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, 9MUSES, 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.

Also on KultScene: Sungha Jung mixes music with ‘MIXTAPE’ in Singapore

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.

50 Best Korean Songs of 2016: Part 1

After experiencing one of the best years of Korean releases in 2015, the expectations were high for 2016. This year, however, we were all bamboozled on every front imaginable, making 2016 a monumental year but not necessarily for the reasons we expected. Big names in K-pop disbanded, Korean R&B arose as hip-hop did in previous years, and a dominance of new girl groups became evident. It also marked the year the generational shift began, with older groups falling to the wayside to make room for newer acts. Even though we didn’t get to see strong comebacks by more established acts, the newer ones started, or continued, with a bang.

As every year, the KultScene staff determined what songs we thought were above the rest. And after fierce competition, we narrowed it down to the 50 best of 2016.

50. “The Closer” by VIXX

VIXX made a name for themselves with dark, weird concepts that they’ve developed throughout a few comebacks after their debut in 2012. However, ever since last year, the sextet has been experimenting with their sound. And after last year’s releases and another one earlier this year where they veered towards SHINee’s funky pop territory, VIXX went back to more somber, fantasy concepts with “The Closer.” This time, however, instead of relying on the pop-heavy vocals, they mixed it up with early 2000’s R&B for a smoother sound. This track showed just how much the group has grown artistry-wise and proved that what they do, they do it well. A group known for two power vocals in K-pop, the highlight goes to Ravi who, thank goodness, has been on a steady non-cringeworthy rap stride as of late. Now that the cutesy boy band trend is coming back, a concept group like VIXX is highly appreciated. Stay weird, kids.

— Alexis

49. “Secret” by Yuri and Seohyun of Girls’ Generation

There has never been a better commercial jingle than “Secret,” Yuri and Seohyun’s collaboration with Pantene. Yes, the shampoo. “Secret” is a full-blown EDM song that veers towards generic, but the execution by the pair is filled with energy and surprises. Seohyun’s well-recognized as a great vocalist, but Yuri comes into her own in “Secret,” and the song never falls flat, despite the song’s chaotic composition. Pounding beats come to near complete-halts before sonic builds to the whispery choruses. The song is a glorious show of the pair’s diversity as singers and leaves us wanting to see what this duo could do together as an actual Girls’ Generation subgroup. Hint, hint, SM Entertainment.

— Tamar

48. “Don’t Believe” by Berry Good

Perennial underachievers Berry Good rounded out the best year of their careers with this superb slice of tropical house. Jettisoning their trademark big vocals, they let producers Nassun and Big Tone weave “Don’t Believe” into something altogether more professional sounding than usual. The girls bring a restrained pain that rises with every part, starting out with some sort of hope but eventually concluding that “all of me is meaningless.” It makes the catharsis of the dance break more down to earth. Instead of the euphoric joy of “Angel,” Berry Good eke out a final goodbye to love through music and their bodies.

— Joe

47. “Why So Lonely” by Wonder Girls

This song breathed life into the Wonder Girls brand, which had been fading even after the group’s return last year with “I Feel You.” A self-composition mixing K-pop’s trademark sultry female vocals with a unique retro reggae sound, “Why So Lonely” gave the group new relevance as the song blasted up the charts and into fans’ ears. In both band and dance form, the song is catchy and relaxing, and proves that an older group can, in fact, survive and thrive in the constantly changing world of K-pop. After “Why So Lonely” received so much success this year, fans are excited that at least some remnants of Second Generation girl groups will remain intact, but with their contracts expiring in January, we can only hope that Wonder Girls will continue to develop their self-composed sound in the future.

— Kushal

46. “I’m Good” by Se7en

Feels like a current K-pop trend is to go with the kind of instrumentals present on the song, but I’ll admit it’s a great trend. The song feels a bit more current and there’s just enough variation artists can spin on this type of instrumental to make it sound different from song to song. Where “I’m Good” excels isn’t on the instrumental however; it’s on Se7en’s emotional and silky vocals. I also like the use of repetition in the song, it fits in with the beat and adds a layer of depth to the lyrics of the song.

— Anna

45. “Flower” by Bada feat. Kanto

To celebrate her 20th anniversary since debuting as a member of first generation girl group S.E.S, Bada released her Flower album, and the title track is one of the most invigorating electropop tracks we’ve seen this year. The composition is subtle, but intense thanks to gentle synths and the pounding beat. Bada’s soft vocals blend with the building electronic rhythm, reminding listeners why she was one of the most popular K-pop singers of the ‘90s, while rapper Kanto aids a snappy rap to the mix.

— Tamar

44. “Sting” by Stellar

Charismatic girl group Stellar continued their great run of singles and staked their claim to be one of K-pop’s greats with “Sting.” Produced by Monotree member GDLO, “Sting” utilizes tropical house to create a breezy inquisitive mood. A multitude of sounds combine to great effect, giving layers to the song that build with each listen. Synth wails, funky guitars, and simple bass grooves highlight Stellar’s incisive manner of questioning. Along with Digipedi’s best video of the year, Stellar confront male ineptitude with brazen confidence. Their sting, both satisfying and necessary, lingers in the skin.

— Joe

Also on KultScene: Top 20 K-Pop Songs of 2014

43. “Hold My Hand” by Lee Hi

Lee Hi’s debut will forever remain as one of K-pop’s best, and because she raised the bar so high for herself already, it was going to be understandably difficult for her to outdo herself. “Hold My Hand” comes close, though. The song is the latter of the two title tracks off of her Seoulite album, and is yet another stellar throwback to Western soul influences. Lee Hi’s husky voice suits the doo-wop vocals and bassline of the track well, not to mention that the harmonization of her backup singers lends it some musical authenticity. The diminution on “again” towards the end of the song resolves the overall ‘60s girl group vibe she was going for effortlessly, at the same time leaving listeners on a soaring high with the progression in the background vocals. “Hold My Hand” is one song we can all listen to again and again.

— Shelley

42.”All Mine” by f(x)

f(x) may not have formally promoted in 2016, but their clapping EDM SM Station song “All Mine” was one of the year’s best party songs. After 2015’s onslaught of EDM, K-pop took a step back from the genre, but f(x) has always been able to take tried and trued genres and put their own spin on them. “All Mine” is bright and uplifting in its electricity, with the foursome’s voices belting (plus Amber’s rap) above the pounding beats. Plus, f(x) released it with a self-made video featuring Krystal scaring Amber and their friendship is absolutely adorable.

— Tamar

41. “Love Paint” by NU’EST

As far as underrated male groups go, NU’EST, by far, takes the top spot. Truth is that since debuting, the group has consistently delivered complexly crafted pop perfection, and “Love Paint” is no different. This song starts out with orchestral elements before turning into a smooth yet futuristic R&B ethereal experience. The juxtaposition between the first part of the song and the chorus is one of the most layered and interesting transitions of the year. It’s a real K-pop tragedy that NU’EST is slept on popularity wise. One can only hope that they survive another year and drop more pop defying jams.

— Alexis

40. “Home” by Ailee

Unlike her usual K-pop sound, Ailee showcased the more sultry side of her with R&B release “Home.” Listeners are probably used to hearing uptempo and lively songs from her, but her best vocal performances are the ones like this. “Home” might not have an impactful punch or intense climaxes throughout the song, but it’s still enjoyable and still allows Ailee to apply her versatile vocals. For someone who’s been called Korea’s Beyonce on multiple occasions and still puts on outstanding performances, she’s still rather underrated. This song had so much potential, especially when you have a powerhouse vocalist like Ailee and the legendary Yoon Mirae on the same track. Unfortunately, the song was not as well promoted this time around as previous songs. It could’ve done better, especially with non K-pop listeners, if there was a little more promotion than what was done. It kind of makes one wonder if this song would be better recepted if there was an English version? Hey Ailee, how about that?

— Tam

39. “Take Me Now” by FT ISLAND

With a definite lack of rock representation on Korean music charts, FTISLAND does their best to fill that gaping void. The band continues to move far far away from their Korean pop rock roots with their latest self-produced album Where The Truth. The title track “Take Me Now” is probably the hardest rock song they have put out to date, at least in Korea. Although it’s not a sound that most fans are used to, it definitely shows the direction the band has been driving towards these past few years. Throughout the song, Hongki’s voice alternates between haunting verses to a blaring chorus that showcases all of his vocal abilities to a T. The rest of the band does a great job keeping up with the intensity of the song through combined soft and hard vocal progressions to make the dynamic song complete. From the looks (and sound) of it, FTISLAND definitely shed their pop idol band label to make the music that they want. So throw your fists in the air and get ready to rock out!

— Katherine

38. “Crying” by Stellar

If you’re going to play it safe after two years of being the most divisive girl group in Korea, then Brave Brothers is your man. With “Crying,” Stellar have shown they can a rock a classic Brave Sound track just like the rest of them. The tempo is high, the synths aggressive, and the vocals diverse. Like all great Brave Brothers tracks, the details are what make the potentially generic songs not so generic. Especially the delay in Hyoeun’s vocal in the second verse and the layers of synths in the chorus. Even when playing it safe, Stellar are still one of the great K-pop girl groups. You can catch me crying at the club listening to this.

— Joe

37. “Rough” by GFRIEND

Rookie girl group GFRIEND is known to release catchy dance tunes and “Rough” is no exception. With the mix of synth and orchestral instruments, the song creates a more sentimental melody while still remaining upbeat and catchy. The lyrics and the vocals are crisp and bright and seem to have greatly improved from their last release giving a more matured feeling, leaving fans excited to see what else the girls can accomplish.

— Katherine

36. “Someone Like U” by Dal Shabet

2016 kicked off strong with Dal Shabet dropping “Someone Like U” early in January after losing a couple members. They made their comeback by going back to their 80’s synth-pop sound by way of a Brave Brother’s jam and delivering pop flawlessness. The dance track is a big fuck you to that ex who you didn’t even like that much in the first place and now is breaking up with you. And what’s more relatable than a spiteful song dedicated to your ex you can dance to? “Hey! Go meet someone stupid like you,” is truly what we all would like to tell our exes. Dal Shabet is one of those girl groups who sadly don’t get the recognition they deserve. However, “Someone Like U” goes down as one of the best songs in their discography ever.

— Alexis

35. “I Am You, You Are Me” by Zico

Zico has already established himself as a rapper of speed and power, but here he brings it back down to a crawl, preferring grooves over hard beats. Everything about Zico’s “I Am You, You Are Me” is hypnotic and infectious. Something about the chimes or the fingersnaps or the ooh’s of the backing track makes me feel like I entered a place that I should not have, and to say the least, it’s indulgent. The song confirms the Block B frontman’s versatility and artistry, and not for nothing his solo career is one of the best there is in K-pop currently.

— Shelley

34. “Me Like Yuh” by Jay Park

It seems like you just can’t go wrong when Jay Park sings over a Cha Cha Malone track. This time, Cha Cha and Jay tried their hand on one of 2016’s biggest trends, the Caribbean inspired, tropical dance song. After establishing himself as a rapper last year, Jay dropped his album Everything You Wanted and is, well, everything we wanted: an R&B album, which is what the performer does best. His clear standout of the year, “Me Like Yuh,” is somewhere between Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and Drake’s “Hotline Bling” but with Jay’s signature high-pitched, honey R&B vocals that’s all about the groove and how the song feels. Jay may rap about asses and sex all the time, but there’s just something about when he gets a bit romantic and vulnerable that comes across genuinely. Jay and Cha Cha are a match made in heaven that we can only hope lasts for a very long time and results in many bomb releases.

— Alexis

33. “Very Very Very” by I.O.I

This song is the epitome of addictive. Bringing all eleven members of I.O.I back together, this song served not only to diversify I.O.I’s limited discography, but also reassert their dominance as the monster rookies of 2016. The song uses a fast beat, infectious repetition, and an occasional rap to bring out the members’ various charms — whether it’s Yeonjung’s vocals in the prechorus, Doyeon’s killer aegyo, Yoojung’s outgoing stage presence, or Somi’s powerful roundhouse kick, each member gets to shine in ways that prove I.O.I’s unique and lovable group character. While the group may not be around for much longer, “Very Very Very” is clearly unforgettable, whether you liked it or not.

— Kushal

32. “Toy” by Block B”

They may be better known for their fun, hip-hop songs, but Block B really exceeded expectations with “Toy.” The sedate, dreamy track showed a softer side to the boy band through jazzy piano notes and mellow, scattered synth beats. The song’s composition layers different rhythms and melodies with sentimental vocals, to create the overwhelming, lovelorn ambiance of “Toy.” It’s different than what we’ve seen from Block B in the past, but the Zico co-composed song shows maturity to the group’s sound and we hope to see more of this style from the septet in the future.

— Tamar

31. “Galaxy” Bolbbalgan4

From the first note, it’s clear that this isn’t K-pop as most people think of it. In fact, calling it “K-pop” would be a disservice to this sweet song, since K-pop typically describes songs sung by K-pop idols. But Bolbbalgan4 is an indie duo that appeared on Superstar K6 in 2014 and shot to fame with this single after its release in August. The song begins with an otherworldly, high pitch tone that sounds similar to what one would expect if they licked a finger and ran it around the edge of a glass filled with water. Ahn Ji Young’s sweet, breathy vocals are backed up guitarist Woo Ji Yoon, who also provides harmonies and a quirky rap, and ‘60s inspired instrumentals blended with a medley of soft electronica sounds. “Galaxy,” the fun and innocent sound of the indie rock track, ended up making it one of the most popular songs of 2016 in South Korea.

— Tamar

Also on KultScene: Top 50 Korean Songs of 2015

30. “Bermuda Triangle” by Zico x Crush x Dean

“Bermuda Triangle” is a great fusion of captivating sounds and diverse talents. The combination of these three artists is truly a match made in music heaven. The transitions between the sick beat along with Zico’s killer raps, Crush’s (sudden and shocking) badass verse and Dean’s velvet-like vocals were smoother than butter. All three artists consistently show up and always give a stellar performance in their own individual songs, so it was no surprise that “Bermuda Triangle” was done to pure perfection. If you didn’t love this song right away, then you need to get on it. One of Zico’s earlier lines is “What happened in 1992?,” well, basically, the birth of three phenomenal musicians happened, that’s what.

— Tam

29. “Whistle” by Blackpink

While this song may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it gave the K-pop world a much-needed dose of attitude. With the rise of TWICE, GFriend, and I.O.I and the disbandment of acts like 4MINUTE and 2NE1, there’s been a tragic dearth of edgy, badass girl groups. With the exception of BLACKPINK, that is. With addictive melodies and fast-paced rap sections, this song brings back hip-hop dance themes so reminiscent of K-pop a few years ago, while also including some newer, unique musical elements. As the generational shift brings us back to cutesy, feminine girl groups on top, Blackpink and their songs like “Whistle” do the important work of carving greater musical and stylistic diversity into K-pop’s current era.

— Kushal

28. “Overcome” by NU’EST

The saddest part of NU’EST’s history is that people think their heyday was their debut with the phenomenal “Face.” 2016 was, without a doubt, filled with the group’s most avant-garde singles “Love Paint” (no. 41) and “Overcome.” This is electropop at its finest, and NU’EST’s members at their best; their vocals and adlibs are near flawless on this brassy synth track. Layers upon layers of overdubs flit throughout “Overcome,” as if it challenged the listener to pick out the individual elements. After beginning with punctuated beats, the song incorporates scattering synths, brassy percussion, falsetto, digitized piano notes, and much more to overwhelm the senses. Then, “Overcome” ends off on a gentle, sleepy melody in a way that seems to put the whole sonic experience to rest. NU’EST, we’d like to see more of this in 2017.

— Tamar

27. “Navillera” by GFRIEND

Few do synthpop dance songs as well as GFRIEND, and “Navillera” was an ideal follow-up to the more sentimental “Rough” from earlier this year. The bright, rock-tinged “Navillera” wouldn’t seem out of place on an INFINITE album (and the opening drum beat callback to the opener of “Man in Love”), with its retro-tinged electronica sound. The song’s title is a reference to a Korean poem about a butterfly, and the high-pitched synths and underlying electric strings help create a quirky, fluttering sound. There’s a few verses, but the majority of the song is built around a soaring pre-choruses followed by the speedy chorus, which in actuality serves as an intro for the fast-paced dance break. The guitar solo at the end is so atypical for K-pop that it helps “Navillera” further hone in the idea that this song, and the group, is a long-awaited breath of fresh air.

— Tamar

26. “Bonnie & Clyde” by Dean

Where’s the sign up sheet to be Dean’s Bonnie? Because as long as Dean is Clyde, he’ll be winning over hearts. Every song he’s released has been absolute gold, and this one is no exclusion to the rule. “Bonnie & Clyde” leaves you feeling such a natural high, sitting on a cloud not wanting to get down. It’s just so damn easy to be engrossed in that sweet, bewitching voice of his.

— Tam

Also make sure to check out the first half of this list, featuring our picks for the 25 Best Korean Songs of 2016.

What was your favorite Korean song this year? Share your picks and 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.

Weekly K-pop faves: October 31st-November 6th


Just about every week is a busy week in K-pop lately, and this week was no different. We saw high profile comebacks from BlackPink, B.A.P, MC Mong, and many others. Some of our writers were big fans of these new songs and took a few minutes to praise the glory of this week’s K-pop releases.

“Still” by Loco featuring Crush (Released Nov. 3)

Loco is a rapper and in most cases when one hears the word “rapper” they tend to assume that that person has no filter, is loud, intense, and likes to incriminate others in their lyrics. However, Loco is quite the opposite. He has a quiet and shy personality which occasionally translates over into his songs, and in all the right ways. “Still” is a fresh, kick back track with a chill beat, which I can’t help but slightly bob my head to (Loco also a signature head bop, look at his live performances) whilst swaying my body back and forth to. The music video is sweet a delightful to watch, much like the lyrics behind it.

As much as I enjoyed the bromance and stage chemistry between Crush and Zion. T, I enjoy seeing Loco and Crush on a track together just a tad bit more. Both are apart of VV:D (pronounced Vivid) and have featured on each others singles before and although Crush had a smaller part this time around, it was just as impactful as any other piece. Loco and Crush’s familiarity and friendliness bounce off of one another, making “Still” a song filled with charm and warmth.

”Skydive” by B.A.P (Released Nov. 6)

There were theories floating around on social media within the BABY fandom in regards to B.A.P’s latest music video “Skydive,” the title track off of the group’s second full length album “Noir.” One that kept showing up was that this was going to be some sort of continuation to the group’s “One Shot” music video. It wasn’t a part two per se but it definitely felt like a blockbuster, considering it was a ten minute video!

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If I had kept my mouth open any longer, my jaw probably would’ve hit the floor. The production of the video was flawless and totally badass. The member’s acting, especially vocalists Daehyun and Jongup, were superb; they’ve all come a long way and grown (literally) a lot since the filming of “One Shot.” Although there was little choreography shown, it was enough for me to know that their live performances will be top notch. Due to all the cinematography, I had to watch the video several times before I could fully focus on just the song alone. “Skydive” is a thrilling and satisfyingly intense song, gunshots and all, beginning to end. Each member had a pivotal part in the song, especially some of Himchan and Youngjae’s high notes and Yongguk and Zelo’s slick rap breaks.

— Tam

”Visual Gangster” by MC Mong feat. Jung Eunji (Released Nov. 3)

For someone who really pissed off much of South Korea by trying to avoid his mandatory army service, things aren’t so bad for MC Mong. The rapper is back with a new brighter sound on “Visual Gangster,” combining saccharine EDM synths with his typical hip-hop braggado. While it’s honestly more of an EDM-pop song with rap laid over it, “Visual Gangster” is a verified earworm: The song has been in the top 10 on Korean charts since it was released. APink’s Eunji features on the song, adding an even softer tone to the cute love song and contrasting sharply with MC Mong’s rhythmic verses. Respecting MC Mong as a person is hard, but there’s no denying that he knows how to create great music.

— Tamar

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“Playing With Fire” by BLACKPINK (Released Oct. 31)

With the demise of 4minute and the uncertainty of 2NE1’s future, the void for a fierce, confident, and cool girl group in K-pop was a notable one — that is until BLACKPINK debuted a couple of months ago. While still very young and new, BLACKPINK’s got a long way to go, but their newest release “Playing With Fire” is a testament to claim the bad gal throne. They might be recycling 2NE1 formulas down to a T, but as a starved Blackjack who has 0 hope for a comeback, I’m here for it. With their first four singles, the girls are showing off the styles they excel in, and with “Playing With Fire,” we know they can pull off the mid-tempo ballad a la “I Love You.” “Playing With Fire” is no “Whistle,” but it was nice to see Jennie take on those vocals and the beat reminds me a bit of BTS’ “Blood Sweat & Tears,” which is good company to be with.

— Alexis

Did you like any of these songs? What was your favorite song of the week? 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.

BlackPink vs. 2NE1: The ultimate analysis

BlackPink 2NE1

Around the time of their debut earlier this month, I wrote a detailed introduction to YG Entertainment’s long-awaited girl group, BlackPink. Now that the group’s history and its members have been properly discussed, the time has come to analyze the group’s structure and sound. While YG made it clear that he originally wanted to create a group like Girls’ Generation from rival SM Entertainment, the label ended up opting for something much more like its own act 2NE1. BlackPink’s formation, in my opinion, is definitely the safer route. Instead of pushing its boundaries to create a larger girl group with bigger visuals and personalities, YG maintains its trademark styles of fusing hip-hop and pop while emphasizing rap and vocals over everything else. Because the songs match YG’s style so closely, the question must be asked (and it is being asked all over the K-pop community) – what differentiates this group from 2NE1? The answer is, well, not that much.

I will, however, dive into the similarities and differences to provide more insight.

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In terms of members, BlackPink mirrors 2NE1 almost exactly. Jennie’s place in the group is almost identical to that of CL because her specialty is rap, but she can sing and dance as well. She gives off the same badass, hardcore vibe that is so notoriously CL. Going off of that, Jisoo mirrors Dara, serving as the visual focus of the group and handling some singing lines. The importance of her role is performance much more than any specific raw talent, which is exactly what Dara contributes to 2NE1. Rosé easily matches Bom, as both are main vocals and handle only singing lines, especially ones that require the most vocal skill and power. The most recognizable connection is between Lisa and Minzy – both are maknaes (youngest members), and are (or were) the most versatile members of their respective groups in terms of talent. Lisa handles rap and dance along with a few singing lines, similar to Minzy’s role in 2NE1 around the time of their debut.

And like 2NE1, BlackPink’s musicality and lyricism is influenced very much by the members’ international backgrounds – both groups have only one member born and raised in Korea (Jisoo in BlackPink, Minzy in 2NE1), another member who lived in Southeast Asia (Lisa in BlackPink, Dara in 2NE1), two members from English-speaking countries (Jennie lived in New Zealand while Rosé lived in Australia, CL and Bom lived in the USA), and some European influence as well (Jennie is originally from the Netherlands, CL spent a few years living in France).

blackpink whistle

And obviously, the biggest similarity is music/concept. 2NE1 (in their original four-member form), could probably sing both “Whistle” and “Boombayah.” Even though 2NE1 may have matured away from this kind of sound in recent releases (and that makes sense, since BlackPink as a group is much younger in age). “Boombayah” is absolutely reminiscent of “Fire,” although not as much in sound, but definitely in concept and line distribution (the more obvious sound comparison can be made with songs like “Fantastic Baby” and “Bang Bang Bang” by BIGBANG). Only time will tell if BlackPink will move to deeper, more evocative concepts like 2NE1 did with “Come Back Home,” or if they stay with more lighthearted yet hard-hitting songs like “Boombayah” and “Whistle.”

The differences between the two debuts aren’t significant or groundbreaking, but still definitely notable. YG definitely put more interest into visuals this time around, trying harder to pick members that match Korean standards of beauty. In the eyes of the Korean public, this probably gives BlackPink a little bit more of the attractive qualities that groups like Girls’ Generation bring to the industry. And while 2NE1 is incredibly beautiful and likeable, the group was a bit more focused on hard-hitting performances even in member structure, so we see YG deviating from that concept a little bit by pushing the visuals.

From the styling to the sound, BlackPink’s two debut songs and accompanying videos seem to be produced meticulously. In this sense, BlackPink is more polished than 2NE1 was at their debut, since YG was still experimenting with girl group visuals and sounds back then. Another notable difference – BlackPink doesn’t have a leader. While CL wielded leadership proudly, BlackPink demonstrates a little more equality among members. This leaves probably the most exciting difference – all of the members are incredibly versatile. While Jisoo is the group’s visual, she has a strong singing voice, allowing her to develop her sound further over the group’s upcoming releases in ways we might not expect. Even Rosé, the main vocal, is a fantastic dancer (well, based on their Dance Practice video that went up on YouTube a little while back), meaning her role can exceed expectations as well.

The verdict – overall, BlackPink is incredibly similar to 2NE1, and it speaks an incredibly loud message about YG’s desire to put out a girl group that could emulate 2NE1’s success, rather than try something drastic and new. Even Yang Hyun Suk himself commented on the similarities, expressing his interest in maintaining the YG style and sound. So BlackPink isn’t exactly breaking any boundaries, but they are carrying the YG name with a feminine touch, something K-pop has been missing since 2NE1 went haywire following a drug scandal back in 2014 (and a little bit before that, as well). For at least that much, I applaud BlackPink.

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The rest of my first impression of BlackPink is, however, much more nuanced. With such striking similarities to 2NE1 in structure and sound, BlackPink is YG’s way of saying that the characteristic “YG sound” is not as important as the artists themselves. Sure, it’s cool that YG as a record label has its own way of distinguishing itself, but it’s unfair to the artists to box them off within the boundaries of what YG does with its sound. Not to mention, it’s incredibly unfair to Blackjacks, who have been waiting for YG to do something about Park Bom’s scandal and give 2NE1 a comeback. The existence of a new girl group is not at all a problem, but the similarities seem to indicate that YG wants this group to carry on the “YG sound” by effectively replacing 2NE1, the girl group that contributed so much to the establishment of the “sound” in the first place. While 2NE1 might be on a downward spiral, debuting what is essentially a more polished version of them is disrespectful to them and their fans.

That being said, I plan on supporting this group, just not as strongly as I’ve supported 2NE1 (if you couldn’t tell by now, I am a Blackjack). BlackPink’s concept is a two-edged sword, as it makes them unique in K-pop right now but not at all within their label. But no matter the negatives, they are here to extend and carry on 2NE1/YG’s original mission of creating a girl group that shamelessly challenges K-pop’s neverending dichotomy of innocent vs. sexy.

Somehow, both 2NE1 and BlackPink simultaneously fall right in the middle of the spectrum and entirely outside of it. Despite the lack of originality in concept, BlackPink is full of talent, beauty, versatility and, most importantly, good music. And for those reasons, I’m rooting for them. I hope they find a way to stand out among YG’s slowly converging discography, because that may be the best, if not only, way to continue to success they’re currently receiving.

How do you feel about BlackPink’s debut and 2NE1’s legacy? 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.

Intro to BlackPink


It’s been years in the making, but YG Entertainment’s newest girl group is finally here! And only days into their debut, BlackPink is already proving to be a formidable force in the world of Korean girl groups. As fans swarm to YouTube and other media to watch the videos and listen to the music, let’s go into the basics of BlackPink’s history, formation, and members. If you didn’t know much about the girls before the release of their songs “Whistle” and “Boombayah” a few days ago, you’re in the right place to learn more.

The announcement of a new group from YG dates as back as far as 2011, when the label announced that a girl group reminiscent of Girls’ Generation would debut in the following year. In 2012, YG Entertainment began teasing the possibility of not one, but multiple girl groups debuting under the agency, becoming sister groups to the explosively successful 2NE1 and BIGBANG. It came down to two groups, the first being SuPearls, which was composed of four strong singers aiming to release vocal-oriented music instead of the typical K-pop sound and singing skills. This group was supposed to have current YG soloist Lee Hi as a member, among three other vocalists from “K-pop Star 2.” Without much more detail, YG revealed plans to debut another girl group before 2012’s end alongside SuPearls. The stage was set for these girls about four years ago, but as we can see, they didn’t take the stage until much later.

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Clearly, YG faltered on its 2012 plans — SuPearls was disbanded before debut, leaving Lee Hi to take the stage on her own, and the other new girl group was nowhere else to be seen. That is, until CEO Yang Hyun Suk reopened the possibility of the girl group debuting in 2013, but failed to happen as well. 2014 saw another such announcement, and more discussion of the girl group resembling SNSD, only to let fans down once again as both 2014 and 2015 passed with no formal debut.

Jennie Kim G-Dragon

But as the years went on, we weren’t entirely clueless about the girl group. If there was one person a YG fan could have guessed would be a BlackPink member, it’s Jennie Kim. Her name was all over YG releases between late 2012 and early 2013, when she featured on G-Dragon’s “Black,” Seungri’s “GG Be,” and Lee Hi’s “Special.” Whether it was rapping or singing, it was pretty clear that Jennie Kim was being prepared for debut, no matter how long it would take. Member Rosé underwent similar preparations, even though she wasn’t directly named in her feature on G-Dragon’s “Without You,” (instead, she was called “? of YG New Girl Group” for the better part of four years). As this was happening, members were being repeatedly added to the girl group and cut. It seems that, considering the intended connection to Girls’ Generation, that YG desired to debut a girl group much larger than 2NE1, probably closer to GG’s nine members than 2NE1’s four.

As time went on, however, Yang Hyun Suk and the rest of YG management must have changed their minds, because BlackPink in its final form consists of only four members. Only two months ago, YG reported that a fifth member would be revealed, only to later take back that announcement and go forward with a four-member girl group. What prompted the last-minute switch? We don’t know for sure, but recent trends in girl group debuts might have played a role in the decision. Given that TWICE, Gugudan, DIA, and I.O.I, among other girl group debuts these past two years, contain in excess of seven members, going with only four members gives the girl group an immediate edge — they stand out simply because they’re different in size. And, of course, it gives YG room to plan another girl group in the near future.

And finally, we have BlackPink. It took five years since the initial announcement, but YG’s next girl group is finally here. To go on further, let’s discuss the four members.

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Jisoo BlackPink

Jisoo is 21 years old, and is the only member of BlackPink to have been both born and raised in South Korea. After training for over five years, she takes her place as the main visual and a vocalist in the group. Before BlackPink, she appeared in multiple CFs in addition to Epik High’s music videos for “Spoiler” and “Happen Ending.” With a pretty face, she serves as the group’s face, a role very important to the popularity of some K-pop groups (see: Yoona of Girls’ Generation, Nayeon and Tzuyu of TWICE, Suzy of Miss A, etc.).

Jennie Kim BlackPink

At 20 years old, Jennie Kim is the member we all expected to see among BlackPink’s final lineup. She serves as the group’s main rapper, while also covering vocal and dance sections as well. As previously stated, she has demonstrated her talents in previous YG releases leading up to her debut. She boasts experience with English and foreign cultures, as she is from the Netherlands and has studied abroad in New Zealand.

Rose BlackPink

Rosé is the group’s main vocal, another English-speaker who comes from Australia. At 19 years old, she shows strength in both her dance and singing, which is not surprising given her four years (at least) of training at YG. As previously stated, her feature in G-Dragon’s “Without You” served as the main precursor to her group activities.

BlackPink Lisa

Last but certainly not least is maknae Lisa, who comes from Thailand. At 19 years old, she is the group’s main dancer, second rapper, and vocal. Her Thai ethnicity makes her the first YG idol to be entirely non-Korean, and her exposure to different cultures has clearly benefitted her understanding of language, as she can speak English, Korean, and Japanese in addition to her mother tongue. Prior to her five year training period in YG, she was part of the Thai dance crew “We Zaa Cool” alongside GOT7’s BamBam. She made appearances with YG’s NONA9GON brand in the years before her debut.

What do you think of BlackPink? 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.