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From ‘Nation’s Producers’ to Actual Producers: The Many Futures of I.O.I’s 11 Members

From humble trainees on Produce 101 to chart-topping idols in their music video for “Very Very Very,” the eleven members of I.O.I saw their lives massively changed in the course of only one year. While the group has given strong performances, memorable variety appearances, and infectious songs, it is no secret that fans of the group are apprehensive about I.O.I’s scheduled January 31st disbandment. A few months ago, we analyzed I.O.I’s unique formation regarding how members are simultaneously part of two labels and, for some of them, two groups, something largely unheard of previously in the world of K-Pop.

But with the new year ahead, infinite possibilities remain for the eleven members of I.O.I, all of whom now have public recognition and newfound popularity to take with them to future activities and musical ventures. And although we have an idea of where many of the members are going post-disbandment, it’s worth discussing how these paths may benefit or hurt them. Let’s look at each member or groups of members, and make some predictions about their largely divided futures.

So what’s next for I.O.I’s 11 members?

Im Nayoung & Zhou Jieqiong (Pinky)

As Pledis Entertainment artists, the futures of these these two I.O.I members are largely intertwined. Alongside I.O.I, Nayoung and Pinky were more quietly part of Pledis Girlz, a pre-debut group headed by their company, alongside eight other trainees, many of whom also competed in Produce 101 early last year. And while groups like Gugudan and DIA were shrouded in controversy for continuing with I.O.I members, Pledis Girlz has only recently become official under the name PRISTIN. The group is yet to debut, and yet to regularly promote on television. As a result, PRISTIN has maintained the respect of the public and I.O.I fans, especially when Nayoung and Pinky partook in I.O.I’s promotions for “Whatta Man (Good Man)” even as other members were pulled out for individual promotions.


The new group has found public exposure from Produce 101 and various pre-debut performances and promotions. As a result, PRISTIN’s growing fanbase both within Korea and around the world line them up to be one of 2017’s more successful girl group debuts, especially since Nayoung and Pinky are the leader of I.O.I and one of its notable visual/vocalists, respectively. Not to mention, some other popular competitors from Produce 101 , including Eunwoo, Yebin, and Siyeon, are in the group alongside them. With a debut slated for soon after I.O.I’s disbandment, Nayoung and Pinky have a collective future that is certain and in sight. Within this framework, it seems that, among I.O.I’s eleven members, Nayoung and Pinky are most likely to succeed within another group following the official split later this month.

Kang Mina & Kim Sejeong

Two of the most talked-about members of I.O.I, Sejeong and Mina have a clear path laid out for them after January 31st. Last summer, their company Jellyfish Entertainment had them debut in the nine-member Gugudan, which coincided with the release of I.O.I’s “Whatta Man.”. And while the group did receive attention due to the Mina and Sejeong, alongside another popular Produce 101 trainee Kim Nayoung, the group failed to captivate the public’s attention due to what was largely seen as an awkward concept backed by lackluster music. As a possible rising girl group in 2017, the group does have potential to succeed, but it is also possible that they fade into irrelevance if the next release isn’t more appealing, especially given that they are one of many new large girl groups with innocent, feminine concepts. Sejeong and Mina will have to work especially hard to bring Gugudan some credibility in the oversaturated girl group market if they want continued musical relevance in a group structure.


That being said, their options aren’t as limited as those of their group members. While she will become a full-time Gugudan member once February begins, Sejeong particularly maintains widespread popularity, as one of I.O.I’s main vocals, the runner-up on Produce 101, and a regular cast member on variety shows. Her debut solo single, “Flower Way,” was also a success, demonstrating that her individual popularity will not be quickly forgotten even if she is part of a girl group that isn’t as successful. Sejeong can and will be a strong force in 2017, but it remains to be seen how Mina or Gugudan as a whole will fare later on this year.

Jung Chaeyeon

Chaeyeon remains in a similar situation as that of Sejeong and Mina. Under MBK Entertainment, she is also part of a struggling girl group. While DIA has made some strides in finding public popularity this year with Chaeyeon and fellow member and Produce 101 competitor Huihyun (Cathy), the group’s current state is not very competitive in relation to the larger girl group market. Unless DIA can move their image away from their controversial CEO and agency, and bring out some title tracks with wide appeal, it’s likely that the group will have but another hard year in 2017.


But like Sejeong, Chaeyeon maintains considerable popularity. One of the most active I.O.I members, she maintained positions in both groups while also acting in a drama, making variety appearances, and doing pictorials throughout 2016. While she may not have an incredibly successful group to come back to, Chaeyeon will likely remain relevant in 2017 through her various activities as a singer and actress.

Yoo Yeonjung

While also already a member of another group, Yeonjung may possibly find herself in a slightly different situation than that of her groupmates Sejeong, Mina, and Chaeyeon. A Starship Entertainment artist, Yeonjung is the thirteenth member of Cosmic Girls (WJSN), which debuted early last year but added Yeonjung during I.O.I’s subunit promotion cycle. WJSN has definitely yet to strike it big, but they arguably show more rising potential than do DIA and Gugudan.


As the group’s main vocal, Yeonjung has brought them forward considerably, but unlike her I.O.I groupmates, she is not the most popular member of WJSN. After seeing a huge surge in popularity last year, member Cheng Xiao currently carries the group in popularity. WJSN will likely move further and further into the public eye as time goes on. While their current track “I Wish” isn’t faring incredibly well on the charts, it’s doing much better than past tracks “Mo Mo Mo” and equally as well as “Secret,” demonstrating that this promotion cycle may be the precursor to a much more successful one in the coming months. For both Yeonjung and her group, there is definitely hope, and with her shining vocals, the chance for solo promotions definitely exist in the near or distant future.

Kim Chungha

Considering that Chungha is under no-name label M&H Entertainment, fans have worried about her future after I.O.I’s disbandment. But as I wrote in KultScene’s Artists to Watch 2017 list published earlier this month, Chungha shows a lot of potential for success. One of the higher ranking trainees on Produce 101, Chungha’s variety of talents made her an instant stand-out both before and during I.O.I’s promotions. And given that her company has announced that she will debut solo in 2017, what’s to say that she can’t continue to stand out in the future? With a good song and concept, Chungha will have no trouble utilizing her incredibly strong dance, remarkably stable vocals, charismatic image, and English-speaking skills in future performances. Chungha is undoubtedly one of the most versatile members to come out of I.O.I, and her trendy and international appeal makes incredibly hopeful about her future. All it will take is a company that really works for her, and I’m praying that M&H is exactly that this year.

Kim Sohye

Sohye’s future is largely undetermined, except for the vague answer of “acting.” Currently under her own management, she plans to spend her time training and debuting as an actress this year post-I.O.I. It is still not clear, however, whether she will remain under her one-woman S&P Entertainment or if she is still related in anyway to her previous agency, Redline Entertainment. And while she constantly receives hate for her untrained musical abilities, Sohye has found herself a cult following during her time under Produce 101 and as a member of I.O.I. Although she isn’t the strongest singer or dancer, it is possible that she is an incredibly talented actress, and while netizens and international viewers were quick to call her useless or untalented, her real charms may have yet to be seen. As a result, I hold out hope for Sohye as well — after all, she may not hit it big on music shows, but she may be instead destined for drama primetime slots sometime soon.

Jeon Somi

Somi’s situation is very curious. Unlike that of her groupmates, we know very little about her future, except that she has now been bumped up from trainee to artist under JYP Entertainment. Currently a huge trend in Korea and closely associated with labelmates TWICE, many predict that JYP will add Somi to TWICE as its 10th member, giving the already explosively successful group another huge asset. And while there is a chance that this happens, I think (and hope) that JYP is smart enough to go in a different direction with Somi.

At only fifteen years old, the I.O.I center doesn’t need to debut in a girl group immediately. She can continue with variety appearances, pictorials, and possibly solo music releases or acting stints before she debuts in JYP’s next girl group, which will probably debut in at least a year or two from now. As one of I.O.I’s most popular members and one of the bigger trends of girl group K-Pop in 2016, Somi holds the power to bring any future JYP girl group to immediate public spotlight. So while I don’t think Jeon Somi will disappear this year, I don’t think we’ll be seeing her “Like OOH AHH” anytime soon.

Kim Doyeon & Choi Yoojung

While there are few details, Doyeon and Yoojung are clearly destined to be members of Fantagio’s next girl group. The girls’ agency, however, has yet to make any major announcements about this girl group — we do not know the group’s name, how many members it will have, when it will debut, etc. But we do know that Doyeon and Yoojung have also been promoted to artists under the label, and their young age (both are only 17 years old) gives them some time before having to debut. It is likely that the group will debut probably earlier than later in 2017, and it’s even more likely that these two will bring a lot of attention to their debut.

Yoojung specifically has found immense popularity as a strong stage and variety personality, while Doyeon is also a trend for her visuals and versatile talents. As a result, there is nothing stopping these girls from being incredibly successful, making their future group’s success a strong possibility as well. Not to mention, the group may possibly have sisters Lee Chaeyeon and Chaeryoung of JYP Entertainment’s survival show SIXTEEN, as the rumor mill says that they have transferred to Fantagio to debut alongside Yoojung and Doyeon. Having four members with previous public exposure, the members of this group have little to worry about right now. We will likely see lots of Doyeon and Yoojung in 2017, working hard to ensure their new group’s success.

While the “Cherry Blossoms” will eventually “Fade” at the end of this month, it’s clear that the members have a lot going for them. Dividing now into what may possibly be six different girl groups (counting already debuted groups along with Pledis Girlz, Fantagio’s upcoming girl group, and JYP’s next girl group a couple years away) and an actress, the eleven members are truly embodying the group’s name “Ideal of Idol.” While the futures of each group vary in likelihood of sustained relevance, it is clear that each individual member of I.O.I doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. As fans, we are definitely downcast about the disbandment of such an amazing girl group, but we can find solace in the fact that our “Dream Girls” will remain active in the industry in coming years. And whether apart or together, I.O.I’s legacy will live on.

Who do you think will be Kpop’s rising star this year? 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.

The Vulgar Aesthetic of Son Dambi: Digital Perspectives in K-Pop

Dambi2

In 2012 after the longest hiatus of her career, Son Dambi released the Brave Brothers produced “Dripping Tears.” It’s a signature Brave Brothers sound with piano melodies mixing with prominent synths. It was received somewhat favourably, yet most found it to be lacking in certain areas. Namely the cheapness of the electronic sounds, while common to Brave Brothers, they felt out of place in 2012. By that year K-pop, had begun its musical ascent to almost exclusively pristine productions. SM Entertainment did not fault with one release from EXO’s “MAMA” to Taetiseo’s “Twinkle.” Even seven months before “Dripping Tears” was released, Brave Brothers made a huge impact with Sistar’s “Alone.” So why did Dambi and Brave Brothers not move forward with the rest of the K-pop world? With the hindsight of being able to view her career as a whole through this lens, we can understand the true artistry of Dambi’s cheap music.

This means taking a look at Dambi through ideas we might not have used before. Something that runs throughout all her music is a sense of the digital. Most of us participate in the K-pop world through entirely digital means. Like me, it may have started when you read an online article praising its merits or stumbled upon an intriguing music video and were hooked from that moment on. We listen and watch videos through Youtube, communicate on social media sites like Twitter, and read exclusively online criticism. Apart from the odd concert (which play havoc on our bank accounts), K-pop and the physical world very rarely come together for international fans. The music is released and consumed through digital means, but what does this do the sound of the music itself?


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Discussing the idea of a digital music means taking a leap of faith as to what digital sounds like. Of course, we immediately think of electronic sounds like synthesizers, vocal effects, and processed drum beats. While these types of effects all started out as electronic amplifications, they have been assimilated into the digital side of music recording. This is the difficult thing about defining digital music, in all media it takes the pre-existing forms and makes them its own. What’s best then is to discover what it means with a single artist. That’s where we understand Dambi’s return to “Dripping Tears.”

Debuting in 2009 under Pledis Entertainment, Dambi entered the K-pop fray styled as the female Rain. Having trained dance in America, there was high hopes for her, not to mention being Pledis Entertainment’s first artist. At her height she lived up to these expectations, yet her legacy is small compared to her contemporaries. Having a musical career of six years that consists of only one number one means this isn’t exactly a surprise. Being a solo female artist was difficult at that time if you weren’t churning out ballads. It is Dambi’s commitment to her musical aesthetic that really separates her. She was born of a time when auto-tune was in fashion and all pop music sounded cheap in Korea. For Dambi, this was the sound. It was a sound that never left her, a sound that defined her. When we look back now, it is seen as tacky or vulgar. That does not do justice to a career completely reliant on these sounds. From shifting perspectives on femininity to abstract pieces embedded in advertising songs, Dambi used these digital sounds and looks to set herself apart.

Building a Digital Realm

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUtdrRggdBo&w=500&h=281]

The opening three years of Son Dambi’s career are her most straightforward musically. She was perfectly of her time, releasing music that didn’t push the boat or set the charts alight. What it did however, was set out what sort of artist she was going to be for the next six years. It all started on the 20th of June 2007 with “Cry Eye.”

Written by Brian Kim and produced by Jang Joon Ho, “Cry Eye” was Dambi and Pledis’ debut song. “Cry Eye” is inspired by Timbaland’s work with Justin Timberlake, particularly 2002’s “Cry Me A River.” The beatbox style beat and synths are very similar but are actually a sound K-pop has not done a lot of. Most of K-pop’s inspiration came from Europop or more straightforward American hip-pop. While the sound itself may not be indicative of Dambi’s work to come, the approach to it certainly is.

In bringing a song like this into the K-pop world back in 2007, the quality had to drop. The technology either didn’t exist there at the time due to lack of funds or producers were not skilled enough yet. So creating a more machine made sound, producers could cover up the obvious lack of money. For “Cry Eye” this meant making the synths more prominent and giving all of the acoustic sounds (the guitar and drums) a slightly rounded digital shape. It’s an inflection that will be heard throughout her career, especially on pianos. It’s a sound at once familiar but distant, we know what instrument it is but it doesn’t sound quite right. This is where opinion starts to turn. This is the sort of sound people lament when they say pop and dance music aren’t “real” music. Yet as we live more and more in a digital world, it is a sound that will begin to better reflect us. So instead of making it worse, the style has changed to accommodate the technology.

The video, like the music and lyrics, is generally formulaic aside from a few moments, which tell us a lot to do with the subject we are on. Small gestures towards the digital and away from reality show that Dambi was ready to enter the idol world wholly. At the beginning she opens a laptop which has the title of her video. She dances facing a speaker, not the boy she is singing about. For Dambi, she is the important one. She watches herself narcissistically or critically or both given both traits are incredibly important to an idol. Dancing with the speaker places emphasis on her music, it’s a sign on how to see her as an artist.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSDRAwScSL0&w=500&h=281]

If “Cry Eye” is an uncertain beginning for Dambi as an unordinary artist, her follow up “Bad Boy” is a clear statement. The stark opening synths, the word ‘technology’ and the auto-tuned line of ‘you are my bad boy’ create a sonic landscape that moves closer to the digital realm. It is also a song perfectly reflective of her aesthetic. The synths have an uncomfortable fuzzy edge to them, the auto-tune (like most of the time) is plain bad. Unsurprisingly this is also Dambi’s first collaboration with Brave Brothers. This sort of sound was synonymous with Brave Brothers throughout these years. Not a stranger to defining sounds for groups, the production team would go on to work with Dambi four more times (including “Dripping Tears”) on pivotal tracks in her career.

These three tracks were also the most successful term of Dambi’s career. Along with “Bad Boy,” we look back at these tracks with a pinch of salt. They can be enjoyed on a nostalgic level, yet I fear they will be forgotten as K-pop continues to improve. While generally fun they do not hold up alongside more recent work. That is not their function though.The next Brave Brothers track “Crazy,” released in 2008, got her to number three on the charts and gave her an iconic chair dance. Following that, 2009’s “Saturday Night” brought to the top of the charts and she finally solidified herself as a top artist of the time. Both of these songs revive sounds from the ‘80s and ‘90s and are put through Dambi’s modern prism. They have the same rounded electronic sound as her previous work. Compared to throwbacks from today, like Wonder Girls’ “I Feel You,” they do not stack up as pure throwbacks or as a total modernization. They sit somewhere in between with tacky edges.

Advertising Gestures

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EirK6cD-s0c&w=500&h=281]

Dambi’s third collaboration with Brave Brothers and first with After School as a group was “Amoled,” an advertising song for a new technology for phone displays. AMOLED stands for active matrix organic light emitting diode. It is essentially an upgrade of the LED but powered digitally, so the same basic technology just improved and changed slightly by digital means. Sound familiar?

In “Amoled,” Dambi and After School exist in a totally digital world. In the video they dance in AMOLED boxes in neo-Seoul fashion. All of the singing is rendered in auto-tune. Lyrically it brings the AMOLED metaphor for Dambi’s career into literal terms. It’s about realizing one’s beauty, “Your eyes might just be blinded by my intense clarity,” Dambi awkwardly croons through layers of auto-tune. Dambi is a singer of original qualities that only come to light within these confines, “I’m a girl who shines all on her own, just bling like silver & gold.” She’s comfortable in this digital realm, her voice isn’t being pushed and she can begin to shift the perspective on her music. The metaphors are obvious, the execution awkward, and the video with Dambi making cute faces and pushing a phone in our faces is even worse. Everything about the song is vulgar and cheap.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7Qhz04EdJs&w=500&h=281]

Previous to “Amoled” in 2008, Dambi released a song called “Change the World.” It was her first advertising song and was used as a promotion for online role-playing game Prisontale 2. It’s also the most orthodoxly beautiful moment in her career. A simple piano melody combines with a soprano backing vocal to create a classical feeling of true beauty. This sound is a rare gesture in Dambi’s discography but even stands out amongst all of K-pop. It allows her weak, slightly flat vocals to drift along not needing to shine. The lyrics help by being almost impressionistic. Short phrases with little explanation come one after the other creating a feeling rather than a clear story. “Unfamiliar cold, Into darkness,” “Love and tears, Even farewell, Do not be afraid.”

“Change the World” however, does not escape from Dambi’s digital home. Firstly, it’s an ad for a game that only exists online. Second, the techno drumbeat which replicates the cold digital repetition found in video games. It is a bridge between a regular pop artist and the artist that Dambi was to become. Favouring abstraction over clarity, Dambi continually takes what previously existed in an electronic or acoustic manner and runs the modern hand of digital over it. Applying an edge that did not and still does not exist in the pop world.

”Ladies, this is your story”

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_BL28NW550&w=500&h=281]

Up to 2010, Dambi has merely been setting up all of the ideas being talked about. Without the hindsight of “Dripping Tears,” it would be impossible to make these sort of interpretations. While “Dripping Tears” may be the catalyst in discovering Dambi’s vulgar aesthetic, “Queen” is her masterpiece where it all comes together.

Like most of her songs, “Queen” at first sounds cheap and awkward. The large amount of auto-tune, the rap break, and the cheap visuals make for something that doesn’t shout re-listen/re-watch. Yet I find it to be the most rewarding of all her songs. It slowly reveals its qualities to you as each new element is introduced. “Queen” is a new direction for Dambi vocally, but her dedication to thrash art continues.

“Queen” does a sort of bait and switch in its intro. The opening piano melody is sweet and straightforward. A second piano is then added that sounds altogether more powerful and yet with reverb effects to give it a more physical feeling. The first piano now sounds odd, a bit less real while the second reverberates unnaturally. The song has taken two normal seemingly acoustic sounds and put them together to create something totally different. By the time we hear Dambi’s autotune introduction, we know for sure we have re-entered her digital sonicscape.

In previous work Dambi’s airy vocals didn’t impress much, but here she has a confident talk/rap. Its cheeky a little bit sexy and a lot weird. From her it’s a surprising pitch up where she usually relied on huskier tones. The piano melodies pitch up as well from the intro in order to give her a boost. It goes on to show Dambi’s standard vocals at their best before hitting that chorus climax. It is Dambi’s most perfect chorus. The repetition of one phrase “Wake up” and the 8-bit synth swirls underneath her voice and piano all to create something so suited to her and the theme of this song. The video goes on a psychedelic trip, we see triple as Dambi repeats her phrase over and over.


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Right after it moves into the weirdest rap break in K-pop history. The man’s identity is still a mystery to me, my best guess would be producer Mordney. We barely see his face as he raps through the most effective autotune I have ever heard. His voice goes past even sounding like a robot but onto something more like a time travelling popstar from the future (the future as imagined by people in the 1980’s). His lyrics mostly don’t make sense but his final line proves what it is him and Dambi are doing, “This is the magic show, We’ll offer and make the show.” This is magic not just music. “Queen” never recovers from this rap. It is beautiful because of it.

The chorus only feels like it’s over once that rap finishes, but in its place is a similar verse from the beginning but turned up a notch. Gone is the piano melody, replaced by floating synths. The video also only starts to explicitly reference Alice in Wonderland after, as we see Dambi crawl around big houses in a childish dress with her hair down. In this adaptation, the rap is the rabbit hole (rappit hole if you will). We are seeing into Dambi’s world now. It’s colourful, trippy, and confusing. The difference between Alice in Wonderland and “Queen” is that once the fall starts in “Queen,” it never stops. The song only has two choruses but the second brings the song into its pure abstract form. It repeats the same phrase except this time with added autotune ad-libs and twirling synths. It repeats and repeats giving us time to understand it then starts again with even more new elements. This time with delays in “Wake up,” the song really feels like it’s falling apart; it is kaleidoscopic in sound and image.

“Queen” serves to tell a story of female confidence, but its lyrics don’t have much of a narrative by themselves. It is thanks to the music that our perspectives shift on the meaning. The traits Dambi sings about “much higher kill heel, my over denim looks” are not only female specific but are the type of thing women might be shamed for feeling confident in. The music works to take us out of our usual thought patterns. This is a zone created for women who want to express themselves in specific and maybe weird ways. The trace of man is destroyed by the having the male voice in the song taken out of any human context. Through the abstract deconstruction of her song, Dambi has placed herself in a totally original space. Her vulgar sounds and cheap videos are the primary works of art and are detailed attacks on the patriarchal idea of what is good art.

After “Queen,” Dambi took a break in to prepare for “Dripping Tears.” Her return as we have seen was met softly. It showed she wasn’t the idol she thought she was, especially compared to fellow veteran solo artist Lee Hyori’s decisive return a year later. It was to be her penultimate release and maybe it was always known. The lyrics are about a sincere farewell. “Can’t sleep every night, Can’t think anything, My heart is drenched with the farewell, Please dry my eyes,” she laments towards the end; a heartfelt goodbye to a misunderstood career. When people don’t notice your cheap wig falling off and clone alien backing dancers are a critique of the frail tether linking the reality and image of an idol, then maybe it’s okay to move on.

Not without leaving us a final flicker of beauty though.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CtyykwZ_oI&w=500&h=281]

Dambi’s final release, “Red Candle,” (a digital only single) came out in December of 2013. Written and produced by upcoming idol producer SHINee’s Jonghyun on only his second song for an artist other than SHINee (the other being another iconic solo female IU), “Red Candle” is a sensual Latin inspired slow jam. It strips away all the elements we have come to know Dambi. Acoustic guitars take the spotlight with sweet piano accompaniment and a variety of percussion in the background. Her voice is a husky whisper, she sounds almost resigned to the end.

“Red Candle” shows us a woman coming to terms with her loss of fame. It is something so delicate yet powerful, she warns at different times “Cover up because you’ll disappear at the slightest wind” and “You’re too hot to hold, like it’s gonna melt.” It’s hard to believe something so hot can be extinguished so quickly, but it’s all Dambi can see as she looks into her dressing room mirror. As she said herself in an interview, it recalls “something which is easily extinguished and melted, the melancholy and futility of actresses were born.” The flashing lights of photographers and adoring screams from fans at the beginning of the video are totally forgotten quickly after. Dambi lies on a bed frozen as she recalls these times when she was once loved.

A man and woman dance underneath a spotlight. The woman’s face is never shown clearly but it’s obvious that it is not Dambi. Whether or not it is supposed to be her, it represents the final break in her own link between the reality and our image of reality. Dambi has resigned herself to the dressing room of an actress, in being someone else not the Dambi we have come to know. In the most subdued moment of her career, Dambi says goodbye. Those girl next door eyes of hers shine bright again as the cameras flicker again, fans shout, she beams widely. We barely glimpse her as she walks through an avalanche of people until a freeze frame finish. This moment stops as Dambi is how she wants to be remembered. An icon of extraordinary originality.

With “Red Candle,” Dambi severed her ties with the digital world. It is a logical ending place despite her never officially confirming her musical retirement. Yet with the hindsight of this probably being her last song, we have gleaned much about her singular vulgar aesthetic. Dambi worked to re-imagine what the idea of good music can be. By moving onto her level the choices can be seen. From impressionist lyrics to abstract music through to psychedelic images, she created a palette of ideas few K-pop artists could claim to even come near. Now we know that perfection is not the only pop goal to strive for, pristine productions are not the only thing to listen to. By entering a digital realm, Dambi could take an outside look at the real world. She discovered new perspectives on femininity, pop music, and being an idol. Most of all, she discovered herself.

What do you think of Son Dambi and her music? Do you think any other K-pop artists do something similar? 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.

Seventeen, Dancing, & East/West Ideals

Seventeen
One of the first things we notice when becoming K-pop fans is the influence of western pop. Musically, K-pop blends a whole host of genres otherwise unheard of in the east. These influences give K-pop an international edge allowing it to cater to a lot more fans than their Japanese and Chinese counterparts. This fusion usually comes in a musical and visual form. Hip-hop sounds and visuals are hugely prevalent in the last few years as K-pop senses the US market opening ever so slightly. Where it is not so obvious, however, is in performance. That’s where Pledis’ new boys Seventeen come in, they’ve got something new to show us all.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HLUx-2qXHk&w=500&h=281]

As we all know, dance is a big part of what makes K-pop special. But what is it that we love about it so much and why has dance not been westernized yet? For the former, I’d say it’s the collective commitment shown by nearly every group to being synchronized, which also hints at an answer to the latter question. That answer is a historic difference in core ideals between east and west.

In the west, capitalism and democracy took strong hold early on in society. In general, it promotes individual freedom and expression. The most powerful and renowned people in western societies are self-made entrepreneurs. In group dances this translates into simple routines with the more complex movements being executed by those who can do it while the rest stay by the wayside. Think of Beyoncé in Destiny’s Child or Nicole Scherzinger in Pussycat Dolls.


Also on KultScene: Seventeen’s ’17 Carat’ Album Review

In contrast, Confucianism and communism played a big part in building modern Asia, even in South Korea where it had little actual development. These systems promote the collective over the individual. Confucianism particularly promotes loyalty to seniority. This led to group dances where members work with each other, dance where each member is as good as the next. Nearly every K-pop group fits into this mold, especially any group with a large number of members. The only major exceptions would be YG’s big groups Big Bang and 2NE1. Those groups perform in a looser style allowing members with big personalities to shine, more similar to western musical acts.

So why hasn’t K-pop dance in general been affected in the same way as the music or clothing, emulating western music trends? The move into different musical styles does not actually reflect a great change of ideal within the K-pop community. Genres are merely changing ways of expressing songs that have been heard many times before. With dance, the human body is involved and usually in big numbers. It is a means of expressing societal norms. Changing this would be a fundamental change to Asian values.

This brings us to Seventeen. A group who may not be changing Asian values but are showing a new way of performing the old dance.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQy83FnWW-o&w=500&h=281]

The choreography in Seventeen’s two singles up to now, “Adore U” and “Mansae,” has been delightfully inventive. They are pulling off a certain number of moves that I’ve never seen before in K-pop, and all with a youthful exuberance. From the human train in “Adore U” to the human crank in “Mansae,” there’s a lot to be impressed by Seventeen’s dances on a conceptual level. What makes these dances stand out though are the bits in between. When we’re watching great physical feats in the foreground, the background is always littered with other members having fun.

As a group consisting of thirteen members, naturally Seventeen are going to have a lot of big routines. Each of one of these dances are perfectly executed as they come across more like a small army than a boy band. With big K-pop groups big, synchronized routines are usually the extent of what can be delivered. Even dancing kings EXO who like to cut down members on stage at different times are always likely to stay in sync; the group always comes first. In contrast, Seventeen differentiate themselves in these moments. Each member is seemingly encouraged to bring as much personality to the stage as they can. Watch the beginning of “Adore U” where, in groups of three, the members play amongst themselves seemingly unaware that they are performing. In every break they have, members are always active, bouncing off each other, and generally being endearing. When watching them perform, even today, I still see details I hadn’t seen before. Like when, after collapsing to the floor in “Adore U”, S.Coups is revived and carried over to some other members all while the song has continued on another twenty seconds or so.


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These are only a fraction of the details that Seventeen put into their performance. They signal a kind of fusion of the ideals I talked about earlier. The group effort is still there and is more impressive than ever. They move between one whole group seamlessly into smaller groups all while maintaining perfect synchronicity. It’s the blending of their smaller moments that bring in the western ideas. There’s a great sense of personality within Seventeen. Each individual feels like a full character rather than a cog in a machine.

This doesn’t mean that K-pop is going to be completely infiltrated by western ideals in the near future, getting rid of all innately Asian elements. It’s an example of how pre-existing ideas from outside your regular environment can reinvigorate something well-trodden. Western ideas have always been in K-pop it was only a matter of time before someone exploited them for performance. Let’s be grateful that they have been exploited so brilliantly.

What do you think of Seventeen’s dances? Are there any other groups that do this? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, andTumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Seventeen’s ’17 Carat’ Album Review

Seventeen
It seems as if for as long as I have been listening to K-pop, Pledis Entertainment’s latest boy group Seventeen has been teased. With as many members as their name, with an apparent average age of seventeen too, the group was first announced and touted as one of the next big things before rookies began to explode in 2012. But until May, it was just rumored debuts. On May 29, Seventeen finally released its first album “17 Carat.” I had been interested in the group’s debut long before that, because I was into all things Pledis since I’m a huge After School fan. After a while, though, I forgot that Seventeen even existed and when the group finally resurfaced recently I wasn’t too hopeful. With such a long wait and a line up that was less than their name originally suggested (13) interest had dropped off. That’s what makes, at least for me, their eventual debut so surprisingly great.


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Recently, there’s been a trend of K-pop boy bands debuting with a powerful concept. They immediately try to act like men even at a young age. They never really embrace the vibrancy of youth while they still have it, a trend that was popular in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s (ie SHINee and SS501.) With Seventeen aligning their concept perfectly with the members ages, they have created something energetic but straightforward. They did this by also using some of the more powerful, darker concept signifiers like including lots of rap. Each of these elements is incorporated well to give Seventeen a fresh rookie feeling. The lead single ‘’Adore U’’ is especially good and utterly vibrant.

Too bad the rest of the album doesn’t hold up.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uY3LEzUNRwc&w=500&h=281]

The first song, ‘’Shining Diamond,’’ opens with Michael Jackson through the prism of K-pop. The opening whispers and references make this apparent. However, the retro electro verses sound comes off as just dated enough to be a throwback while remaining modern. They move into a fairly standard orchestral chorus with a big hook. Throughout the song, voices are pitched slightly higher in a nice touch to recall MJ.

Of course, this is K-pop so it can’t just be an homage. It is also infused with rapping and seems to announce that it’ll be a big part of Seventeen’s sound. In an environment where more and more idol rappers are coming from underground backgrounds, it’s important to at least sound good if you don’t write your own stuff. The rappers here do flow quite well. I especially like how they can switch between two rappers at a moment’s notice organically. Vocal contrasts like this always adds a layer of interest to a song for me.

That being said ‘’Shining Diamond’’ never rises above being more than album filler. It’s a fine opening but doesn’t come across as anything more than what we are used to.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyQD-B_SqUU&w=500&h=281]

Not surprisingly, lead single ‘’Adore U’’ is the real shining diamond of the album. There’s something about those guitars that is so effervescent and reminiscent of adolescence that “Adore U” is impossible to dislike. The sounds are so funky and fresh amongst the hyperactive, multi-genre sound that’s popular in K-pop music today. “Adore U” is fun without having to get too complicated.

‘’Adore U’’ achieves a lighter sound while still incorporating a lot of rapping. It’s accomplished and confident without ever sounding arrogant. Again, they make use of different rapping styles in dual verses. Not only does it sound great but the rap actually makes Seventeen come across as even more fun. It seems like the rappers are having a conversation, which adds a sense of camaraderie and energy. The rap also helps to give the individual verses an extra edge, making sure they don’t get forgotten behind the amazing chorus.

This chorus goes for a delightful double hook. The ‘yoohoos’ of the first are sweetly infectious and the brilliant shout of “Oh-kkin-da” (The Korean title of the song,) in the second repetition of the chorus is an extravagant declaration of love. The lyrics here (and throughout) are refreshingly honest and sweet. Boy band posturing has gotten old fast that, at least to me, it’s nice to see a group being vulnerably adorable. There’s a straightforward exuberance to ‘’Adore U’’ that I don’t think even Got7 has achieved lately.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vi__14F5Kb4&w=500&h=281]


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The third track seems to go against this infectious fun though. It’s far and away my least favourite song on the album. It’s a Diplo-lite style slice of electro rap that does nothing to add to the already massive pile of these in K-pop. The beat is formulaic and the chorus chants are dull. The rapping is not too bad. That’s the best I can say about ‘’Ah Yeah,’ which pales in comparison to EXID’s song by the same name.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1F339z1cjOc&w=500&h=281]

‘’Jam Jam’’ follows on from ‘’Ah Yeah’’ with its hip hop tendencies. Its production is altogether more interesting than the previous song, yet not enough to make it stand out amongst the album in the same way that “Adore U” does. The bubbling looping synth holds the song together with a lot of fun, but the bursting adolescence takes a back seat once again for rapping because it’s cool, and serious, and mature.

This would all be so much worse if Seventeen’s rappers weren’t pretty decent. One member, Vernon, especially has a distinctive and impressive flow.

Just when I taught things were getting really bad ‘’17 Carat’’ moves on to the obligatory upbeat, acoustic cute song. It’s better than an obligatory ballad, I guess, but “Adore U” was so addicting with the fun, upbeat, electronic sound that I hoped for more of its ilk.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1F339z1cjOc&w=500&h=281]

I liked how Seventeen had been sort of sweet before but that was with a lead single which helped them differentiate from the K-pop crowd. “20” is the sort of album filler that is so prevalent among all groups that the sweetness means nothing past the title track. Songs with cute lyrics about love over an acoustic guitar are second on my list of K-pop things I hate after album filler ballads; Seventeen differentiated itself with the title track, now I want to see something fabulous on the album. The one good thing I can say about this song is the electric guitar stuff at the start is fun. It never comes back though so it may not even be a good thing to tease the listener that way.

We are left here with a strong debut on top of a weak album. Usually lesser albums could be ignored if their accompanying single was good enough but nowadays it’s not as clear. When groups like BTS with ‘‘In The Mood For Love’’ and EXID with ‘‘Ah Yeah’’, are releasing brilliant and complete albums the game is slowly being pushed. Seventeen though, have created an album that is only seventeen minutes yet is tough to stay interested. What started out so exciting quickly turned into a derivative bore. ‘‘Adore U’’ is genuinely a smash though and could prove to garner them a strong young fanbase.

What’s do you think of Seventeen’s debut? Let us know what you think 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.