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Playlist Sunday: Kara Tribute

kara playlist music songs kpop korean k pop

After a long, successful run with numerous hit songs, the iconic K-pop girl group Kara announced their disbandment last week. As one of the most notable girl groups over the past 10 years, this week’s Playlist Sunday is a look back of some of our team’s favorite Kara songs to celebrate their awesome career.

“Step” was the Kara song that the group needed after garnering major attention for hits like “Mister” and “Lupin.” While it’s not a Great in the sense that other Kara songs were, “Step” is Kara at their very best. The upbeat 80’s inspired disco track had the retro synth elements and a catchy hook that Kara’s perfected over the years, with the majority of the song dedicated to the chorus. Those elements paired with a catchy melody and some outstanding vocal performances from the Kara ladies make it impossible for someone to listen to “Step” and not immediately get the song stuck in their head; this is what Kara does best. “Step” features some electro-funk elements that were ahead of their time for K-pop, and an extremely good example of Kara’s vocal prowess about a minute and fifteen seconds into the song. “Step” is perhaps the last Kara song released from their dance-hook era, and their next release, “Pandora,” is a sadly overlooked example of K-pop experimentation at its greatest. But just because it’s last doesn’t make “Step” boring. Even in 2016, this 2012 hit is still a fresh-sounding song that will get everyone “Step”-ing.

— Tamar


Also on KultScene: Artist Spotlight: April

We can’t have a playlist remembering KARA without mentioning some of their Japanese releases. Considered the first big crossover group and are probably the only Korean group to really establish themselves in the Japanese market, not seeing it as just another possibility for success but as equally important as the Korean market. After leaving KARA in 2014 Jiyoung went on to become an actress in Japan showcasing exactly how popular Kara had been over there. My favourite of their Japanese songs is the impossibly sugary “Bye Bye Happy Days”. The first thing you’ll think when you listen is that this has to be an anime theme song and you’d be right. It was used for KARA The Animation, a show portraying each of the members pursuing different careers. The synths are in full flow, the smiles behind the vocals beam out, and the girls are pulling their best aegyo. A song like this should be irritating but somehow it worms its way into your head and heart. Just like KARA did all those years ago, *sniff*.

— Joe

Most people probably don’t know or remember that KARA was once a four member group. This was pre- Hara and Jiyoung, and certainly well before their latest member Youngji, during a time when the group was struggling to get their name out there after being considered a commercial failure (their first album was not well received by the general public). I suppose that’s why their single“If U Wanna” is still so underrated. But what’s not to like about it? The strong female image they debuted with is evident here in the spunky and collective raps and percussive claps, which at times come off as cheer-like. It’s girly, but in no way like the bubblegum sweet way that other girl groups often went for. There’s a youthful pep in their vocals that gives away their rookie group status, but it’s endearing especially when you consider how much the group has evolved over the past nine years. Back when K-pop was still trying to gain a foothold internationally in 2007, KARA was already off to a great start… well, at least in my books.

— Shelley


Also on KultScene: The Other Top 10 Korean Songs of 2015

By far, my favorite KARA song is “Step,” but at a close second is 2014’s “Mamamia,” which was also KultScene’s second favorite song of the year, by the way. “Mamamia” is a electro pop and disco extravaganza full of my favorite attitudes a girl can have: fierceness and sass. And not only is the jam fabulous, but the four girls look absolutely flawless with their gorgeous styling. Not to mention the killed the choreography. I will miss KARA’s ability of dropping banger after banger and how they achieved the perfect formula of femininity, sexiness, and strongness. Other girl groups may try to fit into one or another category, but only KARA mastered them all at once.

— Alexis

What’s your favorite Kara song? 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.

The Other Top 10 Korean Songs of 2015

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

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

Idol Solo Debuts

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

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


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

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

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

New Takes on the Cutesy Girl Group

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

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

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

Europe + Korea = The Perfect Match

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

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

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


Also on KultScene: Artist Spotlight: April

The Many Facets of Korean Hip-Hop

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

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

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

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

Are there any songs you think were overlooked in 2015? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Gyuri & From The Airport’s ‘The Little Prince’ Review

Gyuri and From The Airport
Collaborations between indie artists and idols always interest me in some way. It shows a level of musical appreciation we might not usually see in idols. When most are hungry to be merely famous, it’s nice to see some who genuinely try with alternative music. That being said, most idol/indie collaborations end up being completely safe, coffee shop style songs. This is due to both the mainstream and indie trends moving more towards that style of song. It’s seriously popular in Korea. So when Kara’s Gyuri released “The Little Prince,” a surprise single, with the fairly safe indie band From The Airport, I was worried it would be a disappointment. Luckily my worries were unfounded.

I have never been a huge fan of Gyuri’s voice. Her soft voice is distinctive and quite strong, but whenever she went for bigger notes, it didn’t work for me. Even when she hit those notes perfectly like in Kara’s recent “Cupid,” I wasn’t feeling it. I’ve now realized why it wasn’t working for me. Gyuri has an indie voice. Her soft airy voice belongs with the Neon Bunny’s of this world. Needless to say, it works perfectly with From The Airport.


 Also on KultScene: Playlist Sunday: Favorite ‘90s K-Pop Covers

Song

For “The Little Prince,” From The Airport have mostly ditched their usual rock sound for something more synth based. The odd guitar riff is thrown every now and then to keep things interesting though. These funky guitars allow the track to stray away from all out EDM territory. The glittering synths have a restraint to them that shines alongside Gyuri’s voice. Her breathy voice threatens to burst just like the electronics. Yet both are allowed to simmer back down without straining the song further than it needed to go. When it does finally reach a climax, the song soars into euphoria rather than crashing into a breakdown.

I was hoping the lyrics would reference Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel of the same name. However, they are fairly standard lyrics about the rush of feeling one has for their lover. As an effort from an idol who hasn’t written much, they are not too bad though.

If the references can’t be found in the lyrics, there might be some to be found in the tone. Saint-Exupéry’s novel, though a children’s book, has a sombre and measured, but fantastical tone to it. In a similar way, Gyuri and From The Airport’s “The Little Prince” has a subdued melancholic tone to it before bursting into the chorus. Its lyrical sentiments, too, are bright. Matching a sad tone with such a happy concept would seem like a contradiction, but it works to highlight the happier parts better. The contrast between the start and finish and the music and lyrics of the song serve to create something more than the sum of its parts.


 Also on KultScene: EXO’s ‘Love Me Right’ Repackaged Album Review

The song does not really transcend its genre elements though. The synths are great, Gyuri’s voice works well with it all and it’s an interesting new approach for her. And yet, it still feels a little lacking. Nothing new is carved out here. After a couple of really excited listens, I began to lose interest.

The other song they came out with, “Return,” does nothing to rectify this. It goes for a more traditional From The Airport sound with lots more guitar to go with the synths. It’s charming and features From The Airport’s Milo on vocals. This helps it from being a forgettable B-side. The cheerleader chants are pretty fun, but, again, it loses something with every new listen.

Overall

I’m not really disappointed with this collaboration. Generic songs are the norm in K-pop, so here it is no different. I guess it being a more indie orientated track made my expectations higher. Or they made me like it more than I really did at the first listen. Gyuri is really impressive and shown she has range outside of the idol world. In reality, it’s probably one of the best idol/indie team ups in K-pop. It represents a good jumping off point for other idols to follow on and work on some interesting projects themselves.

What do you think of this collaboration? 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.
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KARA’s ‘Mamma Mia’ Music Video & Song Review

KARA made its latest comeback with Mamma Mia in the middle of August. The girl group saw a member line-up changed, with Nicole and Jiyoung departing the group to pursue solo careers, and the addition of Youngji. I honestly doubted this move, and wondered why the three remaining members didn’t just continue as KARA, but that all changed when Mamma Mia made me think, “Oh, KARA’s back.”

Music Video

Concepts

The music video is, for one thing, very busy. The sets were great –a beautiful lobby, lovely bedrooms that I wish I could call my own, and a party with fireworks that I wanted to be a part of. But every few seconds, the camera changed to a different set, and I honestly felt a bit dizzy when I first watched Mamma Mia.

gyuri butterflies
There’s really no point for the multiple sets, except to show off different outfits and moods. This seems a bit silly for a song about going out and partying. The concept didn’t really match the lyrics, but it did get to show off KARA’s members at their best, in multiple settings.

KARA Mamma Mia

Fashion

Do I love the dance outfits? They’re really sleek and sexy, but they kind of look like something Catwoman would wear. KARA’s fierce one moment, and then wears beautiful, lace, and tulle dresses that are completely different, which are supposed to make the members seem… more innocent or something? Again, the busy-ness is apparent.

Kara Jaison Dresses

Mamma Mia has a lot of really nice sets and clothing, but there’s no plot and it doesn’t seem to really make sense –especially fashion wise. One minute, the four are in leggings, tanks, and combat boots with heels and the next they’re in haute couture dresses.

KARA Mamma Mia Party

However, my favorite concept is the one from the party, which, even if it’s a bit cheesy with the palm-tree patterns, looks very modern and reminds me a bit of what 4Minute wore in Whatcha Doin’ Today. I particularly like the streaks of hair dye, primarily because it helps me differentiate the members (throughout the entire video, I was confused between Youngji and Seungyeon, despite being a fan of KARA for several years now). For some reason, I felt that Youngji and Seungyeon’s features are too similar.

Choreography

If the visual aspects weren’t enough, the dance for Mamma Mia is captivating, and a very “KARA” dance. The group that became famous because of it’s “butt dance” continues it’s addictive dances in Mamma Mia. The dance has several notable dance moves, but two are the most prominent- the brushing-off move and the rowing-the-boat move. The arm dance at the beginning reminded me of Hindu deities (and also EXO’s tree of life, for that matter).

KARA Mamma mia arms

Song

A dance song with a slightly techno feel to it, Mamma Mia’s introcould almost be out of an 80’s aerobic video. As the song progresses, it keeps the original old-school feel, but KARA makes it their own with the catchy, repetitive line “mamma mia,” as well as the member’s powerful vocals. Many lines seem to be given to Hara rather than the other three, which I thought was a bit disappointing.

KARA Gyuri mamma mia

I think the song is really powerful, and the idea behind it, of going out into the world (or party) and showing everyone who you truly are inside is great. However, It would have been more interesting if the video portrayed the meaning in some way, such as having the members appear acting certain ways before going to the party and showing up with completely different personas.

“No one can predict it

I’ll surprise everyone with my hidden image

To captivate you on this hot night, burn it up!

Hit the lights let’s go

Everyone’s party, party, party, mamma mia”

Even though the line distribution was a bit uneven, I think that Youngji was able to hold her own when performing alongside such experienced idols.

Overall ratings

– MV: 6/10, pretty but too busy

– Song: 8.5/10

– Both: 7/10