Artist Spotlight: Rubber Soul

When is an idol group not an idol group? The general definition of an “idol” tends towards any manufactured pop star. Regardless of whether a company decides that a specific group is going to be more artistic sounding or more involved in production, every K-pop group fits into the idol category. Even when trying to distance themselves, no group has ever transcended this. They always fit into the idol system, the litany of teasers, dance routines, music show appearances, all of these things we love about K-pop restrict it. Little known girl group Rubber Soul are challenging this.

The group debuted in 2015 and their origins remain somewhat mysterious. Apparently the brainchild of three different companies, they emerged as hopeful rookies taking on the 90s right before the craze died. Their story is quiet but full of the contradictions you’d expect from an idol group wanting to be respected.

Two of Rubber Soul’s companies were already used to being partners. Happy Tribe Entertainment and Universal Music Korea had previously collaborated to produce the underrated Boys’ Republic. Despite the big name of Universal behind them, they never got very far but obviously in Korea, Universal doesn’t have the same prestige behind it. The third company is withHC Entertainment, primarily home to actors. At the time they seemed to be taking the lead. Most press releases were issued by them and, being the smaller company, they were probably happy to have a potential hit idol group on their hands. The interesting thing about the companies though is that right now, none of them seem to be involved with Rubber Soul. withHC have no info about the band on their website, Universal are still distributing them presumably alongside Happy Tribe, although there is nothing to be found about either or how the latter company works with Rubber Soul.

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This is the first sign of Rubber Soul attempting to step outside of the idol realm. Their original creative decision makers have seemingly taken over on the more administrative side as well. Usually a production trio, madsoulchild are the only constant in Rubber Soul’s life. Their vocalist Jinsil featured on their song “Lonely Friday” and both DJ fellow member Chanwoo and she have taken most of the production duties alongside the Rubber Soul girls. Many groups have had producer mentors before but none have had them take full control.

Each of the girls, Lala, Kim, and Choi Cho, take part in production too. They’re a group born of three companies but their output to date has been contained to a limited number of creatives. Maybe that’s why they are just so good.

Debuting with “Life,” the most 90s of all 90s throwbacks, Rubber Soul marked themselves as the most interesting rookie group of the past few years. The international K-pop fanbase definitely responded, and many blogs were writing about the gorgeous neo-soul track. From the opening beats to the echoey backing chorus “Life” recreates not just the sound but the very essence of 90s music. The clothing was teetered at the absolute edge of embarrassing and iconic even with the bucket hats.

“Life” at its best is found in the lyrics though. Matching the languid rhythms, the girls tell a simple story perhaps inspired by the slightly simpler times in which they are emulating. Each of the girls raps about the things they left behind, small pleasures that they are better off without. Choi Cho describes the minute details of the monotonous daily life she passed over. “In the tangled hair, a slight touch in the dried skin moisturizing cream” she opens with. Kim remembers the late nights drinking. “Everytime we lament our misfortune, in a glass of the drink, in our two loose hearts, we suddenly become king of the world.” Lala brings it back around, reiterating the point featured rapper Mad Clown made in the opening. Describing her role in her family she says, “Our princess, our daughter, older sister Lala, let’s eat! I mean that‘s love.” Ordinary lives can be exciting and rewarding if you can realise the beauty of the mundane.

Rubber Soul’s music is filled with the personalities of the girls. Each of their verses is distinct, lyrically and tonally. They build off of each other too. For example, “Lonely Friday,” the b-side to “Life,” starts off with Lala’s apathy towards partying on Friday nights despite the “flooding emptiness” she feels from browsing Facebook all night. By the time the last verse comes around, she is rapping with her other members as if she’s been convinced by them. “Stop those habitual excuses, with you, stop digging the floor, let’s run together” they repeat together, ready to turn this lonely Friday into something a bit more exciting.

Rubber Soul promoted these songs as any group would. A short run on the weekly Korean music shows, a feature from a well known rapper., etc. They got a cameo slot on season six of Saturday Night Live Korea and Kim even appeared on Unpretty Rapstar’s second season. Their promotions were failures though. On Unpretty Rapstar Kim was eliminated in the episode following the one in which she was introduced. Her taking part in the show was already under scrutiny thanks to her being shoved in halfway through the show alongside future Cosmic Girls leader Exy.

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Two things usually happen after a failed K-pop debut, either the company doubles down on more comebacks so as to gain attention through sheer attrition or the group fades into obscurity waiting maybe years for another single. Given that their company has little to do with them anymore it’s clear what route Rubber Soul took. They returned almost two years later to considerably less fanfare.

Now seemingly under not just the production talents of madsoulchild but managment and promotion as well, Rubber Soul’s latest track “Freedom” continues their throwback trend with a more electro R&B inspired sound. Processed beats and synths build the otherwise tame song towards a great ending. The flitters of autotune eventually take over as the song transitions from its chorus directly into an abstract climax. A trap beat takes over as the girls’ voices collide, articulating a certain sadness despite the party setting of the video. This sadness is amplified by Choi Cho’s final vocal. Without even an English translation of the lyrics it’s clear that “Freedom” is a song about being yourself to find,well, freedom. Definitely in line with what Rubber Soul had been talking about before, although it’s harder to get into it when you can only understand the corny English lyrics. (So if any Korean-speaking readers would like to translate for us…)

“Freedom” represents a new, uncharted territory for Rubber Soul. Under madsoulchild they have a great chance to do something interesting while maintaining an idol image to try and show the masses a new kind of idol. K-pop groups don’t need to be managed by small production groups like this to be innovative, but Rubber Soul’s new venture does represent something that has not been done successfully to date.

The potential is seen in their “mixtapes.” Two short videos that they released titled Mixtape 1 and Mixtape 2 are not really mixtapes but inventive little rap samples. They could add up to a mixtape eventually but Rubber Soul are probably just using the word to seem a bit more underground. The first, which sampled Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” was called “I Wish You Good Luck” and was released shortly after “Life” and “Lonely Friday,” back in 2015. It acted as a showcase for the girls’ rapping skills, with each one getting a verse and absolutely killing it. The “Get Lucky” beat remains one of the most infectious ever and Rubber Soul reworked it just enough to highlight their flows.

The second mixtape samples Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” to marvellous results. Lala and Kim rap with such ease as they lay back on a bed. It’s relaxed but full of personality, the girls vape, burp, and lounge around the bed with ramen packs (which also offer the best part of video when Kim smashed one with her elbow in time with the beat.) Choi Cho ends with an excellent Mary J. Blige impression.

By now, Rubber Soul should have already carved out a niche fanbase for themselves. Most rookie groups would have had numerous comebacks and would at least cement them in the industry. As it stands Rubber Soul have no place in any environment, not the idol or underground. A commitment from madsoulchild could allow this group of big personalities to express themselves.

What do you think of Rubber Soul? Do you hope to see more of them in the future? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Translation Source: Life, Lonely Friday

Weekly K-Pop Faves March 27-April 2: Boys Repbulic, Dok2, DAY6, N-Sonic, 10cm


Every week, our writers pick their favorite songs and share them. This week, four songs by male Korean acts caught our eyes.

“Get Down” by Boys Republic (March 29)

The title track of Boys Republic’s third mini album, “BR: evolution,” combines a pulsating tribal drum beat and edgy hip hop with unconventional jazz elements. The guys display incredible vocal harmonies alongside fierce and hardcore rapping. It comes as no surprise that “Get Down” was co-produced by renowned songwriter Ryan S. Jhun, who has previously worked with the likes of numerous popular K-pop acts, ranging from EXO to U-KISS. The music video presents a very dark concept, with the band members cast as a rebellious faction in a post-apocalyptic scenario; they are sullen, brooding characters living on a knife edge and the intense choreography highlights their harsh environment perfectly. (It is important to note here that the video has a 19 + rating, as it features bloody decapitation). This new facet to the band could prove disturbing to some fans unused to seeing Boys Republic as anything other than wholesome and appealing but it is a testament to the members’ talent that they are so convincing in their roles. It’s a brilliant comeback by the group, who have upped the ante in every way possible!

— Eve

“Bad Vibes Lonely (feat. DEAN)” by Dok2 (March 27)

As far as Korean rappers are concerned, Dok2 isn’t among my favorites. His music style and lyrics, for me, come off as a little try-hard and he seems more like a caricature than an actual rapper. With that said, “Bad Vibes Lonely” is a whole other thing. For this release, Dok2 slowed it down and penned more humble lyrics about him wanting to be happy and not forget his roots. Not to mention Dean’s input at the chorus makes the song sound that more compelling. Because even without knowing what the lyrics say, that Dean verse finds it way to your feels. Overall, it’s nice to see Dok2 step away temporarily (because, c’mon, we know that’s not his actual style) from the #YOLO, swaggy, #turnup vibe.

— Alexis

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“First Time” by DAY6 (March 30)

This track is vastly different from DAY6’s title track “Letting Go” in terms of its tone and lyrical content but similar in the high production quality of the song. While DAY6 members have always had a hand in the creation of their albums, this is the first song in which all five members collaborated and wrote the lyrics together, making it extra meaningful. The instruments are also layered very nicely, creating an overall uplifting and full sound in which all the varied vocals of the members are able to shine. It’s an addictive track and stands out amongst the various different styles displayed in this album.

— Anna

“Excalibur” by N-SONIC (March 29)

N-SONIC’s “Excalibur” is exactly the type of song I would have ignored if it wasn’t for this feature. An unknown boy group with a title linked to mythology. I’ve had enough of that with VIXX alone. “Excalibur” however, is not something to be missed. It contains the most satisfying rolling drums that at first sound like they could come from a 1950s dancehall but are used to drive the electro hip-pop. Sustaining these drums allows the song to transition easily between parts and vocal styles. The choreography also reflects this by having a natural quality to its movements and transitions too (despite silly things like the air drumming). A solid release that is, along with Boys Republic, by far the strongest boy group song of the week, easily beating weak offerings from more popular counterparts.

— Joe

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“What The Spring??” By 10cm (April 1)

One of the most bittersweet spring-themed songs out there, “What The Spring??” is a comical attack on people who are in love during. The duo’s typical acoustic sound turns into a query of why some people expect perfect springtime relationships, why some people are alone, and why springtime is perceived as the time of love. “Do you think cherry blossoms are pretty, you stupid?” sings 10cm’s vocalist Kwon Jeong Yeol. The song did well on Korean music charts despite the bleak lyrics because the song’s style and the amusing, realistic take a single person’s attitude towards the happiness of couples (“Actually, your boyfriend loves games more than you” is one of the bitterest but bemusing lines of the song.”) The music video, featuring “Little Prince”-inspired graphics, is an added bonus. The anti-romance song, both for its sound and unique opposite to many of the love songs popular in Korea, is one of this year’s most popular springtime Korean songs.

— Tamar

What was your favorite song from the past 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 Tumblrto keep up with all of our posts.

boys republic artist spotlight profile kpop korean boy band

Artist Spotlight: Boys Republic

boys republic artist spotlight profile kpop korean boy band

In an oversaturated market of male K-Pop idols, many aspiring boy bands face intense competition every year to make an impact. One such group currently vying for success is Happy Tribe Entertainment and Universal Music Korea’s five member boy band, Boys Republic. The group comprises leader and eldest member Won Jun, main vocalist Sun Woo, rapper and dancer Sung Joon, fellow rapper and dancer Min Su and Su Woong, vocalist and the youngest member.

The group trained together for two years prior to debut, after which their exemplary work earned them an endorsement deal with Jeju Air, a budget airline, which adopted Boys Republic’s Orange Sky as its company theme. Three of the members also had previous showbiz experience; in 2010, Sun Woo (known then as Da Bin) had a brief stint in boy band Touch and subsequently joined Cube Entertainment, Su Woong was a trainee at Big Hit Entertainment and Sung Joon was under the wing of JYP Entertainment.

Thanks to their manager, Jung Hae Ik, Boys Republic have an outstanding musical pedigree. He is a former SM Entertainment executive who ensured the massive success of such illustrious groups as H.O.T, S.E.S, G.O.D and Shinhwa in the mid 90s and his vast experience was put to good use when Boys Republic made their much anticipated debut on 5th June 2013, with the highly addictive anthem “Party Rock.”

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It is a heavily auto-tuned and synthesized dance song with a colourful and quirky music video, in which Won Jun tries unsuccessfully to flirt with a girl. She rebuffs him and disappears into a cardboard box which the members proceed to throw around, much to her annoyance. Boys Republic and their fellow party goers are then seen dancing in the box, whereupon the girl emerges, angrily steps on it and walks away.

“You Are Special,” the group’s second single of 2013 (which coincided with their first mini album Identity), saw a complete change of image for Boys Republic. They become edgy rockers in a music video filled with such standard K-pop devices as the members looking angst ridden, Sung Joon breaking a concrete wall with a sledgehammer and assorted wild dogs! Boys Republic also showcase some impressively athletic choreography on what appears to be a freezing cold day, then the video culminates with a scene of them all walking towards a burning door frame.

At the beginning of 2014, Boys Republic’s management announced the group’s “fantasy trilogy” concept, which would aim to fulfill their fans greatest wishes. “Video Game” formed the first part of the project and the story version of the song features the members wearing virtual reality helmets, which enable them to participate in a game. The heavy EDM sound of “Video Game” proved a winner with fans and the choreography, by Nana School, marked Boys Republic’s most demanding routine to date. Incidentally, the song received increased exposure when a video of Girls Generation members listening to it was uploaded to the SM Town YouTube channel.

The group followed this up in the summer with the release of “Dress Up,” a catchy 90s style pop song, which showcased Boys Republic’s lovable and humorous side. With a plot which involves a female friend receiving a confidence boosting makeover, this music video has a worthwhile message, which strongly condemns superficial beauty standards, after their friend becomes the target of bullies who judge her harshly due to her perceived lack of style.

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Towards the end of the year, Boys Republic surprised and delighted their loyal fans, affectionately known as the “Royal Family”, by unveiling their second mini album “Real Talk” and promoting the music video for its title track, “The Real One.” It involves all five members, smartly dressed in suits, engaging in a dance off with themselves and features choreography far more suggestive than anything they had previously attempted. All of these elements, plus a funky and danceable song, combined to give Boys Republic a solid winner.

Prior to their European “Royal Tour” in July 2015, the boys released the melancholic ballad Hello, in June, to commemorate their second anniversary since debut. The group’s first ballad single showcases the members sensitive side and is accompanied by an anguished music video, in which the boys mourn the loss of a previous love who has abandoned them. Boys Republic’s strong vocals are evident here and the change of pace clearly demonstrates that the band’s management is not afraid to try new approaches

Apart from their obviously close friendship and down to earth approach towards their fans, Boys Republic are well known for their philanthropic work. They have been appointed ambassadors for the Korean Federation of Youth, participated in a Salvation Army charity fundraiser and Sun Woo has even knitted hats for a Save The Children project.

Recently, Sung Joon, Su Woong and Sun Woo demonstrated their versatility by starring in the web drama “Alchemist,” alongside Kara’s Young Ji. With this kind of exposure, Boys Republic can surely look forward to a rapid increase in the size of their fan base in the near future.

Do you like Boys Republic? What’s your favorite song? Share your picks 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.