Posts

(G)I-DLE’s ‘LATATA’ song review

Longtime fans of K-pop girl groups have, in recent years, lamented the absence of fierce, powerful girl groups. As the onslaught of cute and innocent concepts among newer groups like TWICE, GFRIEND, WJSN, and more continues, girl groups with stronger concepts have become a fading minority in the K-pop world.

But not if (G)I-DLE can help it. On May 2, the six-member girl group debuted with house-pop track “LATATA,” employing fierce dance-pop instrumentals, extensive rap verses, and onstage pyrotechnics in tow. Formed by Cube Entertainment, the girl group’s name effectively translates to Girl Children from Korean to English, among a host of other complicated double entendres.

Despite the group’s strangely infantilizing name, “LATATA” is about a steamy dance-floor encounter, beginning with a fast percussive bang followed by a bouncy tropical house beat that underlies the verses. Main rapper Jeon Soyeon, riding her Produce 101 and Unpretty Rapstar fame to the frontwoman position of the group, begins the song atop this rhythm, soon passing the verse to the group’s main dancer Soojin, who asks “What’s there to be scared about?” as she engages with her lover.


Also on KultScene: Amber Liu’s ‘Rogue Rouge’ Album Review

A surprising moment of distortion in synths and tempo, member Minnie’s “Uh oh” at the beginning of the pre-chorus is the song’s definitive vocal highlight. She slurs her words and holds her notes through her parts, capturing a hypnotic, snake charmer-esque sound that contrasts with that of the incoming faster-paced section sung by deeper-voiced Yuqi. “We can burn it up even more/There’s no tomorrow,” she declares. The percussive bang sounds again, and vocalist Miyeon sings her seduction in the chorus: “I’m singing for you, so you can fall deeper.” Visual member Shuhua’s repeated “Latata” chants—her only solo lines in the song—are a call for the lover to “sing for me, so I’ll never forget you.”

The chorus is followed by a dance break carried by a repeating synth line that resembles an electric guitar riff. When the group performs this live on weekly music shows, the choreography is tight, the members sporting strong, sensual facial expressions as they quickly shift formations.

Contrasting with other girl groups’ shyness around lovers, Soyeon encourages the one-night stand in her post-chorus rap break. As the tempo quickens, she spits, “Don’t be lazy, come to me baby,” asking her mysterious hookup to “go in deeper, swallow me up.” Her confidence is both audible on the track and visible in performances—a demonstration of the prowess she’s developed over the course of two survival shows and a solo debut since her first TV appearances in early 2016.

Returning to the pre-chorus, the song repeats the previous sequence until it reaches a slower-tempo bridge, backed by a stripped tropical house instrumental featuring an occasional tabla. After a final lengthened dance break, the song ends as Soyeon says, “Every day, every night, Latata.”


Also on KultScene: Eric Nam Talks “Honestly…” & Aspirations in Fanmeet in Singapore

While “LATATA” itself doesn’t deviate too much from the typical K-pop song structure of verses, pre-choruses, and choruses followed by dance and rap breaks, it is a welcome change in sound from current chart-topping girl groups with more demure concepts. Rather than attempting to emulate the success of cutesy girl groups like TWICE or Oh My Girl, (G)I-DLE seeks to revive the sounds and stylings of older girl groups like those of past Cube labelmate 4MINUTE, and widen the fierce girl group niche that is rapidly decreasing in size. And as “LATATA” enters the Top 30 of Korean music charts and tops iTunes K-pop charts around the world, it is becoming clear that the absence of powerful girl groups has been felt by K-pop fans old and new alike.

Of course, (G)I-DLE’s debut immediately calls into question the future of labelmate girl group CLC, whose songs have repeatedly failed to chart for three years now (likely due to the group’s constant flip-flopping between innocent and strong concepts across different releases). It also brings up the possibility of a rivalry between (G)I-DLE and BLACKPINK—one of K-pop’s only other powerful girl groups of the moment.

Whatever the answers to these questions are, one verdict is clear: (G)I-DLE is, in its infancy, reigniting the age-old tug-of-war of girl group concepts, an industry-wide debate whose point of equilibrium is finally beginning to shift. In the oversaturated girl group market, such a noticeable effect on the bigger K-pop narrative is more than enough to deem this debut a success.

What do you think of (G)I-DLE’s debut track? 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.

Taemin’s ‘MOVE’ song & music video review

One year after releasing his first full length album Press It, SHINee’s Taemin made his comeback on October 16th with the title track “MOVE” off his second full length album of the same name. MOVE as a whole takes on a mixture of pop and R&B, exploring a variety of genres. But it’s in the single where the soloist truly lets his artistic colors show themselves.

Song:

“MOVE” is a sultry pop-R&B track that showcases Taemin’s breathy and soothing vocals. In the song, Taemin croons as he expresses the beauty of a person he has fallen for. The song itself gives me a sultry and sexy feeling, and it takes a couple of listens to finally get the true nature of the song.


Also on KultScene: David Anthony on songwriting & succeeding in the K-pop market [interview]

The production is reminiscent to what The Weeknd has been releasing over the past while, offering up a very groovy and pulse-pounding sound. Unlike “Press Your Number” and “Drip Drop” from Taemin’s first album, “MOVE” is a track that is slightly reminiscent of the ’80s thanks to its heavy bass sound.

Music Video:

There were three versions of the video released for “MOVE.” The main version contains shots of Taemin walking and dancing in the rain before shifting into another scene where he is wearing a bejeweled mask. The use of the rain and cinematography during the choreography scenes was terrific and brilliant.

The second video is the solo version, which showcases Taemin’s best quality: dancing. We get to see more of the choreography, which is perfectly synchronized and fluid with the beat of the song. The third video is a duo version, which features only Taemin and choreographer Koharu Sugawara.


Also on KultScene: DAY6 explores love & friendship through recent ‘Every DAY6’ releases

It was interesting that Taemin released three versions of the video instead of one because it seems like he wanted to showcase how each one would look in a different perspective, with the first one focused on theatrics while the other two focused on choreography. It was a unique attempt for K-pop, though perhaps differentiating each of the videos a bit more would have helped make the need for three videos more obvious. Even so, there was plenty of eye-candy choreography to make the appease the most ardent dance fans.

Overview:

“MOVE” is a good comeback title track, and it’s different from what we have been hearing in K-pop this year. We’ve been getting releases that have been following the mainstream dance sounds for a while now, so it’s nice to see something for a change. Taemin has a style that makes him different from many other K-pop solo acts in that he is willing to experiment with sounds that the Korean audience isn’t used to hearing. It would be interesting to see if this style continues to make its way into the K-pop scene.

What did you like, or dislike, about Taemin’s “MOVE”? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

CNBLUE’s ‘Between Us’ music video & song review

CNBLUE’s music has changed greatly over the years and their newest song “Between Us”, released on Mar. 20, adds even more layers to their unique sound. With this new track, they continue to evolve as musicians while still portraying the talented band we all love. Having had their last comeback in April 2016 with “You’re So Fine,” “Between Us” has been highly anticipated by fans the world over. At long last, the wait is over.

Song

Musically speaking, CNBLUE has changed drastically since they first debuted back in 2009. Listening to one of their earlier songs, such as “Love Girl,” and then listening to “Between Us,” the fact that they’re sung by the same band is almost unrecognizable. Over the past couple years, CNBLUE has definitely leaned more towards the pop and electronic side of music, which they’ve added to their rock band roots.


Also on Kultscene: LOONA 1/3’s “Love & Live” Music Video & Song Review

That’s not to say, however, that they’ve lost sight of who they are. “Between Us” has a funky, synthetic sound, but it’s clear that instruments are still an integral aspect of their music, performances, and music videos. Some fans might love their new style, and others may prefer their earlier songs, but by delving more into pop music, their fan base will only continue to grow.

While the song is heavily influenced by electronic beats, some of the strongest aspects of the music are actually the instruments that CNBLUE have made a name for themselves with. Yonghwa’s piano playing and Minhyuk’s drumming in particular stand out and are even highlighted through their contrast to the rapid and sporadic EDM. The lyrics of the song themselves focus on the confusing relationship of two people who are in between being friends and being something more. This concept makes it easy for listeners to relate to the song and the artists themselves, with it being such a universal situation that many people find themselves in.

Music Video

The music video for “Between Us” is pretty typical for CNBLUE. The members played their instruments with vigor in between scenes of them speaking on the telephone with a confusing lover. It was very interesting, however, to see Yonghwa without an instrument. Unfortunately, it came off as a little awkward, as if he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself, but it was nice to see a different side of him through this video.

Overall, I wasn’t that impressed with the video because while the song is upbeat and exciting, the video felt a bit flat. There was very little interaction between the members, aside from them walking around each other, and there really wasn’t a storyline at all. With the lyrics of the song, the video could’ve been so much more interesting than it was. It wasn’t a bad video per se, but it’s certainly nothing we haven’t seen already from CNBLUE. Videos such as “Love,” “Hey You,” and even more recent releases like “Supernova” have shown much of the same music video formatting as this one. It’s time for them to release a music video in which the members interact with each other a little more.


Also on Kultscene: KCON 2017 Mexico’s M! Countdown Day 1 Concert Recap

Overview

“Between Us” is upbeat and both musically and lyrically well-made. It adds yet another dimension to this band’s sound and portrays their growth as artists. And while I love the song, I can see why some fans may be put off by it. There will always be fans who prefer the more pop-punk vibe that the group started off with, and that’s valid. However, I think if listeners give it a chance, they’ll grow to embrace this new side of CNBLUE. Unfortunately, the music video did leave a little bit to be desired, but that’s the only complaint. I think no matter what they do, CNBLUE will always be incredibly talented and devoted to their music and, as fans, that’s all we can really ask for.


What do you think of “Between Us”? Tell us 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.

Lee Byung Hun taunts the public and Kang Dong Won in ‘Master’

The most intriguing moment of South Korean film Master comes within the first five minutes, when actor Lee Byung Hun preaches to an audience about the capricious state of public opinion and naysayers. While it’s a speech given by his character, charismatic con artist Jin Hyejang, it’s as if Lee breaks character from his role in Master to speak directly to the viewer.

“Even if there’s a person you trust and respect, when he becomes a subject of rumors and ridicule and is criticized by society, your trust in him slowly fades too.”

Lee has been involved in multiple lawsuits relating to his sexual conduct, resulting in negative public opinion despite the fact that he has more or less successfully crossed over to the American film industry. Master isn’t only about Lee Byung Hun (it also stars the talented Kang Dong Won and Kim Woo Bin), but it sure feels like the movie focuses quite a bit on his wrongdoings.

The question that hangs in the air throughout the film, thanks to this first scene, is whether the viewer can separate the actor from his role. Like many Korean action movies, the first hour is relatively slow and sets up the more blockbuster second half, giving the audience more than enough time to digest the film’s opening dialogue. Lee is daunting as Jin the conman, a bit crazed even. He takes pleasure in controlling others, enjoys hunting, drinking what appears to be blood, and has little problem with victimizing others for his gain. Clearly this is a character and not the actor himself, but the first few lines pull together fiction and reality.


Also on Kultscene: 5 reasons to watch ‘My Annoying Brother’

But just as villainous as Lee’s Jin is, he has a counterpart in Kang Dong Won, a police officer intent on taking down the man robbing thousands of people. Both characters are extremely intelligent and sly, but Kang’s detective Kim Jae Myung regrets the violence and pain that accompanies his investigation as he inches closer to capturing Lee. There’s a sense of desperation from Kim as he hunts Jin; every moment that he doesn’t have the conman in custody, somebody else is losing their livelihood and, occasionally, their lives.There are moments where Kim appears to be enjoying the game of cat and mouse, and the finale is positively cathartic, but the character repeatedly expresses distaste at how things are turning out. While Kang Dong Won is a terrific actor, Kim has no real backstory to support his intensity and overall this leads to the film feeling a bit lackluster. Master seems to have shunned the excess of sentimentality found in many Korean movies in favor of focusing on the action, to its detriment; it may as well be a study in stereotypes of cops and robbers.

While Lee and Kang are overpowering actors in their own right, their characters were written a bit flat and one sided. In comparison, Kim Woo Bin’s Park Jang Goon is the only character to go through true growth in the film as he contemplates how his past and future actions affect those around him. He tries a bit of double crossing, and attempts to use his charm as a weapon, but it’s never quite clear where his loyalties lie. Park is like the odd man out with the other lead two characters: he’s a computer genius and the mastermind behind Jin’s plans, but when he gets involved with Kim’s police operation he seems at a total loss. (Neither Jin nor Kim ever seem baffled by what life, and the other, throws at them.)


Also on Kultscene:
Reviewing the Korean Film Archive: A Public Prosecutor & a Teacher

For an action-crime film, Master is two hours of a solid face off between the law and the lawless. It offers Lee’s nefarious Jin as an antagonist for audiences to revile while Kang’s detective Kim is the eternal Good Guy, with Kim’s Park serving as the only character with any real depth. Master failed at giving either of the primary two female characters, played by Uhm Ji Won and Jin Kyung, a whole lot to do, as most of the time the men were pulling all the shots. There’s plenty of action, and some great surprises, but this cast deserved a bit better than the rather straightforward plot.

Master is directed by Cho Ui-seok, and was released in Korea on Dec. 21. According to Korean media, the film earned over $20 million USD in less than a week. It opens in the US & Canada on Jan. 6.

Have you seen, or do you want to see, Master? Let us know what you think! 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.

Song Jieun’s “Bobby Doll” Music Video & Song Review

Jieun
When it comes to female idols going solo from their groups, few can claim quality quite like Secret. Leader Hyosung has been not only been redefining what it means to be sexy but also innovating with her song choices. Lead vocalist Song Jieun, back on her own now with “Bobby Doll”, has had one of the strongest solo careers to date for a female group idol. Her work with the Latin genre, seen here again, and on “Pretty Age 25” (one of the best tracks of 2014) has been absolutely stellar.

Now back with much worn doll concept, Jieun is probably hoping to build a proper solo career for herself given Secret’s lack of promotion. Her skill as a vocalist is not in doubt but does she have the songs and taste to back it up?

Song

The doll concept is an interesting choice for an artist like Jieun. I would have thought that older idols would be inclined to avoid the misogynistic connotations unless a commentary was involved. With “Bobby Doll” it’s hard to see where she falls in the argument.

Written and produced by Park Suseok and Park Eunwoo (regulars of TS Entertainment and the OST world) “Bobby Doll” is a Latin-inspired track that showcases Jieun’s impressive vocal range. The main guitar riff is evocative all by itself, creating a sensual but precise atmosphere. It’s carried by a strong jazz beat and eventually reinforced with similar electric guitar riffs and small chime details. The production is a great example of less is more as the song is still busy and exciting without being overcrowded.


Also on KultScene: Weekly K-pop faves: September 12-18

It’s Jieun’s voice that moves the song around in the absence of any big musical transitions. This makes the first listen a slight disappointment as the chorus takes its time to properly reveal itself. The first chorus seems underwhelming as Jieun doesn’t belt out the big vocals, preferring more rhythmic repetitions of “I’m your Bobby Doll.” However when it moves back into the verse the song slows down revealing Jieun’s many talents;this transition is also helped by a great drum beat that mimics the sound of a wind up doll. First is her usual beautiful voice, then a sort of rap/singing that hits precise marks with her higher pitches. She also goes down to a whisper as if adding a whole different person to the mix. Here the tension is created that makes the second chorus so much more effective. From there the song holds the sensuous but dark feeling, with Jieun’s “la la las” adding a creepy element to the doll concept.

Lyrically this concept is approached in a disappointingly generic fashion. It positions Jieun as the doll, begging to be looked at. She brags about her looks, long straight legs, my skin looks like honey.” Throughout the whole song she is only ever an object desiring a man. The title also seems to be a way of just avoiding copyright issues from Barbie. It even references Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” which I think is a great touch and could be seen as the self-aware moment that unlocks this song.

Music Video

The music video presents an opposite reading of the doll theme though. Directed by Zany Bros (makers of many K-pop videos including from this year 4minute’s “Hate” and Gfriend’s “Rough”) it again shows Jieun as a doll yet works to criticise the one who looks at her.


Also on KultScene: Hyo Sung, BESTie & the Hook in K-Pop

It doubles down on the objectification by having the main creepy male character looking at Jieun through a series of cameras. She sings and dances to his great pleasure on screen. A clear metaphor for how female idols are used and looked at it in the K-pop industry. What’s most interesting is the ending and how it seems aware of how using this concept is almost impossible to be really critical. After seeing herself in the mirror Jieun can finally escape from her voyeuristic prison.

The mirror is an important image. It could mean that finally being allowed to see herself in this position she understands how to stop it so she can finally leave. Yet not long after she steps out into the open she is pulled back in with little difficulty. Even when aware of being controlled by male eyes, and the male-dominated entertainment industry, there is little one can do to stop it. In the end when she looks in the mirror she isn’t seeing herself with her own eyes but merely self-objectifying through the male gaze that designed her. It’s easy to criticize the industry but much harder to actually step outside of it.

Overall

“Bobby Doll” turns out to be a mishmash of ideas both good and bad. Musically she is on as good a form as ever. “Bobby Doll” is a beautifully balanced track with new intricacies to find every listen. Jieun’s sound is one of the most mature in K-pop and I hope her and Hyosung can go back to Secret stronger than ever.

“Bobby Doll” is also however a weird culmination of ideas about female objectification. The video and lyrics are a complete mismatch with the lyrics being a reductive view. The video, although indulgent in the things it takes issue with, has moments of clarity that highlight an interesting if frustrating idea of this theme.

What do you think of Jieun and “Bobby Doll”? 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.

DIA’s “Mr. Potter” Music Video & Song Review

DIA_MR_POTTER
Lesser known girl groups losing their unpredictability after becoming overnight successes is something that plagues my mind all too often. This was a distinct possibility with DIA, a group who were capable of profoundly weird and exciting music before their increase in awareness. Their first song since Produce 101’s and particularly Chaeyeon’s rise in popularity,“On The Road” was a safe but sweet track that didn’t bode well for DIA’s advancement. Luckily now with the help of a certain British wizarding superstar DIA are back with an eclectic mix of sugary and volatile sounds on “Mr. Potter.”

Song

“Mr. Potter” immediately brings to mind DIA’s “My Friend’s Boyfriend” in that it’s hard to know if you’re supposed to be scared or enticed. That’s the best thing about DIA, they take the cuteness we are so used to in K-pop and bring to the absolute max, making us almost uncomfortable. With “My Friend’s Boyfriend” that felt entirely deliberate but on “Mr. Potter” it’s harder to tell.

Written and produced by ATM and STAINBOYS (who remixed Suran’s Ddang, Ddang, Ddang”) “Mr. Potter” has almost no regard for the cute and goes straight for the heavy sounds. It opens with some great xylophone and moves swiftly onto crushing hip-hop beats and sporadic synths. These work to contrast with the girls’ voices, which are sweet but manic thanks to the layers and quick delivery. They’re almost shrill in a way that will be off putting to many listeners, but for those who aren’t turned off the chorus is a strange heaven.


Also on KultScene: Weekly K-pop faves: Sept 5-11

The chorus keeps the same style of sound but changes the tone to make it slower and more melancholic, usually the opposite of what a chorus should do. DIA’s rare qualities shine in it thanks to the absolute business of it. Sci-fi synths scream as the beat gets bigger and the girls finally let go of their feelings. Their vocals take on a rhythmic chant with high pitched peaks. It’s a vocal style unprecedented in a chorus. It moves the song from a possible rehash of “My Friend’s Boyfriend” without the tongue in cheek aspect to something unique.

“Mr. Potter” moves along with assurance as well, mellowing out a bit to highlight the xylophone again and give room for Cathy to rap without too much interference. Her second part is also interesting; towards the end the song sounds like it’s about to reach its climax but transitions without a hitch into more rapping and xylophone. At every turn “Mr. Potter” is enriched with an unpredictability only DIA could muster up.

Music Video

Despite the strangeness of the song, “Mr. Potter’s” music video will probably be the most contentious thing about it. Even for those who weren’t fans of DIA the video seemed exciting as it could have been an interesting dip into the Harry Potter universe. Unfortunately without knowing the name of the song you wouldn’t automatically guess this was a song about Harry Potter. The video uses iconography from a large number of fairytales along with JK Rowling’s series. It seems a total waste of time regardless of how it turned out. They also copied Girls Day’s “Expectation” choreography (although they have the same choreographer Bae Yoon Jung).


Also on KultScene: 7 fact-finding resources K-pop fans should know

That being said there are a few things I like about it. Maybe it’s just me but DIA seem like a better group of actresses than most other groups. Their expressions are always fun and really in sync with the tone of the song and video. Especially when they’re sitting eating popcorn with glasses on, it’s sort of confrontational as if they’re aware that many fans will be confused by the song and video. The pastel colours are well worn out by K-pop by now but are great here, encompassing the whole video. It genuinely feels like a different world. I also love the bad CGI, it again suggests an awareness on their part that the audience is being tricked.

Overall

I’m so relieved that DIA continue to be a divisive group. “Mr. Potter” hits on a lot of weird levels making it a difficult proposition. Considering this and “My Friend’s Boyfriend” though, it’s clear that this is what they do best. They’re at home parodying the overtly cute girl groups who only pine away for men. DIA bring that to logical levels of mania with an aggressive assurance that sets them apart. Despite the apparent cuteness and subject matter, “Mr. Potter” is a hard track to find cute. It has a pace and electricity that doesn’t allow much thought on first listen. It squeezes you into a bewildered daze, confronted by DIA’s singular charm.

(who else would perform a six minute rock version of their single at a showcase)

What do you think of DIA’s “Mr. Potter”? 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 Reactioner MRJKPOP talks YouTube, Producing, & Analyzing Korean Music

Untitled design (12)

If, like this writer, you were unconsciously reading the YouTube account MRJKPOP as Mr. J K-pop, you may be surprised to hear that M.R.J stands for none other than the show’s forerunner, Michael R Johnson. Johnson began his YouTube channel three years ago and since then has become one of the most watched reactioners relating to Korean music. Through insightful analysis coming from  his professional background and his highlighting of even the smallest details in new songs from South Korea, MRJKPOP has become a go-to for many diehard K-pop fans who want to get a deeper look into the music.

We spoke to MRJKPOP about his YouTube channel, being viewed over 13 million times, and a lot more.

KultScene: How did you start off as MRJKPOP?
I initially wanted to share K-pop with my friends, who had never heard of it, and also discuss the songwriting, production, and marketing aspects of it with others. As a session musician and songwriter, I constantly break down and analyze the music I am listening to in my head — always trying to learn something, get ideas and inspiration, and figure out how it was created in the studio. While I wanted to help promote and share this awesome pop music I had discovered from the other side of the globe, I figured that only a very small handful of “music geeks” like myself would be interested in listening to what I had to say, especially since my videos ended up being quite long.

What makes you pick a certain music video to review?
I have my own sort of criteria for determining whether I will spend the time to make a song review — since they take at least 4-6 hours each to create — but the main things it comes down to is if I personally am interested in the song, writers/producers, or group, if I think it is significant in some way in the industry, if I think a lot can be learned from it through analysis, and finally, if I actually have the time to review it shortly after it is released.

You do a lot of reviews/reactions, but also have done several interviews. How did you go about transitioning from consumer to producer?
I don’t really see it as a transition from consumer to producer — my review videos are adding a lot more substance and analysis than me simply consuming music, so even those already contain a lot of “producing” or “product.” Actually, this YouTube channel has always been a side project; I run a music production/technology and marketing company as my main thing — reviewing K-pop music on YouTube is just something that is a natural extension of the other things I do, and also intersects with my personal interests (yes, I actually enjoy listening to K-pop in my personal life). Before I ever started MRJKPOP, I was already creating and producing both music and video content for YouTube and elsewhere, so it’s natural for me to add things like interviews, collaborations, or original music content to the MRJKPOP channel.


Also on Kultscene: Sungha Jung brought Singaporean Fans to ‘Cloud Nine’ with ‘L’Atelier’

Videos from your main YouTube channel have been viewed more than 13 million times. What do you think people enjoy watching you so much? Did you expect the success?
That’s a really big number — and it still always surprises me when I look at my analytics. Like I said before, when I started the MRJKPOP channel, and even for a long while after it was up and running, I still didn’t think more than a handful of music theory buffs, aspiring producers, and musicians would be willing to spend 15 minutes at a time listening to me talk. However, over the years of feedback via comments and messages from viewers, it seems that people really do like learning more about how the music they like is made — they want to see what is going on behind that curtain, and see what makes the “magic” happen. I have some knowledge, skills, and experience in that particular area, so I think that is why people enjoy watching me explain some of those things in a way that hopefully people with little knowledge of recording or music theory can still understand. At the same time, I hope that even experienced industry veterans and artists can also find value in my videos and analysis — and I have gotten positive feedback from many of those people who watch regularly. I also say exactly what I feel and what I think about the music I am analyzing, and don’t pretend, hold back, or try to sugar coat anything, and I think people appreciate that honesty as well.

Watching your videos, it’s clear that you know a lot about music. What’s your background like?
I was classically trained on the trumpet and music theory by an amazing ex-US NAVY Band, Washington D.C. 1st chair trumpet player from the time I was about 10-17. He was an extremely tough teacher, but I still use things he taught me to this day in my everyday work, and even when analyzing music on MRJKPOP. I played in various bands, wind ensembles, pit orchestras, jazz bands, and combos all through school, and attended a visual and performing arts high school for music and trumpet performance. When I was about 13, I began learning how to do remixes and record music myself, and started piecing together my own small studio. By 15, I was recording local artists and bands professionally, as well as writing and recording my own music. Sometime around then, I picked up electric guitar, and taught myself to play — using the knowledge of music and practice habits I had already acquired from the trumpet. I also taught myself how to build and repair electric guitars and audio equipment and amplifiers around that same timeframe.

After high school, I transitioned to playing guitar more frequently, formed my own rock band, and continued to record and collaborate with other artists, while constantly building up the equipment in my own studio. I also began getting hired as a studio session guitar player, and started uploading guitar covers and original music to the Internet (as well as the early days of YouTube). That lead to collaborations and session work for musicians all over the world, like former American Idol contestants and YouTube musicians like Roomie, and eventually I was picked up by a studio working on music for major label projects, where I was a session guitar player, songwriter, and co-producer. I also continued to write and co-write music, and produce for other artists as well through my own studio. After a move to a different state, I continued my session playing, producing, and songwriting work, but focused on doing it through my studio and company on projects I chose to work on, which is what I’m still doing to this day. More recently, I am finishing a Music Production degree from the Berklee College of Music.

Many of us know you through your YouTube channel, you also run a production company, MRJ Studios. Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re doing with that?
MRJ Studios, Inc., is the music production, technology, and marketing company that I’ve basically been running since around 2003. It has been operating professionally since about 2005 as my personal music business, but was recently incorporated, so I have everything in place to continue to expand it. I offer a lot of different services through my business — from music production, recording, songwriting, artist development, session playing, and mixing to the marketing end of things, like social media presence, international promotion (especially for K-pop artists looking to expand their fan base in the USA), advertising, and more. I also offer a lot of technical services like computer systems setup, recording studio equipment repair and setup, consulting, and answering questions about how to accomplish various tasks relating to music, electronics, and the Internet. Video production and music analysis/consulting (much like what I do on the MRJKPOP channel) is just one of the many things my company can do.


Also on Kultscene: Vlogging K-Pop, Sister Style: Nutty Nomads Talk Their Career And New DramaFever Show

You’re extremely prolific, so can you tell our readers a little bit about what your work ethic is like?
I don’t mind working hard, but I have had to learn to really manage my time carefully. For the past year and a half, I’ve been attending Berklee Online, which is full-time and year-round college, doing multiple videos and other behind the scenes work that you don’t see for MRJKPOP, and also running my business — all at the same time. Prior to that, I was in college for engineering and business instead of music production, so it has been much of the same schedule for the past 4-5 years. It’s a lot to keep track of, but I feel like it is worth it to keep at it and working as hard as I can.

You have a lot to say about the present of K-pop, so where do you think the future will take the genre, its artists, and its fans?
I really don’t know what will happen with K-pop, but I think it can certainly continue to grow globally, and appeal to more and more fans. I really do think that K-pop can become much more prevalent and desired in the US market, and that’s something I’m constantly working to help out in any small way that I can. And as always, I’m looking forward to seeing what new music comes out of K-pop next!

What video did you enjoy making the most?
The videos I enjoyed making the most are the interviews — although they are probably the most work by far — and the few skits I’ve done were really fun too. I do like making the more technical videos too, showing production techniques and really breaking down how to make sounds that are used in all of our favorite releases.

Also, congrats on being featured by the Korea Herald! Is there anything else in the works that KultScene’s readers can look forward to?
I actually wasn’t aware of that until you mentioned it and I just looked it up… I suppose that it’s nice that they mentioned me, but some of the information isn’t correct, and that type of thing happens rather often. Surprisingly, I am hardly ever contacted or asked when I am quoted, summarized, or referenced in news articles. You’d think journalists would want to get accurate information directly from me, and I make it rather easy to contact me in many different ways… So thank you for actually taking the time to contact me for this interview!

Anyway, I’ve got a ton of stuff in the works all of the time — I really enjoy bringing new content to anyone who is nice enough to take the time to view it! I am working on some more interviews with KPop artists and producers, and I’m also working on a membership program for people interested in getting additional exclusive MRJ content directly from me, with a lot of other cool features included. Finally, I’m working on writing more original music that will be released or maybe even picked up by other artists soon!

And, finally, what’s your favorite song of the moment?
My favorite song of the moment is definitely Good Luck by AOA. I’ve been replaying the song and music video constantly since it first came out.

Thank you for talking to us, MRJKPOP! If you like what you see, make sure to subscribe to MRJKPOP on his YouTube channel.

Do you enjoy MRJKPOP’s videos? What other sort of interviews would you like to see from KultScene? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Sultan Of The Disco Does Funky Right At Seoulsonic NYC 2015 [Interview]

sotd2Seoulsonic returned to New York City last week as part of CMJ’s 2015 music marathon with a new set of acts performing at SOBs (Sounds of Brazil) in Manhattan on Oct. 15. Three Korean indie acts — Sultan of the Disco, HEO, and WYM— performed throughout the night to showcase the music coming out of South Korea’s indie scene nowadays. I had a chance to speak to each of the acts before the show to hear about their careers and experiences at Seoulsonic.

[This is the second of a three-part interview/review series from the event. The interviews with HEO and WYM can be read HERE and HERE.]

Seoulsonic NYC 2015 began around midnight, but when Sultan of the Disco took to the stage wearing dragon-covered robes, shower shoes, and headbands, it was clear that the night was just getting started. The ‘70s inspired funk band hit all the right notes for the audience, getting everyone involved right away. With a full-fledged band onstage plus one member of the band dancing along to the rest with major aplomb, it was hard to not clap along and move to the sounds.

Sultan of the Disco is, when broken down, physical comedy meeting Korean musical innovation. Singing in both English and Korean, the group began its life as a dance troupe named Sultan of the Disco but over the years transitioned into a band with a heavy emphasis on dance. Their first single, “Magic Prince,” was released in 2007, and their latest song “SQ (We Don’t Need No EQ IQ)” came out this past July. Surpassing language barriers, the group’s played overseas in the past, although this was their first show in New York.

Lead vocalist Nahzam Sue sat down with me for a few minutes before the show began to tell me a bit about the band.


Also on KultScene: Topp Dogg’s ‘The Beat’ Album Review

“We want the immediate reaction of the audience to be able to dance and enjoy it,” Nahzam told me before explaining the band’s unusual inclusion of a member who just dances along while the rest of the band performs. “One dancer remains in our team, so there’s that spirit. He just dances… There’s a lot of energy [shared] between us and the audience.”

And indeed, on stage later that night, J.J Hassan stood there on stage, dancing alongside the other members as they played their music. Nahzam also had his own moves to show off while he sang, going back to the group’s origins as a dance team.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“At the beginning, it was me and three other guys. It wasn’t an official band, but a dance team,” said Nahzam. “One by one, during sessions, guys who played instruments joined us and the Sultan of the Disco dance group became the band we are now.”

The band that they are now has had an album, 2013’s “The Golden Age,” nominated as the best electronic/dance album at the Korean Music Awards, but they’re moving onto the future.


Also on KultScene: This is NOT a Competition, Jessi Slayed her Los Angeles Show

“We’re working on a new single now, that will be released by the end of the year,” the lead singer said. “The single will be a lot slower, a slow jam that’s different from what we’ve done. Even though our music is based in humor, we want to make our music maybe a little slower, groovier in the future [with more meaning.]. We want to be a more emotional band.”

Being emotional seemed like the last thing on their minds that night, though, as Sultan of the Disco connected with the audience through music, dance, and trying their best at talking in English. Pumping up the crowd in all the right ways possible, the band made a lasting impression at Seoulsonic NYC 2015 that the had us all wishing we were living in the disco age.

What do you like the most about Sultan of the Disco? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear you thoughts and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Bloglovin’ so you can keep up with all our posts.

Topp Dogg’s ‘The Beat’ Album Review

Eve's Topp Dogg

Following the recent shock departure of Gohn and Kidoh, Hunus Entertainment’s ten member rap group Topp Dogg staged a comeback on October 19 with their fourth mini album, The Beat. It is the group’s first release in a year and shows a marked maturity, not only in terms of vocal accomplishment, but also the choice of material. The songs incorporate influences from around the world and Topp Dogg inject life and energy into all of them.

“Runaway”

The album bursts into life with this up-tempo song, which effortlessly fuses hip hop and retro rock with several brief interludes of dubstep. The aggressive guitar playing and strong beat drive the track along at a furious pace and are guaranteed to get listeners dancing in no time, making “Runaway” a fantastic opener for the EP.

“The Beat”

This totally addictive title song is one of Topp Dogg’s most interesting musical experiments to date. It combines their signature rap sound with elements of both Bollywood and bellydance music. The vocal harmonies here are superb, but the highlight of the track has to be the rap verse from Yano and Jenissi.


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

“O.A.S.I.S”

Topp Dogg get into funky disco mode in this catchy and upbeat song. A prominent brass section, synthesizers and electric guitars inject a sense of fun into this lively composition, which brings to mind the music of the 70s. Although the members slightly mispronounce the title, “O.A.S.I.S” is hugely enjoyable.

“All Eyez On Me”

Jimi Hendrix style guitar playing opens this edgy song, which inventively mixes gangster rap, jazz and funk genres to great effect. Composed by former member Kidoh, with current member Yano, this is a truly standout track which really showcases Topp Dogg’s unique talents to perfection.

“Emotion”

This 90’s style ballad marks a massive departure from Topp Dogg’s usual street sound and subsequently feels slightly incongruous on “The Beat”. The brief rap breaks up the flow of the song unnecessarily, so the whole thing doesn’t gel successfully. Top marks to them for attempting something different, though.


Also on Kultscene: INFINITE’s ‘Reality’ Album Review

“Sweetheart”

Sangdo’s solo track, composed by fellow member, Yano, takes an unexpected turn down the sophisticated jazz ballad route, yet it works surprisingly well and has a sound that is reminiscent of Zion.T’s output. Sangdo’s vocals here are smooth and heartfelt and the piano solo towards the end really sends the EP out on a high.

Overall Thoughts

In spite of the recent upheaval in the group, “The Beat” proves that Topp Dogg are still on top form. This is a must listen to cd for fans of Korean hip hop music, which should allay any fears that Topp Klass (the group’s fan club name) may have about their ability to carry on with reduced numbers. May Topp Dogg continue to go from strength to strength.

Did you agree with my sentiments about Topp Dogg’s album? What are your thoughts on this release? 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.

Stellar’s ”Vibrato” Music Video and Song Review

Stellar 'Vibrato'
The summer moment we’ve (or maybe just me) been waiting for has finally arrived. The queens of meta sexiness Stellar have returned with their most brazenly sexual single yet. ‘‘Vibrato(r)’’ is their seventh single since 2011, and the fourth in their sexy catalogue. What’s interesting about this catalogue is the connectivity of each of the songs and how aware Stellar are of the negativity they face when it comes to sexy concepts. With their latest single, they show no signs of stopping.

Song

Taking a Stellar song out of context by removing the music video is an interesting and essential thing to do when considering its qualities. Their music videos are so loaded with suggestive imagery that the song can sometimes get lost in the mix. That would be a total shame as each of their four most recent songs, including ‘‘Vibrato’’, have been incredible. For ‘‘Vibrato’’ they have gone for a lot more energy and dance pop elements than earlier songs, which seem to convey a celebration of the themes their songs contain.

‘‘Vibrato’’ contains a huge amount of different sounds pulled into one funky, disco pop anthem. Synths pop, strings whirl, pianos sing, and horns blare. Each instrument comes and goes in fleeting moments holding the song on its edge at all times. These are held together by a super smooth rhythm section of guitar, bass, and drums. The song has a great mix of electronic and acoustic sounds that combined help it keep from straying too far into retro territory. At the same time, they rhythm section grounds “Vibrato” well so that it can still capture a fun, disco feel.


 Also on KultScene: Playlist Sunday: K-Pop Point Dances

Structurally, the opening two minutes follow a familiar formula of verses and choruses. Stellar, due to their small size, can do this in an interesting way though. For most of their singles they effectively split verses into two parts assigning two members to each part. In the first verse of ‘‘Vibrato,’’ Hyoeun and Minhee sing the first half and Gayoung and Jeonyul rap the second part. It’s a simple way of keeping things interesting.

Those opening two minutes are great, but would have been generic by themselves. So we are lucky that the song explodes into life just moments after the two minute mark. First the song takes some downtime with a slow, suggestive build up over an image of a handbag opening. It doesn’t quite take off yet right after this but keeps the tempo down with a piano led bridge. Cue some more vaginal imagery and the song finally reaches its climax. It is literally and figuratively orgasmic. The song turns euphoric with Hyoeun’s high pitched wail which signals the return of the synths. Its an incredible moment that matches form and theme to perfection. A commitment to sex like no other K-pop group could do.

Music Video

This is where the music video also comes into play. It adds the final layer that makes ‘‘Vibrato’’ a 2015 classic already. The self-awareness on show is paramount to Stellar’s success when it comes to sexy concepts. Like EXID before them, Stellar were hurt by comments made about them from previous singles.


 Also on KultScene: Fiestar & Sex in K-Pop

Each of the members are put in compromising positions that allow them to be looked at, objectified. They are trapped within glass boxes as camera flashes go off all around them. Images of Barbie dolls come up on televisions. Stellar were made to feel uncomfortable by the press and general public, based on their previous concepts and lack of hits. Their bodies are under intense scrutiny within mirrored halls where they wear their outfits from the ‘‘Marionette’’ video. This may seem like Stellar were angry with their company and ready to apologize to the public.

But this is not an apology.

This is a celebration of female sexuality. Halfway through the video, the dolls are thrown away, the boxes the members are in get bigger. The choreography gives them space to dance as they wish. Eventually they begin to thrive on the sexiness. They are mature women who are aware that they are being shamed for expressing themselves and have had enough of the negativity. This is who they are and they love it. When the video arrives at the two minute turn it returns the sexy concept to where it belongs: sex. We are reminded of what this is really about. Vaginal imagery is suddenly everywhere. From here on in there are no images of the girls looking uncomfortable. They love their bodies and their sexuality.

Overall

Stellar have done it again. No other K-pop group is releasing music with such a subtextual edge while still being incredibly confrontational. Stellar are so necessary to today’s K-pop climate where girl groups are constantly shamed for being sexy yet it is at the same time all the public wants. It’s okay that they want it they just need to come to terms with the reality of it and allow a balance between how boy groups and girl groups are received. Stellar are fighting for this and yet I know they probably won’t change a thing. People won’t respond to the intricacies of what they are doing.

Apart from the thematic level, Stellar also delivered a stunning song. The dance pop sound fits them like a g-string. It allows them to move into celebratory territory and slams home their theme. This is what really makes them stand out, matching a song’s sound and structure to theme allows it to have a bigger impact and shows that what they are saying is no accident. If we take all that into the account the climax of ‘‘Vibrato’’ will be one of the great musical moments of K-pop in 2015.

What do you think about Stellar’s comeback and their sexual controversies? 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.