Sometimes I think I’m not harsh enough on K-pop releases. Nearly every one of my reviews has been overwhelmingly positive. Those were all genuinely great releases, though, and I don’t think any differently now. Maybe K-pop is not as perfect as I thought it was, and I was adjusting my opinions to fit that. Then this week happened. Three titans of K-pop SHINee, Wonder Girls, and T-ara released equally exceptional new songs. As the kids would say, what a time to be alive.
These vanguards of K-pop are also a good example of a few different sides of the genre. Wonder Girls and SHINee deliver perfect 80/70s throwbacks in different ways and T-ara pull off the best generic Brave Brothers track since AOA’s “Miniskirt”.
SHINee “Married to the Music”
SHINee already showed us that they had the 90s sound and look down to a tee, and this time they take on the music of the 70s. Michael Jackson’s style in particular can be heard, which isn’t a surprise given his clear influence on Taemin’s solo and SHINee’s concept in general.
The first thing you’ll notice about “Married to the Music” is how wacky and fun the video is. It takes most of its inspiration from the 1975 cult classic, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” It shows the boys from SHINee drinking some weird drinks that change their disposition (alcohol! gasp!) and having a wild time in a creepy house. Heads are chopped off, eyeballs popped out as events get stranger by the second. It is by far the most fun video of the year so far. It’s great to see SM actually trying with their videos as well. When they actually put effort in, and take SM artists outside of boxes, SM Entertainment makes the best video they have ever done.
Also on KultScene: K-Pop Sound, American Style: Marcan Entertainment Is The K-Pop Production K-Pop Agencies Turn To [INTERVIEW]
It’s disappointing then that the lyrics don’t match up with the video at all then. They’re pretty standard, about loving a girl. Even the music metaphor isn’t interesting as it’s always about the girl and not actual music, which could have been cool and unsurprising given SHINee’s seeming love of music, especially Jonghyun.
This disappointment doesn’t last long though as the song more than makes up for it. “Married to the Music” continues the retro theme with funky aplomb. The thing I really like about this song is the wide use of actual instruments over electronics. Apart from the drums it sounds like an actual band could have played this. The wandering bass that carries the song is particularly satisfying and reminiscent of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. The slick guitars provide the funk like no synths can. That’s not to say it’s devoid of electronics though, they are used sparingly to good effect at louder parts of the song like Minho’s rap. The song is a blast and has no trouble keeping up with the outrageous video.
Wonder Girls “I Feel You”
The throwbacks continue with the return of the legendary Wonder Girls. I got into K-pop in late 2011 so missed most of the Wonder Girls mania. So, they never really meant a lot to me apart from having some good songs. However, when the teaser came out for “I Feel You”, the single for their new rebooted band lineup, I fell in love. The MTV inspired video and 80s synth-pop sound appeared so perfectly realised. With the release of the video, this love turned out to be complete.
Like SHINee, it’s the dedication to being retro that really sets Wonder Girls apart. So often recently we have seen groups tack on the most obvious elements of 80s or 90s pop to make their song a retro throwback. The general sound and look of these songs are usually still quite modern, though, so it tends not to work. What Wonder Girls have done is transport the 80s to today and given it modern production values and edgy sexiness. Even with that, “I Feel You,” still sounds like it could have been from the actual 80s.
This is clearly evident in the synth hook that introduces the song. It’s an intoxicating riff that doesn’t outstay its welcome and eventually becomes the hook of the song. This is why the actual chorus comes across as quite flat at first. Sunmi’s softer, kind of talk singing over the chorus doesn’t inspire you to sing along but allows the synth riff to shine once she’s finished. It also works to carry over the sensual feeling of the verse which features similar sexy, whispered vocals. The addition of rapping that can sometimes make a retro K-pop track quite jarring doesn’t even stop “I Feel You” for a moment. Yubin’s deep, sensual voice fits perfectly with the rest of the vocals making her rap more a slightly faster verse than a whole new part.
Also on KultScene: The Future of Virtual Reality in K-Pop
The music video also completely nails the 80s retro feel. The attention to detail in some of the images is brilliant and quite funny at times. If you ever thought the video was kind of cheesy at times, don’t worry: That’s the point. The opening is probably my favourite where Sunmi turns to the camera, smiles then zips down her shorts to reveal the group on stage. For whatever reason the turn before she smiles makes it for me; it seems unnecessary but works so well. I also love the shots of the girls as they rap the post-chorus part. They have two of the girls in each shot and pull focus as they rap. It’s the type of shot that would never be seen today and is the kind of detail that makes this song and video one of the best of the year so far.
T-ara “So Crazy”
For better or worse, Brave Brothers has become a mainstay of the K-pop environment. His safe but effective music has been increasingly popular in the last few years making him the go to guy for a hit. So his pairing with the once loved T-ara is an appropriate one. Ever since their scandal in 2012, T-ara have had a hard time regaining their popularity in Korea. Instead they have mainly focused on promoting in China where they have had unprecedented success. They, of course, have not given up on their home country though and are teaming up with Brave Brothers for “So Crazy” their new single.
While “So Crazy” stays true to the Brave Brothers form in structure and use of sounds, it is still an incredibly exciting track. It moves at intense speeds. The song doesn’t quite explode until the first chorus but the opening verse is deceptively quick and full to the brim with different sounds. Bouncing horns and layered vocals build anticipation before the song takes off. Its a sound that fits T-ara like few other groups. Their vocals lend to the high-pitched layers especially using the slightly weaker Jiyeon with a stronger vocal like Hyomin’s or Soyeon’s.
“So Crazy” is Brave Brothers at his absolute best. Of the three songs I’ve talked about so far, it is probably the least interesting and yet it remains the most exciting and listenable. His ‘oh oh oh’ hook once again works its magic. The song has an unhinged quality that is usually absent in Brave Brothers songs. It hits all the same beats as any recent AOA song yet there is always so much going that it never bores and feels like it could lift off into the stratosphere at any time.
What do you think of these three songs and of the current state of K-pop? 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.