Unappreciated Singers: Equality Of Line Distribution In K-pop Songs

bigbang line equality

BIGBANG finished off their “MADE” series two weeks ago with their latest singles, “Let’s Not Fall In Love” and “Zutter” (G-Dragon & T.O.P). As usual, they achieved international success in both album and digital sales. Amidst the rave reviews for the songs though, netizens and VIPs (BIGBANG fans) were quick to point out the inequality in the line distributions, especially for “Let’s Not Fall In Love”. This issue is not a new one in the world of K-pop or even for BIGBANG, but the fact that G-Dragon & T.O.P had a single of their own this time around highlighted how the other vocalists in the group (namely Daesung and Seungri) are seemingly unfairly treated.

The accusations are not unfounded, “Let’s Not Fall In Love” is indeed dominated by the other three members and Daesung and Seungri have a mere three lines each. They also seem to get the short end of the stick in their first single of 2015, “Bae Bae”, with their meagre number of lines. Why are the members constantly short changed in this manner? To say that their voices simply do not fit the mood and emotion of the songs seems a bit far-fetched to me, especially since this pattern can be seen in several of their releases. They certainly are not lacking in terms of their vocal ability either, as their successful solo debuts in both Japan and Korea can prove.

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You may wonder why line distribution is such a big deal to netizens and artists, but the number of lines a member gets is almost directly proportional to the amount of screentime he receives on music shows or television broadcast performances. With more lines he is able to showcase more of himself, which at times can be integral to an artist’s ego and individual growth. When a member gets more lines, he also has more pressure to perform well and up to standard, which will automatically result in him practicing more and consistently improving himself.

INFINITE’s L is the living example of that. Back in the “The Chaser” days, he used to get a mere two lines in the entire song and as a result his vocal abilities remained rather stagnant. In the past few years however, his parts in each release have gotten longer, and he was even given the opportunity to be a lead vocal for his subunit INFINITE F. His confidence in singing has obviously grown by leaps and bounds and his improvements can be seen and heard.

(Skip to 3:30 for his high note)

Equal line distribution maintains a balance between the members and their unique abilities in the song. In BIGBANG’s case especially, every member brings something different to every song that they sing. For example, T.O.P’s speciality is his deep voice, which makes him a very charismatic rapper and singer. Classic BIGBANG releases such as “Haru Haru” would definitely be very different without his low accompaniments and raps.

via youngbaebae on tumblr

However, members such as Seungri and Daesung also have their own charms which remain a big part to BIGBANG releases. Take for example BIGBANG’s “Loser”, which was released along with “Bae Bae” earlier this year. Seungri and T.O.P sang the chorus together, and his higher voice contrasted nicely with T.O.P’s voice, creating a perfect balance in the song. This balance was lost in “Let’s Not Fall In Love” however, where G-Dragon sang the chorus of the song. Although G-Dragon certainly has the vocal techniques to pull this off, he sang it in a rather low key and flat manner, causing the chorus to sound rather boring as compared to the rest of the song. T.O.P did the same thing in the later chorus as well, although Taeyang’s high notes and ad-libs were brought in towards the end. If Seungri had sung along with them, just like he did in “Loser”, I have no doubt that the resulting effect would be very different. Seungri’s voice may not be as polished or smooth as Taeyang’s and G-Dragon’s voices, but it is melodious and projects a certain calm that the other members don’t seem to possess. In his quiet ways, he is enhancing the songs through every part that he has.

Just like Seungri, Daesung’s voice is unique and instrumental to BIGBANG songs, even if he is often underappreciated. As a soloist, he is also very famous in Japan, so it’s a pity that he isn’t given more lines. His style of singing might not be popular in a mainstream sense, but there is no doubt that he sings with all of his heart. Every note is interjected with tons of emotion, and he sings with more feeling than anyone else in the group, no matter how small his part. “Loser” just wouldn’t be as melancholic and passionate without his heart-wrenching vocals, and Daesung makes up for the lack of emotion that is sometimes evident in the parts of his group mates (i.e T.O.P).

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Maybe it’s a YG Entertainment thing, but BIGBANG’s labelmates 2NE1 also face this problem. Despite the fact that there are only four members in the group, the lines of their songs have always been extremely skewed towards CL and Park Bom. Dara, on the other hand, never gets more than ten lines in a song and at times, and occasionally even gets only two lines. It is a well-known fact that Dara’s weak vocals do not match up to her groupmates, and even in her small number of lines her voice is almost always heavily edited. However, I still believe that Dara can bring something special to 2NE1’s songs, if her voice is used in the right way. Although her voice is soft, it is also sweet, and she can comfortably balance the rough and loud edges CL sometimes brings in her voice, adding more emotion and depth to the songs.

This skewed line distribution does not just affect the member with the least lines, it also places a heavy burden on the other members who are given more lines, especially in small groups like 2NE1. “If I Were You”, a track from 2NE1’s 2014 release, “Crush”, is a good example of this. CL ends off the ballad in a quiet and emotional way, and it sounds fine in the track, but not so in live performances. During 2NE1’s performance on “Yoo Hee Yeol’s Sketchbook,” CL was out of breath by the time she reached the end of the song, and understandably so, because she had to carry several high and long notes throughout the song. This unfortunately lessened the sadness and emotion of this piece. If Dara was the one singing this portion (she only got about one line in the whole song), CL wouldn’t have had to exert herself so much in the performance and Dara would have been able to nail it with her gentle vocals.

(Skip to 3:11 for the ending)

I’m not criticizing BIGBANG or YG for the unfair line distributions because many other K-pop groups also face these problems (especially big groups such as EXO and Girls’ Generation). However, I do believe that each member (this applies to every music group out there) has a special part to play, and if their talents are harnessed properly, the group will be able to create music like never before – music that can highlight every single member’s strengths.

Artist Spotlight: A.KOR


In the wake of their most recent sub-unit single, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit A.KOR’s career in the hope of finding more than a controversy.

When most K-pop fans think of A.KOR they only think of one thing: Kemy’s diss track about 2NE1’s Park Bom. The controversy has completely overshadowed much of the group’s career to date. If you look at the comments of any article about them or video of theirs on Youtube, you will find legions of 2NE1’s fans insulting Kemy and the group. While controversy was likely the whole point of the track, it hasn’t done much to further A.KOR’s success. I’m not here to pick over the details of this though. I’m here to ask you to give A.KOR a chance without the weight of controversy hanging over them. What you will find are exciting tropical beats, two of the best female idol rappers working today, and a whole lot of fun.

The recent use of rappers by boy groups like BTS and B.A.P has not really crossed over to girl groups in a big way. These boy groups have enough talent within all their members to have songs that focus primarily on rapping or vocals. Gone are the early K-pop days of having one token rap verse. However, A.KOR is possibly the only girl group that can achieve this at the moment. A.Kor’s rappers Kemy and Min Ju have distinct flows that contrast each other brilliantly. These coupled with the incredible vocals of Ji Young, the breathy Daya, and Tae Hee’s strength make for an extremely talented group.

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A.KOR actually only debuted with three members, Kemy, Min Ju, and Ji young, for some reason I cannot ascertain. Whatever it was, it didn’t make a difference to their output. Their debut from summer 2014 “Payday” sounds like a 2008/2009 K-pop song with today’s production standards. The banging Europop riff sounds glossy yet cheap at the same time and it has a stupid spoken opening that screams early JYP. Ji Young’s voice has a classic Wonder Girls feel to it that lends to the retro sound and absolutely blasts the choruses.

“Payday,” like all good debuts should, sets down a unique sound for A.KOR. The whole song has a tropical feeling to it that would be exploited some more on later tracks. Matching this with the hip hop stylings that they were being promoted with was a masterstroke. Kemy and Min Ju’s raps work so well together and with these sounds. It’s a genuinely fresh and exciting sound that is uncommon to K-pop.

Luckily for us, A.KOR only improved on their debut with “But Go” later in 2014. Their first song post-Park Bom scandal seems to channel the rage they felt. “But Go” is an explosive track that showcased how powerful girl groups can really be. Once again, the rapping takes center stage behind more foreign beats, this time booming Middle Eastern drums. Kemy and Min Ju are brought into even greater contrast with Min Ju delivering particularly high pitched bubblegum raps against Kemy’s angry strength. Between the two of them, they are the perfect female force for defying the traitorous men this song is about, with Kemy acting as the insulter and Min Ju as the belittler.

“But Go” also introduced the two final members of A.KOR, Daya and Tae Hee. They do the best work they can do here in that they fit in without any fanfare and just join in with A.Kor’s previous line-up. That being said, the new members perform their parts well. Daya especially has a certain charm. Her voice has a strained, out of breath quality to it which I quite like. It adds another dimension to A.KOR’s sound on top of Ji Young’s power and the slick rapping.

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As was the trend for so long, A.KOR eventually went down the sexy route with their next single “Always.” It drops the foreign beats in favour of a standard pop rock sound. Unsurprisingly, this change of concept corresponds with their worst single to date. While not being a completely bad song, it remains uninteresting. Conforming to the trends meant that A.Kor looked uncomfortable in a role which was probably never meant for them. I guess you can’t blame them too much for trying it out considering their lack of success.

The song itself might have been seen as a way of promoting A.KOR’s vocalists more than before. Tae Hee especially gets more lines than she ever had and delivers them well. She has a strength to her voice that suggest something bigger than she is showing us. Maybe given time we will see her really test her pipes.

Also not surprising is that the raps are what keep this from being completely forgettable. Kemy and Min Ju have proven to be a continually interesting duo. So when it was announced they were forming a hip-hop sub unit called A.KOR Black, I got excited. Despite being only a sub-unit this recent comeback confirms A.KOR as an incredibly talented group.

“How We Do” fits into another recent trend of K-pop, the nineties. Here it works really well, as the stylings match with the hip-hop sounds and the song itself has a retro tinge to it. It also signals the return of the tropical sounds in the form of steel drums and synths. These go on top of a beastly hip-hop beat to create something as badass as it is fun. This is the song for summer 2015.

I don’t have to explain just how good the rapping is again, but I will say that it’s the best that the pair has done so far. What is also great is the pop chorus they have; the infectious hook sung by Min Ju is the perfect accompaniment to the cavalcade of rapping.

Even now with “How We Do,” A.KOR’s comment sections are filled with hate. Hopefully, in time, people will learn to forgive Kemy and her group mates (especially since she already apologized). If they do, they will discover a unique and exciting group. Not only are they bringing new sounds into K-pop, but they are showing how badass female idols can really be when it comes to rapping. The power of “But Go” surpassed all other female idol groups last year and “How We Do” is showing they can capitalize on their greatest strengths.

Maybe it’s actually better that they remain lesser known so I can keep them to myself while everyone else can stay on the other side of that infamous feud.

What do you think of A.KOR? 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.

CL’s ‘Doctor Pepper’ Song Review

CL Doctor Pepper
The time is finally here for K-pop’s greatest hope in the West to begin her attack. As K-pop fans, we have seen many before her attempt and fail to break the musical holy land, America. BoA, Se7en, Wonder Girls did not have what it takes. They, however, did not have the backing that 2NE1’s leader CL has at her disposal. Her overall style since her debut has generally taken a greater influence from the West, anyway. She seems to believe in and love her music which, whether true or not, is more common to a Western pop artist. Her performance style is more about putting on a good show than delivering crisp choreography. Moreover, she always has the famous friends like Jeremy Scott, Diplo, and M.I.A. Collaborations with them could raise her profile in the future.

It comes as no surprise that Doctor Pepper is a sleazy hip-hop track so relevant to the US musical environment right now. Does this live up to the hype of K-pop fans though? And is it going to push her career in the US?


Given that hearing Major Lazer on mainstream radio stations is very common these days, Doctor Pepper is the ideal jumping off point for CL. It’s a heavily synthesized piece of hip-hop that we have come to expect from everything Diplo works on. Musically, it doesn’t deviate from its stabbing electro riff for the most part. The clip clopping drum beat behind it keeps things interesting though. It’s a far cry from what most K-pop listeners will be used to. Yet, like Diplo said, K-pop is broad enough to be able to accept and promote just about anything, even super weird Atlanta hip-hop.

This is really a showcase of the rapping talent featured with CL taking centre stage. It is here where the song really delivers. The repeating hook which CL lays at the beginning is a lot of fun. At first listen, it comes across as pretty cheesy, but there’s a wry cleverness to the lyrics that I like. It’s not a silly little rhyme about a soft drink, but an introduction of the baddest female.She’s letting the US public know how cool she is. Ice cool, if you needed help getting that.

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Her rap that follows is similarly simple in its lyric. It contains, however, some slight similarities to CL’s K-pop roots. The vocal inflections and auto-tune recall for a small moment more popular elements. Not to say this is exclusive to K-pop though, most rappers do switch from rapping to singing within one verse a lot. Here though, it seems much more natural due to CL’s incredible vocal range. It appeals to CL’s die hard fans and the party loving Western fans she wants. It’s a pretty good verse to officially open up herself to the public. But in order to leave room for supporting acts, it’s her only verse though.

Those supporters are RiFF RAFF and OG Maco. Raff delivers a typically wacky and fun time while Maco has the Atlanta style flow that perfectly suits this music without overshadowing anyone else.

The Future

The success or failure of Doctor Pepper will have a big impact on CL’s future American career. How the public reacts to it will probably affect what kind of music she continues with, i.e. sticking with Diplo’s signature sounds or going in a more popular root. The success of Nicki Minaj and Diplo’s own work on the charts with Major Lazer show that the style should not be a problem though.

What will probably be the biggest issue is race, unfortunately. The public’s reaction to an Asian pop star getting involved in rap, especially Atlanta style since it’s so local, could be contentious, to say the least. Even though it’s very much in the popular realm now, rap fans have a strong loyalty to their music and artists, not unlike fans of K-pop. The roots of rap are also found in oppression and suffering, whereas CL is a well-travelled superstar who has seemingly never suffered a day in her life.

 Also on KultScene: YG Entertainment and Authenticity in K-Pop

It might seem unfair to assume that people will think this but it’s happening right now to Iggy Azaela, so we know it can happen again. Iggy is constantly being accused of cultural appropriation and it seems to have started hurting her career. I hope the difference between Iggy and CL is that CL actually makes good music. A lot can be forgiven for music that really speaks to people.

While Doctor Pepper may not work as a complete song it does give out good vibes for the future. The style is at once popular and legitimate. The big name connections are there. CL herself is devoted to her music and wants to connect with new audiences. If this isn’t enough to push CL further than those who have tried to break America before, then I hope K-pop stops trying. No one else can do it.

CL 'Doctor Pepper'

What do you think of CL’s Doctor Pepper? 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.

5 K-Pop Songs To Help You Unwind from the Work Week

Whether you just finished a strenuous week of work or school, it’s time to unwind and enjoy the next couple of days of relaxation and no work. These fives songs will help you release your stress and frustrations from your busy week. So forget about the past and enjoy the present.

1. Mamamoo- Baton Touch

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YG Entertainment and Authenticity in K-Pop

The idea of authenticity in pop music is always a contentious one. In the west, every effort is made to make sure the pop star is seen to be the real deal. While in Asia, the idol system is a transparent one in which the fans know young girls and boys train for years to debut and are almost completely controlled by their company. YG Entertainment pride themselves on their more authentic than usual idols and roots in hip-hop. From the acquisition of rap royalty Epik High to the home grown writer producer G-Dragon to the real rappers of iKon, YG has continually put its faith in authentic talent. YG still deal in pop music though, and Yang Hyun Suk and producers like Teddy and Kush are well known as big parts of the music in the company.

Money making and authenticity tend to not go together well, but all pop music is made to make money. So can there be authentic pop music and is YG it? Is their style true or a clever marketing trick? I want to examine YG’s output of 2014 to try and get at some answers. I won’t necessarily be looking at the specific quality of the songs, although it can’t be avoided, but mostly how they were marketed compared to how authentic or interesting they turned out to be.

There is no doubt as to YG’s hip-hop roots being fairly legitimate. YG has come a long way since then however, and are now the second biggest music label in South Korea. In order to get to where they are now though, they have sacrificed some of their ideals in order to get ahead. The idea of authenticity has changed within the company as it becomes more focused on idol groups. The illusion of authenticity has proven to be more effective than putting the work into originality, and 2014 was the year it all came together.

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Last year, YG debuted two new groups, AKMU and WINNER, and created a new one to debut later this year, iKON. Without even getting into the details of the groups, we can see a difference between them and YG’s roots. A lot of them come from talent shows; this immediately raises alarms about the authenticity of these groups. That’s not to say everyone who auditions at talent shows is inauthentic, but it is hard to find true artists through them. There are many talented singers, dancers, and rappers, but how many are the brand of supposed authentic that YG claims it wants?

Akdong Musician were one of these, and were a huge sensation after K-Pop Star. Their music appealed to the Korean market but brought with it an interesting undercurrent thanks to Lee Chanhyuk’s compositions and the vocal dynamic between him and Lee Suhyun. After winning the show, they had the choice themselves to choose between the big three companies. They chose YG explaining that they felt they could express themselves the best there. YG’s image was working for them before even signing Akdong to their label. I have no doubt about the talents of AKMU and they had the right idea by singing with YG, but I wonder if Akdong still feel the same today.

YG has taken the soul of what Akdong Musician are and diluted it with the “YG style.” This is a disservice not only to Chanhyuk and Suhyun but to fans who came to love Akdong’s original sound and image. Their debut single 200% was a generic soft hip-hop pop song which did nothing to showcase the possible talents of Akdong. They even made them dance for the live shows which looked awkward for all involved. They even changed their name to AKMU. It’s not all bad for Akdong though, as their other big song of the year, Melted, is an incredible social critique with a stripped back piano accompaniment, and one of the best music videos of the year.

While Akdong Musician were taken from outside of YG’s doors, WINNER were created in a reality show made by the company. WIN: Who is Next? followed two different boy groups made of YG trainees as they fought to debut as the first YG boy group since BIGBANG. They were Team A and Team B, with Team A eventually winning, being christened as WINNER and given a debut.

Pop music is a business, and in business, major companies do not take risks on letting the public have a say in their next move. So when a show like this runs, I can’t help but be sceptical. YG ultimately would have total control over what was shown and it would be naive to think that they wouldn’t have made edits in accordance with their own plans. Favour was more than likely thrown in Team A’s direction to keep in line with these. The fact that Bobby from Team B, or iKon now, couldn’t make the top team even though he is the hottest property on the K-pop market right now shows there was a plan for each group prior to shooting the show. Considering that YG had the ultimate say in who won confirms this to be nothing more than a vanity project attempting to showcase their authenticity.

I realise these are completely unfounded claims, but I can’t help but feel that show was completely manipulative. Putting these aside, I want to look at WINNER’s highly anticipated debut. The promo for it was one of the best ever seen in not only K-pop but all pop in recent years. It featured micro films with each member, short documentaries about their feelings leading up to their debut and even an incredibly produced instrumental track over interesting visuals. Everything was done in a consistently stylish and artful manner. Expectation was high for something truly interesting.

… Then they released a ballad.

Ballads are the safest, most mainstream and dull kind of song in all of K-pop. Ballads from drama soundtracks consistently top the charts and have been doing so more and more recently. So when WINNER, after the amazing build up, released Empty, I was severely disappointed. That’s not to say it’s necessarily a bad song, just a completely safe one considering the teasers and YG’s talk of WINNER being more than just a Korean group. So of course Empty went on to be a huge success making WINNER the fastest boy group to win a music program award and winning more awards at the MAMAs and Melon. As soon as YG saw the success they doubled down by releasing a solo song from WINNER’s rapper Mino, I’m Him which sounded like a rejected G-Dragon album cut.

Also on KultScene: Let’s Discuss: WINNER As A New Type Of Idol

I want to save any criticism or praise for iKon for when they properly debut. I will say however that Bobby seems to be trying to make a legitimate career for himself, but doesn’t see that he is now an idol because of this. Trying to distance himself from other idols won’t help him at all as it will only make him seem like a try-hard boy group member.

All of 2014’s releases stem from an apparent move from YG to become a more global company. Even Epik High have lost the personal touch that made their earlier music so good. With CL making her way over to America and PSY already achieving huge crossover success, YG can obviously see themselves as the biggest K-Pop players –in the U.S. at least.

In order to continue attacking the western market though, they are losing any sense of true authenticity in place of a corporate illusion of reality. They put the main focus of their groups on their supposed legitimate rappers to give a sense of originality to them. Yet when music is released, it is generic and uninteresting. YG has essentially tricked their fans into believing everything they do is true artistry, that everything they release comes 100 percent from the members themselves. In the pop music world, this is impossible. This is the true quality of YG, making corporate look authentic.

What do you think of YG’s authenticity? 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.