Is K.A.R.D the future of K-pop?

Two months after releasing their first single “Oh NaNa” and catching a lot of attention, K.A.R.D. made their first comeback on Feb. 15 with the intensely popular “Don’t Recall.” After its release, its music video racked up millions of views on YouTube with, at the time of publishing this article, over 6 million views.

DSP Media’s newest group was picked by us as one of the artists to watch in 2017, and even though they’re still rookies, it is already safe to say that they have what it takes to make it in K-pop.

Of course, it’s not the first time we see a co-ed group in the Korean scene, and the features of their sound aren’t new either. So what makes K.A.R.D. so different from the others?

Let’s analyze a few aspects.

So far, K.A.R.D.’s releases have followed a pattern: westernized pop with hip-hop and Caribbean influences, catchy synthesized hooks and vocals led by the female members. Moreover, the lyrics are about love and romance in which the women play the most active roles as the two men rap and complement the ladies’ narrative in a responsive dialogue. The lyrics are combined with well labored choreographies full of boy-girl interactions, body rolls, and hip shaking.

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We’re not sure if this is going to be a standard for K.A.R.D. or if they’re just riding the tropical house music wave for now only to move onto another trend, but while we wait on that, let’s just enjoy this era and crown K.A.R.D. as the modern Korean version of Ace of Base already?

Although they’re doing an exceptional job with this music trend, it’s something we’ve heard a lot lately, like in BTS’s “Blood Sweat and Tears” and Blackpink’s “Playing with Fire,” after the fever of dancehall influenced songs in the U.S (Rihanna’s “Work;” Mike Posner’s remix of “I Took a Pill in Ibiza;” and Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” etc.). However, with K.A.R.D., it does not seem to be just a random choice of style for a song, but rather the group’s concept. The sonic feature is a huge invitation to shake your body, and the group members actually do it! And they do it in a way that’s not so common in K-pop.

For this reason, K.A.R.D. has been very appealing to foreign fans. In fact, if it weren’t for the insertion of raps in sections that we usually don’t hear in western pop and the spoken line before the chorus, everything about “Don’t Recall” could easily pass as something recently released in the U.S. and play on the radio, alongside songs like Clean Bandit’s “Rockabye.”

The amount of references we make to western pop this article is not in vain: K.A.R.D. is probably one of the least generic K-pop groups we’ve seen in the past few years. No wonder they channel other foreign co-ed groups of the past like RBD, A*Teens, and Vengaboys (yes, you now have a clue about how old this writer is, although the very mention of Ace of Base might have given you a clue) more than Sunny Hill, the previous, most high-profile co-ed idol group in K-pop. Yet, there is still something else that makes K.A.R.D. stand out: that this is clearly a group of adults.

It is not a new thing to have a K-pop act that sounds or acts American, but K.A.R.D defies K-pop standards even more by presenting a cogent combination of a western sound and a more mature posture of the members, mostly with “Oh Na Na” and “Don’t Recall” being led by empowered women who show no traces of the cute, shy, and submissive behaviour often seen in Korean girl groups.

Their music videos have the choreography on the spotlight, with Jiwoo, B.M., Somin, and J.Seph delivering intense performances. For western fans more used to this type of music, it is more natural to see people loosely shaking their hips and shoulders while dancing to such a contagious rhythm than seeing a typical K-pop choreography. K.A.R.D.’s choreographies are more daring and their execution lets us know that they are grown adults aware of their bodies and sensuality to the point that it doesn’t even seem like they are forcing a sexy concept even when they twerk or grind close to each other; it just seems natural. But it’s not just their dancing; in the Youtube videos their agency constantly uploads with footage of the members having fun while practicing, it is noticeable how relaxed and “real” they are encouraged to come across as.

It is not to say that all groups should be like this; we love K-pop for a reason. Nevertheless, different concepts are always welcomed, especially when it can help portray idols in a more human way and nurturing a little bit of spontaneity and self-acceptance. Plus, it’s a realistic portrayal of how people of the opposite sex interact without the boundaries set by K-pop agencies in fear of fan reproach, which result in incredibly awkward exchanges in music shows or concerts. It’s weird to say, but K.A.R.D. may be the group to normalize it. If fans can accept BM uploading selfies with Somin, saying she slays, who’s to say other groups can’t in the future?

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This group has something unique and special — and not just because it’s a co-ed group that dances sexily with each other– that has the potential to make a difference in K-pop if Koreans are open to accept this new approach. K.A.R.D.’s international fan base grows more every day and it is easy to understand how they connect with the members not only through music but through their personalities as well. However, we must not forget that they are a Korean group that makes music for Koreans first.

The recent disbandments of groups like 4Minute, 2NE1, and Wonder Girls are a sign that one era of K-pop is coming to an end. But on the other hand, the enormous success of newer groups like Twice, BTS, and GFriend denotes that some of the most distinctive marks of K-pop won’t die soon.

It is hard to imagine K-pop without robotically executed choreographies, aegyo, cute concepts, and music videos full of colors and aesthetics, even for the future. But right now, it is also hard to imagine K.A.R.D. succumbing to this. Sticking to what they’ve shown so far would not only help them continue to stand out, but could also inaugurate an era of K-pop in which different styles can coexist.

We have a lot more to anticipate from K.A.R.D.: more singles, official performances, and there are still hidden members to be revealed. Therefore, it is too early to know if they will succeed as much as they deserve to. But regardless of what happens in the future, until now, K.A.R.D. is already one of the most refreshing things we’ve seen in K-pop in a long time and there is a lot of room for growth if Korea embraces them as much as the rest of the world is doing.

What do you think of K.A.R.D.? Do you think they have potential to go far? Share your 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.

KultScene’s 2017 Artists to Watch

Chungha Sam Kim KARD Jung Seung Hwan

New year, new Kpop. As 2017 begins, we are watching closely for artists both new and old to stand out with better music and performances. And especially following the 2016 Kpocalypse, nothing is entirely predictable. Anything can make your fave popular — a funny variety appearance, a trendy CF, or a “Sha Sha Sha.” So we ask: Who will be the trend in 2017? KultScene’s writers Anna and Kushal break it down across Male, Female, and Coed lines to give you our prediction of 2017’s rising stars.

MALE Artists to Watch in 2017: Jung Seung Hwan, Sam Kim (Antenna Music)

Of K-pop Star fame, these two singers made their much anticipated debuts in 2016 and while their styles of music are different, they both have equal potential to make it big in 2017. Beginning with Sam Kim’s pre-release single in March with “Mama Don’t Worry,” he then made an official debut in April with his full-length EP I Am Sam.

Each of his songs are so musically inspired and creative that they bring a new life and freshness into the K-pop industry and “No Sense” illustrates that completely. The fact that he’s only going to be 19 this year just means that he still has a lot more room to grow as a musician in the future. Most recently, he also released an amazing OST (“Who Are You”) for popular airing drama Goblin and has been gaining a lot of recognition for the soulful track.

Jung Seung Hwan on the other hand, only made his debut recently in December with his album Voice. He achieved an “all-kill” on Korean music charts with the release of his album, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise for the singer since he had previously topped charts with the covers he sang during his stint on K-pop Star. His naturally emotional voice makes him the perfect choice to sing sorrowful ballads and OSTs, as proven by the successful sound tracks he has been releasing, even before his official debut. In particular, his OST for Oh Haeyoung Again hit the right notes with the Korean public and has achieved a long-staying popularity even with the many other releases of 2016. (I heard the song playing in shops at least 5 times when I was visiting Korea in December.)

Ballads aren’t new in K-pop, but the way these two artists reinvent the genre in their own ways keeps their music interesting and strengthens their individual identities as musicians. Here’s hoping that they’ll discover their well-deserved success in 2017!

FEMALE Artist to Watch in 2017: Kim Chungha (M&H Entertainment)

Originally one of Produce 101’s underdogs, Kim Chungha quickly rose to fame last year as a member of the trendy, nation-produced I.O.I. Among many younger, cuter members, Chungha’s sexier, more charismatic image immediately stood out to I.O.I fans looking for a member with an edgier side. While she rose to fame as a dancer and choreographer, she is by no means a weak vocalist. Chungha has impressed fans left and right with her dancing skills, from improvising “Partition” during her first Produce 101 audition in January to performing on Mnet’s dance show Hit the Stage months ago. The crowning achievement of her tenure as an I.O.I member, however, is the choreography to the group subunit’s song “Whatta Man (Good Man),” which she herself crafted during the summer.

Without a strong company behind her, Chungha’s rise to relevance was largely unprecedented, but definitely welcomed by fans throughout the K-Pop world. While she has enjoyed success as an I.O.I member, many were worried about her future after the group’s upcoming disbandment at the end of January. It was announced at the end of 2016, however, that Chungha would debut as a solo artist under her label M&H Entertainment in the first half of 2017. The decision to give her a solo debut was probably one of the smartest things her label could do, given that 2017 is already going to be flooded with newly successful girl groups and newly debuted girl groups that have yet to find success. The oversaturated nature of the market makes her solo debut something the Korean public and international fan community will quickly embrace — no new members to learn, no new group name to start stanning. In a world of cutesy and energetic girl groups, Chungha’s charisma will likely stand out, giving her another edge in the intensely competitive market of female K-Pop artists. Chungha is definitely multi talented, and her ability to handle multiple skills and concepts puts her immensely ahead in K-Pop game this year.

COED Artist to Watch in 2017: K.A.R.D (DSP Media)

While they haven’t officially debuted, the four members of K.A.R.D have already made huge waves in the K-Pop universe with their pre-debut track “Oh NaNa,” which was released early last month. Voted by KultScene’s contributors as the 5th Best Song of 2016, the track has yet to chart in Korea, but has remained near the top of worldwide K-Pop charts for almost a month. Their music video has also accumulated over 4 million views, and their YouTube channel has over 180,000 subscribers (keep in mind that they have already overtaken their label DSP Media in subscriptions, which is the channel with every single KARA music video ever…).

With the kind of international attention the group is receiving, it isn’t long before they get similar love in Korea. The inclusion of masculine male rappers and infectious female vocals creates the ultimate mix of boy group and girl group fans alike. Instead of competing for the top spot among boy groups or girl groups, they amalgamate what makes each type of group work in a co-ed unit that stands out. While rising groups like Cosmic Girls and fellow DSP artist APRIL are trying to stand out in the girl group world this year, and new boy groups like VARSITY and Top Secret look for success on the other side, K.A.R.D has relatively no competition. They have entered a niche of K-Pop that hasn’t been touched in years, and with the kind of visuals, talents, and musical quality with which they’ve started, it’s only a matter of time before they become a force to reckon with in the K-Pop world.

Additional content courtesy of Anna Cheang. 

Who do you think will be Kpop’s rising star this year? 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.

What do you find at the end of a Rainbow?

The inevitability of my favourite K-pop groups coming to an end is something I’m used to now. The demise is nearly always slow with groups who were once household names dropping lower in the charts with every new release. So when DSP recently announced that Rainbow would be disbanding, I was not surprised nor was I heartbroken. Yet, when I thought about it, there was no group who deserved this less than Rainbow. Throughout their career, only one major single stands out as bad, their debut “Gossip Girl,” and their albums are littered with overlooked gems. They brought a spectrum of sounds and looks delivered with a consistent quality that few can match.

Rainbow debuted with a killer concept. Each member being one colour of the spectrum was so clever but simple to pull off. All of them would be easily identifiable by what they wore, a key point for a new group. The problem with it though is that DSP probably had the idea and tried to rush out the group to attach to it, meaning that some members may just be there because they needed seven girls. The lack of memorable characters in the group may be a big factor in their downfall. Today, more than ever groups need big characters, look at Twice and I.O.I for example. A terrible debut song doesn’t help either.

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Rainbow’s work with some K-pop’s best producers allowed them to recover from that dreadful critical and commercial debut. Following a similar formula two years in a row, Rainbow released two singles by the same producer in 2010 and 2011. Their first two were with Sweetune, staying loyal to DSP after making their name with KARA. Even though by today’s standards “A” and “Mach” could sound a little cheaper than we expect from Sweetune, they still remain some of their best work.

“A” is Rainbow’s most iconic track. K-pop was beginning to show signs of embracing sexiness at this time, but nobody confronted it quite like Rainbow and “A.” The shirt lifting choreography makes being sexy something more than just a concept or dance. The members are active in showing their bodies; it brings an agency that is so often absent. Making them complicit is a bold choice, but one that is pulled off thanks to the confidence of a young group. It actually threatened to overshadow the song as well, which would be the greatest shame of Rainbow’s career. Sweetune switch out their usual synths for horns and guitars, which drive the song with bombastic energy. It has a relentless, kinetic force that builds and peaks at the two minute mark with the second chorus (which is itself essentially two choruses).

If “A” didn’t overshadow itself, it probably did leave their second single with Sweetune, “Mach,” with little to show. Without the choreography gimmick, it could not take off, so it charted lower than “A” despite being just as good. Horns again take the front seat, but this time along with prominent synths made to sound like horns. It’s similar to “A,” but heavier and more dramatic. A cacophonous soundscape that grabs you by the throat.

In 2011, Rainbow moved onto a producer that K-pop sorely misses. Japanese DJ Daishi Dance specializes in mixing pianos and electronics, focusing on dance tracks in which you don’t know whether to shake your body or dry your eyes. He also produced After School’s gorgeous “Shampoo” in the same year. With “To Me” and “Sweet Dream,” he created Rainbow’s highest charting singles and their best era.

Like “A” and “Mach,” they are of a similar style and structure but with different tones. Both use crystal clear pianos set against a dance beat. “To Me” is the more upbeat of the two, with its addictive hook of “oh eh oh ehs,” contrasting well with leader Jaekyung’s (an idol of considerable talent and beauty that deserves a solo career after this) belts in the chorus. Daishi Dance’s distinct sound really helped Rainbow stand out, the mix of pianos and synths is evocative in strange ways we can relate with.

“Sweet Dream” is the culmination of these ideas. More subdued than “To Me,” it uses the sentimental sounds to the best of their expression. “Sweet Dream” is about a girl who knows she is about to be broken up with and does not want to believe it. “Don’t wake me up from this sweet dream,” they cry. The music video setting of a club brings it altogether. This is still a dance song, so of course they could perform it in a club. Yet it’s clearly a song of great pain too, brought to life best by the voice of maknae Hyunyoung. The girls walk around the club, their bodies splitting into many parts. Their minds reeling from the potential break up that they can’t think straight. They are highlighted by slow motion, even amongst such a setting they still can’t escape their emotions. The contradiction of the song is brought into great clarity by the video.

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After these stellar two years, Rainbow’s success began to drop. Maybe it was the two years it took them to release something after “Sweet Dream,” but it’s hard to see why they really failed. There was certainly no drop in quality as all of their songs from “Tell Me Tell Me” up to their last single “Whoo” were either good or great. Even more impressive is that all of the rest of their albums were pretty much perfect start to finish. Again, their continued work with top producers keeps getting them great tracks.

On “Rainbow Syndrome Part 1,” producers Zig Zag Note gave them the brash “Cosmic Girl.” It pairs interstellar lyrics and synthesizers with old fashioned pop sounds. The string and horn sections are what make the song feel cosmic, the intro especially feels like the beginning of something huge.

Rainbow, however, are not always all about the big energy. Neither are Zig Zag Note, apparently, as they provided Rainbow with “EENIE MEENIE MINIE MOE,” a stripped back oddity on “Rainbow Syndrome Part 2.” It begins with just a piano, flat toms, and the vocals. It’s delivered with a cheeky confidence that is so infectious but never irritating. Singing the title towards the end like a nursery rhyme is particularly addictive.

Following “Rainbow Syndrome,” Rainbow moved on to the era where we could see their end in sight. First their sexy and subversive sub-unit Rainbow Blaxx, with heavyweights Digipedi behind the incisive video for “Cha Cha.” “Black Swan” and the “Innocent” album followed and were commercial disasters. It was a change in style too far for Korea. Which is a shame, since the album is so good that I can’t pick a favourite. “Pierrot” did dancehall better than any other Korean act and used No Eul well for the first time ever. “Bad Man Crying” is a perfectly balanced outpouring of emotion; Hyunyoung’s voice cuts through it beautifully. The soulful “Mr. Lee,” funky “Privacy,” and sombre “A Little More” round out what is one of the best K-pop mini albums of all time.

Their final album, “Prism,” while not as good as “Innocent” is still great by most K-pop mini-album standards. More great producers turn up as well. Sweetune returned to say goodbye to Rainbow with their spinoff team Monotree on sweet opener “Saying I Miss You”., meanwhile, produced stomper “Click!” By then, it was too late though; the public had moved on from Rainbow.

So what do we find at the end of the rainbow? Namely a sad end to a great underappreciated career. The future careers of the members are not easy either. Few of them made names for themselves outside of the group. Only Jisook and Jaekyung seem safe in the entertainment business anyway. Also, DSP are in a bad situation themselves. Their remaining groups are either flopping (April) or just not working (A-Jax). Without their original powerhouses, they need to act fast. There is no pot of gold here, unfortunately.

Now that we have reached the end though, we know for sure that the treasure is not gold but the rainbow itself. With hindsight, we can look back at Rainbow’s glistening beauty and talent and remember one of the great girl groups of our time. Take your time appreciating the entire spectrum of their career; there is much more than just colour to find.

What’s your favourite Rainbow song or performance? Share your picks and thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Artist Spotlight: April

Artist Spotlight April

DSP Media’s rookie girl group April entered the scene last August and has released three albums since then. They’ve also had their fair share of pre-debut drama and member departures, even though it’s only been less than a year since their debut. With so much going on for them however, why is it that April remains so unknown and underrated?

Sure, they have a loyal group of supporters who have followed them since the start (especially for Chaewon, who was part of the “Kara Project”), but their fan base has remained stagnant over the year, unlike fellow rookie groups such as TWICE and Oh My Girl. For a group that has produced consistently good music, April really deserves more attention.

They kicked off their journey in August 2015, when the original six members released their first mini-album “Dreaming.” With their title song “Dream Candy,” April really sold their image as pure and innocent young girls, which seemed especially appropriate for this group with an average member age of 16-17. Although this cute concept led to April’s eventual blending in with several other girl groups who were all using similar concepts, it would be hard to imagine this youthful and energetic group of girls doing anything else.

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While I wasn’t immediately taken by their debut, mostly because of how similar all the members looked and the rather mediocre quality of their title track, once I listened to their whole album I realised that they had a lot of potential, both as individual members and as a group. There were standout tracks that I really enjoyed and gave me faith in the group, such as “Hurry Hurry.” It had the catchy melody that “Dream Candy” slightly lacked, and also much less auto-tune so I could enjoy the unique voices of the members better. All in all, the album was merely a stepping stone for this group, as evidenced by their subsequent releases.

Three months later, along with the news about the departure of leader Somin, came the news that April was making a comeback with “Boing Boing,” a new mini-album. Despite the member shake-up, April didn’t seem to be too affected by the change and came back with an even better song than before. “Muah” still had the same identical styling and cute dance that “Dream Candy” had, but with a more addictive melody and less auto-tune. The music video was also more entertaining because it had a storyline that was both adorable and suitable for the members. They weren’t proper and perfect little girls this time, rather they fantasized about romantic encounters with cute guys, just like most teenage girls. This made them more endearing, in my opinion, because they acted more like themselves and not as if they had just come out from a K-pop idol training factory. Each member was also given more time to shine as there were more individual scenes this time around, allowing fans to enjoy April’s individual charms.

Towards the end of their whirlwind year, in fact, even before finishing their “Muah” promotions, DSP media announced that April would be releasing a Christmas album.

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I was skeptical about this because April seemed to be releasing way too many songs for a rookie group but at the same time I was excited to see what they would have in store for their fans. “Snowman” was a definite success in my books because it showed their growth and slight maturity as artists, despite the short period of time since their debut. The style of their music video was very much the same as the previous two releases and, despite the lack of a proper storyline, it was a sweet video filled with scenes of the members preparing for Christmas.

The best part of the release however, was the song itself. “Snowman” didn’t just fit the winter and Christmas theme perfectly, it was also a platform for the members to show off their vocal chops in a way that they had never done before. Even less vocally impressive members were able to sing without much auto-tune this time, and the two main vocals, Chaewon and Jinsol, simply amazed me. I had known for a while that Chaewon had a great voice, but the fact that Jinsol, the 14 year old maknae (youngest member) of the group, had a voice that was stronger than all her fellow members shocked me.

Jinsol’s voice has a very unique tone that makes it instantly recognisable and despite her young age she controls her voice well, it’s powerful when it needs to be and subtle in the quieter parts of the song. The two main vocals had more adlibs on this song as well, allowing it to be more layered and nice to listen to.

Although they probably spent a lot of their time recording songs and practicing for their countless stages, April somehow found the time to do some variety as well. Apart from having their own variety program, “Here Goes April,” they also guested on well-known programs such as “Weekly Idol” and “Let’s Go Dream Team!.” Although they are still very young and inexperienced, (with the departure of Somin, who was their oldest member, their oldest member is only 18 years old) there’s a lot of potential for April because they’ve proven (albeit in minor ways so far) that they’re able to let go of their pristine idol images for the sake of good entertainment. Energetic members like Jinsol are also able to hype up the atmosphere so I’m really looking forward to their future variety programs.

Since their debut April has given us many venues to see how hardworking and talented they are. Though they are still starting out, and they have a lot of room to grow, they’re also very young and brimming with potential. I trust that their troubles are over and from now on, as long as they keep improving with every song or album that they release, they’ll definitely be successful and go far.

What do you think of April? 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.