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

 

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

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

Check some of them out below:

Disco / Electropop / Retro K-pop Sound

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

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


ALSO ON KULTSCENE: K-POP UNMUTED JUNE 2018 ROUNDUP

Mid-tempo Piano Hip-Hop

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


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

Caribbean & Latin Influences

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

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

What’s your favorite sound of K-pop so far in 2018? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Weekly K-pop faves: Sept. 11-17

Mid-September has already passed, but we’ve already seen a lot of great releases from K-pop. Last week, some of KultScene’s team were enthralled by releases from members of GOT7 and iKON.

“Victim of Love” by Sanjoy feat. Youngjae of GOT7 (Ars), Stephen Rezza, and Elliott Yamin (Released Sept. 17)

Earlier this year when GOT7 was touring the country with their “Turbulence” tour, producer Sanjoy and singer Elliott Yamin connected with Youngjae through Instagram after he uploaded a cover of the latter’s song. After that, they’ve been talking up and teasing a collaboration fans have been fawning over. But the wait came to an end on Saturday (which coincidentally was Youngjae’s birthday) when Ars (his not so secret pseudonym) uploaded the song to his Soundcloud. “Victim of Love” is your classic pop, R&B hybrid in English featuring three very talented, very different artists. Youngjae, for his part (and the only reason I’m including this song here, duh), shone on the chorus and with his adlibs, though his accent came out a bit on his solo part on the song’s first verse, adding to his charm. There’s no question as to just how talented Youngjae is, but it’s heartwarming to see him branch out on his own and work on stuff well-suited for him that highlights his incredible abilities as a vocalist.

—Alexis

”Runaway” by Bobby of iKon (Released Sept. 14)

Not the biggest fan of hip-hop, I didn’t really expect to enjoy Bobby’s first solo album Love and Fall based on the styling of his Show Me The Money and The MOBB tracks, but with it’s dual identities, the new album ended up being right up my alley. “Runaway,” one of two singles, is a rock-tinged mellow track that thrives on the angst-filled rasp of Bobby’s vocals to emphasize the heartbreaking lyrics. “I have a habit of thinking mistakes are failures/I don’t wanna fail so I keep stopping my efforts,” raps the K-pop idol in the first verse. The song is heart wrenching to listen to, but there’s lilting strings that add an overall hue of positivity over the track. Hopefully, now that he’s released this album, Bobby feels a bit less like he has to “Runaway” from his problems.

—Tamar
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.

Playlist Sunday: Valentine’s Day

valentine's-day-playlist

This day, once a year, when couples are lauded and told to eat chocolate and do something fun, is all about love. So, for this year’s Valentine’s Day, our KultScene Playlist Sunday is all about love and relationships. Each of our writers has a different take on the perfect love song and what love is. Pairing individual opinions and matching them to their favorite songs, we put together a perfectly romantic playlist for the holiday.

Whether you’re single or taken this Valentine’s Day, B.A.P will be sure to make your heart flutter with their enjoyable and bright song “Crash.” “I can’t believe it, it’s really perfect,” they sing. “I am breathless, it’s not fair. Your eyes, your lips, you’re everything really left me shook up.” Have you ever met someone who put you in an instant daze and left you completely mesmerized? Is it your current significant other or perhaps someone of the past? Or maybe, even someone famous? Regardless of who it was/is, it’s a great deal of feelings and emotions that can’t fully be expressed and put into words. The members hearts are thumping so hard that it’s about to erupt and burst out of the bodies at just the mere thought of meeting someone with such great qualities and characteristics. Does your heart do the same notion whenever you think of or if you’re around that person?

— Tam


Also on Kultscene: 5 K-Dramas To Get You In The Mood For Valentine’s Day

What better song to dedicate to that special someone this Valentine’s Day than IKON’s “My Type?” An ode to the members’ ideal girl, the lighthearted song describes everything about her that they love, including her fashion sense, her voice, her smile, and even her yawn. And though the lyrics describe her body movements as “slightly awkward,” they also let her know that she has no flaws. She can literally be mute, and they would still have the hots for her. But I guess that’s when you know that the love is real, when you are able to look past the other’s faults and appreciate all of his or her nuances, such as the look on his or her face when spacing out. “My Type” works well whether you are confessing for the first time in a “some” relationship or for the thousand and first time in a long-term one, because who would not like to hear how perfect they are?

— Shelley

I’m not much of a romantic, but how can anyone resist an ode to your beauty like in Big Bang’s “Bae Bae?” I mean, next to my intelligence, if you want me to fall in love with you, highlighting my chicness and my doe-like eyes is the way to go. Both the song and the music video for “Bae Bae” are weird, no doubt about that. But it’s awesomeness relies in the fact that it’s different and not cookie-cutter. “Bae Bae” is a testament to the girl they’re so enamoured by, how they wish she won’t change ever because in this moment, she’s perfect. During the honeymoon stage of a relationship, what’s not romantic about that?

— Alexis


Also on Kultscene: Girl Crush: Grace

Sometimes it’s important to constantly remind a person that they are your valentine and you are theirs. Even if they don’t agree, you can do what AOA Cream do and keep shouting, “I’m your baby.” The subunit’s debut single “I’m Jelly Baby” is about a jealous girl who is afraid her boyfriend is looking at other girls. Maybe it’s not the most romantic of songs for Valentine’s Day but the sheer devotion on Cream’s part is admirable and romantic in a creepy way. The song itself is a wonderfully inventive bit of pop rock built on top hip hop beats. Guitars drive the song but it flits in and out styles and contains a chorus which takes a while to get to the point. It also features maybe the most beautiful bit of vocal so far this year with Hyejeong’s second part in the long pre-chorus build up.

— Joe

Park Hyo Shin’s “Wild Flower” is pretty sad as it comes post-breakup, but the vocally expressive song is lyrically beautiful to the point that it is quite obvious that this is love. The ballad, beginning with strings then pausing completely to allow Park’s crisp vocals to be begin backed only by a simple keyboard accompaniment, is about lost love and the future of a new spring together after the “wild flower” returns to bloom again. The song is one of Korea’s most popular songs in the past few years thanks to the poetic lyrics that describe the feelings of love and heartbreak: “Love is a fiery flower that blooms and withers,” he sings at one point. “…On top of the dry land, my entire body is burning. Your scent that remained on my fingers is scattering away.” At a time when many of the most popular Korean “love” songs are nothing more than hook-filled dance songs, Park Hyo Shin’s “Wild Flower” reflects the passion of love and anguish of a break up, while still depicting faith in finding happiness again. So, even though it’s Valentine’s Day and “Wild Flower” seems like a sad song, it’s actually something we should all hope we experience in our lives. We are all secretly waiting for our “Wild Flower”-like emotions of love.


–Tamar

What’s your favorite Valentine’s Day Song? How did you spend the day? 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.

Playlist Sunday: Worst Korean Singles of 2015

Worst Korean Songs of 2015


Now that 2016 is well under way, we’re definitely ready to say “goodbye” to some of K-pop’s
worst singles of 2015. For this week’s Playlist Sunday, KultScene’s staff members each picked their least favorite songs of the year.

[Disclaimer: These picks are based on individual taste, so feel free to disagree in the comments.]

I get it. “Lion Heart” is the epitome of what Girls’ Generation represents: The archetype for the perfect feminine and demure woman. The song’s beat and the overall styling of the music video takes us back to the ’50s and early half of the ’60s, when young women aimed to look like their older and glamorous mothers. When the sexual revolution and women’s liberation was about to explode and a woman’s value equated to her looks and how refined she seemed. But fine, it’s a pop song, and every woman can choose to be anyone they want and dress however they want. But. That. Chorus… If you want to torture someone, just play “Lion Heart,” it’ll make their eardrums bleed. Truth is, SNSD’s latest album and singles (with the exception of “You Think”) were largely disappointing compared to their previous work. Especially considering that the album had better bubblegum pop with throwback feel contenders like “Fire Alarm.” The whole concept behind “Lion Heart” makes sense for a group like Girls’ Generation, yes, and we all like them for their girly ways. However, musically, they don’t have the vocal chops to carry that chorus, no matter how nasally and high they make Yuri sing.

— Alexis

Girls’ Generation’s “Party” makes me want to dive into the body of water that they’re filming the music video on and stay submerged for as long as humanly possible (without dying, of course). Can someone please tell SM Entertainment and Girls’ Generation to stop it with their attempts at rapping? Oh, and for Tiffany to stop it when her random ass English segments in their songs. Yeah, yeah, we get it, it’s party time. “Party” had a lot of ups and downs (emphasis on the down) moments for me; I couldn’t figure out if they were trying to make this a summer anthem or if it was an attempt of them being sensually cute by experimenting with livelier beats and adding alcoholic beverages in their lyrics but either way, I was disappointed. There were too many transitional breaks throughout the song, too many moments that had me waiting for someone to hit a higher/lower note than they actually did. Sure the music video was semi fun to watch, also very scattered, but the song just makes me want to pull out every strand of hair on my head. Can they have more concepts like “Oh!”, “Run Devil Run,” and “The Boys”?


— Tam

JYP Entertainment had a great year in terms of music. miss A released a pretty solid album, Wonder Girls finally came back, and the company even debuted two new rookie groups, both of which quickly grew in popularity. They did everything right and more… Except for one disservice. I don’t know what they were thinking with giving the green light to 2PM’s “My House,” but the song is a far cry from their usual good releases. I get that they want to spice up their sound and want to show that they are more than party boys and sex icons, but something feels lacking. Where are the interesting beats? Where is the build-up? Maybe it’s because I have been babied by fast-paced songs like “A.D.T.O.Y.” or “Go Crazy,” but “My House” feels bland. It’s very forgettable, and doesn’t add much to their already remarkable repertoire. The only saving grace was the video, which contained an underlying fairy tale thematic.
Oh well, better luck in 2016, boys.

–Shelley

Maybe I loved “Can’t Stop” way too much to have realistic expectations for anything CNBLUE could offer for their comeback but I was woefully disappointed with their 2015 release “Cinderella.” They may have achieved a lot of commercial success (as usual) for this song but while the song isn’t horrible, I’ve definitely seen (and heard) CNBLUE do so much better than this auto-tuned track that seems to only have two lines and a bridge that hardly seems like part of the same song. To make it worse, their album “2gether” actually has some great B-sides such as “Roller Coaster” and “Radio” that overshadow this title track completely. Seriously, what was going on in the heads of the album producers? In a K-pop industry with more and more popular bands (both indie and idol ones) CNBLUE really has to step up their game in 2016 to show fans what they’ve truly got.

–Anna

Let’s get one thing out there. Park Jin Young aka JYP is a great producer. But he’s a misogynist, and his hit song “Who’s Your Mama?” highlights that more so than just about everything else he’s ever said or done. The song’s funky, jazzy beat is good, and Jessi’s solo rap is nothing to sneeze at, but Park Jin Young is literally describing his perfect woman’s ass and saying that that’s all what he looks for when looking at women. I wish I could say that it’s satire a la Psy’s “Gentleman,” but that doesn’t seem the case. The song begins with Park asking a woman what her hip and waist measurements are before going into a song describing his love of big butts. “Shake that booty” is one of the most prominent lines of the song as Park diminished women as anything other than physical beings for him to oggle. “Who’s Your Mama?” is K-pop’s “Baby Got Back,” and the song did exceptionally well on charts, but that still doesn’t make it okay. 2015 was the year of the booty, but JYP took it to another level in a way that was blatantly sexist. We’re in 2016, let’s put an end to this obsession with equating women with their ass-ets.

–Tamar

I could have picked any song from the many iKon released towards the end of the year, but for sheer lack of imagination, I’ll go with “Airplane.” Apart from their whole shtick being based off what’s popular in K-pop right now (rap,) iKon also come across like Big Bang-lite (so like another WINNER but even less interesting.) “Airplane” has twee synth and piano sounds that are used to make their ballad sound less like a ballad. I’m all for ballads not sounding like ballads but this screams of trying too hard, “it’s not a ballad guys, we rap, we’re cool, I was on that rap show remember?” Speaking of Bobby, I’m also not one to care too much about line distribution but this is ridiculous. It’s unfair to both B.I and Bobby who should be in a duo or going solo and to the rest of the members whom might as well not exist. Mostly I hate how YG thinks he can put a bit more rapping into a song and that makes it good enough to be recycled over and over. It was great back in 2008, but it’s time to move on.

–Joe

Which K-Pop Male Rookie Group Are You? [QUIZ]

which rookie male group

If anything, 2015 has been the year for rookie male K-pop groups as many fresh groups such as iKON and DAY6 have made their successful debuts. Armed with both youthful energy and high-level performance skills, these groups are likely to become big hits and household names in the K-pop industry in the future. From synchronised dancing to powerful rapping, each group has their own strengths and has showcased their individuality well through their respective releases, earning themselves strong fan bases despite their recent debuts.

Have you ever wondered which rookie male group your personality is most similar to? Here’s Kultscene’s latest quiz to help you find out more about these groups and yourself!


Also on Kultscene: What K-Drama Cliche Is Your Life? 

What did you think of your result? Did you pick the rookie group that you thought you would? Let us know what other quizzes you’d like to see from KultScene! 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.

Flash Music Video Reviews: Taeyeon, 24K, Oh My Girl, MFBTY, Ailee, Melody Day, iKon, AA

iKONI tried my hand at flash music video reviews earlier this year and I’m back for more. This week, I reviewed music videos released by Korean artists including Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon, AA (Aoora & Hoik,) MFBTY, Oh My Girl, 24K, AileeMelody Day, and iKon. Each mini review doesn’t offer up in depth critiques of the music or music videos, but instead represent this writer’s first impressions.

Taeyeon “I”

First off, this music video has four million views already, so I know it’s going to be good. Taeyeon is a very talented singer and looks mad adorable as a waitress. The earthy elements and cinematic videography is really lovely. This soft rock thing that seems to be going on is new for Taeyeon, but it’s a nice change and it suits Verbal Jint’s featured rap. Those sheep are adorable, and I want Taeyeon’s outfits to laze around my house in.

I’m not sure if this is a complaint, but it took over a minute to get to a main stanza of the song and hear its sound other than its chorus. I’m a big fan of this sound. The lyrics are inspirational and shows of Taeyeon’s powerful vocals in a great way, while offering a really nicely made music video (obviously filmed in Portland.) With fuzzy sheep and a pretty butterfly, there’s really nothing I can fault.

The song isn’t typical K-pop, which is really great to see SM Entertainment attempting as its artists mature. Also, did she just steal her boss’s key after quitting? It doesn’t matter, this is a beautiful song and a beautifully shot music video. SM Entertainment really knows what it is doing with these solo debuts and taking time to make sure that everything is stellar.

24K “Super Fly”

This music video got a lot of attention because it was erroneously reported that a member was caught fighting in a club. But oh, they’re not in a club but instead being school delinquents. We’re going the really strong and powerful, hip hop oriented route that’s been so popular in K-pop lately. Am I watching Monsta X? What happened to my adorable “U R So Cute,” 24K?

This rap at the beginning is pretty powerful and the visuals are great. I’m a fan of this singing part that bridges into the chorus, but the whistling and thumping sirens could be brought down a few notches. This is a pretty high quality video, which is really nice to see from a group that I’ve been keeping an eye on for a while, but it seems like they took out all the big guns to just go with what has been trending lately and try to get popular. (Is taking out hip hop tropes K-pop male groups the same as wearing scanty clothes is for K-pop girl groups?)

This is a love song, but it seems like the powerful images and sounds would be better put to singing against the establishment. 24K hold their own in this music video, and this is really a step up in their game.


Also on KultScene: Flash K-Pop Music Video Reviews: Jonghyun, Jung Yonghwa, Mad Clown, From The Airport, Eddy Kim, GFriend

Oh My Girl “Closer”

“Cupid” was probably my favorite rookie girl group debut of the year, so hopefully “Closer” will live up to that, both plot-wise and musically.

Nope, we’re getting away from the adorable cupids to a really beautiful setting and lovely outfits. Nice dance moves, but I feel like we’re moving away from what made Oh My Girl stand out and moving stylistically more towards the trends. Oh wait, I take that back. These vocals are on par with what I expected from this group. The fairytale elements are really nice, and you can tell that WM spent a lot on this (that company never really disappoints).

I’m two minutes in and I’ve already decided that Oh My Girl should probably be Red Velvet’s real competition for the next generation of K-pop queens (okay, maybe that’s too much but they really deserve to be acknowledge). This song has really clear vocals that I feel like aren’t what most girl groups are putting out today and the members each have distinct images to the point where I don’t feel like I’m looking at plastic surgery monsters. Side point, the dance at the beginning and end are really good.

MFBTY ”6am”

“WondaLand” is easily one of the best Korean albums of the year, so now that MFBTY is out with a music video for “6am,” I hardly need to review this. So this plot is pretty simple, but this is kind of fun to see Bizzy act lovelorn. Oh, and angry. Wow, he’s really angry now. This back lighting is a bit irritating and I’d like it for a few seconds, but I feel like it doesn’t really feel like “6am” but more likely gives the sleezy bar at 1am feel.

This love story is really nicely done, although I definitely need to watch this again to figure out what is going on at what point in the relationship. This is definitely one of MFBTY’s most basic music videos to date, but that’s not really such a bad thing. Keep it simple sometimes.

I have to confess that “6am” is probably my least song from “WondaLand,” and since I’ve already confessed my love for this album, I don’t have much to say about the music except that I wish MFBTY used less autotune on this song.

Ailee “Insane”

Watching a girl while she sleeps isn’t exactly alright and this room is pretty creepy. Oh nevermind, maybe. Work it girl, do rhythmic modern dance moves while some creeper is watching you sleep. Obviously you don’t realize he’s there. Oh! He’s her dream guy, that’s kind of cute for a plot of a music video with a really simple setting.

Straight off the bat, this isn’t my favorite Ailee song, but she’s rocking this dance and I’m very happy that she is getting to sing some R&B, since that’s definitely her strength. These lyrics are really pretty and I love this back up chorus. This song definitely reminds me of Mariah Carey, which isn’t a bad thing. I see why Ailee is promoting “Mind Your Own Business” more, but this song is a really stellar addition to her repertoire.


Also on KultScene: Taeyeon’s ‘I’ Music Video & Song Review

Melody Day “Speed Up”

Melody Day is well known for their vocals, but I saw a screen cap that showed this is a dance song, so let’s see how this goes. Because right now, all I see is GOT7’s JR. I’m not complaining. Oh wow, this is really a spin.

They look good and not showing too much skin, but they’re definitely going the sexy dance song route instead of keeping to their typical ballads. I’m really not in love with this song, it seems very typical and Melody Day has much more talent than this song or video showcases. Maybe if this was three years ago, I’d love the styling and video, but this is just basic K-pop at this point. The outfits are pretty great and they’re showcasing a lot of different looks, but it seems just like a really busy music video.

The breaks in the song to tone things down are really cute, but I can’t tell where this song is supposed to be going and the music isn’t ideal for showcasing their talent. There’s a lot of potential, but it feels like every time I expect Melody Day to show off what they have, the song disappoints by taking a vocal group and giving them a KARA or Girl’s Day Concept.

Aoora & Hoik of AA “Afternoon Morning Evening” feat. Taeyeon of she’z

The fact that something happened and AA never had a proper comeback after a member left was really disappointing to me, because their previous songs were really great. But now they’re back, to some degree, with this. Aoora’s had a few solo releases (most of which I was shocked by), but Hoik’s voice was the the thing that really caught my attention when AA debuted and this song is starting off soft and gentle, giving him the perfect way to showcase his voice.

This song is really just perfection, it’s like AA’s “Rollin’ Rollin’” all grown up. The video looks like it has a pretty low production value, but it’s simple and adorable. The song gets a bit quieter towards the end? I can’t tell if that’s my audio or something, but regardless, the combination of the pair’s voices with Taeyeon’s of she’z go really well together.

iKon “Rhythm Ta”

Let’s see, YG, bring your game. Oh, I don’t love basketball jerseys as outfits in K-pop just because it kind of seems a bit lazy. I get that their comeback is basketball themed, but this comes off as a bit too 90’s to me. Definitely not my type of song, but it’s nice to see YG trying to get back to its early hip hop routes.

Compared to Winner’s debut music video, I feel like this looks pretty cool, but I’m a little bored. Oh, hey, there’s a dog! The members look good, but wow there are a lot of dogs in this: I’ll take it. This song is groove-able, but definitely not one of my favorite debut songs of 2015, which is a little bit disappointing considering how much YG Entertainment has hyped up iKON. The groups look good, but the repetitive nature of this song doesn’t seem like something that we should be waiting for. I’d love to hear more of the vocals from this group, because these few moments where the vocalists sing is really great. Side note, why are only the vocalists blonde? This group has a lot of promise and I see why people like them, but I’m going to wait a bit to see if I like iKON’s other songs.

What’s your favorite recent song out of Korea? Are there any upcoming songs you’d like to see a quick review of? Let us know in the comments 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.

YG Entertainment and Authenticity in K-Pop

The idea of authenticity in pop music is always a contentious one. In the west, every effort is made to make sure the pop star is seen to be the real deal. While in Asia, the idol system is a transparent one in which the fans know young girls and boys train for years to debut and are almost completely controlled by their company. YG Entertainment pride themselves on their more authentic than usual idols and roots in hip-hop. From the acquisition of rap royalty Epik High to the home grown writer producer G-Dragon to the real rappers of iKon, YG has continually put its faith in authentic talent. YG still deal in pop music though, and Yang Hyun Suk and producers like Teddy and Kush are well known as big parts of the music in the company.

Money making and authenticity tend to not go together well, but all pop music is made to make money. So can there be authentic pop music and is YG it? Is their style true or a clever marketing trick? I want to examine YG’s output of 2014 to try and get at some answers. I won’t necessarily be looking at the specific quality of the songs, although it can’t be avoided, but mostly how they were marketed compared to how authentic or interesting they turned out to be.

There is no doubt as to YG’s hip-hop roots being fairly legitimate. YG has come a long way since then however, and are now the second biggest music label in South Korea. In order to get to where they are now though, they have sacrificed some of their ideals in order to get ahead. The idea of authenticity has changed within the company as it becomes more focused on idol groups. The illusion of authenticity has proven to be more effective than putting the work into originality, and 2014 was the year it all came together.

Also on KultScene: YG Entertainment Wants You To Know It’s Different

Last year, YG debuted two new groups, AKMU and WINNER, and created a new one to debut later this year, iKON. Without even getting into the details of the groups, we can see a difference between them and YG’s roots. A lot of them come from talent shows; this immediately raises alarms about the authenticity of these groups. That’s not to say everyone who auditions at talent shows is inauthentic, but it is hard to find true artists through them. There are many talented singers, dancers, and rappers, but how many are the brand of supposed authentic that YG claims it wants?

Akdong Musician were one of these, and were a huge sensation after K-Pop Star. Their music appealed to the Korean market but brought with it an interesting undercurrent thanks to Lee Chanhyuk’s compositions and the vocal dynamic between him and Lee Suhyun. After winning the show, they had the choice themselves to choose between the big three companies. They chose YG explaining that they felt they could express themselves the best there. YG’s image was working for them before even signing Akdong to their label. I have no doubt about the talents of AKMU and they had the right idea by singing with YG, but I wonder if Akdong still feel the same today.

YG has taken the soul of what Akdong Musician are and diluted it with the “YG style.” This is a disservice not only to Chanhyuk and Suhyun but to fans who came to love Akdong’s original sound and image. Their debut single 200% was a generic soft hip-hop pop song which did nothing to showcase the possible talents of Akdong. They even made them dance for the live shows which looked awkward for all involved. They even changed their name to AKMU. It’s not all bad for Akdong though, as their other big song of the year, Melted, is an incredible social critique with a stripped back piano accompaniment, and one of the best music videos of the year.

While Akdong Musician were taken from outside of YG’s doors, WINNER were created in a reality show made by the company. WIN: Who is Next? followed two different boy groups made of YG trainees as they fought to debut as the first YG boy group since BIGBANG. They were Team A and Team B, with Team A eventually winning, being christened as WINNER and given a debut.

Pop music is a business, and in business, major companies do not take risks on letting the public have a say in their next move. So when a show like this runs, I can’t help but be sceptical. YG ultimately would have total control over what was shown and it would be naive to think that they wouldn’t have made edits in accordance with their own plans. Favour was more than likely thrown in Team A’s direction to keep in line with these. The fact that Bobby from Team B, or iKon now, couldn’t make the top team even though he is the hottest property on the K-pop market right now shows there was a plan for each group prior to shooting the show. Considering that YG had the ultimate say in who won confirms this to be nothing more than a vanity project attempting to showcase their authenticity.

I realise these are completely unfounded claims, but I can’t help but feel that show was completely manipulative. Putting these aside, I want to look at WINNER’s highly anticipated debut. The promo for it was one of the best ever seen in not only K-pop but all pop in recent years. It featured micro films with each member, short documentaries about their feelings leading up to their debut and even an incredibly produced instrumental track over interesting visuals. Everything was done in a consistently stylish and artful manner. Expectation was high for something truly interesting.

… Then they released a ballad.

Ballads are the safest, most mainstream and dull kind of song in all of K-pop. Ballads from drama soundtracks consistently top the charts and have been doing so more and more recently. So when WINNER, after the amazing build up, released Empty, I was severely disappointed. That’s not to say it’s necessarily a bad song, just a completely safe one considering the teasers and YG’s talk of WINNER being more than just a Korean group. So of course Empty went on to be a huge success making WINNER the fastest boy group to win a music program award and winning more awards at the MAMAs and Melon. As soon as YG saw the success they doubled down by releasing a solo song from WINNER’s rapper Mino, I’m Him which sounded like a rejected G-Dragon album cut.

Also on KultScene: Let’s Discuss: WINNER As A New Type Of Idol

I want to save any criticism or praise for iKon for when they properly debut. I will say however that Bobby seems to be trying to make a legitimate career for himself, but doesn’t see that he is now an idol because of this. Trying to distance himself from other idols won’t help him at all as it will only make him seem like a try-hard boy group member.

All of 2014’s releases stem from an apparent move from YG to become a more global company. Even Epik High have lost the personal touch that made their earlier music so good. With CL making her way over to America and PSY already achieving huge crossover success, YG can obviously see themselves as the biggest K-Pop players –in the U.S. at least.

In order to continue attacking the western market though, they are losing any sense of true authenticity in place of a corporate illusion of reality. They put the main focus of their groups on their supposed legitimate rappers to give a sense of originality to them. Yet when music is released, it is generic and uninteresting. YG has essentially tricked their fans into believing everything they do is true artistry, that everything they release comes 100 percent from the members themselves. In the pop music world, this is impossible. This is the true quality of YG, making corporate look authentic.

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