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K-Pop Unmuted: October 2018 Roundup

On Episode 36 of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight, Tamar Herman and Alexis Hodoyán take a look back at a busy October in Kpop. We discuss NCT 127‘s “Regular,” BTS’ RM‘s “seoul,” BoA‘s “Woman,” EXO’s Lay‘s “Namanana,” fromis_9‘s “Love Bomb,” and April‘s “Oh My Mistake.”

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.

Let us know what you think of October 2018 in K-pop’s and KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted 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.

Life after the ‘Answer’: BTS’ RM embraces uncertainty on ‘mono’

When Korean group BTS released Love Yourself: Answer, in late August 2018, completing an album trilogy that reflected a narrative of self-love discovery through romantic joys and deceptions, it seemed like the septet finally figured out the formula to be in peace with their true selves. “It’s alright, I am my own salvation / (…) My sky is clear / Say goodbye to the pain,” RM, the leader of the group, raps in “I’m Fine.”

But knowing the answer doesn’t mean it’s easy to put it in practice —and that’s what we experience with mono, the latest release of the leader, rapper, and songwriter, born Kim Namjoon.

Released on Oct. 23, only three days after announcing (and merely two months after BTS’ Love Yourself: Answer!) the mixtape —or playlist, as he calls it— is composed of seven tracks all written, composed, and co-produced by RM. He collaborated with artists such as English duo HONNE and Korean rock artists eAeon and NELL.

Playlist or Mixtape

The fact that mono is branded as a playlist instead of a mixtape connects with RM’s personal habit to share song recommendations with fans through Twitter. However, it might also have been a decision that shows RM’s awareness of where the music industry is heading to. It alludes to when Drake (RM has said many times he’s an inspiration) released More Life in 2017, which was labeled as a “playlist” in a move then considered innovative in a industry still based on album releases. (If there’s any truth in Drake having inspired RM, we may add to the list of coincidences the handwritten, black and white, minimalist design of the cover of mono which resembles the art cover of Drake’s 2015 If you’re reading this it’s too late).

At the time More Life was released, lots of music critics emphasized the significance of playlists in the era of music streaming. An album, the NY Times said, is:

[A] creator’s complete thought expressed in parts. A playlist in the streaming era, by contrast, is a collection of moods, impressions, influences and references; it’s a river that flows in one direction, ending somewhere far from the beginning (if it ends at all).

A mixtape, per se, strays from the sense of commitment that an album must have to a concept. So by nature, RM would be free from that commitment with a mixtape. But with a playlist, which theoretically allows even more freedom than a mixtape, it seems that it’s RM’s intention to release the pressure to deliver a work with any congruence at all. As if he just wants to be free to do whatever music he feels like doing.

But, curiously, what we get in mono actually is consistent in its inconsistency, both in sound and lyrics. All seven tracks share the same vibe and, indeed, compose a consistent frame. The sonority of it is more loungy and chill than we’d expect from the rapper. Even if hip-hop influences are present, the playlist flows between lo-fi and alternative genres, with a few (amazing) moments of synthpop, a genre RM has shown before to be perfectly compatible with, like his & BTS’ Jungkook’s cover of Troye Sivan’s “Fools.”

As for the lyrics, it makes sense to contextualize mono as a continuation of RM’s path along with BTS in the group’s previous works; there is a connection between everything. And because RM worked in the lyrics of everything he sang and rapped, then, all lyrics written by him can be used as material for us to ask: How is the leader’s life after he found the Answer?

Credits: Big Hit Entertainment


Also on KultScene: BEING A FAN OF BTS & THEIR YOUTH-ORIENTED MUSIC AS AN ADULT

RM before “mono”

Who shall I be today: Kim Namjoon or RM?

Airplane pt. 2

The lyrics above came from one of BTS’ darkest albums, Love Yourself: Tear, in which the group addressed the deceptions faced after the happy-go-lucky illusions of the previous album, Love Yourself: Her. The Love Yourself trilogy was completed with Love Yourself: Answer, a more upbeat album in which BTS suggests to have finally learned that, in order to find love anywhere, you should first find love inside yourself. But would that lesson be enough to make them happy?

To be fair, it’s worth pointing out that in Answer: Love Myself, RM says: “Maybe there is no answer / Maybe this isn’t the answer either / (…) I’m still finding myself.” However, one could think he was content about that if things ended there. From the album design to the sound of all the original tracks, everything about Love Yourself: Answer is more about joy and lucidity than pain or sorrow. Even “Trivia: Love,” RM’s solo moment on the album, has a joyful vibe. If not having all the answers is the answer, then we’re ready to move on and live a happy life, right?

Life is not that simple to anyone, of course.

This leads us to mono. Interestingly enough, either sonically or lyrically, mono recalls more the RM of “Reflection” (the one who said “I wish I could love myself,” in BTS 2016 album “Wings”) than any other thing we’ve seen from him after that. So, was the whole path to the Answer not worth it then?

It’s not that it wasn’t worth it, it’s just that, from what it seems, it’s still not enough for RM. Understanding that it’s okay not to have all the answers is still not enough for him to be okay.

Journey from “Tokyo” to “forever rain”

The first two tracks of mono are named “Tokyo” and “Seoul,” making us feel as if RM is literally traveling, trying to find himself in different places.

A fun fact is that mono was released one day after BTS announced their partnership with the city of Seoul, in which each member has its own themed-playlist to represent what they most love about Korea’s capital. It’s not all love, though. In “Seoul,” produced by HONNE (a group who’s also familiar with the theme of seeking love in different places), RM, a native of Seoul-satellite Ilsan, seems overwhelmed by the city that became his home.

In clever wordplay (a tool RM is famous for), he sings: “If love and hate are the same words, I love you Seoul / If love and hate are the same words, I hate you Seoul.”

Ironically, “Seoul” is pronounced similarly to “so.” Then, by speaking out loud his love-hate relationship with the city, it’s almost as if he’s also speaking to himself, trying to find himself through the city.

Not having found himself in either Tokyo or Seoul, RM reaches for the moon in “moonchild,” a track that references the lyrics of “4 o’clock,” a song previously released on Soundcloud with his band mate V.

Some of the best lyrical moments from RM happen when he uses astronomy analogies (like “Magic Shop,”) and “moonchild” is indeed one of these moments: “We are each other’s night sceneries, we are each other’s moons.” Again, RM might be talking to himself the moon (him) is both the cause of his sadness (“born in the moonlight,” “born to be sad,” “all the pain, all the sorrow is your destiny”) and his relief (“only you, no one else, gives me that sense of comfort).

RM lands in “badbye,” another clever wordplay with the word “goodbye.” The depressive, short, repetitive lyrics suggests an RM falling into reality no more using Tokyo, Seoul or the moon to escape. He now has to face reality, kill the illusions and face himself: “Kill me softly / Make me into pieces of fragments,” he and aEeon sing. As the dark atmosphere of the song suggests, this process hurts. No wonder, the next track, “uhgood,” has the most painful lyrics: “All I need is me / All I need is me / I know, I know, I know / Then why do I feel lonely?” RM’s production skills also shine in “uhgood,” along with the touch of producer Sam Klempner (who previously worked with BTS in “Best of Me”). With mysterious synthesized sounds opening the song, the mood is set for RM to use his deep voice to lead us into an introspective experience, which the use of reverbs help make it even more ethereal.


Also on KultScene: BEST BTS SOUNDCLOUD SONGS

The transition from “uhgood” to “everythingoes” is one of the most brilliant moments of mono: after telling himself some of the hardest-to-swallow truths, RM seeks to rebuild himself by saying that “everything goes, at one point, for sure… everything goes by.

The constant repetition of the line “everything goes,” through a four chord progression tailored in the technique of tension-release, summarizes the whole mood of the song: whether if you’re in the highest or lowest point of the curve, whatever you’re feeling shall pass one day. It’s all temporary.

And just like that, mono ends with “forever rain,” another great lyrical moment of RM justifying his love for the rain since it is both a friend who helps him hide (“In the rain, the umbrella covers my sad face” / “In the rain, people are busy minding themselves”) and be found (“When it rains, I get a feeling that I have a friend / That keeps knocking on my window, asking if I’m doing well.)” Just like in “moonchild,” in “forever rain” RM seeks to understand himself through events of nature. And, just like in all the other tracks that led to this one, we still don’t have any solid conclusions.

The overall mood of mono is one of uncertainty and solitude  not the type of solitude of not being surrounded by enough people, but the solitude felt between one’s many selves and conflicts. But it is also a mood of continuity.

From the lowercase stylized fonts, to the lyrics full of honesty about RM’s doubts, everything about mono reflects a journey that is still incomplete, towards finding identity, love, and acceptance a journey that could be anyone else’s.

The next steps of the journey will surely be portrayed in BTS’ upcoming works. In the meantime, we can appreciate mono not only for RM’s musical versatility, but also for his courage to expose, through so many beautiful songs of uncertainty, that knowing the “Answer” is way easier than knowing what to do with it.

[Lyric translation credit: SPOTLIGHTRM]

How did you like RM’s mono? Let us know your picks for fave songs and overall thoughts in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

K-Pop Unmuted: LOONA Debut

On Episode 34 of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, M.O. Kng joins Stephen Knight, Joe Palmer, and Tamar Herman to discuss LOOΠΔ’s debut with [+ +] and the single “ Hi High.” We also talk about BTS’ “I’m Fine,” BerryGood’s “Green Apple” single and “Free Travel” album, and (G)I-DLE’s “Hann.”

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.

Let us know what you think of LOONA’s and KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted 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.

K-pop mid-year review: 3 distinctive music styles dominating 2018 so far

 

The year 2018 is passing by so fast. Can you believe that we have only five months left until 2019? When it comes to K-pop, a lot can happen in a matter of a few months, but so far we’ve already been taking notes on the music styles that have been trending in charts and album releases.

While some styles are always present, like electronic dance music (Sunmi’s “Heroine”) and R&B (Red Velvet’s “Bad Boy”), and some trend styles of 2016 and 2017 are still popular, like tropical house ((G)I-dle’s “Latata,” CROSS GENE’s “Touch It,” etc.), we chose three less frequently heard musical styles that have been present in a lot of comebacks and B-sides so far this year.

Check some of them out below:

Disco / Electropop / Retro K-pop Sound

When 2017 ended with the tragic news about SHINee’s Jonghyun, I thought the K-pop industry would have a hard time hyping fans up again. But when Momoland released the catchy and comic “Bboom Bboom” a few weeks later, I was smiling again. This was exactly the kind of fun we needed! The song was produced by Shinsadong Tiger, the same producer behind some of T-ara’s most legendary hits, like “Roly-Poly” and “Lovey-Dovey,” and so “Bboom Bboom” immediately gathered comparisons with T-ara and their disco-themed hits. But, whether people were mad or glad about the similarities, the fact is that “Bboom Bboom” led Momoland to huge success. The group then repeated the formula and released “Baam,” also produced by Shinsadong Tiger.

In late May, girl group AOA had its first comeback without former lead vocalist ChoA, releasing their Bingle Bangle EP full of fun and upbeat songs. One of those songs was “Ladi Dadi,” an electropop summer jam that recalls the same vibes of the catchiest hits of K-pop circa 2010-2012. Is 2018 making people nostalgic about the old days of K-pop? All we can say is we’re having so much fun with these retro sounds!


ALSO ON KULTSCENE: K-POP UNMUTED JUNE 2018 ROUNDUP

Mid-tempo Piano Hip-Hop

In late January, iKon scored a perfect All-Kill on Korean charts with their hit “Love Scenario,” a mid-tempo hip-hop song with a minimalist production and a bright piano accompaniment. Just a few months later in April, it was Pentagon’s time to show they could “shine” with the same musical approach, releasing the catchy and cute “Shine.” And even if it wasn’t a title track, let’s not forget “Kangaroo,” a great b-side from Wanna One’s first special album, 1÷x=1 (Undivided). “Kangaroo” is a fun hip-hop song produced by Block B’s Zico, with light beats and a mid-tempo cadency sweetly accompanied by piano chords. Those 3 boy groups killed this style and gave us some of the best songs of 2018 so far!


ALSO ON KULTSCENE: 7 K-POP MUSIC STYLES WE’D LOVE TO HEAR MORE

Caribbean & Latin Influences

In the last months of the year 2017, we could hear a few K-pop songs with influences of Caribbean and Latin music, such as SF9’s “O’ Sole Mio” and AOA’s Jimin “Hallelujah.” Little did we know that it would continue in 2018! In April, Super Junior caught the world by surprise when they released an iconic collaboration with Dominican-American singer Leslie Grace, the sensual “Lo Siento.” Later in May, it was BTS fans’ time to get delighted when they heard a flavour of salsa music on the group’s third full studio album Love Yourself: Tear with the irresistible “Airplane pt. 2.” The song was promoted on music shows and became an instant fan favorite due to the mention of cities and countries around the world, a reference to mariachis as a metaphor for the septet’s life on the road, and, of course, the Latin feels. More recently in mid-July, girl group MAMAMOO also continued their path of exploring different music genres in 2018 by releasing “Egotistic,” an elegant song full of Spanish guitars.

I think it’s safe to say Latinx and Caribbean fans are happy for seeing their culture being represented like this!

What’s your favorite sound of K-pop so far in 2018? Let us know 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.

Being a fan of BTS & their youth-oriented music as an adult

by Yasamine Entesari

Becoming a BTS fan is not exactly the smartest decision to make when you don’t have much free time. Between albums, music videos, live performances, Bangtan Bombs and Run BTS episodes, just to name a few– BTS puts out such an overwhelming amount of content that it might literally keep you as busy as a second job. If you join the fandom (called “Army”) a bit “late,” like I did, it becomes near to humanly impossible to catch up with years of content.

But falling in love with BTS is not exactly something you decide – it’s just something that happens; you can never predict when or how. With me, as much as I’ve been listening to their music for years, the obsession started when I went to research what was the deal with this BTS guy being promoted as a full member of the KOMCA.

Regardless of your motives, getting to know BTS is indeed worth it for anyone in any age group. However, there is something so peculiar about being a BTS fan when you’re in your late 20’s or older. You find yourself taking a break from a business essay to watch an old performance of babyface Bangtan singing about being in “2nd Grade.” You accommodate coloured merch, albums, and photo cards between power and rent bills in your budget.

I’m not alone in this – I dare say a big part of BTS’ fanbase is made of adults (mostly females) in their late ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s; regardless of people who say that pop sensations’ fan bases are made up of dumb 12-year-old girls, a belief often used to delegitimize an artist’s talent or success.

The music of BTS, and the personalities and stories of its members can inspire love and admiration for people of any age. The same probably could be said about any K-pop group or pop star of any culture. However, in the case of BTS, something adds a particular meaning to the “older fanbase” passion for the group: the interesting (and maybe contradicting) fact that BTS’s entire purpose is focused on youth. I can’t speak for all the adult fanbase, but as for me, this particular aspect of BTS’ artistry is one of the things that made me love them – even if I am, supposedly, no longer young enough to relate to their narrative.


Also on KultScene: AEON DREAM STUDIOS TALKS ‘TO THE EDGE OF THE SKY,’ BTS, & DREAMS [INTERVIEW]

Actually, I’m not that old  – I’m only two years older than Jin, BTS’s oldest member. However, a few years can make a lot of difference when you are in your teenage or young adult years. For example: the disproportion between the fact that the youngest member, Jungkook, won an “Artist of the Year” award at 19-years-old when I was 26 and still trying to figure out what to do with my life, could be enough to make me feel like a loser. But, actually, the more I dug into BTS’s story, I ended up feeling the opposite.

Maybe some of us older fans think that it’s too late for us to pursue our dreams and do meaningful things like BTS. But through their music we find out that they, too, feel insecure and scared, even after achieving so much.

How ironic is it that BTS has chosen to speak about the beauties and sorrows of youth, yet they are so overloaded with work that they barely have the chance to enjoy their own? We’re talking about a group that is releasing their fourth album in less than 12 months, while they get ready for a world tour with more than 20 sold out stops. These guys don’t rest. Yet, they seem so passionate about what they’re doing, it doesn’t seem like they think they’re “wasting” their “best years.”

As young people, we have so many things in our favour and so many against us at the same time, and we end up not knowing what to do with the gift of youth – like the famous quote often attributed to George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde: “youth is wasted on the young.” Youth might be, borrowing the words from the title of a BTS’s album series, “the most beautiful moment in life”; yet it’s also so full of contradictions. Society expects an adult to know everything about life; yet, everyone agrees that before you turn an adult you have to enjoy being “young, wild and free.” How are we supposed to learn and build everything we need to be a successful adult, and have the most amount of fun possible at the same time? Which one should we choose?

Sometimes it’s inevitable to think if anything could be different today if I had been more of less “myself” in the past; if I had worked/studied more, or if I had worked less and “enjoyed” more of my youth. Nevertheless, I somehow feel at ease when I see Jin, Suga, RM, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook. Just like everyone else, they’re doing the best that they can with their “best years.” They’ve decided to follow their biggest dream, because they have one – but they say it’s okay if you don’t have one too. They’re giving their all and trying to be okay with the fact that even that all might not be enough to make them feel proud and content. And if like is like this with these seven amazingly talented beings, why wouldn’t it be with me? When I think of it, I too can find comfort and stop blaming my younger self. Because I too did my best. I did what I could being the person I was at that time.

Seeing the member’s personal colours also help fans to relate to BTS in so many ways. In “Reflection,” for example, a boy confident enough to name himself “Rap Monster” confessed that, even after achieving so much, he still wishes that he could love himself. In “Awake,” the member with the most unwavering self-esteem in the group (Jin) sings that he’s aware that he may never fly as high as he’d like to. It’s sad, but it’s also empowering because it sounds human; it sounds genuine


Also on KultScene:  FROM UNDERDOGS TO INTERNATIONAL STARDOM BTS’S RISE TO SUCCESS

The fact that insecurity and fear coexist with confidence and determination, for the group, is what makes their music and their individual personalities relatable to 12 to 60-year-old people. And the fact that they share it with us gives us a feeling of “we’re all in this together,” regardless of age, gender, race, or culture. It makes me think we’re not that different after all – and if people who feel “lost” can relate to seven guys that inspire such amazing feelings, then, well, maybe we are not so lost. Maybe we are doing something right.

When you’re 28, like me, you think you should already have life all figured out. Younger friends, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, but I have to spoil something: it is possible that five, 10 or 20 years from now, you still won’t have figured everything out. And it’s okay. We all have doubts, insecurities, and challenges in life, regardless of having found ourselves or not. With due proportion, life is the same for everyone: nothing is guaranteed, the fight gets harder after each battle you win. And it’s okay.

I remember watching one of the many interviews BTS gave while they were in the United States for their first US performance at the American Music Awards in 2017 and I felt really touched by one of the comments in the video. It was from a 60-year-old woman who said: “I just found out about these boys and I am feeling so much joy from watching them, they make me feel young again.” I thought that was the same reason why I grew to love and respect BTS so much. They make me feel okay about not being what I thought I should be right now – and this is feeling young too.

After all, regardless of age, we can all be young as long as we’re okay with the fact that we don’t know everything and that we can always learn and improve – like Suga says in “Nevermind:” “We are still young and immature, don’t worry about it.”

What do you like the most about BTS’s concept? Let us know 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.

K-Pop Unmuted: 2017 Awards – Part 1

In the 26th episode of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight, Joe Palmer, Tamar Herman, and Gabriel Wilder reflect on the best moments and songs out of Korea in 2017, handing out the awards that they personally deem fit and conversing about some of the hottest topics in K-pop over the 12-month span. This is Part 1 of two year-end episodes.

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.

Let us know what you think of K-pop in 2017’s latest and KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted 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 K-pop songs of 2017: 50-26

While the year may be closing in a very sad and unfortunate manner with the passing of a K-pop icon, artists consistently delivered memorable songs throughout 2017. This year saw a lot of great moments from some of Korea’s most popular new acts, while newer acts also proved their worth with addicting, sleekly-produced music. Trop was the king of this year’s K-pop trends, but far from the only genre of music that saw its moment in the limelight.

Check out the first half of KultScene’s 2017 best K-pop songs list below:

50. “Circle’s Dream” by Subin

Subin is trapped in an endlessly repeating contradictory cycle in her self-written and composed single “Circle’s Dream.” She is told that she is round and that’s good, but then that it’s not. She wants to be angular, to pierce her lover, to make him feel like how he made her feel. Yet she is also trapping herself within a recurring musical structure, as an acoustic guitar plucks an incisive riff throughout the song. It is the only angular part of Subin’s song yet has no variation. Her stark synths come in late but their slow rhythm only accentuates the repetitiveness. Each element is perfectly realised to tell her story. Her voice completes it. Its soft and sweet but particular pronunciations like denggeureureu are key. This word alone combines both the round and angular sides to her. It has repetitions but in order to say it properly she still has to roll her tongue. Subin has enwrapped her whole song with the confusing ideas in her head. No solo idol has ever produced something of such pointed precision.

—Joe

49. “Wee Woo” by Pristin

If “Wee Woo” had been released at the 2012-ish heyday of Hallyu, Pristin’s debut song would be considered legendary right now. It’s barrage of shifting sounds and onomatopoeic vocals are absolutely classic. The Pledis Entertainment regular songwriter Bumzu brings a bright and breezy feel to the whole production with disco electric guitars taking the brunt of the work. This allows the girls room to deliver the most hooks in a single song EVER. Each part is so complete on its own you could take them individually and create five more songs around them. The fact that they all come together for something that doesn’t feel so monumental is the greatness of “Wee Woo.” It’s arrogant in its effortlessness all the way down to making the primary hook out of the most simple term of jowahae nol jowahae (“I like (you) I like you”).

—Joe

48. “Beautiful” by Monsta X

Monsta X’s cultivated sound and signature unruly charms finally comes together for the consummate “Beautiful.” Perhaps because it is supposed to be representative of the group’s first studio album, the single feels particularly significant. For one, there’s really nothing quite like the opening out there. Scattered with a prominent distorted electronic beat that is quickly followed up by Jooheon’s explosive raps, the real hook is not in the chorus but here in the introduction, where the task for the listeners to not mimic the unique noises or the clever near-rhymes is near impossible. The vocalists dwindle down the excitement sometimes without sounding monotonous, almost acting like the Apollonian restraint to the Dionysian madness. The constant shower of peculiar oscillations, whirs, and horns all make up the perfectly organized chaos that Monsta X is known for, and though “Beautiful” did not grant the boys their first music show win like it should have, it will always remain a tour de force in our hearts.

—Shelley

47. “Where You At” by NU’EST W

With their revival in popularity following some of the members’ appearance in Produce 101 Season Two, this subunit of Nu’est (missing member Minhyun who debuted in Wanna One) released this flashy track which stayed true to their unique music style. Bursts of electronic instrumentals are mixed with a calm piano backing track and adds a lot of contrasts to the song. It also highlights the strengths of each member, with Baekho’s explosive high notes complementing Ren and Aron’s softer and sweeter voices. JR’s rapping is as stable as ever, and he definitely shines more back in his own group. It’s wonderful to see this talented group get more recognition for their talents, and I can’t wait to see the full group back together again soon.

—Anna

46. “You Were Beautiful” by DAY6

The February release of the band’s “Every DAY6 Project” can be said to be their most successful, especially domestically, and it’s not difficult to see why. The raw emotions brought out by the members coupled with the sincere lyrics create a sentimental rock ballad which truly tugs on the heartstrings of listeners. The end of the bridge in particular, where Young K and Wonpil’s voices are layered, is such a beautiful and emotional climax of the song. Even though it appears simple to sing along to (and is apparently a favourite among other JYP singers for karaoking), the song is actually very vocally challenging due to the large range required, and the effortless way the DAY6 members sing it shows just how skilled and well-trained they are.

—Anna

45. “Tomorrow, Today” by JJ Project

After debuting ahead of GOT7’s debut with the exuberant “Bounce,” JB and Jinyoung returned as a more matured rendition of JJ Project this year and it was absolutely glorious. The two vocalists released this sweeping, introspective song about the very-millennial topic of making decisions and fearing regrets. The track provides the perfect forum for the pair to show off how well their vocals work together, with the duo harmonizing over guitar riffs, tapping percussion, and mellow synths. “Tomorrow, Today” is reflective in its warm approach to soft rock, and hopefully we’ll see more of this from JJ Project in 2018. It was a complete turnaround from their first iteration, and definitely more suited for the pair’s artistic style and capabilities.

—Tamar

44. “Don’t Know You” by Heize

Heize’s “Don’t Know You” is a very groovy song full of percussions with a slight mixture of disco, hip-hop, and R&B, which features the soloist using deeper vocals than what we’ve been used to hear from her. The overall appeal of this songs starts at the beginning of the track with the repetitive beats and the introduction of the synth drums that follow different tonalities on the record that give great texture to “Don’t Know You.” Her famous ad-libs are also present on this song as she goes from high to low tones, which are achieved by the reverbs added on the vocal track, that create great contrast between her sexy sweet voice and her solid rap parts. The harmony is very steady throughout and creates a great chill up-tempo track perfect to dance and groove to. Heize continues to show great promise with her experimental sound.

—Alejandro

43. “Tequila (feat. Hoody)” by G.Soul

One can’t help but want to book an immediate flight to somewhere like Bali while listening to “Tequila,” especially with the brutal winter quickly approaching much of the States. Hoody’s bewitching voice alongside G.Soul’s multifaceted vocals make for the perfect combo in this dancehall track, ideal for both a cookout and the club. Lyrically wise, “Tequila” might not be appropriate for all age groups, as G.Soul sings about only wanting a one night stand. But if you’re someone who’s over the generic “let’s fall in love” type of style that is prevalent in K-pop the majority of the time, this song’s for you. The lyrics aren’t candy coated or sleazy, but come off rather… inviting. This wasn’t meant to be a flashy song, which is what made it even more enjoyable. Although G.Soul wasn’t hitting those high notes (that I love so much) like he usually does, it wasn’t a lack felt by this song.

—Tam

42. “Wake Me Up” by Taeyang

It is no news that Taeyang can hold a ballad like no other, and in 2017, he gave us two great ones. “Wake Me Up” doesn’t have the same degree of emotional complexity of “Darling,” the other single from the album, but it’s its apparent simplicity what makes this song amazing and addictive. Objectively speaking, it’s a very linear song with no surprise factors when it comes to its structure. It might even seem like Taeyang doesn’t have much to say in “Wake Me Up,” but it’s definitely not because he’s lacking emotions. In reality, what we see is that he just doesn’t know what to do with them. Everything in “Wake Me Up” sounds gorgeously inconclusive and mysterious — from the airy sounds and atmospheric, echoed beats, to the lyrics that offer more questions than answers. No wonder the most touching moment of the song is when he’s constantly repeating “Is it love?” while delivering breathtaking high notes. Overall, Taeyang’s vocal performance amidst the ethereal instrumental creates just the right vibe for a song that is about love, but mostly about confusion and doubt. After so many years, you can still count on Taeyang to get you in your feels.

—Ana

41. “Honeymoon” by B.A.P

Coming out during the fall when it should’ve been a summer jam, “Honeymoon” is a delightful EDM track from B.A.P’s seventh album Blue. The whistling at the beginning of the song left the remainder open for interpretation; this song could’ve been a sweet one, much like the title suggests, or a somber one. I’m glad it wasn’t the latter. “Honeymoon” puts listeners in a lighter mood, whereas previous songs were dark and heavy, all the while still executing a clear message. “With the overflowing stars from beneath the palm tree. A film on the shining freedom and bright youth,” they sing. Through this track, B.A.P wants to remind us to live life to its fullest, fulfill your heart’s desires to its grandest and emphasises that today’s youth will be the game changer in society going forward.

—Tam


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40. “Chase Me” by Dreamcatcher

Taking the bubbly girl group image and tossing it out the window, MINX re-debuted early this year under the name Dreamcatcher. Not only did the group have a new name, but they also gained two new members and an interesting concept and sound. Taking the term re-“vamp” quite literal, the group came out with a dark and creepy concept straight out of a horror movie. The video for “Chase Me” takes references from classic horror movies like The Shining but also has cuts to choreography to showcase the girls dance moves. The song begins with pianos and then picks up at the chorus. Adding31 to the darker image, the song melded hard rock elements with a dance pop track to create something very dynamic. There’s something about the mixing of heavy rock instrumentals and feminine voices that is very appealing. Although the song sounds like it’s straight out of an anime, it is also an interesting new sound that’s refreshing to the K-pop world.

—Katherine

39. “Never Ever” by GOT7

Ever since debut, GOT7 have switched up their sound with every release, experimenting with different styles and concepts, and their first comeback of the year was no different. “Never Ever” follows in the same angsty direction as “If You Do,” yet this track mixes electronic and trap sounds while giving it their signature bubblegum spin. Vocally, JB and Youngjae can always be counted on to deliver outstanding choruses and ad-libs. But reveal of the year was that “Never Ever” is probably the song where the rap line is collectively most stable and the flows, while different, work together. GOT7 is building up a name as a dance group whose choreographies are insane, and “Never Ever,” with its glitches and heavy bass, is the perfect performance track in their building discography.

—Alexis

38. “Love Story feat. IU” by Epik High

One of the two title tracks off of Epik High’s new album, “Love Story” is a beautiful song about love lost. The steady drum beats coupled with the sometimes frantic sounding piano and, later on, the smooth orchestra creates a complex yet easy sounding melody that balances well with IU’s sweet voice and the rap verses of Tablo and Mithra Jin. Along with the concept video of a girl reminiscing about her past relationship through videos and photos on her phone, it sets the perfect setting for a song about heartbreak and loss. As expected with most of Epik High’s collaborations, the group and the featuring artist blend perfectly to portray the story being told.

—Katherine

37. “Wake Me Up” by B.A.P

A lot of the times, K-pop consists of clichéd lyrics and similar concepts. There are times when a number of artists will put out a string of songs, music talking about love, relationships and breakups. Again, the repetitiveness. Just when you feel like you’ve had enough of that sappy stuff, B.A.P appears with an eye opener like “Wake Me Up,” a track that touches on societal issues and mental health to stimulate one’s ear buds. The song has a compelling beat, a sound so strong, it’ll act as the pillar that will hold you up when one is fighting off their inner demons and struggles in life. “This is an endless tunnel, in darkness with no light. Wake me up, wake me up. I need to find myself,” they sing. B.A.P wanted to push awareness and wake up a society that looks away and pretends that issues like racism, judgement, and depression aren’t real issues because these things are very much on going and continue to be real life problems.

—Tam

36. “Palette feat. G-Dragon” by IU

As one of Korea’s most prominent artists, IU on “Palette” seems to be comfortable with her fame and life, assuring both herself and her listeners that she’s changing in ways she embraces. Her lyricism uses cute examples, from changing color preferences to hair length, to demonstrate that she, “Knows a little bit about [herself] now.” The song’s instrumentals are a more alternative play on classic, theatrical IU releases. While the trademark ticking noises and sound effects are present, the song itself is slower and wispier, updated to match a more modern vibe that she seems to have grown into. The top female star of Korean music in the past decade, IU demonstrates that she remains focused on making hits, but now, on her own terms. With the help of a strongly performed and well-placed rap break from G-Dragon, IU on “Palette” lets us further into her excited, changing young adult world. Where she goes next from here, however, we’ll be watching.

—Kushal

35. “Dinosaur” by AKMU

AKMU is known for creating beautiful music, but with “Dinosaur,” the duo really surprised us: they finally added some EDM to their music while managing to make it their own. The electro beats and synths that appear through the track’s melody seem very stripped down and almost make it feel like an acoustic electronic song. The opening guitar in the beginning of the song especially feels like an homage to their earlier music. The synthetic kickdrums that blast before the beautiful notes from Suhyun during the chorus melody and are present through the whole track, giving it an unique mystery to the track. We also get more singing from Chanhyuk instead of his typical talk-like rap, which was surprisingly beautiful. Their voices blend and harmonize perfectly with the synthetic beats that made it an upbeat chill song for the summer. AKMU really had a lot of fun creating this track and used every tool that electronic instruments can give you as a producer. The song is simple but very detailed with a beautiful, heartwarmingly catchy harmony and a light beat that is very uplifting and instantly makes you feel good.

—Alejandro

34. “Dream In a Dream” by Ten

SM Entertainment’s Station project has produced a bit of a mixed bag this year, delivering some truly great pieces of music amid a majority of lackluster ones. But “Dream In a Dream” was one of its glorious high notes. The ambient, east-meets-west styling of the song serves to relay the performance-heavy music video, which highlights Ten’s immense dance skills. Providing a soundtrack to the highly-stylized, contemporary dance video, it’s a song filled with drama and passion. But even as a stand alone track, “Dream In a Dream” delivers something truly special through its symphonic instrumentals relaying Ten’s echoing declaration of love. Lush synths and pulsating beats guide the track as it layers traditional Asian strings and into the atypically-structured melody. So far, Ten has participated in both this and NCT U’s “The 7th Sense,” two hauntingly beautiful, choreography-focused singles, and if this is the direction SM continues pushing him in, it may be the thing that could breathe new life into this era of all-too-similar K-pop male acts.

—Tamar

33. “Shall We Dance” by Block B

Ever since Zico cemented his status as a hip-hop icon in Korea, Block B has pretty much taken a backseat on the ride. And after a couple of quirky, even cutesy releases, it seemed the group had gone awry of the sounds and concept they made a name with. That’s why when they dropped “Shall We Dance” it was way more impactful. More in tune with the “trendy” sounds Zico is known to produce for his solos, the track explores different urban Latino sounds, which particularly stood out this year when artists are still releasing trop-house songs. “Shall We Dance” is groovy, smooth, and just as the title suggests, dance provoking. Being an older male group with a diverse lineup of talented members, it’s important for Block B to color outside the lines and continue to push the envelope as they have always done. And with this song, they did just that.

—Alexis

32. “Girl Front” by ODD EYE CIRCLE

“Girl Front” felt like a particularly important moment for LOONA. When LOONA ⅓ debuted as a unit they were still fairly unknown, a weird project group going about their own thing. By the time of ODD EYE CIRCLE, they had significantly grown with more people both at home and internationally taking notice. The fact that they absolutely nailed it came as no surprise to me, but how they did it was so impressive. By combining the songs of three girls (Choerry, Jinsoul, and Kim Lip) producers Ollipop and Hayley Aitken created something unprecedented in K-pop. “Girl Front” has the peppiness of “Love Cherry Motion,” the dense, propulsive beat of “Singing in the Rain,” and the electronic sheen of “Eclipse.” It’s a miracle that it all comes together to form something coherent let alone this good. The girls give it the last edge of excitement with non-stop vocals as they bounce off one another with glee, building a climax of unstoppable motion and further push forward the most exciting story of the year.

—Joe

31. “I Wait” by Day6

“I Wait” was the first release of the group’s ambitious project, which set a high bar for their following monthly singles. The opening of the song draws the listener in with somber synthesized keyboard notes and dreamy vocals. The mellow beats gradually increase to the more aggressive instrumentals of the chorus, showcasing a much harder sound than what the band has been previously known for. The song continues to bounce back and forth between a softer sound and the heavy chorus, which creates and interesting medium. The video itself isn’t really anything special but somehow still complements the song with the changing graphics and effects. Overall, “I Wait” fulfilled its purpose of drawing in the audience with a new sound, showcasing the band’s versatility and ability to deliver quality songs throughout the year.

—Katherine


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30. “MIC Drop (Steve Aoki Remix feat. Desiigner)” by BTS

“MIC Drop” was already a good song before Steve Aoki’s remix, but with his production, the producer added the aggressiveness that the track needed to be fully solidified as an anti-haters anthem for BTS. He did this by converting the hip-hop track into a hip-hop, R&B, and EDM infused song that made us remember the old BTS from their debut era. The track is energetic and gets you pumped up as soon as you listen to it; V’s deep voice and RM’s raps are major highlights from this record. The lyrics take a very sarcastic tone that even if they seem cocky it makes us sympathize with them. With the new added English lyrics in the chorus, the song makes everyone want to stand up against haters and face them off. BTS creates yet another ode for outcasts and bullied kids all over the world by once again taking on topics that usually K-pop bands don’t talk about.


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—Alejandro

29. “Darling” by Taeyang

This ballad stands out with its somewhat unconventional structure and chord progression, but it’s truly beautiful and addictive when listened to in its entirety. The way that Taeyang’s smooth voice connects the various parts of the song elevates it and showcases his impressive range and ability. His raw emotions are showcased front and center here too, especially with the way the song “progresses” in intensity from verse to verse. It’s soothing and intimate all at once, and allows Taeyang to present a more honest side of himself, as compared to being a charismatic star glorified by the limelight.

—Anna

28. “Hola Hola” by KARD

Over the course of three project singles, KARD was able to develop a musical formula that worked. The tropical house and dancehall that undergirded “Oh Nana,” “Don’t Recall,” and “Rumor” provided a strong foundation for when they finally did make their official debut with “Hola Hola,” a timely and bright synthy number perfect for the summertime. Being co-ed is more than just a gimmick for this group; the exchange between tender vocals and throaty raps is the contrast listeners need to keep engaged. The chorus, on the other hand, shifts its weight onto an island beat, and while it would be easy to dismiss this sudden move as overly simplistic, the hypnotic effect is undeniable. It sweeps the carpet from under our feet and displaces us in a chimerical paradise. It is a nice recess from Jiwoo’s spunky rap midway or from any other strained moments, providing us with a sensual and personable comfort. “Hola Hola” only marks the beginning, but already the internationally beloved group has been dealt a good hand, and are making all the right plays to keep momentum going.

—Shelley

27. “Cherry Bomb” by NCT 127

Without a doubt, “Cherry Bomb” definitely encapsulates the sound of NCT127. The different mixes of genres that create a very fresh and futuristic sound create a unique style for the band that has everyone falling in love. The track starts off with a heavy bass and the repetitive “Hurry, hurry, avoid it, right Cherry Bomb feel it yum,” then goes off to Mark’s and Taeyong’s rap, with the pair proving to be the real standouts for this track, while the bridge explodes with Taehyun’s, Doyoung’s and Taeil’s beautiful vocals that melt any listener’s hearts. The song is filled with background synth noises, singed hooks, and creepy sounds that create a very chaotic but interesting track that is reminiscent of the album cover and the title of the song. It’s a classic, sassy and rebellious track and shows great direction for the boy band.

—Alejandro

26. “O Sole Mio” by SF9

Is it possible for someone who lacks rhythm AND coordination to find themselves swaying ones hips and body with precision to the entrancing latin sounds of “O Sole Mio”? This track comes from SF9’s third mini album, Knights of the Sun, only one year after their debut. Rather then SF9’s usual upbeat dance tracks, “O Sole Mio” is captivating in it’s own mellow way. The transitions between the vocal and rap lines were smooth and well-versed, building up to a tender climax without it ever being over the top. The fusion of latin pop to K-pop is still new, but, let’s be real: we all could’ve used a break from some of the generic sounds we’ve heard this year, and the fresh sound of “O Sole Mio” delivered just that.

—Tam

Stay tuned for the second and final half of our Best K-pop Songs of 2017 list, which will contain the top 25.

What was your favorite release of the year? Let us know 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.

K-Pop Unmuted: BTS ‘Love Yourself: Her’

In the 23nd episode of of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Alexis Hodoyan, Tamar Herman, and the admin of @USBTSARMY discuss BTS’ latest album, Love Yourself: Her, their favorite songs on it, and what they think of the boy band’s ascent in the international market.

[Please note that this was recorded shortly after the album’s release and prior to any major news regarding charts and album sales.]

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.

Let us know what you think of K-pop in July and KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted 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.

KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted: July roundup [podcast]


In celebration of our third anniversary earlier this year, KultScene has started a collaboration with K-Pop Unmuted, a podcast dedicated to delving deep into K-pop.

On Episode 21 of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Stephen Knight, Joe Palmer, and Tamar Herman discuss the most interesting K-pop releases from July 2017, including BTS’s Seo Taiji remake “Come Back Home,” Loona’s “Love Cherry Motion,” Dreamcatcher’s “Fly High,” Akdong Musician’s “Dinosaur,” Snuper’s “The Star of Stars,” and Red Velvet’s “Zoo.”

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.

Let us know what you think of K-pop in July and KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted 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.

Aeon Dream Studios talks ‘To The Edge of the Sky,’ BTS, & dreams [interview]

It’s only been about a month since their visual novel demo To The Edge of the Sky was released, but Aeon Dream Studios has already achieved great success with a 4.9/5 user rating on Google Play and over a hundred thousand installs. With beautiful graphics and an intriguing storyline set in 2077 featuring BTS members as characters in an enigmatic government organisation, the demo has definitely whetted the appetites of fans who cannot wait for more. We spoke to the game’s creators at Aeon Dream Studios about their new game as well as their future plans and dreams.

Kultscene: Thank you for taking the time to talk to Kultscene. To begin with, could you all introduce yourselves and your roles in the company?
Ajané Celestin: Hello! I’m Ajané Celestin. I’m the CEO, Creative Director, and I also write and act as the Editor.
Chieu Nguyen: I’m Chieu Nguyen. I’m the Art Director and Lead Artist responsible for most of the visuals in our games, mainly character art and user interface.
Eglė Dilytė: I’m Eglė Dilytė. I’m the Lead Creative Writer, main scriptwriter, and I also work as our Social Media Coordinator.

How and why did you decide to found this company?
AC: Chieu, Egle and I met up on Tumblr as fans of visual novel games. We became friendly with each other and since Egle and I were writers and Chieu was an artist, I asked them if they wanted to make a game. We decided to see what would happen and go as far as we could go. We didn’t imagine things would get this far, but we’re very happy it has.


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What first inspired you to create To the Edge of the Sky, and more specifically, to model your main characters after the BTS members?
AC: We’re fans of BTS’ music and their concepts and aesthetics constantly inspired us last year. As creators, we began to see more ways we could flesh out some of their story concepts in a visual novel game format and also thought that ARMYs would probably be interested in such a game.

Characters of the game modeled after BTS members (image via To the Edge of the Sky)

What were the challenges you faced in your creation of To the Edge of the Sky?
CN: Definitely time pressure. We had about two weeks for this demo while still planning on our previous game, so it was rough trying to get the assets done while still maintaining our usual quality. Fortunately, the first part of the demo was finished like how we envisioned it.
AC: As Chieu said, it was mainly time. Chieu had already done promotional artwork because we were gearing up to create the demo, but I suddenly came up with the idea to do it before I headed to their Newark concerts in March so we could hand out the promotional artwork. We challenged ourselves to create a concept from scratch as well as artwork within roughly a 10 day period. However we were able to achieve it and are grateful to receive the positive responses.

You’ve posted online about your plans to present the idea for To the Edge of the Sky to BTS’ label, BigHit Entertainment, how do you intend to achieve that?
AC: As anyone who has been paying attention to BTS knows, they are reaching their peak right about now, so it is very difficult to contact them. Right now we are in contact with someone local to Seoul who may be able to assist us with that further.

To the Edge of the Sky has become very popular on the Internet, especially among ARMYs (BTS’ fandom). What would you like to say to the new fans of your game?
ED: Well, first of all, hello and welcome! Thank you for playing our demo and thank you so much for your kind words and support. This might sound a little cheesy, but we feel energized by all the love and we’ll continue to work hard for everyone.
AC: I’d like to say that we’re really, truly grateful for all the kind and positive comments we’ve received. We had no idea To the Edge of the Sky would be so well received. We put everything we had into it during the short time we had and are so grateful for the ARMYs that gave us positive responses at the Newark concerts and through social media and emails. We can hardly believe it but To the Edge of the Sky is nearing 400,000 downloads within two months of its release and we’re really grateful for the thousands of positive reviews so far. Thank you for also becoming fans of the game and we promise we will do our best to develop this game for you.
CN: Thank you so much for your generous support thus far, it means a lot to us. We will continue to work hard and hope that you could see this game come to fruition with us.


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So far only a demo for To the Edge of the Sky has been released, what will come next following this release?
AC: After we finish our current project, we are planning to work on developing the next part of To the Edge of the Sky. We want to give ARMYs more while we continue to work on making this a full game.

Where do you see your company in the next five years?
ED: With a much larger games library and still creating more, it’s been my wish and I think all of ours really to be able to work together and create together until we die of old age. And I hope we’ll be able to produce more content than just visual novels.
CN: We would have more games out with higher quality, and it would also be nice to have a larger fanbase. We are never satisfied with the status quo and are always seeking to improve the quality of our work. Therefore, it is my hope that in 5 years time, we will create even better games and be able to reach out to a wider range of audience.
AC: In five years…It’d be really nice if we had a few different series. It’d be really nice if we could produce more games like To the Edge of the Sky, where genres are crossed over, as well as our own, completely original work. I want us to continue to become better developers, writers and artists and make a variety of different games for all kinds of people. It would be interesting to do work outside of games as well, under our brand name.

Check out Aeon Dream Studios and their current works here!

Have you tried out To The Edge of the Sky? Are you a fan? Tell us what you think 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.