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Best K-Pop Music Videos of 2018

One of the most important aspects of any K-pop single is its accompanying music video, and though 2018 is over, it’ll be a while before we’re over the MVs released by Korean artists throughout the twelve month period. Taking a look back, the KultScene team took a look at what exactly makes one music video better than another, and several writers shared their perspective on why one K-pop MV or another from last year is superior and memorable in its own way.

“IDOL” by BTS

Doesn’t matter if you look into BTS’ music, videos, performances, fan-dedicated released content or even the fandom-driven activities on or offline. Whatever it is, there is always so much going on that you might either get confused or fascinated, but never bored. The music video for “IDOL” is no different. Filled with dozens of references (some that only fans will get, some that only Koreans or Korean culture aficionados will get), the music video plays with a lot of stereotypes that are often attached to BTS, to K-pop “idols” and just generally for being Asian men. Displaying a powerful choreography and a deliberate overwhelming aesthetic, the boys show that they don’t have a problem with whatever is it that you think they are (“idols” or “artists”). Because, at the end of the day, they are confident enough in their skins to be anything —or everything at once— while still being, above all things, themselves.

—Ana Clara

“Lullaby” by GOT7

“Lullaby” was not only a blessing to the ears but visually just as impactful. Aesthetics, aesthetics, on top of freaking aesthetics. There was never a dull moment visually or sonically throughout the three minutes and forty-two seconds of the music video. With the exception of the first three seconds, the video was never without vibrant colors, compelling backdrops or snazzy outfits. Colors aside, GOT7 kept the viewers anticipating what was to happen next with each scene, especially since each member had separate sets and themes. And although there were many individual scenes, the members always brought it back together with a unified group choreo and some fancy footwork. But speaking of footwork, the highlight of the music video definitely goes to go to Mr. Dance Machine Kim Yugyeom, as the astounding dance break and sharp moves of his solo stole the show. Even if you didn’t like the music video as a collective whole (don’t lie to yourself, you liked it), there were more than enough things about it individually that should’ve pulled you in.

—Tam

”Apple Box” by nafla

On paper, nafla’s “Apple Box” reads like an organized crime agenda (“put the money in an apple box,” possibly referring to a common way of accepting business bribes), but in action it reveals to be much more comedic. Under the creative direction of Digipedi, the music video portrays gang activities rather facetiously — a brutal beating in one scene is mitigated through deliberately cheesy special effects and nonsensically looped clips. In another, gambling is done with apples instead of currency. Ultimately, these all act as red herrings for, as the least suspecting character (a hostess perhaps?) makes off with a chest of golden apples, we are forced to contemplate the ignorance of these traditionally male organizations. Because of its quirky approach to one of film’s most enduring genre’s, “Apple Box” may be nafla’s best work to date.

—Shelley

“Singularity” by BTS’ V

Captivating in its theatricality, the music video, or comeback trailer as it was dubbed, for V‘s “Singularity” ahead of the release of Love Yourself: Tear is an exhibit of the sort of artistry that BTS has thrived on over the years. With a luxurious blue-red-purple color palette recalling that of the group’s 2016’s “Blood Sweat & Tears,” this new music video stunningly represents the struggles with one’s self and the various masks that we wear. With watery allusions to the Greek myth of Narcissus littered throughout, the vivid cinematography enhances the impactful song as V explores the lush neo soul sound. And if that weren’t enough, the music video for the song graced us with one of the year’s most inspired choreographies, giving new meaning to the idea of dancing with oneself.

—Tamar

“1, 2, 3!” by Seungri

Big Bang’s Seungri breathes life into “1, 2, 3!,” his first solo comeback in five years, with a ’50s-inspired video set in the singing and dancing world similar to that of Grease. Like the musical, the music gives insight into his character, our hotshot hero who only loses his cool once he is bewitched by the heroine, played by a stunningly gorgeous Anda. As he grabs her hand and pulls her into a swing, he sings: “When I count to three, you’ll fall for me.” An ensemble dance cast, all outfitted in mid-century modern pomps, tea-length dresses, and oxfords faithful to the era, further integrates song and video by filling out the percussive claps and the hook’s polyphonic three counts. After taking us from one period set to the next, it all comes together celebratorily at the end with a nod to the iconic dance scene from Pulp Fiction between our leads and in a single freeze frame moment, we know he was right. It’s this kind of happily ever after that can make society nostalgic for a past it never knew. Between this and the one-take style reminiscent of Broadway productions, “1, 2, 3!” just feels like an immersive experience that is more motion picture than music video.

—Shelley

“One and Only” by Go Won

Of all the videos for LOONA’s pre-debut project, none feel as suited to and in need of its trappings quite like Go Won’s. As the second to last girl of the month, Go Won’s “One and Only” came late into the game. And it would almost seem that she would have too many obligations to the lore to have any sort of personal identity. Instead, along with LOONA regulars Digipedi, she finds herself within it all. Unlike her lyrics, which are confident from the start, the video shows this self-discovery in action. She begins covered in shadows, trying to embrace whatever light she can, but is still afraid of the temptations of Choerry’s apple, or the chase of Yves and Chuu. It’s in the act of watching herself where it comes out. Looking and singing into a mirror, watching her shadow dance to her own song, or imagining herself a princess with a crown on her head. The 1:1 aspect ratio helps her, making each image have an obvious and single point of focus. One image, one thought. Despite this, allusions to David Lowery’s A Ghost Story from 2017, reminds of the dangers of the never ending cycles of LOONA’s own universe as well as that of our own. Go Won finds a way out of her draping, suffocating sheet but how long is it before her time comes back around and she has to do it all over again?

—Joe

“Dally (feat. Gray)” by Hyolyn

Hyolyn is a hip-hop diva in full control of her life, her body – and of your attention! – in “Dally,” the second music video released under her own label, BRID3 Entertainment. The artistic concept of the video is pretty simple – but seriously, do we need anything else when we have a team of such skilful dancers, led by a magnetic performer like Hyolyn, executing one of the most difficult choreographies seen throughout the year? In “Dally,” it’s hardly possible to take your eyes off of Hyolyn, or to doubt that she has everything it takes to keep wowing us with her self-managed works from now on.

—Ana Clara

“Now or Never” by SF9

As time passes, SF9’s concepts continue to get more charismatic and sexier *phew, wipes sweat.* And it is totally working on their behalf. The group’s previous tracks and music videos had flavor to them but “Now or Never” really took it up a few big notches. The song and styling were both executed to perfection as the concept had just the right doses of cool, seduction, and dreaminess. The choreography was simple but alluring, and it played well with the bass. And how about that Michael Jackson homage? Classy. The cinematography was exquisite; the colors and abstract backgrounds made this music video fitting to be played at a museum. The track itself is solid but the visualization and styling gets an A+.

—Tam

“What Is Love?” by TWICE

Sometimes it pays not to take yourself too seriously, and when ruminating on the immensely philosophical question of “What Is Love?,” TWICE served us up with one of this year’s most fun music videos. Throughout it, the nine women parodied the likes of La La Land, The Princess Diaries, Romeo & Juliet, and a wide range of movies from across the globe while trying to depict what the idea of love look likes. They then paired casual scenes of the nonet chilling at a slumber party while watching the films with elegant scenes where they perform the questioning choreography, serving up one of the most fun visual experiences of 2018. Since their start TWICE has always exuded a sense of infectious vibrancy in their music videos and “What Is Love?” overflowed with that to the nth degree.

—Tamar

“Moonlight” by Neon Punch

Neon Punch’s “Moonlight” is how you make an effective K-pop music video on a smaller budget. It’s a classic example of the genre with no real story, just the members dancing, singing, and looking pretty in random locations. Its first minute is so brilliantly made though that all those tropes feel fresh. Song and video seem to become one, as they bounce off each other, reacting to each turn. Extremely simple but great visual effects are used to make this melding feel real, as the music bends the visuals while it builds and releases. This also makes the editing feel musical all by its own which gives the video great impetus to keep moving. As the effects start to dwindle the editing keeps the same sense of pace and wonder that they had built up. The funkiest bass line of the year feels at home among these vibrant visuals.

—Joe

”Instagram” by DEAN

Sitting alone in a warehouse full of random objects, DEAN strums a skateboard as if it were a guitar. He sports a short mullet under his cap, along with generously slitted eyebrows, a (potentially appropriative) grill, a bandage under his right eye, and black overalls that cover part of his sweatshirt. Like the feed he scrolls through, he is a mess of different aesthetics and styles. “Instagram” the song is about endlessly scrolling through the app in moments of sleeplessness, reflecting our loneliness and insecurity back to us as we see others enjoying themselves on our screens, and the song emulates that.

From the warehouse room’s walls leak black paint, becoming screens that play a stream of videos and images characteristic of a social media feed. As the images spread further across the room, the video abruptly goes black. “Sometimes I feel alone, even when I’m with a lot of people,” a strange voice says in the dark. The video cuts back to the warehouse, and DEAN begins laughing hysterically, overtaken with the misery of his sleepless Instagram scrolling.

The video is simultaneously simple and complex, capturing a very unique relationship between phone and human, account and user. Using social media is repetitive and endless, an unhealthy distraction we know all too well. In bringing the feed to life in all its chaos and stress, the video highlights the emotional and psychological toll we endure in using social media every single day.

—Kushal

“Playlist” by DPR Live

“Playlist” is a colorful adventure following DPR Live as he vies for the attention of a mysterious woman. The song incorporates tribal and bossa nova beats as Live maintains his signature rhythm and swagger. While the song is a new turn for DPR Live, the music video expands the Latin trend in Korean music by including some aspects of African influence in Latin American culture through instruments and religion. From the beginning we are met with vibrant colors, gravity defying visuals and psychedelic art transitions set in a replica of a Peruvian neighborhood. Stand out moments include the shaman’s rain dance and spinning neon umbrellas during the instrumental breakdown of the song, as “Playlist” offers a glimpse of the creativity DPR Live has in store for the future.

—Nnehkai

“Kiss Me Like That” by Shinhwa

Simplicity is key and Shinhwa had that and then some in the “Kiss Me Like That” music video. The styling was sharp and neat; the linen button ups and suspenders? Crisp. Those blue silk suits? Elegant. “Kiss Me Like That” doesn’t have a pivotal climax but that worked out perfectly because it really didn’t need one. The music video gives a sense of relaxation. It doesn’t make you think or analyze. You just gotta kick back, grab a mojito, and enjoy the guitar strings. The video wasn’t over the top, just very clean, straight forward, occasionally flirty and wholeheartedly fun to watch. Shinhwa’s just really out here living their best life on that ship though. Next course of action, petition to have Shinhwa do a yearly cruise with fans (like New Kids on the Block)!

—Tam

“Egotistic” by Mamamoo

Kicking off with a guitar riff, tropical plants, and neon buildings that add an Old Havana-like vibe to the video, Mamamoo is bold in aesthetics throughout “Egotistic” as they issue a warning of a lover scorned. How can anyone forget the intensity Hwasa’s stare-off with a jaguar?
The Flamenco inspiration is apparent in the core of the beat of the song, the choreography, and the flowy dresses the ladies wear in the video. Their take on Latin-inspired tracks plays up the girl crush concept Mamamoo has become known for with fiery makeup, confident attitudes, and sexy dance moves. They also included the ultimate girl crush move: dancing in a ring of fire in front of buildings while executing a choreography filled with hair flips and and seductive shimmys. Overall, “Egotistic” captures a small portion of Latin America’s musical richness and is welcomed contrast to the highly mainstream trap beats that accompany the usual Latin trends in K-pop.

—Nnehkai

”Something New” by Taeyeon

Inspiring fan speculation and theories since it was released in June, Taeyeon’s “Something New” music video is, like the artist it belongs to, uniquely enigmatic and hard to place. Beginning on the red carpet at a ritzy celebrity event, the video quickly transitions to a hotel, where Taeyeon instigates a fight by suddenly throwing a hammer at a suited man during an elevator ride. The fighting then continues with her hotel room’s maid-turned-murderer, who leaps at the singer with a knife during a room service delivery.

It’s around this point when “Something New” begins to feel more like an action-packed spy blockbuster than a music video for an SM Entertainment artist. The scenes are fast-paced and cinematically captured, and they move artfully with the pace of the song. Most interestingly, Taeyeon takes the fights in stride, seemingly unfazed by them after they happen.

The end of the video, in which Taeyeon shoots suitcases of cash over a cliff facing the sea, is probably the subject of the most interpretation and discussion. Worth noting to most theorists is that Taeyeon has never been shy when discussing the hardships of celebrity life. Is the cash a representation of the net worth she’s built over the years? Are the fight scenes emblematic of encounters with online and offline haters? While it seems that “Something New” is an in-depth commentary on the difficult life of a celebrity, the beauty of the music video lies in the fact that it is truly up to interpretation. For dropping one of the most cinematic and mysterious MVs of the year, Taeyeon gets a nod from me.

—Kushal

What were your favorite K-pop MVs of 2018? Let us know your picks 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.

Weekly K-Pop Faves Feb 27-March 5

Each week, the KultScene crew gets together and talks which K-pop songs released the past week caught our attention. The last week of February saw a lot of good releases, but we focused this week’s playlist on boy band Victon, a B-side from the first LP from Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon, and a hip hop collab between LIVE and DEAN.

“Eyez Eyez” by VICTON (Released Mar. 2)

Despite being all quite similar, the new generation of boy groups are quite good at delivering classic K-pop sounding tracks. VICTON’s “Eyez Eyez” is one of the best examples. Pairing the synths of Sweetune with dripping dub reminiscent of Nu’est at their best, “Eyez Eyez” is dramatic in the ways that only K-pop boy groups can be. The developing mix of synths and dub carries this drama throughout, however, never steering into the realm of silliness. Especially in the pre-chorus, it kicks into overdrive with vocals pushing the music to keep up. It has no trouble as the song climbs to an epic plateau where a chorus can naturally occur. Producers BeomXNang have worked with VICTON on all their singles so far, improving each time. VICTON lack in distinctive qualities but compared to other boy groups right now, few can compete in terms of consistency.

— Joe

Also on KultScene: Is K.A.R.D the future of K-pop?

“Cover Up” by Taeyeon (Released Feb. 28)

With its light-hearted tropical beats and Taeyeon’s brightly effusive deliver of the lovestruck lyrics, the sweet “Cover Up” is a standout from Taeyeon’s My Voice album. It’s quite honestly like a burst of fresh air on the album after “Fine,” the more melancholic opening track. “Cover Up” seems like a more positive, saccharine spin on the the electro-pop feel Taeyeon pursued on last year’s “Why,” although altogether more of a feel good song. Practically incessant in its cheeriness and cool, romantic tone, “Cover Up” seems more like a song suited for the start of spring than at the end of the winter (although I guess those are the same thing?), but regardless of its release date I am very, very happy and would love to hear this spritely version of Taeyeon more often.


— Tamar

“Know Me (feat. DEAN)” by LIVE (Released Mar 1)

I honestly don’t know who LIVE is, but he’s got a new song out with none other than DEAN, and well, here we are. In “Know Me,” DEAN doesn’t just lend his velvety vocals and falsettos, but actually talk raps and he absolutely killed it. MORE OF THIS PLEASE! The song itself goes on a roller coaster, going from fast-paced, fire spitting bars to a more mellow lullaby. And it’s just not DEAN who makes the song amazing, but LIVE’s rapping is pretty dope. I may not had known him before, but as the lyrics say, now I do.

— Alexis
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.

Weekly K-Pop Faves July 11-17

Weekly Playlist

Every weekend, KultScene’s team of writers put our heads together to highlight some of our favorite releases from the past week. This Weekly K-pop Faves playlist has a lot of variant styles and features recently released singles by Heize and Dean, M&D (aka Heechul of Super Junior and Jungmo of Trax), and GFRIEND.

“Ulsanbawi” by Kim Heechul & Kim Jungmo (M&D) (Released July 12)

A few days after I casually told someone that I felt it was a pity K-pop hadn’t spread more of Korea’s homegrown sounds, SM Entertainment’s resident (loveable) fools released a brand new trot song. “Ulsanbawi” is actually a trot-rock hybrid created by Super Junior’s Heechul and Trax’s Kim Jungmo (mostly Jungmo). It’s not a song I’ll listen to every day but its release is definitely something that K-pop fans should be aware of thanks to Korea’s long history with trot (the title is also innately Korean- it references a mountain range.) Heechul, who is also a member of of the Super Junior-T trot subunit, shines on the song with his overwrought vocals paired by Jungmo’s electric rifts. It’s not SM Entertainment’s usual MO but I’m definitely a fan. (I.O.I/DIA member Jung Chaeyeon stars in the music video, so there’s also that fun bonus of seeing Heechul act like a vagrant bum.)

— Tamar

“And July (feat. Dean, DJ Friz)” by Heize (Released July 17)

I wasn’t here for “Shut Up & Groove,” but Heize and Dean’s newest collaboration “And July” is a step up. On this new release, Heize’s vocals aren’t as piercing as the first song and the synergy between her singing and rapping are balanced better. Dean, as usual, kills his verses and I’m here for anything that includes his “Ooh’s,” which is a standout in the song, to be honest. The lyrics, I assume, probably talk about a romantic relationship, but the interactions in the music video between the two artists looks more like a petty war between siblings. It’s cute, but if the lyrics are romantic, then it’s a bit weird. Nevertheless, it’s an easy, mellow listen and I’m glad Heize is slowly finding herself as an artist.

— Alexis

“Navillera” by GFriend (Released July 11)

They’ve done it again! GFriend has brought out another catchy bop to continue the summer K-pop rush. While I wish it stood out a little more compared to their other releases, I’m pretty satisfied with the way it came out — as always, GFriend is powerful and strong, but catchy and innocent at the same time. It’s good to see them bringing out their charms in a song that can easily be left on repeat for days on end. “Navillera” tells the K-pop world that GFriend has their own trademark style among girl groups. While other groups have been trying to ride the “GFriend reign,” none of them compare to these girls. GFriend is here to stay, in both their K-pop relevance and their musical style.

— Kushal

Share your picks and thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us onFacebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

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

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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


Also on KultScene: Reading The Political Signs of ‘Descendants of the Sun’

“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


Also on KultScene: DAY6 ‘Letting Go’ Music Video & Song Review

“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.

Weekly K-Pop Faves: March 20-27

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Each week, KultScene’s staff introduces our favorite new songs from Korea that were released during the last few days. This week, we introduce songs by Dean, Lyn, KittiB, and Amber.

1. DEAN “what2do” (uploaded March 23)

Along with Crush and Jeff Bernat, DEAN released “what2do” back in January. Each vocalist added their signature R&B flair that made it an impossibly irresistible song. With that being said, without a doubt, DEAN is the best thing about that song. So now that he’s performing it solo, I can’t help but to stan it. Don’t get me wrong, the original version in awesome, but being DEAN biased, him singing the song by himself is a nice treat for this fangirl who melts with the sound of even his yawn.

— Alexis


Also on KultScene: Girl Crush: KittiB

2. Lyn “With You” (uploaded March 23)

The latest addition to the ever-expanding list of original soundtrack (OST) songs for the currently airing hit drama “Descendants of the Sun” is “With You” an exceptional one by skilled vocalist Lyn. Lyn’s voice is at times soft and at times powerful, but she never fails to bring meaning and emotion to every lyric she sings. The instrumentals in this track blend together perfectly to create this song which is full of yearning and passion, befitting of the romance in this drama.

— Anna

3. KittiB “Doin Good” (uploaded March 21)

“Who knew I’d have so much fun breaking prejudices”

Of the small bit of Unpretty Rapstar I watched, KittiB was someone who always stood out. Her small stature hid an impressive strength not just to her voice but to her presence too. “Doin Good” continues a strong run from her with tracks that not just please the ear but are a part of her identity. It’s her angry retort to an ex but has traces of self hatred as well, something that feels a lot more honest that most rappers. Especially compared to the feature of Verbal Jint which works sonically, but his brags about money are tired. The trap beat is good but I really love the autotuned vocals in the chorus. They’re as a sort of mocking nature to the way her voice connects with it. I also really like this trend of purple, pink, and blue lighting in music videos.

— Joe


Also on KultScene: Battle of the Underappreciated K-pop Groups: A.cian vs. Lip Service

4. Amber “Borders” (March 24)

SM Entertainment’s STATION releases have been a bit overwhelming, but each song has been a gift. Last week’s addition was from Amber of f(x), who released an English-language self-composed track that is one of the most inspirational songs ever put out by a K-pop idol. “Borders” is all about achieving your goals and features Amber both as a singer and a rapper, giving her a chance to showcase her wide-range of talent. The song’s title hints to Amber’s background as a Taiwanese-American artist who moved to Korea to pursue her dream. The song is even more poignant given a message Amber wrote on the YouTube video of “Borders” that shows a new, self-aware element of K-pop: “I’ve been doing this job for a long time and right now I speak not as Amber of f(x) nor ‘celebrity’ Amber, but just Amber. Just plain, simple, human Amber. ‘Borders’ is more than a song; no glamorous concepts, no ‘trying to be cool.’”

–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.

The Other Top 10 Korean Songs of 2015

Hara
2016 rumbles on even longer with still little to show for itself, but that’s okay! The year is still young. What it does however, is lead me back to 2015 to continue remembering what a great year it was for K-pop. The multiple top songs of the year lists that were put out (including ours) were wonderfully varied and each one managed to honor great music. It’s a testament to 2015 that I still felt there were many songs that deserved some end of year recognition. So I decided to make my own alternative best of list in order to celebrate some of those artists.

In this case, alternative does not necessarily mean alternative music. There is still room for K-pop here. Rather, it means anything that didn’t garner as much attention last year, as I personally thought it deserved. To further restrict myself, I also didn’t allow any songs that I had previously written about before. So that counts out BESTie, D.Holic, Fiestar, Purfles, Blady, A.Kor Black, and many more. Instead of mourning all of those amazing girls, let’s move on to the first category.

Idol Solo Debuts

Finally making that long awaited jump to a solo career can be tricky for some idols. There are those who are so popular that no matter what they do it will be a success (G-Dragon, Taeyeon). There are also those who are so talented and charismatic that it’d be hard to mess up an opportunity (Yonghwa, Choa). For the next idols though, their groups were either on the way down or stuck in the one spot. Having a solo career gave them a chance to stand out.

Teen Top have consistently been on the fringes of success. More popular than their immediate contemporaries like Dalmation (DMTN) and Z:EA but less popular than newer groups like B.A.P and BTS, they have yet to carve out a niche for themselves. When lead vocalist Niel went solo this year, to his credit, he did not play it safe. “Lovekiller” is a slow burn that I almost didn’t fully listen to because it was straying very close to ballad territory. That said, the stripped back opening of acoustic guitar and Niel’s sweetly distinct voice is better than what most ballads. If that was all Niel could muster though, it would have been forgettable. Halfway through the song however, a disco drum beat is introduced followed by a funky but subtle electric guitar. Essentially, “Lovekiller” becomes a Michael Jackson tribute. If the music wasn’t enough to signify this, the choreography also literally tips the hat to MJ. This change of pace invigorates the song and is a testament to Niel’s talent. His delicate high pitched voice perfectly suits both musical styles and helps him stand out among other idol soloists.


Also on KultScene: Top 30 Korean B-Sides of 2015

Any of the 2AM members could have gone solo and easily held their own. They were a ballad group and so they had to be great singers. Seulong took his solo work in a completely different direction than previously explored by the group with “Mood Swings.” The song doesn’t take its title to heart — it’s moody but laid back, not making any big jumps to unsettle the tone. Carried by a simple hip-hop beat, the song is tinged with lowkey piano and gorgeous guitar licks that are sparse enough to create a sense of loneliness. The lyrics mirror this. Seulong repeatedly whines lines like “there’s no me.” It’s an almost uncomfortably calm look into a man’s depression. It works precisely because there are no mood swings. It is measured in a way that shows a man who understands his problem. “Feeling the darkness even more,” Seulong yearns for a change. “Mood Swing” is at once beautiful and disturbing.

I don’t think there could be a song more different to “Mood Swing” than Goo Hara’s “Choco Chip Cookie.” It takes its title literally by being a super sweet slice of R&B. It’s the perfect summer song with a laid back electro vibe sprinkled thoroughly with twinkly pianos and synths. Hara does not stick to conventions though, as the structure is not immediately obvious. If you were to identify a chorus you might say the part at 1:15, signaled by the lightest triangle ting. That sounds more like a pre-chorus though, which eventually moves the songs back into its chilled out groove. While the lyrics could definitely be seen as childish, the song is anything but. It is a mature and risky move from Hara to put out a summer song that defies pop music standards, and is more daring than what Kara’s done in the past.

New Takes on the Cutesy Girl Group

Following A Pink and Sistar’s growing success in the last two years, a rise in aegyo (cute) filled girl groups occurred again. Most, however, took from A Pink too much, as very few of them tried to play with the formula at all. Groups like April are great at what they do but have yet to distance themselves from the herd of Fink.L wannabes. K-pop wouldn’t be K-pop without them though, so it’s especially refreshing when groups to take the time to project new ideas onto old trends.

UNICORN came to us with this sole intention, to heal. Not just this tired genre, but to heal us all with their music, just like a unicorn would with its horn. That is their actual concept; can I just say that I love K-pop? Unicorn’s debut single “Huk” is the dreamiest bit of synthpop you will ever hear. Fantasy like guitars mix with the synths and breathy vocals to create this tone in the intro. The production value is much higher than your average rookie group, and it’s the first thing that sets them apart. The second is the use of their rapper. It’s hardly uncommon today to make the rapper the main focus of a group, but here, it changes the song and slips us out of the cute girl group mindset. It is not jarring however, the rap maintains the effervescence of the song by being delivered in a more conversational way. The contrast in the verses between the usual saccharine vocals and the rap give “Huk” an added dimension elevating UNICORN above their peers.

While UNICORN were trying to lull their way into your subconscious, myB was shouting at you to get up and dance. The platinum blonde sextet burst onto the scene this year with “My Oh My,” a song that instantly caught attention due to its energy and cuteness. It wasn’t until follow up “DDO DDO,” however, that did their style really work. The two songs are essentially the same, infectious bubblegum pop that whizzes and bangs at every corner. “DDO DDO” is superior though, merely because its production is a little bit tighter and more organic. Vocally, all the members suit this style, and even the raps are made to be adorable. What myB do best of all the rookie girl groups is dance. The choreography for both songs is intense and, like G-Friend, they can look like a small army when on stage. Next time someone complains about cute girl groups being boring just show them myB.

Europe + Korea = The Perfect Match

Europop has been long been a staple genre of K-pop. It dates back to the earliest groups like H.O.T and Turbo, who just made a fantastic comeback with “Again.” Here we take a look at a classic europop track as imagined by K-pop and something a little more alternative shall we say.

If there was anyone who could be responsible for europop’s ubiquity in K-pop, it’s Sweetune. The producer duo have cultivated the success of groups like INFINITE and KARA off the back of their skills with synthesizers. They brought this sound to Romeo, a rookie boy group who probably had high hopes for this year. Unfortunately, they didn’t go very far but, fortunately for us, their debut single “Lovesick” is a smash. “Lovesick” has a relentless beat but never gets too strong. It’s held back by the retro synths and the sometimes sweet vocals. The problem is that it’s honestly hard to defend “Lovesick” from being little more than an rip-off of 2011-2012 Infinite. Although that is one of the greatest eras for any boy group, it’s also hard to say that’s a bad thing. Romeo ultimately make it work with though their rookie energy and adolescent emotions by taking something tried and true and attempting to make it their own.

Waltzsofa Records are one of the most interesting labels working Korea right now. The music they have released so far is all tinged with the same retro genre sounds, mostly disco. Male vocalist Ban:Jax is one of their artists. He released a number of retro inspired songs this year, each showcasing a different aspect of him. The standout is his collaboration with label mate and producer Humming Urban Stereo “Mid Summer Night.” HUS’s sound is immediately recognizable on this track. His nu-disco synths pop with such clarity, they are one of the most satisfying sounds in pop today. Ban:Jax’s vocals harken back to American soul and are filled with passion. It even features backing vocals that appear to be provided by another label mate, female soloist Risso, whom you should check out too. Each of these elements gets its time to shine in the song before melting together for a strange but amazing climax. “Mid Summer Night” exemplifies what Waltzsofa are about while also offering something new to the great retro collection of 2015.


Also on KultScene: Artist Spotlight: April

The Many Facets of Korean Hip-Hop

If retro sounds are not your thing, then I’m sure you found solace in the mountains of hip-hop that 2015 also had to offer. Thanks to the success of shows like “Show Me The Money” and “Unpretty Rapstar,” hip-hop is becoming mainstream, and, for better or worse, that means we are going to get a lot more of it. Due to the fast turnaround of those shows, simple rap songs that focus on a beat and flow have become popular. It would be a shame if tracks like that become the norm, though, as they can never be more than just alright. Since that’s not the case at the moment,  let’s see what else Korea can offer.

As a kind of warm up song for her appearance on “Unpretty Rapstar,” Sistar’s lead vocalist Hyorin enlisted the help of rappers Paloalto and Zico. “Dark Panda” mixes retro with hip-hop to become something entirely modern. It takes cues from British house music and more American hip-hop sounds. The production is masterful, repeating synths create the atmosphere while shorter electro licks come in and out breathing life into the song. Hyorin leaves the rapping to the boys, as she does what she does best. Her vocals here are as beautifully hoarse as usual, but the slow build of the song lets her notes fade out ethereally giving the song an ephemeral beauty. The raps are just as impressive. Hyorin’s vocals and Paloalto’s nasally delivery contrast with Zico’s sharp bites, which at first makes Zico sound out of place. On repeated listens though, it becomes apparent as a way of lifting the song, priming it for a climax. He brings us to that end that is so important.

Zico returns (seriously, how many songs did he feature on this year?) to rap on a track for up and coming soloist Dean, known as Deanfluenza when producing. If Dean’s popularity had started to rise a few weeks earlier, I think he would have made it onto a number of year end lists. That’s no matter to him, though, as he is clearly on the up. “Pour Up” is as smooth as they get. Its electro R&B drips slowly throughout, exuding a serene sexuality. Dean’s voice does nothing to stop these feelings, perfectly measured over the hip-hop beats, as he tells us about his sexual encounters. If Dean does become big in Korea, my great hope for him is to make sex mainstream.

For sure, Supreme Team rapper E Sens has been through a lot the last few years. This year, he produced a great album seemingly on the way back up. When it came time for it to be released however, E Sens was in jail for smoking marijuana. Not great for his promotional chances, but that doesn’t taint the record. Title track “The Anecdote” is the standout for sheer raw emotion. E Sens can lay himself out on a track, exposing his frailties. “The Anecdote” is about his father, who died when E Sens was only nine years old. Any song about a topic like this would be poignant, but E Sens is more revealing than most. He spits about his shame at never being close to his father, about the shame of being poor, about how his father’s death shaped his life. E Sens’ flow suits songs like this. There’s an anger to it, a cathartic energy that drives his honesty. His voice is well accompanied by haunting pianos that repeat over and over. They loom like a ghost as E Sens remembers one.

Are there any songs you think were overlooked in 2015? 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.