Weekly K-pop Faves: Jan. 2-8

The second week of January brought K-pop the busiest week of 2017 (two down!) so far, with a variety of releases from well-known acts. Long-lived boy band Shinhwa released a new album, while VIXX member Ravi dropped some solo music. Rookie acts Akdong Musician (aka AKMU) and Day6 also returned with brand new music that turns away from K-pop’s typical dancepop sound.

“I Wait” by Day6 (Released Jan.6)

Day6 kicked off their year-long release cycle with the first single, “I Wait.” The song is the most boisterous single from Day6 so far, and it changes the group’s sound up quite a bit with a blend of electro and alternative rock. The song’s title in Korean, “Aw Why?” (“아 왜?”) makes the stilted rhythm all that much more anxiety-inducing, but the English one actually makes “I Wait” seem a bit more sentimental. It’s an altogether heavier sound from the band, but still maintains Day6’s typical lovelorn lyrics and paired with their typically cinematic music video. It’s the first of 12 singles Day6 plans to release in 2017, so prepare to be overrun with this band’s ever growing discography.

— Tamar

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“Touch” by Shinhwa (Released Jan. 5)

Shinhwa still manages to blow my mind with every comeback. As the members evolved over the last decade, so has their music, and “Touch” is no different. The song is heavily future bass influenced, which keeps the listeners in a trance from the beginning until the end. The group actually premiered “Touch” at the 2016 MBC Gayo Daejun, which was sort of a spoiler since viewers were able to see the choreographed version first instead of just the song itself but it was nonetheless a worthy performance. It’s even more applause-worthy to see these guys keep up with the ever changing music scene and the continuous efforts that they put into making it work, even after almost twenty years.

— Tam

“Bomb” by Ravi feat. San E (Released Jan. 8)

If you’re already immune to the rampant cultural appropriation in K-hip-hop and can get past the mildly cringey intro, Ravi’s first solo endeavour “Bomb” quite exceeds expectations. It looks and sounds a bit dated, not to mention it’s very similar to Zico’s “Tough Cookie” aesthetically. It’s really not that interesting sound-wise; your standard hard K-rap beat. However, Ravi’s delivery was spot on — miles away from his second hand embarrassment inducing verses on VIXX’s early songs — and showed he’s still growing as a rapper. Not to mention the chorus is easily sung a long to and has earworm potential. Furthermore, I’ve never heard a song featuring San E that I’ve liked, but I don’t mind his presence that much here. Overall, it’s nice to see Ravi doing better and working on the betterment of his craft.

— Alexis

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“Will Last Forever” by Akdong Musician (Released Jan. 2)

Korea’s beloved sibling duo made a return this week with their third album “Spring to Winter,” accompanied with a music video and a beautiful musical short film. While their title track “Last Goodbye” pulled at my heartstrings a lot (I’m going to miss you Chanhyuk), “Will Last Forever” went a step further in actually moving me. There’s just something tragic about two young kids singing about lost hopes and forgotten friendships. It hits you with a cold dose of reality and forces you to wake up from your youthful dreams.

— Anna

”Fall Back” by A.Leean (Released Jan. 7)

“Fall Back” is different from Ailee’s previous songs for a reason. The single, produced by LA-based Westside Entertainment, was carefully engineered for a new audience; it sounds as if it was chosen specifically for its potential to climb the U.S. charts. Although an agency representative compared A.Leean’s vocal ability to that of Whitney Houston and Ariana Grande, Ailee’s new song “Fall Back” is more likely to evoke a Katy Perry feeling. From its urgent workout-worthy beat to the catchy refrain, it’s the kind of song you put on when you need to rev up your day. It’s memorably appealing but it was not designed to make the most of Ailee’s incredible vocal range. While the sections of “Fall Back” that give Ailee center stage may remind K-pop fans how lush her voice can be, the song’s production does not let her voice resonate as emotionally as it did in her recent hit “Home” featuring Yoon Mirae, or her OST contributions, “Goodbye My Lover” and “Day by Day.”

“Fall Back” is heavy on the percussion, which sometimes distracts from Ailee’s voice and other times successfully uses a tinsel effect to make the song sound celebratory, which is fitting for a debut. It may be just the formula to climb the U.S. charts, but “Fall Back” doesn’t really live up to K-pop’s standards. The lyrics are about wanting to revive lost love, trying to return to the moment when everything was good, and make things work out after all. The optimistic turn-back-the-clock lyrics may be just the kind of lyrics needed in 2017, and they’re easy to hum along to.

— Joan

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What’s the deal with A.Leean?

On Jan. 5, f(x)’s Amber Liu posted an image on Instagram to promote a “famous singer, new alias.” The image announced that a singer, using the alias A.leean, will make her U.S. debut on Jan. 7 with the single, “Fall Back.” Amber’s fans were quick to offer options as to whom the mystery singer A.leean might be. Many of the guesses veered towards Ailee, a K-pop singer known for her outstanding vocal performances.

A.Leean’s chosen alias offers clue to her identity, but the fact that Amber posted the image also suggests that it might be Ailee. Amber and Ailee are close friends and have performed together. At KCON NY in 2016, Ailee, a Korean-American singer raised in New Jersey, did mention that she was angling to release music in the United States.

To find out a bit more about A.Leean, Kultscene reached out to David Kim, a Hollywood-based entertainment lawyer promoting the singer’s debut in the U.S. When asked to reveal the singer’s identity and confirm her K-pop credentials, he chose not to comment. However, he did say he’s not worried about the singer’s existing fans outing her and revealing her identity. “We’re not afraid of fans,” he said. “Because we’d actually like more fan participation. We just won’t be making an official statement until later.”

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For a few weeks, A.Leean won’t publicly state her identity or make promotional appearances. The release of the song’s music video will also be delayed, leaving listeners free to speculate on her musical background. According to Kim, the decision to release music anonymously enables listeners to judge the singer on the merits of her voice and not her background.

If A.Leean is, in fact, already a K-pop star, she has chosen a different route than other Korean or Korean-American singers attempting to debut in the U.S. As yet there is no predictable formula for a successful crossover. Psy dominated the charts with his Korean language “Gangnam Style,” while 2NE1’s CL released the English language single “Lifted” in Aug. 2016 and reached 94 on the Billboard Hot 100. Even Korean-American bands have until recently met with limited success; the most successful was Far East Movement. The group’s record “G6” reached first place in Billboard’s Hot 100. Any k-pop singer trying to break into the U.S. market will confront complicated concerns, including misleading preconceptions and the possibility of racial prejudice.

“We wanted to focus more on the music and not so much on the person behind the song, which is what musical pop culture has evolved into,” said Kim. “Not that pop culture is a bad thing, but we wanted to focus on her talent. When the song gains traction and becomes popular, we will reveal her identity.”

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The international platform that YouTube offers can make a formal music release in the U.S. seem less important to some recording artists, but A.Leean’s team sees it as the logical next step toward global recognition.

“The U.S. music market is still the official authority on what music is broadcast all over the world,” Kim told KultScene. “Our artist is not an amateur. She’s been singing for years. We felt like the whole world could be seeing her perform and not just a segment of the world. We wanted to broaden her base and felt we had to do it through U.S. market first. “

Kim is working with LA-based Westside Entertainment to launch the singer he describes as “having powerhouse vocals” and “being a mix between Whitney Houston and Ariana [Grande].” Westside Entertainment is the company behind The Notorious B.I.G., Nelly, MASE, Lil Fizz, and Keyshia Cole. After playing the single for members of his music industry family, Westside Entertainment VP Stephen Umavitz is confident that this singer has what it takes.


This gonna be ? #ALeean #FallBack #AleeanEncounter

A photo posted by Amber J. Liu (@ajol_llama) on

“A good handful of Hollywood legends and entertainment music industry veterans have already personally listened to the song,” said Umavitz in an official statement. “They said it has a crazy hook and that it’s gonna be a hit record.”

“Fall Back,”A.Leean’s single about falling in love again has a Jan. 7 release date. On Jan. 11, the lyric video will be released on YouTube. The official video will be released at a later date, depending on how “Fall Back” performs in the U.S.

A.Leean is not the first recording artist to anonymously release music. Electronic dance producer and DJ Marshmello is currently at 84 on the Billboard Top 100 and his real identity remains unknown. But while anonymity creates hype at first, that won’t matter if the singer does not ultimately climb high on the charts. Luckily, if this is who we think it is, we’re sure A.Leean’s vocals are going to impress America.

Do you think A.Leean has what it takes to succeed in the U.S. market? Can you guess who she is? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.