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.

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.

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.

Also on KultScene: Text to Text: DIA and Terrence Malick’s modern romance

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This structure segregates rap and singing more aggressively than YG releases have in the past, conforming more closely to other K-pop releases from groups like f(x), SHINee, 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.

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

2NE1 & BlackPink: Comparing Fashion & Styling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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.

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.

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.