Artist Spotlight: Rubber Soul

When is an idol group not an idol group? The general definition of an “idol” tends towards any manufactured pop star. Regardless of whether a company decides that a specific group is going to be more artistic sounding or more involved in production, every K-pop group fits into the idol category. Even when trying to distance themselves, no group has ever transcended this. They always fit into the idol system, the litany of teasers, dance routines, music show appearances, all of these things we love about K-pop restrict it. Little known girl group Rubber Soul are challenging this.

The group debuted in 2015 and their origins remain somewhat mysterious. Apparently the brainchild of three different companies, they emerged as hopeful rookies taking on the 90s right before the craze died. Their story is quiet but full of the contradictions you’d expect from an idol group wanting to be respected.

Two of Rubber Soul’s companies were already used to being partners. Happy Tribe Entertainment and Universal Music Korea had previously collaborated to produce the underrated Boys’ Republic. Despite the big name of Universal behind them, they never got very far but obviously in Korea, Universal doesn’t have the same prestige behind it. The third company is withHC Entertainment, primarily home to actors. At the time they seemed to be taking the lead. Most press releases were issued by them and, being the smaller company, they were probably happy to have a potential hit idol group on their hands. The interesting thing about the companies though is that right now, none of them seem to be involved with Rubber Soul. withHC have no info about the band on their website, Universal are still distributing them presumably alongside Happy Tribe, although there is nothing to be found about either or how the latter company works with Rubber Soul.

Also on KultScene: Weekly K-Pop Faves Mar 13-19

This is the first sign of Rubber Soul attempting to step outside of the idol realm. Their original creative decision makers have seemingly taken over on the more administrative side as well. Usually a production trio, madsoulchild are the only constant in Rubber Soul’s life. Their vocalist Jinsil featured on their song “Lonely Friday” and both DJ fellow member Chanwoo and she have taken most of the production duties alongside the Rubber Soul girls. Many groups have had producer mentors before but none have had them take full control.

Each of the girls, Lala, Kim, and Choi Cho, take part in production too. They’re a group born of three companies but their output to date has been contained to a limited number of creatives. Maybe that’s why they are just so good.

Debuting with “Life,” the most 90s of all 90s throwbacks, Rubber Soul marked themselves as the most interesting rookie group of the past few years. The international K-pop fanbase definitely responded, and many blogs were writing about the gorgeous neo-soul track. From the opening beats to the echoey backing chorus “Life” recreates not just the sound but the very essence of 90s music. The clothing was teetered at the absolute edge of embarrassing and iconic even with the bucket hats.

“Life” at its best is found in the lyrics though. Matching the languid rhythms, the girls tell a simple story perhaps inspired by the slightly simpler times in which they are emulating. Each of the girls raps about the things they left behind, small pleasures that they are better off without. Choi Cho describes the minute details of the monotonous daily life she passed over. “In the tangled hair, a slight touch in the dried skin moisturizing cream” she opens with. Kim remembers the late nights drinking. “Everytime we lament our misfortune, in a glass of the drink, in our two loose hearts, we suddenly become king of the world.” Lala brings it back around, reiterating the point featured rapper Mad Clown made in the opening. Describing her role in her family she says, “Our princess, our daughter, older sister Lala, let’s eat! I mean that‘s love.” Ordinary lives can be exciting and rewarding if you can realise the beauty of the mundane.

Rubber Soul’s music is filled with the personalities of the girls. Each of their verses is distinct, lyrically and tonally. They build off of each other too. For example, “Lonely Friday,” the b-side to “Life,” starts off with Lala’s apathy towards partying on Friday nights despite the “flooding emptiness” she feels from browsing Facebook all night. By the time the last verse comes around, she is rapping with her other members as if she’s been convinced by them. “Stop those habitual excuses, with you, stop digging the floor, let’s run together” they repeat together, ready to turn this lonely Friday into something a bit more exciting.

Rubber Soul promoted these songs as any group would. A short run on the weekly Korean music shows, a feature from a well known rapper., etc. They got a cameo slot on season six of Saturday Night Live Korea and Kim even appeared on Unpretty Rapstar’s second season. Their promotions were failures though. On Unpretty Rapstar Kim was eliminated in the episode following the one in which she was introduced. Her taking part in the show was already under scrutiny thanks to her being shoved in halfway through the show alongside future Cosmic Girls leader Exy.

Also on KultScene: Artist Spotlight: D.Holic

Two things usually happen after a failed K-pop debut, either the company doubles down on more comebacks so as to gain attention through sheer attrition or the group fades into obscurity waiting maybe years for another single. Given that their company has little to do with them anymore it’s clear what route Rubber Soul took. They returned almost two years later to considerably less fanfare.

Now seemingly under not just the production talents of madsoulchild but managment and promotion as well, Rubber Soul’s latest track “Freedom” continues their throwback trend with a more electro R&B inspired sound. Processed beats and synths build the otherwise tame song towards a great ending. The flitters of autotune eventually take over as the song transitions from its chorus directly into an abstract climax. A trap beat takes over as the girls’ voices collide, articulating a certain sadness despite the party setting of the video. This sadness is amplified by Choi Cho’s final vocal. Without even an English translation of the lyrics it’s clear that “Freedom” is a song about being yourself to find,well, freedom. Definitely in line with what Rubber Soul had been talking about before, although it’s harder to get into it when you can only understand the corny English lyrics. (So if any Korean-speaking readers would like to translate for us…)

“Freedom” represents a new, uncharted territory for Rubber Soul. Under madsoulchild they have a great chance to do something interesting while maintaining an idol image to try and show the masses a new kind of idol. K-pop groups don’t need to be managed by small production groups like this to be innovative, but Rubber Soul’s new venture does represent something that has not been done successfully to date.

The potential is seen in their “mixtapes.” Two short videos that they released titled Mixtape 1 and Mixtape 2 are not really mixtapes but inventive little rap samples. They could add up to a mixtape eventually but Rubber Soul are probably just using the word to seem a bit more underground. The first, which sampled Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” was called “I Wish You Good Luck” and was released shortly after “Life” and “Lonely Friday,” back in 2015. It acted as a showcase for the girls’ rapping skills, with each one getting a verse and absolutely killing it. The “Get Lucky” beat remains one of the most infectious ever and Rubber Soul reworked it just enough to highlight their flows.

The second mixtape samples Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” to marvellous results. Lala and Kim rap with such ease as they lay back on a bed. It’s relaxed but full of personality, the girls vape, burp, and lounge around the bed with ramen packs (which also offer the best part of video when Kim smashed one with her elbow in time with the beat.) Choi Cho ends with an excellent Mary J. Blige impression.

By now, Rubber Soul should have already carved out a niche fanbase for themselves. Most rookie groups would have had numerous comebacks and would at least cement them in the industry. As it stands Rubber Soul have no place in any environment, not the idol or underground. A commitment from madsoulchild could allow this group of big personalities to express themselves.

What do you think of Rubber Soul? Do you hope to see more of them in the future? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Translation Source: Life, Lonely Friday

K-Pop’s Competition: What Korea Also Listened To In 2015

What Koreans Listend To In 2015

With guyliner to spare and an abundance of autotune, one would think that all South Korea has to offer the music world is K-pop’s girl groups and boy bands. But calling everything that Korea has to offer “K-pop” is doing the world a disservice, and moving past the K-pop title opens up a whole new variety of music. So let’s take a look at what Korea also listened to in 2015.

Thriving on ingenuity and high production values, music coming out of South Korea is some of the most innovative in the world today. But between Psy and K-pop girl groups and boy bands, it is easy to overlook what else the country is producing. K-pop is phenomena, but despite its popularity K-pop isn’t necessarily what the average Korean is going to listen to day in and day out. Defining what K-pop exactly is isn’t the easiest thing, but when you see it, you know it and its not innately bad. It’s primarily dance-pop music produced by entertainment agencies, typically sung by teenagers and twenty-somethings who have trained for years to become pop stars. It’s enjoyable. And what is left is the music that we should all take notice of.

With an ample amount of soft rock, romantic ballads, retro pop, R&B, and rap thrown in for good measure, mainstream Korean music is all over the place, in part because Korean culture thrives on the new and experimental. The top tracks in Korea nowadays offer something fresh and familiar all at once. Many of the most popular songs are more mature, mellower alternatives to the feverishness of K-pop dance tracks. Indie music, which is so mainstream in other countries, struggles, but has made leaps and bounds in the past few years with songs by bands like Busker Busker and Hyukoh rising from the dust like little indie demons ready to slay acts put out by the large music companies that dominate South Korea.

Also on KultScene: Playlist Sunday: Worst Korean Singles of 2015

Meanwhile, the most popular genre of Korean music in 2015, aside from K-pop, is Korea’s take on hip hop. Hardly any singles are released nowadays without a featured rapper adding some spit to the track. Even K-pop acts incorporate hip hop, with just about every group having at least one designated rapper. Korea has been playing with hip hop for years, and prominent acts like MFBTY (Drunken Tiger) and Epik High still remain relevant amidst the onslaught of pop acts. But it was only a few years ago that hip hop gained true relevancy in South Korea’s music scene, and 2015 has seen an onslaught of hip hop releases. Rather than being anti-establishment, radio friendly hip hop songs in South Korea are largely related to the struggles of daily life and society.

With unexpected elements and a bit of something for everyone, mainstream Korean music comes off as less mainstream and more experimental. This year alone has seen great variety from both K-pop and non K-pop artists. Duets are still popular, but Korean music is able to retain its favoritism towards duet and ballads while transmuting the music to fit more modern tastes. The two worlds often collide, since K-pop is king in South Korea, but the variety and depth of music that Korean artists are putting out is something worth taking more than a cursory glance at.
[Disclaimer: It would be impossible to cover all non-K-pop songs, so I picked some of the most popular songs from Korea’s Gaon chart. Excluded from the list were songs by K-pop idol groups, although artists who explored beyond the boundaries of K-pop are featured here.]

“Fire” – Mad Clown feat. Jinsil of Mad Soul Child

One of Korea’s up and coming rappers, Mad Clown released the retro-inspired “Fire” earlier this year, straight off of his EP “Piece of Mine.” Despite only joining the mainstream Korean music scene in 2013, Mad Clown has became a mainstay with his smooth hip hop style, and “Fire” is one of his best songs to date. “Fire” tells a story of a man unable to get out of a relationship with a woman who is driving him insane with her actions. Mad Clown’s rapid, high-toned rap contrasts with Jinsil’s sultry taunts, while a big brass band provides the song’s throwback elements.

“W-ing W-ing” Hyukoh

The most surprising musical act of 2015 in South Korea is certainly the soft rock indie band Hyukoh. The shoegaze-esque music produced by the band launched Hyukoh to fame this summer, and “Comes and Goes” became one of their most popular songs overnight. “Comes and Goes,” like all of Hyukoh’s songs, are about the daily struggles that young people face in their daily lives. The lyrics revolve around growing up and finding that your parents spent their entire lives worrying, and that childhood and time in general re fleeting. The gentle strumming introand lead singer Oh Hyuk’s washed out vocals helps the song retain qualities that we’re more used to hearing from 90’s indie bands, but Hyukoh’s the biggest thing to hit Korea in recent years.

“Eat”- Zion. T

Soft spoken hip hop crooners are trendy in Korea nowadays, and 2015 has been a Zion. T’s breakout year, with multiple hit songs including the latest, “Eat.” “Take out this song, enjoy it like a piece of chocolate cake,” Zion.T says, equating his music to comfort food, offering the soft R&B tune to the listeners like a decadent sweet that will help cheer us up. The track keeps things basic, with piano and snapping sounds and not much more for the majority of the song. “Eat” is musical simplicity at its best, but as far as possible from the flash and flare that’s garnered Korean music much of its popularity overseas. Also check out his “Just” collaborative song with Crush.

“Lean On Me”- Soyou of Sistar & Kwon Jeong Yeol of 10cm

Indie and K-pop come together in this romantic duet, with Kwon of the indie duo 10cm joining with Soyou, a popular K-pop balladeer. The soft melody is an acoustic-based song meant to urge people to not give up hope in the face of today’s economy, which is the reported cause of many Koreans giving up on romantic and familial relationship and instead focusing on work. “So many numbers saved on your phone, but you can’t dial a single one up,” they sing, references Korea’s plugged-in culture, urging one another to “Lean On Me.” The Korean-ness of the song is what made it a surefire hit in South Korea: The sweet, melodious duet performed by talented, popular singers, the synth undertones, and the urging to find strength in community are all common themes in Korean music.

“Love Mash” – MC Mong feat. Chancellor of the Channels

MC Mong is arguably one of the most controversial musicians in South Korea after he attempted to get out of mandatory military service. But the radio-friendly pop-rap hybrid “Love Mash” released earlier this year could be less loved. With a light upbeat rhythm, “Love Mash” is a foot-tapping tune that never takes itself too seriously while trying to win back an ex. The humorous take on Korean rap, like where MC Mong describes himself as “smelling like a loser,” is old hat for Korean rap making its way around the world- Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is just one of many instances where South Korean rappers use their music to make fun of themselves and their culture.

Also on KultScene: Top 20 Korean Music Videos of 2015

“Awoo” Lim Kim

Lim Kim, also known as Kim Ye Rim of the indie duo Togeworl, released the playful track early in the year, and gained attention for its multi-elemental style, meshing R&B, pop, and electronic elements. The song is a modern anthem on flirting, combining Lim Kim’s husky voice with her whimsicalness to create a modern take on crushes that compares seduction to being a cat on the prowl, leading to the song’s “Awoo” moments. EDM thumping and scratching distortion makes the song a bit eerie that adds to the song’s mischievousness in a way that keeps it lighthearted but with a twist. The quirky song is a bit off to the left field even for mainstream Korea, but it’s undeniably one of the best production of the year.

“Shouldn’t Have” Baek A Yeon feat. Young K of DAY6

Baek A Yeon’s whimsical “Shouldn’t Have” is everything that Korean music aims to be. A bit of folk, a bit of pop, and extraordinary vocal control kept “Shouldn’t Have” from disappearing into mediocrity, despite Baek A Yeon being relatively unknown in South Korea. The self-composed track is a heartfelt about the regrets and “shouldn’t haves” of a woman. Despite the meaning, the mid-tempo song is something that listeners could tap their feet or bob their head to while singing along. While the song is firmly encompassed in the pop-ballad category, Korea doesn’t go without its raps, so there’s a bit of that thrown in for good measure.

“Leon” –IU & Park Myung Soo

If Taylor Swift and Jimmy Fallon released a song for a late night show skit in Korean, this would be that song. One of the most popular music festivals in South Korea isn’t even organized by musicians, but part of the popular variety show, “Infinite Challenge.” During the span of a few episodes, prominent Korean musicians work with the show’s cast to produce tracks for the festival, including this jazzy song created by Korea’s most Korea’s most darling startle IU and the variety show host Park Myung Soo. The song is based on the 1994 French film, “Leon: The Professional,” about a hitman and the young woman, and the Parisian influences of “Leon” are audible through the delicate instrumental sections, while the song remains firmly rooted in Korean musical theory, with the rap and back and forth between the pair.

“Don’t Be Shy” –Primary feat. ChoA of AOA & Iron

Primary is the man behind the box in South Korea, a producer who has the vision to put together whatever he wants and do well while hiding his face from the public. His latest hit, sung by the captivating K-pop vocalist ChoA and underground rapper Iron, is a tropical, sleepy reggae tune with echoing acid house overtones. Repetition and ChoA’s suggestive words take the song over into the gray zone rarely heard in Korean mainstream music, and the lyrics themselves question what she’s singing about. “That risky line, should I cross it or not?” ChoA wonders as her breathiness carries over the drumbeats. Iron’s rap takes the song down a few notches, his sleepy rhymes offering a moment of relative clarity in an otherwise hypnotic tune.

“I” – Taeyeon feat. Verbal Jint

Kim Taeyeon is the lead vocalist of Girls’ Generation, the most K-pop girl group of all, but her first EP as a soloist came out in October and solidified her place as one of Korea’s most intriguing artists. ” Bringing the intensity of K-pop production while exploring other genres, “I” is one of the K-pop hybrid songs that are making waves in South Korea today. Her self-declarative tune is an ambient soft rock song that wouldn’t be out of place from a movie soundtrack. With a few quirks- starting the song off with the chorus and quickly bringing in the featured artist- “I” exploits Taeyeon’s vocals in the best way possible, layering her vocals at times while allowing the crisp sound to fly free during other moments.

“Love Again” – Lim Chang Jung

This emotional song could do no wrong in 2015. With Lim’s crisp vocals over simple piano melodies, the song starts off simply before building into a soaring, heartfelt ballad. “Love Again” is the quintessential Korean ballad of 2015, with its bare minimum musical elements and focusing primarily on Lim Chung Jang’s strong, sincere voice. Strings and a heavy beat provide a background for the majority of the song, which is all about second-chances in love, a common theme in South Korean songs.

“Boys and Girls” –Zico feat. Babylon

If Taeyeon was the K-pop singer who broke through to everyone’s heartstrings in 2015 with her solo, Block B’s Zico just can’t be ignored. His tropical, synth-y take on K-hop-hop song in “Boys and Girls” was one of the most popular songs at last year’s end. Compared to Zico’s more in your face songs (like “Tough Cookie,”) “Boys and Girls” appealed to the Korean public’s taste with its lighthearted, yet technically impressive fun-filled rap. At the end of the year, as South Koreans prepared for a cold winter and new year, Zico’s song made people smile and ensured that hip hop would still be a trend in 2016.

What do you think of what South Korea was listening to in 2015? Does our list cover all of your favorite songs? Let us know in the comments section below. Share your thoughts on the drama 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 K-Pop Music Video Reviews: Jonghyun, Jung Yonghwa, Mad Clown, From The Airport, Eddy Kim, GFriend

There’s a lot of really great music coming out of Korea nowadays and listening to every chart-topping song, let alone watching every music video, is near impossible. Here at KultScene, we’re going to try something new: Reviews written in the span of the entire music video, inspired by the idea of flash fiction. Once the video stops, the review comes to an end.  These reviews aren’t in depth, and are essentially just first reactions, but it’s a good introduction to many of the songs that you’ll want to check out this week.

Mad Clown Fire

First things first, Hani from EXID is blatant media play since it’s actually Jinsil singing and Hani is just lip-synching. I like the lighting and Hani’s eyes really are mesmerizing so I guess it’s okay, but still kind of sad for Jinsil. The big-band beat and Mad Clown’s rap nicely go together to create a dramatic song that describes the craziness of the lyrics. As usual, Mad Clown doesn’t disappoint with his rap, but instead delivers every line in an aggressive, statement-like way.The lyrics of the song don’t really match the music video, other than showing their craziness, but it’s really beautifully filmed. Jinsil’s voice isn’t too cloying in comparison to Mad Clown’s intense raps, but instead her raspy voice sounds exactly like how a confused, lover should sound. The bleeping and blurring out curses is really amazing for mainstream Korean music, as if Mad Clown is protesting the clean-cut rapping that is prominent in Korea. Overall, I’m impressed.

Eddy Kim My Love

We’re behind scene, and Eddy Kim takes a pause to look at a piano, sits down, and tells the person he’s talking to wait a minute. This piano medley is nice, like something you’d hear in a hotel lobby, and then Eddy Kim’s voice starts up to sing a sweet, powerful melody. The song is really interesting because it uses an orchestra rather than any electronic beats, which are popular nowadays. The singing into the phone while his girlfriend rides a bus is a really cute touch, showing how Eddy feels his love even though they’re apart. It doesn’t really sound like it, but Eddy Kim’s songs always makes me think of Michael Buble. Between the song looking good and Eddy Kim appearing as handsome as ever, My Love is a winner.

Also on KultScene: Brave Brothers And The Culture Industry


Jonghyun Crazy (Guilty Pleasure)

A steady beat mixed with classic piano introduces a song that’s like a pop ballad trying to grow up into a hip-hop track. Jonghyun’s acting and the music video are impressive, but these up-close facial shots are a jarring thanks to these jerky camera movements. He’s singing about being crazy, emphasized by the gas mask and being chained up, but it looks like it’s just an excuse to show off his ripped body. Iron’s speedy rap is a completely different sound from Jonghyun’s breathy falsettos and high notes, which is really a different sound than what I’m used to hear from SHINee, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. The song completely shows off Jonghyun’s best skills, dominating high notes, while the video shows off his body’s best aspects to entice any fan of SHINee to watch. A little bit over the top in general, though, with all of the special effects that aren’t limited to explosions and mechanical giant spiders. But Jonghyun’s a singer first and foremost, and this new style really matches his personality.

GFriend Glass Bead

So here’s the Into The New World similarities, especially the girl that looks like ex-Girls’ Generation member Jessica. The athletic styled outfits, the retro-style sweet pop song is really like something that I’d expect to hear from late 2000’s K-pop girl groups, so I see why everyone’s comparing GFriend to Girls’ Generation. But while the images are similar, the dancing is really impressive. None of the vocalists stand-out particularly, but it’s likely that as GFriend releases more music several of their vocalists will stand out. An all around good song, even though it’s nothing that we’ve never seen before. The concept is cute, sweet, and totally needed in K-pop, which is becoming so overly sexualized that it’s losing the innocence that made songs like Gee and Tell Me viral hits in 2009.

From The Airport Sight

I don’t know if this is supposed to be the response, but when I pressed “play” and heard Sight I wanted to close my eyes. The music video almost demands this, by hiding the two members of From The Airport amid shadows, star-like lights, and occasional bursts of light that essentially blind the camera. The song has a bit of a heavier bass beat than many of From The Airport’s songs, with an occasionally heavy handed rock sound as the backtrack to their heavily synthesized vocals. The profiles of the two members don’t distract from the sound of their song, but aren’t really supposed to be the point of this video. The song climaxes with From The Airport being completely dissolved by light, and then continues with mere music, highlighting not the singers but the sounds themselves.

Jung Yonghwa One Fine Day

Clubbing, two people see each other across the room, and then we wake up in a depressing, green and gray environment. A slightly misleading title? This video is really visually beautiful, I actually feel like it would do well as a magazine spread. Yonghwa’s side profile is really prevalent, and changes his overall style and feel as an actor.The cinematography is really the thing that makes or breaks this video, but it’s a little disappointing as a song overall. This is CNBLUE’s lead singer, who is a popular actor, Yonghwa simply… singing and acting? So what is new to this? Nothing. This could just as easily be a music video for a song from the soundtrack of a drama that Yonghwa is starring in. The song isn’t particularly memorable, although Yonghwa’s voice perfectly depicts the emotion described in the lyrics. It’s a heartfelt song, but if you’re a lead singer with such a distinct voice, just going the ballad route is a little bit boring.

Do you like this idea of quick music video reviews? If there are any music videos you would like to see reviewed, please leave suggestions in the comments 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.