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.
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