As a group, EXO’s built quite the resume over the last nine years: they’re known to be an incredible powerhouse group from their vocal prowess to their catchy pop hits and their elaborate concert performances. But as a mainstay in K-pop, the group has ventured out to multiple fields beyond idol music. They’ve also conquered the fashion world by partnering with high-end brands such as Gucci and have been invited to fashion shows for others like Tommy Hilfiger and Louis Vuitton. Many of the members have also acquired critical acclaim through acting in films, dramas, and musicals. And if that weren’t impressive enough, they’ve become a quintuple million-selling group starting from 2013’s Growl up until 2018’s Don’t Mess Up My Tempo.
Like many other acts under SM Entertainment, EXO had an experimental concept that worked in a lot of ways and didn’t go quite as planned in others. Regardless of the setbacks they faced, each year since their 2012 debut brought new successes and greater opportunities to explore deeper sides of themselves as a group. So when fans’ inevitable questions came up regarding potential solo opportunities, it was never a question of “if” they could, but “when” and exactly “what” would that sound like?
Now that they’re nearly a decade into their careers, we finally have answers to those questions. Through the lens of each member, we’re able to get a better glimpse of the person underneath the “EXO image” and embrace his creativity — although, for some, it’s one and the same. This is a guide, recap, and overall celebration of how EXO’s soloists (with full albums or EPs) have taken the reigns in their careers and sculpted a distinct sound and image to suit their tastes.
Baekhyun: The R&B Connoisseur
Starting with the member who’s arguably garnered the most prominent solo praise in South Korea with nearly two million albums sold, Baekhyun currently has four EPs: three sung in Korean and one in Japanese. His debut with City Lights in 2019 marked a departure from the 28-year-old’s comical personality, and instead opted for a darker R&B and electro-pop showcase with just the slightest hint of his usual playfulness (“Betcha”). Baekhyun’s unforgivable lungs of steel allow him to experiment with different tones in his voice and a range of emotions, from sugar-coated singles like “Candy” to the dripping sensuality of his newest release, “Bambi.”
Truthfully, Baekhyun’s solo career could’ve been a toss-up considering how well-versed he is in various styles — he could’ve taken a more pop route or maybe even soft ballads. However, his sound is almost entirely rooted in R&B, hip-hop, and the occasional coffee shop tune, cementing himself as an all-around, fully recognized entertainer, and even channeling his inner MJ and Maxwell along the way. It’s the reason why he’s now known as the “Genius Idol” among industry peers who respect him and his craft. Every inflection in his voice, cheeky smile at the camera, and smooth dance step is all by design, so if R&B and jazz are your vibes, Baekhyun’s discography will surely be your haven.
If there are two things that best define Chen’s artistry, it’s breathtaking high notes and soothing ballads. Whereas Baekhyun’s voice is full of character and depth, Chen’s is even more agile and refined, carefully tip-toeing the line of power and delicacy.
As EXO’s second soloist, Chen favored the more subdued route for his debut with “Beautiful Goodbye” and its accompanying EP, April and a Flower, in 2019. The album in its entirety is poetic at best and focuses on stories of heartache, as songs like “Portrait Of You” and “I’ll Be There” start with a soft piano and gradually build to a soaring crescendo with Chen’s captivating belts leading the way. His second installment — Dear My Dear — on the other hand, highlights all the best parts of falling in love in a dazed and nostalgic way but still maintains that dove-like softness in his touch. Even casual listeners have been enamored by Chen’s ability to bend the sonic atmosphere at his will and command attention with a single note.
Although many fans had hoped for a rock album from the loud and boisterous artist, it’s not hard to see why ballads were his genre of choice. As energetic as he can be, Chen is also a soft-spoken and private person who cares deeply for the people around him and shows his gratitude in small gestures. He uses his falsettos and vocal riffs with conviction to tell the story of two loved ones as if he were there and it’s a chilling experience with every listen.
Suho: Quiet Indie-Rock Artist
EXO’s selfless leader is the essence of grace and comfort personified, always willing to place his team’s needs and fans before himself. This is especially apparent in his first solo EP, Self-Portrait, a six-track journey of the mellow indie-rock variety — with a touch of pop — in which he co-wrote all of them. In its lead single, “Let’s Love,” Suho lives up to the meaning of his name (“guardian”) in every facet, dedicating the title to his group’s timeless cheer before they go out on stage.
Throughout the steady drums of “Self-Portrait” and the piercing sorrow of “Starry Night,” Suho unlocks yet another side of himself and the things he’s capable of as a soloist that many people outside of EXO-L may not have known. In an interview with Billboard, he revealed that he purposefully listened to soft-rock and band music only to draw inspiration for his album. There are certain easter eggs hidden for fans to find and connect to familiar themes within EXO, but musically, it’s quite the opposite of everything he’s done within the group.
There’s a level of growth that Suho’s experienced over the last nine years. He’s carried himself with a maturity that’s beyond his years, and we see it here as he expresses himself and continues to show his undying gratitude to the ones who helped him get to this point in the first place. “Made In You” is that exact love letter to EXO-L with every ounce of appreciation worn on his sleeve.
Kai: Serving Ethereal R&B
One positive aspect of EXO’s group activities being put on pause, at least for now, is the flexibility and time it gives the artists to step out of their comfort zone and do the unexpected. The emphasis placed on Kai’s role within the group was always to be the main dancer, main center, and the overall face of EXO. Regardless of not having as many opportunities to showcase his vocals, he’s still one of the most recognizable among the general public and gained notoriety through his advanced dance skills and strong stage presence. So when fans realized Kai would debut as a soloist, there were far fewer clues pointing to what that would look or sound like compared to other members.
Thankfully, the answer was well worth the anticipation as Kai delivered one of the most stunning EPs of 2020 titled KAI (开). What’s so fascinating about the dark and sultry soundtrack is the way it pushes the “EXO R&B” agenda even further yet successfully sets itself apart from what Baekhyun is currently doing and what EXO has been known to do. Each song protrudes the same seductive energy as Kai himself and acts as an extension of his stage persona. “Ride Or Die” portrays the slick, ‘80s version of himself with the most gorgeous retro synths playing behind him. And the breathiness of his voice in “Mmmh” is probably the most sinful thing you’ll ever hear, but it’s part of what makes him, well, him.
As confident as he is on-stage, there’s always been this shy and reserved part of him that will constantly doubt whether or not he’s good enough. However, it seems like all of those thoughts were thrown by the wayside when it came down to perfecting his sound and doing something he could be proud of. Kai can sing, and if you didn’t know before, he’s letting you know now.
As the first member to go solo in 2016, Lay’s become an artist that’s hard to pin down when it comes to trying to define his catalog within a certain genre, but maybe that’s the point. He’s deeply intrigued by the different cultures and always seems eager to learn more about the world around him, which is why his music is a mirror image of himself. He covered R&B with his first EP, Lose Control, hip-hop and EDM with Sheep, tropical dance-pop for Namanana, hip-hop and R&B again in Honey, and finally, traditional Chinese music for Lit and PRODUCER. More importantly, though, he’s learned to combine and blend all these different nuances under one Mando-pop genre and make it work for him.
It’s become a running joke within the fandom that he eats, sleeps, and breathes music. Lay is heavily involved with every aspect of his work, which is a probably stark contrast to what he experienced working in Korea. But, that very drive is what led him to found his entertainment company, Chromosome Entertainment Group in 2020 — paying it forward to other artists and songwriters who aspire to be in his position.
It’s been a very strange transition for longtime EXO-L to see Lay suddenly so far removed from the group as he started promoting more in China and less in Korea. But with every con, there’s also a pro, and the level of consistency in Lay’s music is one of the most rewarding pros yet. While he’s been building a literal empire in the Chinese music industry over the last five years, he’s adamant in reminding everyone that EXO still means the world to him.
Putting Together the Puzzle Pieces
Understanding EXO as individuals helps better understand EXO as a unit and vice versa. With each soloist, you take away something new that you’ve learned about them and hopefully even relate to them a little better. Although Chanyeol, Sehun, D.O., and Xiumin have yet to release solo albums of their own, we’re still able to get a sense of their identities in other ventures through EXO-SC, EXO-CBX, and the many SM Station projects they’ve participated in so far. It was revealed earlier this year that D.O. is working on a solo project to release at some point, so it’ll be interesting to see if he takes up R&B, as fans are predicting, or will he be another wild-card?
With a group that’s covered such a wide spectrum of music and continuously exceeds expectations, it’s hard to believe that there’s anything left for them to overcome. But, with nine years and a slew of awards already under their belt, sales and charts are no longer a priority for them. EXO’s gone from young, hungry rookies hoping to leave their mark on the industry to confident, highly respected performers who solely make music for their enjoyment, just as it should be.
What’s your favorite EXO song? 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.
KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard.If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.
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Although SM Entertainment has yet to reveal any 2020 plans for a full EXO album thus far, there really hasn’t been a single shortage of content from the members individually. Right on the heels of solo albums released by Suho, Baekhyun, and Lay, SM confirmed that EXO-SC would be making a comeback with their first full length album on July 13, titled 1 Billion Views. Similar to their first EP, What a Life, the album credits hip-hop artist and Dynamic Duo member Gaeko as a lead producer, as well as Chanyeol and Sehun participating in every track both lyrically and in music production.
This isn’t the first time that the pair have been so heavily involved in their music, especially considering Chanyeol has been working with his studio, Studio 519, as a producer and songwriter for a while now. However, there is a notable amount of hip-hop and R&B artists who have contributed in helping make this album sound as authentically chill as possible, including Gray, Boi B, THAMA, and SOLE, Penemeco, and 10cm.
It’s already been a year since EXO’s main rappers debuted as EXO-SC, marking the second subunit to form from the nine member group after EXO-CBX – consisting of Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin – debuted as a trio in 2016. EXO is usually known for their ‘90s and early 2000’s inspired pop, R&B, and hip-hop songs – music that’ll remind you of Backstreet Boys (“Call Me Baby”) or Boyz II Men (“What If….”). However, both subunits have taken bits and pieces of these musical elements that fans may be familiar with and have molded them into entirely new identities that are distinctively their own.
Taking on a more retro approach to hip-hop, the first track and lead single “1 Billion Views” features R&B singer Moon and is very much in-the-pocket with its funky guitar rhythm riffs and disco themed visuals. The lyrics are playful and witty while expressing the members’ desire to replay a video of their significant other one billion times without getting bored – a sure-fire way to make any fan’s heart flutter if they were to be serenaded by the two rappers. The “I cry, I cry” melody of the pre-chorus is undeniably addictive and one of the many times throughout this album where we can hear the two rappers sing, which is a treasure in and of itself. Moon’s velvety vocals in the bridge also brings another soft layer to the song and fits in perfectly as she continues to add vocal riffs on top of the final chorus.
The funk essence of “1 Billion Views” can also be found in upbeat EXO songs like “Love Me Right” and “Lucky One.” In fact, most of EXO-CBX’s sound is based off of funk and ‘80s synth-pop which is more dance oriented and a lot of times, very high energy compared to the relaxed aura of Chanyeol and Sehun. While EXO, CBX, and SC have all incorporated the same genre, they’ve all done so with different variations, which offers something new every time and will cater to all kinds of eclectic musical tastes.
The music video for “1 Billion Views” also captures the retro essence of the song, but with a modern twist that seems relatable to every teen or young adult right now. Throughout the video, images of text messages and phone notifications pop up, and they even use TikTok as a visual reference by creating a ”1 Billion Views” dance challenge within the video that fans can enjoy and recreate in their free time.
The second track off the album is “Say It,” featuring rapper and singer-songwriter Penemeco, with lyrics written by R&B artist THAMA. The summer vibes are strong with this one as the guys plead their lover to honestly express their feelings, since it’s driving them crazy not knowing how they truly feel. Penemeco sings most of the chorus, and it’s so easy to sing along to that it would brighten anyone’s day and make you feel cool on a hot summer day. The most memorable line is when Sehun says, “No longer in our relationship R N P, set the gear on D,” representing the gear shifts in a car. It’s an interesting metaphor to think about when he’s basically saying, “Let’s not put this relationship in park or go backwards, let’s just drive head-on and see where it takes us” – relationship advice 101 with Oh Sehun.
Next is “Rodeo Station,” which was co-written by Gaeko and co-produced by THAMA. The intro starts out with beautiful, yet simple guitar riffs before the beat kicks in with Chanyeol’s husky vocals. The theme of this album just screams “easy-listening” and is once again reinforced with this track, never seeming too hype or too much. Lyrically, the song seems to reference their trainee days when they would take bus number 4419 to dance practice in their sweatpants.
Later on in the song, the members acknowledge that many things have changed in their lives – new cars, new tours, making headlines with everything they do – but no matter how famous they are, they’d still like to meet their special friend or loved one back at the Apgujeong Rodeo Station, just like old times.
Next is “Telephone,” which served as a pre-release single to “1 Billion Views,” features vocalist 10cm, and also has an accompanying music video. The upbeat staccato piano and heavy bass gives off that classic, fun sound that is largely popular with Korea’s general public – it’s considered very public friendly and easily marketable in the eyes of South Korea’s music industry. At first, it seemed like a nice song to have playing in the background while you’re doing homework or chores around the house, but not necessarily the most interesting song I’ve ever heard. However, within the context of the rest of the album, it makes me so much more sense sonically and is refreshing to hear after the first three tracks.
The first collaboration we saw between 10cm and EXO was with Chen’s 2017 SM Station titled, “Bye Babe.” It seems as though 10cm never disappoints, especially when working with EXO. Like with “Bye Babe”, 10cm’s light voice gives it more of an indie vibe and his higher vocal tone adds an amazing contrast in the bridge and final chorus. Although he doesn’t show up in the music video, it’s still quirky and fun to dive into when you feel like turning off your phone for a bit and in need of a smile.
Taking an emotional turn, “Jet Lag” expresses the main character’s frustration with not being able to meet their loved one easily, considering they’re always miles apart and time never seems to be on their side. This one is co-written by rapper Hangzoo and, again, co-produced by THAMA, who’s soulful influence is clearly heard throughout. The tune starts out with Chanyeol singing about the time differences from L.A. to London, and finally Paris. Sehun follows with listing off all the things he’s scheduled to do that week – walking on a runway, standing on stage, and going to the studio the next day – all the things that are keeping him from flying back to Seoul to see his love. The calming R&B influence along with the yearning that lingers in the pair’s voices, easily makes this a stand-out track and worthy of multiple repeats.
Continuing on the mellow trend, “Fly Away” features Gaeko and is the second EXO-SC song he’s vocally participated in, following “Just Us Two” from last year’s What a Life. From the first listen and even after looking into the meaning behind the sixth track, “Fly Away” is an inspirational journey as Chanyeol and Sehun touch on the dreams and experiences they had growing up while learning to spread their wings and fly high. So far, a lot of the duo’s featured guests have taken the chorus and it’s no different with Gaeko when he sings, “We have to fly higher than anyone else, we have to find the top,” through each chorus, urging the listener to feel like they’re literally soaring through the air, weightless, and ready to seize the next opportunity.
Next up is probably one of the most emotional of them all and it’s Chanyeol’s solo, “Nothin’.” This was an attention grabber from the start when the deep toned rapper starts to sing with a filter over his voice saying, “I don’t ever worry bout nothin’.” Chanyeol participated in writing and composing this track as well, which leads the listener to believe that these in particular are the most personal to him, and it shows. “Nothin'” is lyrically described as “one’s determination to go on their own way silently and without paying attention to the surroundings.” He mentions that people may call him names, but he’s going to continue to walk down the path that he paved, confident in his choices and indifferent to anyone else’s opinions. A music video was released with a shortened version of the song and shows Chanyeol looking confident at times, but then battling with his own inner thoughts and feelings – a fascinating distinction between what he wants to feel and how he’s actually thinking.
Finally, the last track (aside from the “1 Billion Views” instrumental), is Sehun’s solo titled “On Me,” which is actually the most energetic one of them all and the first to incorporate trap and synthesizers that allow the song to pop. Likewise to Sehun’s older counterpart, he was able to compose and write the lyrics for this piece that capture the true essence of always trying his best in every given moment. The hip-hop beat is even a little reminiscent of the intro and outro to EXO’s “Damage” from 2018’s Don’t Mess Up My Tempo, but without the reggae rhythm. As Sehun’s very first solo in his ninth year with EXO, this was especially exciting for fans who have watched the youngest member grow as an artist and finally get the recognition and opportunities that he deserves. He was able to show off his sharp dance skills alongside a group of female dancers, while also cutting to majestic scenes of him on a white horse – EXO-L approves this message.
If the duo’s 2019 EP, What a Life, was any indicator on how different their sound would be from EXO, then 1 Billion Views proves to solidify EXO-SC’s signature style as the cool, laid-back subunit of the group compared to EXO-CBX, who’s music is loaded with hyperactive beats suited for the dance floor. Although they were already leaning towards the hip-hop and R&B route, the presence of all the other artists that have worked on this album runs deep and it’s pretty cool to see Chanyeol and Sehun work with people whom they admire themselves and are close to. It’s musically cohesive throughout and another example of how diverse and creatively fluid EXO’s discography can be.
EXO-SC's '1 Billion Views'
What are your thoughts on EXO-SC’s 1 Billion Views album? 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.
KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.
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On Episode 47 of Kultscene’s K-pop Unmuted, Joe, Scott, Stephen, and Tamar look back on the last decade of Kpop. In the first of two episodes, we discuss our personal Kpop journeys over the last ten years, we pick our Artist of the Decade, and we list our picks for Top Five Music Videos of the Decade.
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On Episode 37 of KultScene’s K-pop Unmuted, Tamar and Stephen are joined by music writer Taylor Glasby to discuss Monsta X. Along the way, we talk about “Trespass,” “Stuck,” “Jealousy,” “Shoot Out,” and more. Also on the playlist are EXID‘s “I Love You,” NCT 127‘s “Simon Says,” and EXO‘s “Ooh La La La.”
Let us know what you think of Monsta X 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.
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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.”
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.
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The middle of September brought us a lot of good music, and like each week the KultScene crew rounded up some of the songs that really caught our eye. New music courtesy of the ladies of Loona, Teen Top’s NIEL & JUSTHIS, and a cover of an EXO song by soloist Gummy really caught our eye. Take a look at our thoughts and let us know in the comment section below what your favorite song of the past few days was.
“Girl Front” by Odd Eye Circle (Released Sept. 20)
The LOONAverse continues in earnest with their second official sub-unit, Odd Eye Circle. Consisting of the last three girls to debut, Kim Lip, Jinsoul, and Choerry, Odd Eye Circle is the girl crush side of LOONA. Produced by Ollipop and Hayley Aitken with some lyrics by Monotree, “Girl Front” is essentially a combination of those three girls’ solo tracks. Both musically and lyrically it takes from each of them, the propulsive percussion of “Singing in the Rain,” the brightness and slap bass from “Love Cherry Motion,” and the smooth as hell bridge from “Eclipse.” It’s a testament to LOONA and their team that they can create a concept as complex as this while still producing great tracks. “Girl Front” is the most energetic of all their songs to date; their vocals bounce off one another with ease, a variety of synths and drums samples seem buoyed along with the girls. It’s the fizziest most exciting kind of pop there is.
“Ko Ko Bop” by Gummy (Performed on Sept. 23)
There are few things I love more about K-pop than covers that completely recreate the original song. While EXO’s “Ko Ko Bop” was a feel good summer song, Gummy swooped in and made the hit her own during a recent episode of Park Jinyoung’s Party People drenching the track with her effusive blend of sultry vocals. Paired with the accompanying live band, the soloist offered up a more mature, jazzier take on the track, an alternative to the boy band’s reggae-tinged track. If this is the sort of thing that Party People will be offering up each week, I am very much here for it!
“What’s Good?” by NIEL, JUSTHIS (Released Sep. 21)
Teen Top has always been one of those groups I casually like but never actually stanned. Most of their singles are bops, so when the members go solo, I most definitely keep an eye out for them. I wasn’t particularly impressed by Niel’s past solo, so I wasn’t expecting much this time around. And while “What’s Good?” is not particularly anything groundbreaking, it definitely shows a new side to the singer I’m here for. I especially liked that Niel’s channeling his inner Kikwang and going a more pop-R&B route, both musically and through the choreography. “What’s Good?” caught me by surprise because I had always seen Niel as a singer and not really a performer. But with this comeback, it’s clear that Niel means business and he’s gearing up to what may be Teen Top’s upcoming disbandment.
What was your favorite release of the week? 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.
It’s no news that many of the songs released by Korean and other Asian acts are written and produced overseas: some of the biggest K-pop hits from the last few years were made by songwriters based in the Americas and Europe. It’s not like you have to have been born or raised in Korea to understand what it takes to write a song that Koreans will love. You can literally sell thousands of copies and have your songs placed with top class K-pop acts such as EXO and Twice without ever really having been in Seoul.
That’s the case of David Anthony, a British songwriter and producer who has placed around 20 (and counting) songs with huge Korean agencies like SM Entertainment and JYP Entertainment. He talked to KultScene about how he got into the K-pop market and what it has been doing for him.
“You can be in the toilet or in an one million dollar studio, it doesn’t matter. What matters is your creativity,” said Anthony. He’s been in the music business for years, but it was when Korean agency WM Entertainment got interested in his creativity that he saw his life (and income) changing. His entrance into the K-pop market was the song “Liar Liar,” which ended up being recorded by girl group Oh My Girl.
“Liar Liar” would become the first of many times Anthony worked with Oh My Girl – he also wrote and produced “I Found Love” and their latest comeback single “Coloring Book.” “They make happy & positive pop songs, and I love making them because it’s just fun. I would say we are a good match.”
In spite of having always been into catchy, fun, and feel-good pop music, boy and girl groups, and all the elements that make a great K-pop song, the K-pop world was something unknown to David Anthony – and somehow it still is. “I’m still learning, to be honest.” It’s only been nearly 18 months since “Liar Liar,” but Anthony is already able to see what makes K-pop so different from other music styles and markets. “First, the openness. K-pop is more accepting, there is so much creativity to be allowed. It’s like a big party. No one is being, like, too cool to listen to this stuff.” Second, but no less important, it’s the financial reward. “Because there’s just so much money to be made and so many productions.”
Anthony certainly understands there’s money in the market: even his non-single cuts gave him remarkable rewards, like EXO-CBX’s “Cherish” and Twice’s “Only You.”
“‘Cherish’ was my first cut with EXO[-CBX], I wrote and produced it on my own, and it was actually the second highest seller song of the album. I was so pleased because it sold around 100,000 copies itself and the album sold about 400,000” “Only You,” in its turn, was featured on Twice’s fourth mini album, which sold incredibly well in Korea, Japan, and also made Twice the first Asian girl group to enter the Top 30 in the United Kingdom. “I got my first Top 30 in my own country due to an Asian group!”
But this wasn’t all: getting a song recorded by the most relevant K-pop girl group of the moment also improved Anthony’s relationship with JYP Entertainment, resulting in him writing and producing the debut track “How Old Are You?” for JYP’s latest act, super young boy group Boystory, in collaboration with JYP head Park Jinyoung. The group’s first comeback, expected for December 2017, is also planned to feature a song by Anthony.
“K-pop for me has been a very natural process,” he said. “When I heard the acts I really wanted to connect with. I knew I could make that type of music. I just needed time, connections.” It seems to be working pretty well for him. But, of course, this doesn’t mean it’s easy. “They just don’t give anyone a cut. You have to be bloody good.”
When asked if his creative process was affected by his relationship and experience with K-pop professionals, he said that he didn’t really have to make drastic changes. “It’s just about doing what I’m doing – and love doing – with a slight tweak here and there to, hopefully, fit what they want. I knew I just needed to make sure that the final product was high quality.”
Well, at least for Anthony, we can assure that the future still holds quite interesting things: besides the above mentioned comeback of Boystory, he’s recently contributed one of the songs featured on B.A.P.’s last mini album, “Blue,” and potentially has upcoming music with Oh My Girl and other Asian acts yet. (The B.A.P track, “All The Way Up” has since been embroiled in a rights controversy, about which Anthony said he wasn’t aware that the song couldn’t be sold to different artists in different countries. According to the CEO of The Kennel, Anthony’s music publisher, Hayden Bell, it was a newcomer mistake. Anthony has since apologized to TS Entertainment and B.A.P. for the misunderstanding).
According to Anthony, both the competition behind the scenes and among K-pop acts explains why few songwriters and producers are getting into this small circle. “Demos these days have to be so good because the competition is so high, so you just have to be on top. [And] in Korea, there are so many products being released, so naturally some are gonna be better than others.” But, at the end of the day, David Anthony is proof that even though, nowadays, the K-pop market might seem a little bit more accessible for non-Koreans, it’s not for everyone, and the bar is surely not low. But Anthony has what it takes to make his music click with K-pop companies and audiences, and will keep doing so as long as he can.
What’s your favourite song written by David Anthony, amongst the ones we’ve mentioned? Let us know your picks and 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.
https://secureservercdn.net/18.104.22.168/fmb.8e9.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Untitled-design.png?time=16329013577681024Ana Clara Ribeirohttps://secureservercdn.net/22.214.171.124/fmb.8e9.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/KULTSCENE-LOGO-2018-TRANSPARENT-RED.pngAna Clara Ribeiro2017-09-14 06:19:282017-09-14 13:34:59David Anthony on songwriting & succeeding in the K-pop market [interview]
The end of January was a bit sleepy in comparison to earlier in the month, but KultScene still had a lot of music to listen to. Some of of our writers fell for lovely, tender tracks and felt like we had to share Mugamak’s new single and EXO member Chen’s collaborative track with K-hip hop royalty Dynamic Duo.
”First Time in Love” by Mugamgak (Released Jan. 24)
Despite its happier sounding title, Mugamgak’s second single turned out to be even more heart-achingly beautiful than his first. He really showed that he was coming into his own as a ballad singer-songwriter with this release and his skills have obviously improved tremendously from a few months ago, with the expansion of his amazing vocal range. His voice is tender and flows nicely with his piano accompaniment to bring out the emotion of the song. I love Mugamak’s style of music so far and I hope he’ll come out with more wonderful singles soon.
Some ballads are just nice, and then there are some that are sentimentally momentous. “Nosedive,” the collaborative track by Dynamic Duo and EXO’s Chen is most certainly the latter. The simple melody is beautiful to listen to, with the pair’s raps to offset Chen’s dulcet voice. But it’s the lyrics of the song where “Nosedive” really stands out: The intro of Chen’s choral verse (When it hurts, just cry / Cry all you want, it’s okay) is filled with so much warmth, something much of K-pop is missing. “Nosedive” is known as a “healing song,” and there’s an obvious reason why.
–Tamar Which song was your favorite? 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.
Music videos, or MVs, and K-pop are practically synonymous at this point, and it’s rare for a song to do well without an accompanying music video. Hundreds upon hundreds Korean MVs are released each year: sad ones, happy ones, indie ones, blockbuster ones, short ones, long ones, etc. There are Korean music videos that that make no sense, and ones that have the Best Plot of the Year and others that are just visually attractive. The KultScene staff saw a lot of great MVs in 2016, and we now present you with our personal favorites.
“Selfish & Beautiful Girl” by Block B BASTARZ
After a year and a half, Block B’s subgroup BASTARZ finally made a comeback. And while they released a couple of singles that didn’t really live up to last year’s hype, the music video for “Selfish & Beautiful Girl” made up for it. First off, it’s very appreciated when K-pop acts release music videos with an actual plot. Add that it’s quirky and fun, and you have a winner. Following the lyrics about a selfish girl the narrator is in a relationship with, the storyline follows this girl and how she annoys her neighbor for being unruly. She disrupts his sleep because she’s dancing to a Just Dance-like game. In this video game, the BASTARZ members are the characters, with each member representing a style in the song’s tempo change; from disco to hip-hop to pop. Moreover, the actress — bless her soul — while a bad dancer, her tattoos and piercings were a different sight for a K-pop video girl, but interesting nonetheless. In a time when all Korean music videos started to look the same thanks to many acts using the same directors, “Selfish & Beautiful Girl” found an ingenious, amusing way to follow the groove of the song perfectly.
“Blood Sweat & Tears” by BTS
Creative director Lumpens has been working with BTS ever since their debut, but their collaboration reached its pinnacle by far with the visually pleasing and highly produced music video for “Blood Sweat & Tears.” You do not have to be an art history buff to appreciate the various nods to Michelangelo and Pieter Bruegel, of which whose sculptures and paintings all depict a fall from grace. Nor do you have to understand, or even know, Hermann Hesse’s Demian, the 1919 work that inspired their second full-length album Wings, as seen by the use of recurring bird motifs and even direct quotes from the text. Every aspect serves to further ideas of temptation, freedom, and escapism that the song and the album collectively convey, thus nothing about this six-minute music video is done out of pure aesthetics. Of course, that is also not to say that it cannot be enjoyed for face value. There’s an undeniable homoerotic subtext to the plot, which is at once political and indulgent. Other cinematographic choices, such as the various uses of crimsons and other warm hues, are jarring yet arresting. This music video successfully projects the extravagant lifestyle we all wish we had, while warning us against the dangers of seduction, overall leaving room for lots of potential analysis.
“Carnival (The Last Day)” by Ga-In
Like the song itself, Ga-In’s music video for “Carnival (The Last Day)” is a celebration of life and death. Approaching death in a way few artists in the world would, Ga-In and her director Han Sa Min depict a joyous while reverent look at passing. This is all seen through some of the most interesting images K-pop has ever seen, particularly Ga-In’s funeral and her angelic ascendancy during her procession. Bright pastels dominate, fireworks explode in rainbows, and Ga-In dances with her umbrella as if the all the weight has fallen from her shoulders. The melancholy only remains with the living as we see Ga-In’s former lover pay his respects. Yet, maybe it is his memories we see of their time together: even he is choosing to see the qualities of life rather than the tragedy of death.
The Korean title of Red Velvet’s first single of 2016 is “7th Day of 7th Month,” referencing the Korean lunar holiday Chilseok and its tale of separated lovers. But rather than depicting a romance-driven storyline, the music video for “One Of These Nights” is a bit of a mystery. Bright colors contrast with dreary sets, the members are surrounded and flooded by water, and there is what appears to be an ethereal, woodsy afterlife where some members don white, the traditional Asian color for post-mortem shrouds. But the video’s subtle references to 2014’s Sewol Ferry accident, which took the lives of over 100 high school students, makes “One Of These Nights” all that more poignant: references to the Sewol and the tragedy appear throughout the sets, while the five Red Velvet members appear to take on abstract portrayals of the victims and survivors. It’s an ambient, thought-provoking, and altogether beautiful work of cinematography.
“Hard Carry” by GOT7
The entirety of GOT7’s “Hard Carry” music video is strikingly attractive; from Jackson’s sleeveless outfits and quick one-two, his “let me just casually lift up my shirt” scene at the beginning, to a white room filled with lively green (and not so lively brown) pine trees. Even when it was dark and you could barely see the members faces and all that is visible is the fire lit up behind them, it’s visually appealing. No to mention the neon lights during the dance scenes are captivating. Overall, the videography, combined with the meaning of the lyrics, portrays the effort one must take to “carry” the team, as seen in the the scene where all the members dive into the water in order to “save” Jinyoung. However, more than being solely visually attractive, the music video together with how they employed the lyrics into the theme is a proper representation of what GOT7 is all about: teamwork, helping each other out to strive collectively.
“11:11” by Taeyeon”
While not the regular dance-visual overload that K-pop fans are used to, Taeyeon’s “11:11” succeeds at quite the opposite — fitting the somber, sentimental nature of the song perfectly. Shots of Taeyeon and her anonymous significant-other are filmed beautifully against fading sunlight, flashing lights, or pale white walls. They accurately frame the song’s sentiments, which deal with the end of a relationship. The song’s warm, delicate nature is captured perfectly by frames of Taeyeon sleeping in a thick white sweater, or laying in a fluffy king-sized mattress sprawled out next to the waves. Along with “Rain,” “11:11” seeks to alter Taeyeon’s image. Instead of group-leader dance-pop star, Taeyeon is now a serious, musically-oriented soloist, and one of Korea’s most successful at that. With its autumnal color scheme and brilliant visuals, “11:11” depicts both Taeyeon and the emotional impact of a breakup in a creative and memorable way.
“Décalcomanie” by MAMAMOO
If Zanybros are producing a music video, you know you’re in for an optical treat. MAMAMOO’s video for “Décalcomanie” is visually stunning and tastefully (considering the edited version and not the original) done, considering the video is full of visual metaphors for a woman coming into her sexuality. The girls start off being attracted to the man in their respective scenes, and as the desire between both of them grows, they kiss and then… fruits explode (if you don’t understand that metaphor, you can ask your parents). The girls untie their blindfolds to symbolize loss of innocence or coming to fully see/understand their desires and feelings. The mirror scenes and the mirrored images also play a nice homage to the title of the song, which is the French word for a technique that transfers an image or pattern from one medium to another. In other words, imprinting on another or making a copy. Aside from the bit of controversy that surrounded the original version, which resulted in a horrific scene depicting sexual assault getting removed from the music video, the video for “Décalcomanie” shows off the group’s femme fatale concept that they wanted to portray.
“I Am You, You Are Me” by Zico
Known to be a hard-hitting rapper, Zico ventured this year into R&B ballads and showcased his vocalist chops by releasing “I Am You, You Are Me” at the beginning of the year. So what called for this unforeseeable change in style and concept? Love. Love turns the bad boy into a good guy. Right off the bat in his first verse after the opening chorus, Zico sings I only ever listened to hip-hop/Now I’ve turned acoustic, setting the tone for the song. “I Am You, You Are Me” is about being in the lovey-dovey phase in a relationship when the couple starts emulating each other. The music video, in brief, is aesthetics galore. Zico displayed his trendy and colorful style, and in order to go with the theme of the song, the lead actress dressed exactly the same or similarly to the rapper to equate how they mirror each other. The setting, a convenience store, allowed a beautifully diverse color palette in the photography, from pastels to neons to neutrals. The overall aesthetics of the music video — dreamy with an electric tinge — paired perfectly with the equally tender yet lustful song. Not so tough now, right, cookie?
“Secret” by Cosmic Girls
Recently directors have been getting better at making the standard idols sing and dance towards camera in pretty settings more interesting while not losing the essence of that. Kim Zi Yong in particular has been great at this thanks to his visual effects skills. His highlight in K-pop is clearly “Secret” by Cosmic Girls. The video shows the 12 original members summoning new member Yeon Jung in their own unique ways. The quality of animation and sense of scale Kim brings to it is the best of the year and a quality befitting these otherworldly girls. Not to mention it’s drop dead gorgeous at every turn. Also, I’m sure everyone can agree that the shot of Cheng Xiao growing her wings is the coolest thing ever.
“Re-Bye” by Akdong Musician
The dramatic “Re-Bye” music video by Akdong Musician, or Akmu, as they’re known, is a fun film-noir music video that fits the pair’s theatrical melody. In a year when many Korean music videos seemed to be lacking true plots in favor of seeming more avant-garde, “Re-Bye” fits a murder-mystery into its four-minute music video with an old-school flair. It’s a bit Sherlock Holmes meets Baz Luhrmann both in plot and color palette– they may as well have been singing the “Elephant Love Song Medley” from Moulin Rouge— and it’s absolutely delightful to watch. The sibling duo is supremely talented as musicians, but their youthful quirkiness in music videos like “Re-Bye” adds another element to their appeal.
“Skydive” by B.A.P
Who needs James Bond or a Quentin Tarantino film when you can watch a B.A.P’s blockbuster-like 10 minute music video for “Skydive?” The members gave subtle hints on their social media platforms and in their individual teasers prior the release that this music video was going to be the most intense music video, if not even more intense than their 2013 video for “One Shot,” they’ve ever done. That within itself was enough to have all their fans, known as Babyz, on edge because, really, what can be more extreme and vivid than the members engaged in a robbery, shoot out with some thugs, and then the sudden betrayal? “Skydive” not only incorporated yet another robbery, but an all ARMED robbery, with shots ringing left and right 35 seconds in. There’s a kidnapping/hostage situation, murder, and, yes, even more betrayal than the first time around! The anticipation was nonstop, every second of this video had one gasping for air. Because it was constantly scene after epic scene, you’d probably have to watch it several times to fully grasp each and every detail and hints that would later on give away the true culprit. This music video could’ve gone all sorts of wrong, but due to the amazingly shot cinematography and the members superb acting, “Skydive” was totally badass.
“One More Day” by Sistar
SISTAR made a risky move with the music video for “One More Day,” their collaboration with Europop songwriter and producer Giorgio Moroder. Not only did the quartet not appear in the video, but the video’s protagonists were two female lovers, and the plot touched upon abuse. Now this may not be a big thing in Western cultures, where LGBTQ+ are somewhat prominent in entertainment and lifestyles, but in South Korea, the majority of the population still consider it a taboo subject. Now the fact that the female leads kill the abusive boyfriend may not be the best representation of the LGBTQ community, it does portray the love story in a dramatic matter and the dangers of an abusive relationship.
“Cheer Up” by TWICE
It’s no secret that TWICE dominated 2016, from album sales to song popularity and everything in between. They even topped our best Korean songs of 2016 list. But what is the source of their success — how did TWICE become the dominating girl group of 2016? At least in my opinion, it’s their music videos. From Jihyo’s cheerleader character to Chaeyoung’s cowboy outfits, the “Cheer Up” music video worked to create vibrant and colorful characters for each member, establishing each one as unique and worthy of individual attention within the larger group framework. With the music video’s changing lenses, there’s something for everyone — Dahyun is poised and regal, Tzuyu is beautiful and elegant, and Momo is badass and sexy, just to give a few examples. The creative direction of this music video highlights TWICE’s biggest strength as a group — personality. The “Cheer Up” music video sent the K-pop world a message loud and clear: TWICE, in all their beauty and stage personality, is here to dominate. And in 2016, they certainly did.
“Forest of Skyscrapers” by Neon Bunny
The only indie artist on our list this year (despite being a more well-known one), Neon Bunny clearly had an advantage when it comes to what she can depict. Given more time and presumably more freedom, director Kim Zi Yong delivered another video for the ages with “Forest of Skyscrapers.” They brought together a number of cinematic influences to comment on modern South Korea’s stagnant population. The sprawling neon cities of Akira and the ephemeral love stories of Wong Kar Wai come to mind as Seoulites try to navigate their lives. It suggests a sort of confusion, a literal kaleidoscope of colours and mind-numbing visuals. However hard they try to get away, speeding down highways on a motorbike, it seems impossible. The irrefutable pull of the neon monolith is punishing.
Torn between innocent and hypersexualized, K-pop idol stars are essentially built to fulfill audiences every “Fantasy” through their music videos and performances. 2016 outed Korean pop stars, or idols, as a “healthy” form of pornography, but nobody took it as far as Fei of miss A, who appears in her music video as a virtual peep show dancer. Her blatant, slightly shocking, approach to the topic of sexualizing women comes across as refreshing in an industry that makes numerous attempts to cover up the maturity of its stars. The music video for “Fantasy” is overtly sexual throughout, literally turning Fei into the object of desire for a male viewer, and things get all that much more interesting when virtual Fei comes to life, strips, and takes things to the next level just as the screen cuts to the title card. The video for “Fantasy” is beautifully shot, extremely sultry, and subversive of the industry’s narrative towards female stars.
“Emptiness” by MADTOWN
MADTOWN made an expected (but delightful) change by switching up their music styling and concept when the group released a rather mellow, mid-tempo ballad paired with the chic black and white music video for “Emptiness.” It showcased a tranquil and melancholic atmosphere, the polar opposite from the swaggy and high energy we’ve seen from the group in past videos. In order to match the song’s delicate melody, the music video was muted down a bit, hence the simplistic, clean choreography. MADTOWN’s elegant portrayal of their moments of despair and grief can lead the viewers to suddenly feeling the anguish and sorrow themselves, even if they were feeling happy go lucky prior to watching “Emptiness.” There are moments during the music video that makes one want to clench their chest, due to a sudden surge of heartache. It’s dramatic, but that’s just the effect of the music video.
“The Eye” by INFINITE
When you’re preparing to watch an INFINITE music video, there are a few things you can be sure to look forward to: a whole lot of drama and a totally awesome dance break thrown in for good measure. The lyrics of the song suggest that a painful memory (of someone) is trapping the members like a hurricane (or “Typhoon,” as the Korean in the title suggests). And when they think they found peace, they are right in the eye of the storm, still surrounded by the painful memories. The video takes it to another level: L appears in a depressed or dire situation and is then transported to a state between realities where he is confronted by the other members who all represent different emotions. When each member interacts with L (who represents Sadness), the action represents him going through that emotion: Hoya represents Hate and aggressively pushes L, then turns into Woohyun, who represents Regret. All of this happens while L is moving towards a light, which may or may not represent death. In the end, L has the courage and resolve to return back to his reality and live. Director Hwang Soo Ah does a great job creating a complex, philosophical, and intriguing plot that keeps the viewers invested till the very end.
“All In” by Monsta X
Monsta X’s “All In” did wonders for the group in many ways, enabling the group to diversify their hackneyed hip-hop concept. With the music video, the septet deviated away from dance-based music videos to one with actual substance and narratives. Opening with the dystopian ending scene in which the members seem to be either running to or away from something, the video employs a nonlinear mode of storytelling that was not present in their previous videos. Admittedly, because the music video also deals with two storylines — one feautring Shownu and one surrounding Hyungwon and Minhyuk — it is very easy to miss certain nuances upon initial viewing. But even after watching it for the nth time, gleaning for said nuances, we cannot guarantee that all our questions will have an answer. The biggest mystery probably is the one surrounding the relationship between Minhyuk and Hyungwon’s characters, who mutually exhibit homoerotic tendencies especially towards the end in which Minhyuk drowns himself in the tub with Hyungwon while holding hands. The beauty of it all is exactly how director Dee Shin leaves many threads up for interpretation, allowing fans to engage in open-ended discourse and conjecture theories of their own. It’s been a rather popular form of storytelling as of late in K-pop, but is still nevertheless engaging and effective.
“Whistle” by BlackPink
With colorful settings, bright outfits, and memorable choreography, BlackPink‘s “Whistle” stood out in its ability to quickly establish the new group’s personality and musical style. Taking after their YG predecessors 2NE1 and BIGBANG, BlackPink quickly utilizes edgy and eye-popping visuals — Rosé casually sitting on both the Earth and cars buried in sand, Jisoo sitting cross-legged in the middle of three open doorways, Lisa’s hot pink turtle-neck contrasting with her blonde-blue hair — to make the group seem hardcore but also personable. Not to mention, clips of the group driving a car in circles wearing bandanas and baseball caps serve as the video’s main recurring visual element, further establishing the fun badassery concept. And, unlike other girl group music videos this year, “Whistle” boasts a notable lack of smiling, a subtle yet incredibly important aspect of the video. The group instead focuses on giving us the edgy smolder or mischievous glance, once again reinforcing the group’s personality in every closeup shot. The “Whistle” music video clearly sets BlackPink up for success — it sends the immediate message that, if you liked any of the edgier girl groups of K-pop eras past, you’ll love BlackPink just as much.
“The One” by EXO-CBX
Though technically not a music video for whatever reason — SM Entertainment prefers the term “special clip” — EXO-CBX’s music video for “The One” is just too golden not to include on the list. For the first time in an EXO production, the boys, or at least Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin, are able to show a different, more silly side to them as they dress up in ridiculous, mismatched clothes and act foolish. EXO’s leader Suho makes a cute cameo as well, filling in for just about every role from Yakult vendor to sanitation worker. Unfortunately, SM missed an opportune moment to cast him as the female love interest as well, which would have given the video a bit more cohesion. Nevertheless, everything about this is still hilariously good fun, and none of the humor comes off forced. At times, Suho even seems like he is going to burst out laughing himself. The video milks the comedy until the very end, where it cuts the accompanying music off before letting it finish completely, leaving a dancing Chen to sing alone and shifting the camera angle to make it seem like we were filming them the entire time. EXO-CBX’s “The One” is just the personal and playful break from the usual self-serious routine that they, and we, all need.
“Hold My Hand” by Lee Hi
While musically we didn’t get exactly what we wanted from Lee Hi’s much awaited comeback, the music video for “Hold My Hand” was near perfection. The aesthetic of the music video was a kawaii explosion, and a beautiful one at that. The pastel color palette, together with the 8-bit graphics, tied in perfectly with the romance and dreaminess of the song and lyrics. It’s all too sweet — just as Lee’s serenade. Plus, the inclusion of her doo-wop backup singers as her side kicks were a cute, quirky touch. Bright, multi color music videos have been a trend for quite some time now (thanks, Digipedi), but “Hold My Hand” managed to give something tried a lovely spin. From Lee holding hands with the camera to the styling to the real and 8-bit backgrounds, it all comes together to create this delightful, little heart skip that makes us all feel young and in love again.
What was your favorite Korean music video this year? Share your picks and thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.
https://secureservercdn.net/126.96.36.199/fmb.8e9.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/BESTKPOPMUSICVIDEOS2016.png?time=16329013578001280KultScenehttps://secureservercdn.net/188.8.131.52/fmb.8e9.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/KULTSCENE-LOGO-2018-TRANSPARENT-RED.pngKultScene2016-12-29 05:25:232016-12-29 09:59:16Best Korean MVs of 2016
As mentioned in part 1, 2016 turned out to be a year full of surprises in the world of Korean entertainment. Groups we held dear disbanded or lost key members, but it does not do well to dwell just on the negatives. 2016 was a transformative year that saw K-pop’s generation shift, with second-tier groups rising to the top spots and the explosion of new groups, especially girl groups. This year may not had been the best for older fans and their groups, it was a tall glass of fresh water. K-pop’s all about innovation and reinvention, and that’s just what we got this year.
After 2015 being a nearly perfect year in music releases, 2016, on the surface, might seem like it didn’t live up to expectations. However, this was the year of more variety in the industry and a much deserved and needed shakeup. And after much consideration, the KultScene staff painfully narrowed it down to our favorite 50 songs of the year. Make sure to get all the way to the end to see a special year-end video!
25. “Monster” by EXO
The single off of their Ex’Act album, “Monster.” has the same air of self-seriousness as some of EXO’s most iconic works (“MAMA,” “Wolf,” etc.) while shedding the corny lyrics and audiovisuals. The distorted synths are eerie like the monster inside of them, and Chen’s repetition on the word “creepin’” at the end stresses this, well, creepy factor. But what carries the tune throughout are the up and down contours of the refrain, which are inevitably designed to be an earworm. Even if you have never been a fan of the group, you can at least agree this one has staying power.
24. “Drip Drop” by Taemin
In terms of Taemin’s 2016 singles, “Press Your Number” was an extremely digestible track. However, the lead-up single “Drip Drop” made for a much more interesting audible experience. “Drip Drop,” with it’s massive blend of R&B, pop, dance, and hip-hop, together with the beat shifts and whatever’s happening on the chorus, is a song you either love or hate. However, the juxtaposition of the smooth vocals and verses paired with the up-tempo, futuristic chorus and progressions on the second half of the song, and how it dips again on the pre-chorus is a masterpiece in itself. “Drip Drop” is a rollercoaster, but an exciting one we’d keep riding on and on.
23. “Letting Go” by Day6
The unofficial princes of breakup songs return with their sophomore release Daydream and the title track “Letting Go.” In this pop rock ballad, Day6 does what they do best: deliver a heart-wrenching song about young love lost. The boys create lovely harmonization between the vocals and instruments, with none of them overpowering or outshining the rest. But this release was a bittersweet mix of emotions for fans, with keyboardist Junhyeok leaving the group a month before the release. And though the song may or may not be about him, the music video surely plays homage to their lost member with the empty keyboards throughout the video. Overall, “Letting Go” is the perfect combination of music, lyrics, and visuals to get all the feels happening.
22. “Press Your Number” by Taemin
By the time Taemin’s first full-length album Press It dropped, audiences already knew SHINee’s maknae could hold his own from his previous mini album Ace. Moreover, much buzz resulted from the fact that Bruno Mars and the Stereotypes had produced his lead single “Press Your Number.” And while the artists didn’t get to actually collaborate, the American songwriter/producer gave Taemin a real gift, for it completely complimented his style. “Press Your Number” builds up perfectly, starting with snaps, light twinkles, and Taemin’s sorrowful vocals before exploding at the chorus into a full-fledged dance song. Plus, you don’t even have to understand Korean to feel the yearn behind Taemin’s interpretation. K-pop groups are a dime a dozen. So when a real performer comes out of a K-pop group, survives, and excels, they deserve all the kudos. While we all hold SHINee dear to our hearts, we can’t help and crave more Taemin solo singles for they show him at his absolute best.
21. “All In” by Monsta X
Following tradition, Monsta X’s “All In” retains much of the noisy ambitions and fighter attitude that the seven piece hip-hop group have shown in the past with hits like “Hero” or “Trespass.” The opening, with its yawning horns, revving engines, rhythmic claps, and warped electronic beats, is overwhelming, and the raps about patriotic loyalty and protection in the name of love lyrically manifests the song’s belligerent tones and war motifs. In both themes and music, the song is characteristically Monsta X, so then, what about it causes such a visceral reaction? It could be that this time, the clamor and riot of its heavy beats act as a thin veil for the song’s sublimely melodic undertones. The “go hard” sentiments of the past is only second to the optimistic pre-chorus and ballad-like chorus. Especially integral in these hopeful moments are the subtle percussive rings of increasing pitch, which provides us with a much needed contrast and softening effect. It is here where the song’s contours change when we least expect them to. Indeed, under all the polyphony is a delightful gem, a magnum opus.
20. “Angel” by Berry Good
Berry Good’s most glorious moment of the year is a triumph of personality over production. “Angel’s” cheap sheen is the first obvious thing about it. It’d be very easy to switch it off after 20 seconds thinking it won’t go anywhere. Yet the longer it goes, the more you get out of it. There’s a tenderness that grows to absolute euphoric love. The girls hold nothing back; every ounce of them is on this track. Their climactic vocals burst through any sense of balance. You forget everything else that came before and just want to hear it again and again.
19. “Knock” by KNK
Hands down and without a doubt, KNK had one of the most impressive debuts of 2016 with “Knock.” KNK couldn’t have debuted at a better time, considering how boring of a year we were having. With a noticeably catchy chorus on the mid-tempo, rich ballad, it’s no wonder they garnered fans so quickly. 2017 can be a blossoming year for these guys if they continue at the pace they’ve gone at in the last nine months.
Musically, Ladies’ Code had a fantastic year. “The Rain” is an incredible continuation of themes established by “Galaxy” in both song and visuals. While it is sad that the Korean public hasn’t taken as much notice of the group’s musical blossoming, we here at KultScene definitely have. Taking the soul, trance-influenced vibes of “Galaxy” and adding a dance element, “The Rain” adds another level to an already complex musicality and demonstrates the members’ collective prowess in both vocal and emotive performance. Bravo, Ladies’ Code. The three talents have come back from one of K-pop’s worst tragedies with some of 2016’s best music.
17. “Tell Me (What is Love) by Yoo Young Jin X D.O
SM Station hasn’t always worked out commercially, but it has done a great job as a platform for sometimes experimental and fresh K-pop. It’s also an avenue for several idols to collaborate with other singers, as in the case of EXO’s D.O and Yoo Young Jin’s remake of EXO’s song. Both singers are extremely skilled and they build on each other’s strengths successfully to create the beautiful soulful track “Temm Me (What is Love).” The song has a pretty complicated rhythm, but they sing so effortlessly, it’s just a work of art.
16. “Secret” by Cosmic Girls
After a rocky start, Cosmic Girls fulfilled the promise their otherworldly name suggested. “Secret” combines space age synths and symphonies to great effect, creating something befitting the cosmos. Despite this, it still moves with an insatiable groove. “Secret” is grounded by the rhythm section and soars thanks to its contrasts sounds. Similarly, vocals are put against each other to accentuate the range of WJSN’s voices. This works best in the lead up to the chorus with it moving from Cheng Xiao to Mei Qi to Seola. Quivering strings and fluttering voices make “Secret” one of the greatest songs of the year.
15. “Very Nice” by Seventeen
Seventeen had one of the most exciting debuts we’ve seen in awhile last year. And while “Pretty U” was a lovely song, “Very Nice” takes the cake for their best single of 2016. “Very Nice” is like taking a big bite out of a cotton candy ice cream on a summer day. It’s sugary, it’s big, and it’s fantastic. Seventeen single-handedly brought back bubblegum pop for K-pop boy bands in a time when everyone was trying to be edgy and swag-tastic. Seventeen, coming from a smaller company, is one of those groups that started from the bottom and have excelled purely based on their talent (and not on the prestige of their company, cough, cough). With “Very Nice,” Seventeen further cemented their brand and showed us all they’re here to stay.
14. “Pieces of You & Me” by Fromm ft. Giriboy
One word: woah. “Pieces of You & Me” is just one of those songs you question where has it been your whole life and is a great introduction to K-indie for anyone who has been thinking about testing its waters. From the gentle toots of the trumpets to the mellow acoustics of the guitars, the song uses grassroots instrumentals to stay true to the independent genre. The slow tempo and brilliant lyrics (Let’s build a castle of our own / I’ll drink all the sad tears) is reminiscent of a simpler time, and is quite fantastic in the word’s original “existing only in imagination” sense. I feel not only protected in Fromm’s fair vocals, but I believe that such a dreamworld exists. Likewise, I also find reassurance in Giriboy’s contrastingly deep and soothing lullabies, for to simply write them off as mere vocals don’t nearly do justice to his feature. Now if only the duo could collaborate on more music in the future, world peace may actually be an attainable goal.
13. “Free Somebody” by Luna
Keep in mind, everyone: Luna was recruited to SM Entertainment for her dancing, not her singing. And today, she is a main vocal and a lead dancer (a very rare sight in the world of K-pop), and also (occasionally, and thankfully!) a solo act. While Korea may not have exactly given this release two thumbs up, “Free Somebody” is incredibly infectious and addictive. Mixing traditional K-pop hooks with EDM and house, the song is incredibly innovative, perhaps ahead of its time even. Not just anyone could do a song like this — it takes the kind of multi-faceted talent that Luna wields so flawlessly to pull this off. Our conclusion: Luna is a gem, and we hope her solo efforts continue as the years go on.
12. “Russian Roulette” by Red Velvet
Red Velvet seems to have a thing for quirky tunes that repeatedly drill their hooks into your brain, and that’s not a bad thing at all. The underlying synths and catchy melody create a retro sound without feeling dated, while the video, like the song, is colorful and a bit strange in a good way. Who would’ve thought that you can make killing your friends look so cute and playful? The visuals of this song is also quite genius with the robotic acting and facial expression of the girls to match the electronic and repetitive beat of the music, making “Russian Roulette” a fun audio-visual experience.
11. “Why” by Taeyeon
Taeyeon showed in this song what she’s truly capable of. “Why” is energetic and melodious, but not in an annoying way that “I” often was; it’s downright addictive. The way Taeyeon’s voice sounds so natural in the midst of the funky instrumentals of the song and how every part of the song seems to blend so seamlessly is audible glory.
After going from a seven member group to five members, to six, and then back down to a five all within the span of a few years, it’s amazing that a K-pop group could still be standing, let alone releasing music. With the return of the group’s leader from military service and the recent loss of another member, 100% held strong and released their comeback song “Better Day.” The song is about wishing to return to a past relationship and has a dark mature sound with a heavily synthesized backtrack. But this song is really all about highlighting the group’s amazing vocal abilities. The vocals on this track are mind-blowing (yes, they sound like that live as well), and Rockhyun and Hyukjin do an extraordinary job conveying that sense of longing that can be felt within every commanding note. The group does a good job balancing soft vocals with powerful notes all while lacing in solid and steady rap verses, creating a dynamic song that is something that should not be underrated.
9. “The 7th Sense” by NCT U
While the different NCT sub-groups released a few singles and even an album this year, NCT U is the clear ground breaking satellite that actually brought something new to the table. To say “The 7th Sense” is yet another K-pop song would be a tragic disservice, for it’s too great to be reduced to such confines. It’s a chaotic yet smooth trap-infused trance; an acid trip meant to mesmerize the senses with the R&B vocals. With every listen, you find new sounds — whistles, doors opening, yawns, monk-like chants — making it a true intricate piece of sonic art. SHINee is the known SM Entertainment group that handles the “experimental” releases, while the “dark” is reserved for EXO. Will NCT U have the “weird” and “interesting” down? One can only hope that this particular sub-group is a permanent one for it dropped the best SM song in 2016.
8. “Fly” by GOT7
2016 was an exceedingly busy year for the members of GOT7. They released their fifth EP Flight: Departure earlier this year, had their Fly Tour, circling throughout Asia and North America this summer, and released their second full-length studio album Flight Log: Turbulence this fall. It’s clear that they took their “Fly” concept to heart, because the guys definitely took flight this year. Ha-ha, get it? “Fly” showed off the members various skills and even charismatic personalities through their individual lines. Considering that they’re still under the control of their company, the members might not openly admit or even have the time to do this, but they’re all still at the prime stages of dating and wanting to be in love, so as cheesy as these lyrics are, can you really blame them? Why are you afraid of being loved, I’m next to you so why are you scared and afraid? Yeah, why would you be afraid of anything if it’s GOT7?
7. “Galaxy” by Ladies’ Code
Ladies’ Code may as well change their name to “Phoenix,” because “Galaxy” brought new life to the career of the girl group after one of the most devastating moments of recent K-pop history. In 2014, two members of Ladies’ Code passed away in a car accident, reviving interest in the b-list group and turning Ladies’ Code into martyrs. “Galaxy” turned the trio into survivors, and into one of the most musically innovative K-pop groups of 2016. Rather than return to their original colorful retro-pop styling, their comeback single brought Ladies’ Code into the realm of ethereal, jazzy R&B. The combination of gentle synths with jazz instrumentals, mellow vocals, and lilting chimes is a pure eargasm that doesn’t limit itself to K-pop banality. “Galaxy” doesn’t soar, and it’s not song to play at a party: it’s soft, and it’s simple, and it’s melancholic. And it’s safe to say, it’s near perfection.
6. “FXXK IT” by BIGBANG
Taeyang’s opening lines to “FXXK IT” definitely set the tone for the rest of the song. It’s a bright, delightful and cheerful song; all of which might’ve been purposely done in order to leave fans with positive feels as the members get ready to enlist in the following years. “FXXK IT” is all around carefree and simplistic, and despite this not being your typical BIGBANG adrenaline pumping tune, it’s smooth enough to make you want to get down, get drunk, and party (maybe one day with BIGBANG). This is a well balanced composition; the entirety of the song blends well with no excessive tunes or over usage of certain lyrics. Although it only took them a year and a half to finalize the MADE album, if that’s what it takes for full gratification and perfection, then we’ll happily take it.
5. “Oh NaNa” by K.A.R.D
From the first few seconds of this song, it was clear that K.A.R.D meant business. The quality of this song was both incredibly impressive and very surprising, considering that DSP Media’s groups have been on a downward spiral recently due to a lack of musical or popular impact. But “Oh NaNa” is an entirely different story. With two impressive female vocals and two charismatic male rappers, the song is balanced almost perfectly. Not to mention, the “na na na” hook is incredibly infectious. The fact that this song, released only a little more than ten days ago, has been able to make our top five says something tremendous about this group’s potential. Maybe co-ed groups are the future for K-pop. Only time will tell. For now, we can keep jamming and hoping that K.A.R.D will start a trend of stronger music releases from DSP on the whole.
4. “Save Me” by BTS
BTS has had an amazing year, chock full of quality releases with their Wings LP and the compilation album The Most Beautiful Moment in Life: Young Forever, earning them the success and recognition they deserve. In particular, “Save Me” stands out with its addictive melody and instrumentals, which feel fresh while still being definitely familiar. It’s admirable how BTS’s songs are always instantly recognisable as theirs; their group identity as musicians is undeniably strong, which unfortunately can’t be said for many other groups in the K-pop industry. If they keep up the momentum, this identity, as well as the members’ individual talents and charms, will definitely keep the group at the top for a long while more.
3. “The Eye” by INFINITE
While it took INFINITE quite a long while to make a comeback, the wait was definitely worth it for their amazing album INFINITE Only. Its title track didn’t disappoint either, with “The Eye” being one of the group’s musically better releases in recent years. Accompanied with a heartbreaking and haunting music video, the song combined unique instrumentals with the emotive vocals of INFINITE’s members. In particular, rappers Dongwoo and Hoya really stood out for their vocal performances in this rap-less song, while Sungkyu’s quiet opening was pitch perfect. While the content of the song is pretty similar to other recent INFINITE releases, its dramatic melody is pretty arresting and makes the song an easy one to put on repeat. The way “The Eye” intensifies through the verse from member to member, building up to the chorus and several mini-climaxes that allow for cool dance breaks, is sonic perfection.
2. “Blood Sweat & Tears” by BTS
BTS came back with their widely successful Wings album in the latter quarter of the year, and with it, showed their maturation with the sensual “Blood Sweat & Tears.” At the intersection of the burgeoning Moombahton Trap genre and K-pop, the song about a boy who falls into irresistible temptation uses reggae as its base and finds the perfect blends of EDM and trap to form a wonderful medley of sounds accessible to fans and casual listeners alike. The near whispers of the vocals mesh well with its chill synths too, recreating an epicurean spirit in form and content. But the real highlight of the piece is in its chorus, where the trap influences can be found in rapper J-Hope’s intonation: wonhae manhi, manhi, manhi (I want it more, more more). It’s inexplicably charismatic and familiar. It’s easy to appreciate how the song’s individual parts work in harmony with each other to form a melodious fusion. The title cannot be any more telling of the ingredients that went into its production.
1. “TT” by Twice
Standing tall amongst the wreckage that is 2016 is Twice. The JYP girl group capitalized on a strong debut, turning into human memes, and delivering catchy tunes to become one of the strongest forces in K-pop. Musically, they didn’t really hit their stride until “TT,” though. Black Eyed Pilseung found his feet with them, giving them something quirky but not forceful. Their voices are not strained, but wrapped around the beat as if they are all one. Jihyo’s vocals are much better as a result; her inflection as she sings, “I eat all day and I’m still hungry” is the best part of the whole song. Numerous musical details litter the song that make every new listen rewarding. The synths are in constant flux along with the electro drum beat that becomes more physical as it signals an increase in tempo. “TT” is perfectly suited to be representative of its group. Twice’s joyous oddness was a constant comfort in a year where we all felt like TT. Don’t think twice. Get into Twice.
Make sure to watch our video countdown to the best song of 2016!
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https://secureservercdn.net/184.108.40.206/fmb.8e9.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/PART2.png?time=16329013578001280KultScenehttps://secureservercdn.net/220.127.116.11/fmb.8e9.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/KULTSCENE-LOGO-2018-TRANSPARENT-RED.pngKultScene2016-12-26 15:12:022016-12-31 15:49:4250 Best Korean Songs of 2016: Part 2