiting factor for success, it’s undeniable that persisting on their truth and sticking to their personal preferences regardless of how they’re seen is an act of resistance from these ladies —and that alone is something worth of great respect.

What are your thoughts on female rappers that ego trip? 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.

The story of LOONA: The first five girls

As most of you will know by now, LOONA are one of the hottest up and coming properties in all of K-pop. Managed by Blockberry Creative, a subsidiary of Polaris Entertainment (Ladies’ Code’s company) their hook is that starting from October 2016 they have been debuting one girl per month with a plan to launch the full girl group when all 12 members have been revealed. It is a tease that is lasting over a year and will, according to the company, culminate at the beginning of 2018 when the group debuts. The financial and time commitment is impressive but naturally, it would be nothing without quality work behind it.

Of the girls who have debuted so far it’s easy to split them into two groups. The first five, Heejin, Hyunjin, Haseul, Yeojin, and Vivi represent an innocent image. The most recent trio of Kim Lip, Jinsoul, and Choerry have more mature images. From the outside they seem fairly interchangeable so what really makes this whole endeavour work is the music. The sounds of the individual girls each build a particular world for them and their respective groups. Each one tells a small part of a bigger story with a distinct personal touch so that when you listen to them as a whole these ideas come out naturally.

The first five girls of Blockberry Creative’s ambitious girl group LOONA represent not just the past but their potential. The quintet were painted with feminine images while their music was all imbued with classical touches. Each track is connected to the past in some way either through its style or the nature of its production, as they began to create a timeline for the story of LOONA.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FCYE87P5L0&w=500&h=281]

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

On October 4th 2016, the music video for “Vivid” by Heejin was released. Before the music even starts there is the sound of a record spinning as she is immediately positioning herself in a previous time. What follows is a bold and brassy pop stomper. The music is grounded in physical instruments; the brass, piano and drums are pretty much all that’s there. Aside from a couple digital effects towards the end, they all sound live as well. This give the song a physicality that is the main factor in creating the sound for these girls. Heejin is painting the world she wants to see as a LOONA member, “Fill me with many colours, red, orange, yellow, green, something highlight.” She sets the stage when we didn’t even know there was one.

Hyunjin was decidedly more simple. Her song, “Around You,” is a cold piano-led ballad. She quietly coos about waiting for the boy she likes, hoping he will notice her but not expecting anything. There’s a sense of history to the way the piano reverberates, Hyunjin’s frail voice as well seems hurt. “I’m still not brave yet, So I’m leaving silently again,” she finishes the song with. Not only are the instruments acoustic but their sparseness creates a tone that is equally dense with feeling. There’s a sense of mystery that goes along with this history too that builds with each release. The mystery of these girls’ past but also of what LOONA as a whole will be.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mybsDDymrsc&w=500&h=281]

This feeling doesn’t come from just the fact that the instruments are not electronic though. The styles LOONA used in the following releases were decidedly retro to counteract this. Chinese member Vivi’s “Everyday I Love You” is an adorable 90s throwback complete with a perfect overexposed video. The synths used are light, twinkly, and very in much in with the time of the setting in that they don’t actually do all the heavy lifting. They are accompanied by keyboards, brass, and a guitar, whose slide before the chorus is the clincher. It does extremely well to sidestep cringiness toward something that feels totally genuine and nostalgic. Vivi’s airy vocals sing “Like a fool, I’m thinking of you, And another day passes.” Vivi is trapped waiting for something. The nostalgia of her music is a barrier to her true feelings and prevents her from moving forward.

The first two sub-units of LOONA, Heejin and Hyunjin’s “I’ll Be There” and LOONA ⅓’s “Love and Live” use 80s sounds for their retro stylings. “Love and Live” has shimmering synths that combine so well with the orchestral work. The production is top class but that same classic feeling comes through. On “I’ll Be There” it’s the electronic drums. Their satisfying rolls and snaps recall the heyday of 80s electro. The lyrics for both are again about either waiting or missing a boy or wanting to prove they are good enough to be there for him. However hard they try, the girls can’t seem to get to a place of comfort with their emotions.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNcBZM5SvbY&w=500&h=281]

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Youngest member, Yeojin, didn’t go with a particular time period for her sound but has a musical style familiar to anyone listening. “Kiss Later” begins with a soft, shimmering melody, Yeojin uses her tiny cutesy voice to great effect before crashing into a frenzy of strings, horns, and percussion. At only fourteen years old, Yeojin’s time waiting for love is somewhat similar to the other girls but different in intent. Being so young, her present is not like the other girls. They wait thinking of their past while she needs to wait on account of her past is not so distant. She asks the boy to wait instead. For LOONA she is the suggestion of a future that can move forward. While the other girls seem to be almost apathetic at this stage as they look towards the past, Yeojin is still excited about moving forward.

Her Broadway style song is particularly apt thanks not just to its classical nature but its timelessness. The music matches her excitement while its history is the natural fit for her current state. She is growing up and her story is an appealing enigma.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thpTOAS1Vgg&w=500&h=281]

The final song of the first five girls does not bring the mystery to a close however. LOONA ⅓’s second single, “Sonatine,” is in fact titled “Unknown/Mysterious Secret” in Korean. They jettison standard pop rules in favour of an almost purely orchestral track. The string work is beautiful and helped by a Latin breakdown and small synth parts. The vocals of Heejin and Haseul are strong while Hyunjin and Vivi provide a necessary layer of vulnerability. The girls yearn for a future despite its path being unknown, yet their songs remain stuck in a sonic past they are comfortable with. It’s not a contradiction so much as they are waiting for someone, or something, to come find them, finally seeing that “A new world will be opened to us.”

Before this dramatic ending, however, someone already put out an orchestral song and did it without any electronic interference. Haseul, the proto-leader of LOONA, was the third girl with her song “Let me in.” Haseul’s beautifully restrained voice plays alongside piccolo tweets and delicate pulls of a harp. She sings about feeling like she is literally becoming the boy she loves, she is hesitant but eventually concedes to the relentless pull of the rising moon. The music provides the sense of history for her story and connects Haseul not just to her past but to nature as well. “Will I be you? Will you be me?” she asks, confused about this sudden love and change of her identity. As the girls wait impatiently, Haseul is already deep in love, to the point of losing sight of herself. She represents a possible future for each of them. A chance for them to become one with their love, a chance for all these disparate girls to come together.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6a4BWpBJppI&w=500&h=281]

When going for such a grand scheme as LOONA are, their approach was the perfect one. Building a believable fictional world requires a lot of time and effort put into details that are not always obvious. If they had gone with the same concept without this sort of music it still would have been an incredibly interesting project. What Polaris have done is create something you could almost touch, a world which these girls truly inhabit. This is all thanks to the physicality of the music. Put them in a playlist in order and listen with a good pair of headphone. The minutiae of songs like “Let me in” become even better and songs like “Everyday I Love You” which was one I ignored for a bit are given new life.

At this stage though, we only knew five girls (that has since changed). As stated in “Sonatine,” the future was still a mystery and few clues were left to what it was. The song itself does provide one final important clue though. As the strings swell to a close, the tiny synth details become a bit clearer. The final few sounds we hear are undecipherable but undoubtedly electronic. As it fades slowly out, the future (or present) of LOONA is quietly suggested.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6JmCdDs_GM&w=500&h=281]

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

BlackPink & 2NE1: Unexpectedly Different

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

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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dISNgvVpWlo&w=500&h=281]

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

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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pdj4iJD08s&w=500&h=281]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzVR_fymZw4&w=500&h=281]

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

2NE1 & BlackPink: Comparing Fashion & Styling

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

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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Amq-qlqbjYA&w=500&h=281]

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

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

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

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

Also on KultScene: Sungha Jung mixes music with ‘MIXTAPE’ in Singapore

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

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

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

How different are Black Pink and 2NE1? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted: July roundup [podcast]

In celebration of our third anniversary earlier this year, KultScene has started a collaboration with K-Pop Unmuted, a podcast dedicated to delving deep into K-pop.

On Episode 21 of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight, Joe Palmer, and Tamar Herman discuss the most interesting K-pop releases from July 2017, including BTS’s Seo Taiji remake “Come Back Home,” Loona’s “Love Cherry Motion,” Dreamcatcher’s “Fly High,” Akdong Musician’s “Dinosaur,” Snuper’s “The Star of Stars,” and Red Velvet’s “Zoo.”

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 K-pop in July 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.

4 things we can learn from K.A.R.D’s racist incident in Brazil

k.a.r.d kard brazil racism racist incident gil

[Disclosure: This article was written from the perspective of a born and raised Brazilian who still resides in the country.]

While in Brazil during their first tour overseas in early July, co-ed group K.A.R.D had a busy schedule that included lots of interviews for magazines, and appearances on Youtube channels and a TV show called Programa do Raul Gil (The Raul Gil Show). What was supposed to be an amazing experience for K.A.R.D, and their first TV appearance in the country, ended up catching more attention than expected due to a racist incident involving the host and members B.M., Somin, Jiwoo, and J. Seph.

After surprising a group of kids who were appearing on show to perform a dance cover of K.A.R.D’s song “Don’t Recall,” the K-pop group was interviewed by Raul Gil, the host of the show, with the help of a translator. Although the questions were as simple as asking how long they had been on the road since the tour began, things got rough when Gil interacted with the crowd and made inappropriate remarks. Invoking Asian stereotypes, Gil pulled on his eyelids and made jokes about how K.A.R.D can’t open their eyes, and impersonated what he perceived as a Japanese accent.

The group’s appearance on the show trended on Twitter, due to Brazilian fans’ excitement over watching a K-pop act on a local TV show, which is a rare occurrence. But after American media outlets reported on the episode, Korean fans took note of what happened, though it seemed like K.A.R.D didn’t even notice since the translator didn’t translate the racist jokes. A war between Brazilian and Korean fans then ensued on Twitter, with each side pointing out previous racist behaviours of the other, mostly through memes and surprisingly aggressive comments.

So now that the dust has calmed down, it’s time to discuss the issue a little bit more seriously. As a Brazilian and a K-pop fan, this is what I believe we all can learn from this unfortunate event.

Also on KultScene: K.A.R.D’s ‘Hola Hola’ song & music video review

1. Racism Doesn’t Have To Be Aggressive & Deliberate To Be Valid

Sadly, some people just did not understand why Gil’s behaviour towards K.A.R.D was problematic. Some people said “racism” is a word too strong to describe what happened; others even said that he’d only be racist if he had directly insulted K.A.R.D; and some thought he was just being funny.

But at the end of the day, as much as he was only trying to be funny and didn’t seem malicious, here’s the thing: whenever you reduce someone to a stereotype based on a generalization of their race or automatically make assumptions of someone based on their race or, for whatever reason, do not give someone the right to be who they are just because you think they are a certain way due to their biological features, you are being racist. Comedy is irrelevant; jokes can be racist. It doesn’t have to be violent or even ill hearted because racism is embedded in societies systematically.

It might sound obvious and unnecessary, but nowadays there are still people who think racism occurs only with black people and no one else! But that’s simply not true. Both Brazil and Korea are countries whose people often get discriminated, stereotyped, and ridiculed —although also loved and praised by many, too— but one behaviour does not cancel out the other. So, even with all the love and gifts K.A.R.D received on Gil’s show, they shouldn’t had been belittled to common Asian stereotypes.

k.a.r.d. wild kard tour brazil sao paulo somin j.seph jseph

by Ana Clara Ribeiro

2. Yes, There Is Racism In Brazil

Like many other colonized countries, miscegenation played a major role in the formation of Brazilian people. First came the European colonizers when they took over the native lands of the indigenous Brazilians, which then brought the forced influx of Africans due to the slave trade. Some time later, people from Japan and the Middle East migrated. The diversity of cultures and ethnicities makes it difficult to pinpoint one’s race in Brazil.

Even so, racism is still a serious problem in the country. Living in a multicultural environment doesn’t absolve Brazilian people from racist beliefs, unfortunately. Even though we do not like being confused with other Latinx people (seeing ourselves as Latinxs is an entirely different discussion) nor being mistaken for Spanish speakers, some of us sometimes perpetuate stereotypes about other races and cultures too — even within Brazil itself and our own people.

For example, Brazil nowadays has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, but Japanese people and their descendants are still often victims of racist attitudes from some native Brazilians who think “all Asians look the same” and make jokes about the way they look, act, and talk. I’m not of proud of stating that, but the so-called “jokes” made by Gil with K.A.R.D are a perfect reflection of this.

3. Yes, There Is Racism In Korea Too

If you follow Korean entertainment news, you certainly can recall one or two (or three, or four!) episodes in which Korean TV shows featured black face as a gag— those are well documented. The Twitter war over the incident in Brazil, however, exposed other nuances of Korean racism, when Korean fans insulted Brazilians.

Brazilians fired back by pointing how fighting racism with racism makes no sense.
Of course, the behaviour of those Korean Twitter users, in addition to other racist patterns frequently seen in Korean media, is not an excuse for Gil’s actions, nor those from Brazilian fans who made disrespectful comments. However, since the subject here is racism, it is important to take an honest look at how this issue may be rooted in diversity, or the lack of it, and how being a victim of racism does not always prevent you from reproducing racist speeches as well.

Also on KultScene: Is K.A.R.D the future of K-pop?

4. Respect & Education Is A Must For Both K-pop Acts & The Fandom

It’s really unfortunate that this incident might have left a dirty mark on the overall good experience of K.A.R.D in Brazil, and I personally believe that we can get through this with accountability. However, we all should be aware that racism and other culturally related issues can probably happen again, especially now that K-pop is getting so much worldwide recognition and so many acts are touring more countries than they used to. K.A.R.D alone will come back to South America for another leg of their tour, and will also visit Europe and the States.

So, for both K-pop acts and foreign fans, respect, education, and acknowledgement can go a long way in order to avoid the typical problems that might happen when you put two different cultures together. Right in the beginning of the Wild K.A.R.D Tour, for example, the group was involved in a controversy for supposedly have said the N-word during a performance of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” which later was found not to be true. The members clarified the incident at a later show and stated that they would never say anything that would offend fans — a very rare action in K-pop where artists almost never properly apologize for problematic behaviour. (Though we are seeing it a bit more frequently as of late).

It makes me wonder how many K-pop acts are prepared to deal with other cultures, since many artists still appear to be ignorant about how offensive such attitudes can be. But, since I’m speaking from the perspective of a fan and consumer, I can only hope that we, the fans, can improve our sense of cultural intelligence too, and not perpetuate the same problematic behaviours just because we were offended first.

As a Brazilian, I do not think Brazil owes an apology to K.A.R.D, because Gil’s actions do not represent the feelings and beliefs of the entire country. For the most part, K.A.R.D was treated with love and respect during their stay in Brazil, which, by the way, has one of their largest fanbase of supporters.

That being said, I hope the group does not take this incident as a pattern to judge our country, just like I hope people here and everywhere will stop using stereotypes and jokes to mistreat Koreans and all other races. We have a long way to go and it definitely isn’t something we can fix overnight, but we can at least start by acknowledging our own problematic actions and keep educating ourselves. After all, we all are fans of foreign artists, and said artists have foreign fans who contribute to their success, so we should always strive to understand one another’s culture.

What’s your take on the racist incident K.A.R.D experienced? What did you think of it? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted: Talking T-ara [podcast]

kpop unmuted kultscene t-ara podcast k-pop

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.

Nothing lasts forever, but T-ara is making a good attempt at it. On episode 20, Stephen, Tamar, and our guest Jacques Peterson discuss the group’s career and their four-member revival with “Your Name.”

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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 your thoughts on T-ara’s new album and their career 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: G-Dragon [podcast]

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 episode 19, Stephen Knight,  Alejandro Abarca, and Sam from East Coast Kpop Outlet – ECKO discussed G-Dragon’s newest album, Kwon Ji Yong, how we became his fans, T.OP.‘s scandal, and the future of G-D’s career. We also discussed Produce 101 season 2‘s “Never,” G-Dragon’s “B******T,” and SISTAR’s “Alone” as the songs that have us hooked as of late.

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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 your thoughts on G-Dragon’s new album 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.