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Suran, Nine Muses A, & Up10tion: Single Roundup Review

Suran, Nine Muses A. Up10tion
The month of August got off to a blistering start for the K-pop world. Heavyweights like Hyuna, Taemin, and Girls’ Generation have comeback in some form alongside burgeoning rookie groups Oh My Girl and Monsta X. However, there have already been much more to see and we want to highlight some of the quality music that new and old groups are putting out. Tracks range from the hot tropical sound of the moment to exciting new sub units to tough boys trying (and taking ownership of) cutesy concepts.

”Paradise Go” by Suran

Indie soloist, Suran is probably best known for her work with Primary and Beenzino up to now. She has been carving out a career for herself though with some excellent and distinct work (check out the abstract R&B in “I Feel”). This time she’s going for something a little more summer friendly with tropical track “Paradise Go”.

Producer ca$hville captures the essence of the trending tropical house/chillwave sound, which the description in the Youtube video of “Paradise Go” shoves down our throats. Its bobbing synths, electronic drums, and Suran’s laidback vocals create the relaxed atmosphere perfect for summer. The song takes its time moving from moment to moment, hard to be sure if we have entered the chorus or if it just happened already. While I like how this fits with the mood of the song it does nothing to the genre. It feels like just another entry in the already full trop-house when someone like Suran could have done something interesting to reinvigorate it. There are snippets of new ideas, like the auto-tune before the chorus, which threatens for a moment to upend what we know about songs like this but in the end all we get is a well produced but uninspired song.


Also on KultScene: Weekly K-Pop Faves: August 1-7

”Lip 2 Lip” by Nine Muses A

Star Empire have probably been feeling Nine Muses’ popularity slip for a long time. Now that they lost another two members it really seems like they’re on the way out. So it makes sense for them to try something a little different with sub-unit Nine Muses A. Their single “Lip 2 Lip” doesn’t go for any new concepts opposing the original Nine Muses. But what we do get is some classic pop.

“Lip 2 Lip” isn’t particularly catching at first listen. It’s a relatively safe song choice with little surprises. It is well produced by Star Empire regular Jeong Changuk, with bursts of synths and backing band. The sounds work best on the song when either of these are taken leaving only one, especially for Sojin’s rap which just has the guitar, bass, and drums. It lets her bring her whisper up to a confident breathy tone. Transitioning directly into Kyungri and Keumjo’s duel verse also works really well. Both their voices combine for the most satisfying part of “Lip 2 Lip.” I also like how it escalates before slowing down for the bridge. Postponing the valley for a moment makes it work all the better as it winds down for a great conclusion.

Lyrically it’s fun too with the girls professing their love for a boy that’s not exactly typical. This is best articulated with Keumjo’s simile, “You’re like a rugby ball” (as she holds an American football in the video). Sojin’s mentions of black and white holes also conjure interesting images.


Also on KultScene: When K-Pop Lineups Change – 9 Muses

”Tonight” by Up10tion

Of all the rookie boy groups out there in the past two years, Up10tion are one of the few that have caught my eye. Their debut “So Dangerous” was okay and their follow up “Attention” was great but both times they showed invention in their choreography. With their latest track, “Tonight,” they have gone the cutesy boy route, similar to fellow rookies Astro and A.Cian. This concept is one that I can rarely get into. I can’t seem to ever put my gender bias to the side with tracks like this as they always feel awkward and a bit sad to be honest. There are times when a group can get past thatthrough sheer energy and fun. This is one of those times.

“Tonight” is an attack of bright brass and strings. It shines at every moment from the extended intro to the raps, which even with the deeper voices don’t sound out of place. It’s cheesy and energetic, exactly what a song like this should be like. It’s a testament to their talent that they can deliver a song like this so well despite their tough guy origins and not fall into embarrassing territory. It’s something few others have transitioned to as well. While not at the level of Seventeen yet, Up10tion are one of the only lesser known groups threatening more popular acts with quality rather than just a rabid fanbase.

Which of these songs do you like best, “Paradise Go” by Suran, “Lip 2 Lip” by Nine Muses A, or “Tonight” by Up10tion? 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.

Weekly K-Pop Faves: August 1-7

Weekly K-pop: B.A.P, Monsta X, Nine Muses A, Y Teen (Monsta X + Cosmic Girls)

As summer comes to a close, K-pop releases are beginning to slow down. However, we still racked up a short list of our weekly faves, which have proven to be a bit biased, but oh well! Gotta work with what we’re given.

“Shh” by Nine Muses A (Released August 4)

Considering their seemingly imminent demise, it’s a great relief to hear anything from Nine Muses, even if it is a sub-unit. Nine Muses A consist of Kyungri, Hyemi, Sojin, and Keumjo and are debuting without the usual tag of a cute or badass or whatever version of their parent group. Their album “Muses Diary” is a superbly tight work of sexy and sweet pop. The standout is “Shh,” a blistering mix of euro pop and orchestral music. It has an anime theme song feeling to it with its pulsing bass drum and swirling strings that build momentum. Each moment brings back different memories of pop for me. The aforementioned anime influences, the rapping in pop which K-pop has revolutionised, and best of all the Max Martin-esque chorus with its little delay before the beat kicks in again.

— Joe


Also on KultScene: KCON 2016 LA’s M! Countdown Day 1 Concert Recap

“That’s My Jam” by B.A.P (Released August 7)

Throughout the years, B.A.P has experimented with music a lot. Their discography has a diverse range; from fighting everyday injustices, innocent first loves, to just down right having fun. The group’s latest EDM infused release “That’s My Jam” is unlike anything they’ve ever delivered before. Prior to it’s release today, fans had already gotten a taste of the group’s strong interest in EDM and rock during their recent Live On Earth 2016 World Tour.

This energetic song and it’s consistent overflowing addictive beat will without a doubt get you on your feet! Even without watching the music video, you can easily sense the members high enthusiasm and “fighting” spirits. Their delightful (and Yongguk’s heavily attractive) voices will quickly absorb and hypnotize one into a deep trance. Oh but if we had to talk about the music video, all I have to say is “VISUALS.”

“That’s My Jam” showcases a brand new side of B.A.P, which can only make us anticipate for what’s to come in the future. As the members matured and grown, so has their styles. It’s great seeing them getting away from their darker concepts and actually enjoying themselves, even with fake beers in hand. If you were in search of summer anthem, then this is your jam!

— Tam

“Stuck” by Monsta X (Released August 7)

Monsta X was clearly busy while in Los Angeles earlier this week. Between opening up the second night of KCON 16 LA and flying between the US and Korea, they had the time to film the music video for “Stuck.” They pulsating track brings Monsta X’s style of aggressive dance music that they’ve been promoting over the past few months, but their vocals really shine and the distribution between the seven members may be the group’s best yet. (There’s no “Trespass”-style dominance by rapper Jooheon and vocalist Kihyun). “Stuck” is a gift to fans but even people who haven’t heard their other songs will be grooving to this track. (Plus, the music video has an insane dance break with Shownu flaunting his abs so if that’s your thing make sure to watch).

— Tamar


Also on KultScene: KCON 2016 LA’s M! Countdown Day 2 Concert Recap

“Do Better” by Y Teen (Released August 5)

I promise we don’t have an agenda to push Monsta X down your throats. But since last week’s KCON 16 LA, I have to admit I’ve been paying more attention since coming face to face with Shownu’s arms. Alas, I digress. The point is that now that I’m paying attention I found this collaboration with a few members of fellow Starship Entertainment’s girl group Cosmic Girls called Y Teen. Their collab song, “Do Better,” is a CF for… something requiring them as models… and sounds like your regular Monsta X song with the EDM-y, clap ridden jam. However, I could’ve done without the cutesy element Cosmic Girls brought into the mix. And while it may not offer anything new necessarily, it’s still a fun song where the rappers dominate and excel — especially Exy from Cosmic Girls who hasn’t been allowed to showcase her full potential. Monsta X kill it though, but what else is new?

— Alexis

What’s your favorite song of the week? Share your pick 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.

Nine Muses’ ‘Hurt Locker’ Music Video & Song Review

Nine Muses hurt locker
The battle for the summer continues into July after it was officially started by AOA and Sistar last month. And before Girl’s Day, Girls’ Generation, and A Pink come to steal the girl group limelight, Nine Muses set out their attempt for song of the summer. “Hurt Locker” isn’t a feel good hit like you’d expect from most summer singles, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit with hot weather and days by the beach. Anyway, summer isn’t always the happy time we wish it to be.

Song

“Hurt Locker” is a disappointing move into a more generic style for Nine Muses. Especially after the carnival ride that was “Drama.” That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad, just not on a par with their previous work. It takes a familiar Europop formula (recently used in AOA’s “Heart Attack,”’ to even worse ends) to express a feeling of hurt over a lost lover. The title is so cool but the lyrics unfortunately don’t live up to it.

Luckily the Europop does not prevail throughout the whole song or else it would have been too dull to get through. Using it primarily in the chorus keeps things just interesting enough. The chorus and pre-chorus actually contrast quite a bit with the preceding verses but it’s hardly noticeable. Most of the time, this would be a positive, yet with Nine Muses or any K-pop group, it feels like a misstep. Usually they would take sounds and concepts and go all with them rather than holding them back. It shows how hard it can be for K-pop groups to impress now that we expect such huge things from them.


 Also on KultScene: Playlist Sunday: Foreign Language K-Pop Covers

That being said, the individual elements all work well together to create something coherent. The verses are tinged with f(x) style guitars and layered vocals (think ”Rum Pum Pum Pum”). These are interrupted by clanging electronic drums in the second part signalling a coming change in tone for the chorus. They are well executed if slight musical changes. The only other shift is for Erin’s rap, which contains ascending electro sirens. Erin’s angrier tone cuts through the song to make it fit just for her.

One thing that I really like about Nine Muses is their dynamic vocal range. It has dropped off slightly since Sera left, but Kyung Ri and Keum Jo have proven to be more than adequate replacements between the two of them. Interestingly enough, this range actually comes from having a few weaker vocals within the group. This is not unusual for a group with as many members as Nine Muses, but is never used to the effect that they create.

Kyung Ri, Keum Jo, and Erin make up the strong, forceful side. Hyuna, Minha, and Sojin, on the other hand, have softer vocals. Moreover, Sung Ah and Hye Mi are in a sort of middle ground with Sung Ah’s nasally voice contrasting with everyone, and Hye Mi’s strong but indistinctive voice fitting in with everyone. Members like Minha and Sojin don’t have particularly good voices yet, but when matched with a part that doesn’t strain them, they can work well. Minha’s voice is almost like a whisper, which can be quite beautifully restrained at times. When contrasted against Erin’s rap or Kyung Ri’s power, it creates whole new delicacies within a song. This is put into overdrive if you replace Minah with Hyuna, who has a similarly soft but much stronger voice.

Compare this to Girls’ Generation, who have the same amount of members, they probably have a greater number of strong vocalists, but their range is quite small. Thier weaker vocals, like Yoona, Yuri, and Sooyoung, tend to sound very similar. While not holding them back, it limits the vocal intricacies that could make them even better.

Music Video

When I first saw the teasers for the “Hurt Locker” video, I thought it looked a little cheap. I was worried Nine Muses’ already slim chance of success being crushed so easily. The actual music video, however, completely dispels these worries. A shipping yard proves to be a visually rich setting with so much colours and room to play in. It looks just as good in the daytime with wonderful drone shots of the group dancing on top of crates, as it does at night as they dance individually between crates with a strong light behind them. The drone shots are a surprising delight and made me realise we see so little of them in K-pop music videos. They lend a certain expensiveness to it which immediately adds to the whole video.

Choreography

I’ve written a bit about Nine Muses’ choreography before so it feels right that I continue as they release more.

Nothing about “Hurt Locker’s” dance immediately stands out. Generally, it’s not much of an improvement on what is already probably their weakest attribute. Yet there is nothing really awkward here. They flow amongst each other well with no obvious stops and starts. I do like the greater emphasis on hand movements, though. The quasi-voguing in the opening and Erin’s part are especially great. It adds a certain intimacy that more impressive leg movements couldn’t replicate. New member Sojin seems to be particularly good in this respect and could be key to Nine Muses’ dance going forward.


 Also on KultScene: K-Pop & the Collective Body

Overall

Despite being disappointed, “Hurt Locker” is my current favorite song of the summer. It’s standard structure easily beats off the more generic work of AOA, Sistar, and NS Yoon-G. The concept and video are great, offering something new and fun. Even if you are slightly tired of Europop, like me, the song still gives us a few other elements to enjoy. It continues Nine Muses’ flawless run of singles since “Figaro” in 2011. That’s a feat very few groups can claim to have achieved.

What do you think of Hurt Locker? What’s your favorites song of the summer so far? 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.

K-Pop & the Collective Body

If I were to pick one thing that makes K-pop stand out over other pop music it would be dancing. Not since the death of the boy and girl group in the 2000s has the West seen much dancing at all in music. Even at the heights of the nineties there was no collective dancing as what we see in K-pop. The effort put into dancing in Korea is unparalleled within pop music history. Each member of a group is required to be at least a great dancer. They must be able to pull off complex movements as an individual and as part of a group. The collective dance is key to K-pop but it is not always pulled off.

The many ways in which the collective bodies of a K-pop group moves can tell us things about a group. For some groups, the dance charts an evolution, for others it is a statement of unity.

Nine Muses’ troubles with members has been well documented yet the effect it has on their dances has not. They have consistently failed to do well on the charts since their debut in 2010, and we can find part of the reason for that in their dance. No Playboy is a complete mess. The production is cheap and it seemingly wants to play to the weaknesses of the group’s vocals.

The dance at first glance is what you would expect from the first ever supermodel-dols. Each members struts her stuff across the stage as if it were a runway. After this intro though, they delve into a cavalcade of awkward, erratic movements. The model like movements could have been something interesting to take away from an otherwise failure of a debut. But their long, skinny bodies end up hurting them when coupled with a dance like this. They are all protruding elbows and knees. What should have been elegant looks awkward as a result.


 Also on KultScene: When K-Pop Lineups Change – 9 Muses

Cut to their next single Figaro, which is in general a vast improvement, but brings up problems that would last a lot longer for Nine Muses than bad production. First of all, my least favorite thing in group dancing, the walk around. This is when the member who was last singing has to get back into formation by walking all the way around the group to the back. It is distracting to watch as usually not a lot is happening elsewhere and shows a lack of thought being put into the overall machinations of the dance. In nearly every case, it is clear that it could have been avoided. It ruins what it is otherwise a great mix of perfectly synchronised model and disco movements in this song.

It wasn’t until they were back to having nine members after a series of line-up changes that the dance come together. They returned with Dolls and continued refining their dance until their best yet, Glue. The shame of this is that it was also their last song with this particular group. The changes they went through prevented their dance from finding its footing for so long. It took four songs into their second run as nine to come back with something that really worked. Everything from No Playboy to Gun was mediocre at best.

Glue shows a group who are finally moving as one. They move from formation to formation swiftly and gracefully. A lot of the time they are split in two which is an efficient and satisfying way to control a large group. They even managed to use the walk around yet not let it distract due to these dual formations which can act like a kind of wall to those walking around.

Larger groups will always have this problem so I’m not singling out Nine Muses. One group has shown that coherence and quality can go together when it comes to big groups though. This may be due to their split nature, but EXO have consistently delivered when it comes to choreography and delivery. Their concept of a Korean half and a Chinese half becoming carries over into their dance. This plays out by first having one half performing the first part then being replaced by the other half. For the climax all of the members are on stage performing together. This has been their style for every single when all 12 members were performing. How they perform this is also interesting.

The changing of members here also poses some problems for EXO, but we’ll come back to that later. What’s really interesting is EXO’s manipulation of the stage and their bodies around it. Coming off the back of the ‘Growl’ music video, they began to interact directly with the camera. It would sweep in and out of their formations, giving us insights into places we hadn’t seen before. It adds a layer of participation that works so well with EXO’s fangirls.


 Also on KultScene: #CallMeBabyXWin: Korean Music Shows & the Songs That Win Awards

EXO also handle the shifting of groups within the one performance well. In ‘Wolf,’ they dramatically ran off stage while the rest run back on stage. It works to transition not only the dance but the song too. In ‘Growl,’ they used both sides of the stage as opposing groups. When the song changed, the camera just has to turn around and the switch is made instantly. ‘Overdose’ uses the same technique as ‘Wolf’ but also adds some new elements. The opening is especially great where the camera flows all over the stage to give time to each member. Each performance showcases great form and structure while sticking to the 50/50 theme. They contain some of the most complex moves in K-pop yet never let one move dominate a dance.

The problem of losing members has caused EXO to adapt their style to something functional but lacking for their latest single, ‘Call Me Baby’. Instead of 12, there was 10 (and now maybe 9, oh no wait 8). They kept the idea of not having all members on stage at once but this time it didn’t have to be half and half. Any amount of them can be on stage from 1 to 10 and every time it works. It helps build a more seamless dance as they are not slaves to a formula anymore. What they make up for in structure they lose in theme.

To find a group with a real unity in performance we can look to EXO’s labelmates, SHINee. In particular their most recent singles ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Everybody’ have shown an attention to detail that exemplifies their work. In both, they exhibit a manic kinetic energy between each of them. Seemingly every move they make is connected or passed between them. Even when one member is on his own, the others soon mimic a move he did. These songs are the best examples of a group as one. Each member is only part of a larger performance and each is integral to it working.

It is the ultimate advantage of a smaller group. Bodies move gracefully and collide on a K-pop stage in all manner of ways. When stripped down to five or six they do this with great beauty. SHINee’s ability and clarity of movement is the best example of this. They use their bodies in increasingly interesting and amazing ways to attach greater meaning to their work.

Nine Muses could certainly learn a lot from both of these groups of boys.

This is only a tiny window into what K-pop bodies can achieve. There are so many different takes on the type of dances I just talked about and then there are some that approach it completely differently. VIXX’s themes, miss A’s simplicity, Infinite’s synchronicity, and 2pm’s acrobatics are only some examples of the wide possibilities used by K-pop acts. Each one is as interesting as the last and they all offer new spins on old ideas, something so intrinsic to what K-pop is.

What do you think of these groups’ dances? What are some of your favorites we didn’t mention? 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.

Best K-Pop Girl Group B-Sides of 2015

Listening to miss A’s amazing new album Colours got me thinking about the quality of music in K-pop this year so far. We’re only four months in now and already I’d claim it’s a better year than 2014 — especially for the girls. Nearly every release from a female artist has been a complete knockout, and what’s best is that there are even more great tracks hidden on their albums. Missing out on great album tracks is something I do a lot and have been wanting to change that recently. So as KultScene’s self-proclaimed girl group expert (i.e. girl group biased) I’m going to go through some of my favourite album B-sides from the girls of K-pop this year so far.

miss A Love Song

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When K-Pop Lineups Change – 9 Muses

Since their debut in 2010 Nine Muses have gone through eleven changes to their lineup. Only three original members remain to this day and yet they continue to promote. The group’s latest single Drama is actually their most successful to date. Changes to group lineups are not uncommon in K-pop and have had varying effects on each group that have had to deal with it. The effects of these changes do not only affect the group though, as fans see their favourite group being dismantled and rebuilt within a short time. This can change their perception as they feel a loss of essence in the group.

First and foremost, losing a group member is always hard. Whether it’s the most important or least important member, their loss will be felt immediately in the live performances. K-pop performances are built around perfectly synchronized choreography where each person has their part to play. When one of these people is taken out, the system must be broken down and built up again with other members taking over. Whether the group leaves a gap in their dance like 2PM post-Jay Park or reboots it like EXO after Luhan and Kris left, the difference is palpable.

Fans watch their favorites perform but notice new movements or gaps in the dance. What was once one of the most fluid things known to pop music becomes jarring. The K-pop dance changes.

Of course, the majority of groups move towards replacing their lost member before they even have to think about rejigging their choreography or line distribution. Most companies have floods of trainees desperate for their chance to shine in the company’s flagship group. Each of these trainees will be as talented, beautiful and charming as the members that were chosen to debut in this group. Despite their readiness, plugging the trainees into an already established group has difficulties that have nothing to do with talent.

Also on KultScene: Why You Should Give ‘Blood’ A Chance

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