On Episode 47 of Kultscene’s K-pop Unmuted, Joe, Scott, Stephen, and Tamar look back on the last decade of Kpop. In the first of two episodes, we discuss our personal Kpop journeys over the last ten years, we pick our Artist of the Decade, and we list our picks for Top Five Music Videos of the Decade.
February’s seen an uptick in K-pop releases, and this week the KultScene team had a wide array of new music to pick from. Between rockers, hip hop artists, and pop groups, we’ve highlighted some of our favorite songs of the week.
“Princess” by Jung Joon Young (Released Feb. 7)
After an unfortunate scandal late last year, talented rocker Jung Joon Young took a hiatus from both his music and variety career and remained in France for a while until his name was cleared. He then proceeded to make his return to the variety program he was on (2 Days 1 Night) and recently made a triumphant comeback to the music world with his first full album The First Person. The entire album is a masterpiece, filled with explosive instrumentals as well as Jung Joon Young’s gorgeous unique voice. As a ballad fan, this album was really perfection to me, but in particular, “Princess” stood out as one of the most beautiful K-pop songs I’ve ever heard. The way the background instrumentals intensified with every verse (the addition of the strings in the second verse for example) as well as when Jung Joon Young reached higher notes (he did so marvellously too!) made the entire song so cohesive and enabled non-Korean speaking listeners like myself to understand the emotions of the song. “Princess” proved once and for all that Jung Joon Young never does conventional ballads; he always manages to add a spin to his songs which make them instantly recognisable. I’m so happy that he’s back with such amazing music and I’ll definitely remain a fan for a long time.
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“Crossroads” by Sunny Hill (Released Feb. 10)
As a long time fan of Sunny Hill, I honestly thought that last year’s “On The Way Home” was their final song, both because of its message and because Sunny Hill seemingly disappeared afterwards. But there was never any real closure or certainty regarding what was going on with the group and “Crossroads” seems to be an outward reflection of that. A jazzy soft rock song, the single appears to tell the story of the narrator, or Sunny Hill, deciding to move in a certain direction after not knowing where or what to do. Considering that Sunny Hill explored variety of different musical styles and visual concepts and saw little acclaim since they started off in 2007 (even though their song’s meanings and videos typically presented artistry rarely seen in K-pop) the new single comes across as the group’s explanation for leaving things up in the air: they simply don’t know where to go. It’s not really what I, or what I imagine any other Hillers, really want but it’s good to know that this introspective, insightful group isn’t just falling by without any rhyme or reason. Sunny Hill’s at a crossroads after a decade-spanning career, and, honestly, it’s great to see them admitting it. More Korean acts need to be as frank about their career, and societal issues, as Sunny Hill has been. If it’s the end, it’ll be sad, but honestly I’m just hoping this means we’ll see something even better than ever from this group in the near future. (Also, along with its importance for Sunny Hill, the song really, really hit home for me, since I’m amidst an in-between stage of my life.)
“Pattern (feat. Yoon Mirae, Tiger JK, Double K, Junoflo, myunDo)” by Superbee (Released Feb. 8)
Earlier this week, former Show Me the Money 5 contestant Superbee dropped a new song accompanied with K-hip-hop’s best and other up-and-coming rappers: queen Yoon Mirae, her husband Tiger JK, Double K, Junoflo, and myunDo. The beat on “Pattern” sounds like a lighter, less bombastic version of “YGGR,” with the bells and overall somberness of it, although it lacks the power. However, the mix of all the rappers’ different flows and pitches create an interesting; every artists brings something to the table. From Yoon Mirae’s confident hook, to Superbee’s squeaky verse and signature laugh, to Junoflo’s bouncy, spit-fire bars. “Pattern,” more than anything, brought a bunch of awesome rappers for an awesome track and I’m here for it.
What was your favorite song of the week? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.
With one of the most influential K-pop music videos ever featuring nine girls dressing up like mannequins, swooning over a boy, and never being seen as women but dolls, it’s no surprise that the industry is struggling to claim a strong feminist identity and just overflowing with love songs disguised as feminist anthems instead, along with songs that are downright sexist (I’m looking at you, JYP). There’s no Spice Girls girl power in K-pop, and all of the best pro-girl anthems discuss how girls are amazing rather than address serious issues facing women around the world. But as K-pop grows and more artists come into their own, there’s a subtle changing going on, with several female K-pop acts taking on Sexism through their music and video concepts.
In a variety of different ways, ranging from taking on workplace sexual harassment or the infantilization of women, all of these ladies are doing their best to shun the old-school idea that women, and K-pop, are just filled with sugar and spice.
This K-pop quintet is one of the most vocally talented girl groups out there today, but shot to fame after a video of one members’ gyrating dance went viral. Only after the video of Hani’s movements was viewed millions of times by South Koreans did EXID receive the proper attention for their song “Up & Down.” And the group’s been learning from this ever since. Follow-up track “Ah Yeah” is EXID’s answer to people only discovering them because of their dance.
The most important message of “Ah Yeah” female mannequins wear sashes saying “no more” over their breasts and genitalia. While girl groups like Twice, Oh My Girl, and GFRIEND are making waves for their urban, chic, sweet, etc. images, “Ah Yeah” is attacking the K-pop industry and taking a stance against the very sexualization that landed them where they are today.
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The so-called princess of K-pop made it big with songs like “Good Day” and “You and I,” but it was last year’s “Twenty-Three” that showed IU for who she really is: A woman coming into her own. And that got her in a lot of trouble.
Where to start with Stellar? The girl group has made a name for themselves angling to get attention with overly sexual dances and performance outfits, while at the same time mocking all the people who are hating on them for doing just that. Songs like “Vibrato” features the women of Stellar locked in boxes, compared to Barbie, and overall under the lense of the industry that hates them for being the sexual women they really are. Vaginal and menstrual imagery permeate the video, as if daring people to ignore the fact that Stellar is made up of women with human needs.
Also on KultScene: 5 Mangas That Need To Be Made Into K-Dramas
4. Sunny Hill
One of the most underratedly social-aware acts in K-pop is Loen Entertainment’s Sunny Hill, a once-coed group turned into a female quartet. While they’ve never garnered major fame or acclaim for their songs, Sunny Hill’s songs consistently blast convention and argue for people doing things the way they want. “Is The White Horse Coming?” breaks down the obsession with dating based on wealth, looks, and education over personality and love, comparing dating in modern day Korea (filled with blind dates and matchmakers) to the meat market.
Meanwhile “Darling of All Hearts” begins as a single girl’s guide to being alone, but then turns into a country-inspired anthem for anyone who is happy being on their own, throwing aside pop culture’s (and Korea’s) idea of women never being able to manage without a man to fulfill her. With a folksy-pop style that seems to contrast with their progressive message, Sunny Hill is one of the most socially aware K-pop groups around today. (So hopefully they’ll release something new soon!)
Yezi, a member of the girl group Fiestar, made it big during last year’s season of Mnet’s “Unpretty Rapstar,” garnering fans left and right. Her single, released during the competition, depicts Yezi as a “Mad Dog,” who goes on the offense to the men who sexualize her and the women who try to devalue her. While other songs from 2015 mentioned in this list are about women coming into their own, Yezi’s is the only one that goes on the attack so adamantly, questioning everything about the K-pop industry and Korea’s overall attitude towards woman.
The rapper is at her best while questioning those who belittle her for staying an idol while she knows it’s the only way to fame, and then attacking them for seeing her just as an image to pleasure themselves with. Literally. “Jacking off while watching my breast shot gifs,” she raps, “gripping a rag in one hand, typing on the keyboard with the other, no matter how much you diss me, you can’t console yourself.”
Which is exactly what Yezi did in her follow up, the recently released “Cider.” Going on the offense once again, Yezi let’s it all out, calling out all the haters who looked down on her for aggressive, seemingly anti-feminine attitude on “Unpretty Rapstar.” The gloves are off, and this K-pop fierce rapstar lives up to her name.
Sunny Hill’s latest single Here I Am is underratedly one of the best Korean songs released in November. Even when it looks like Sunny Hill is just singing a seemingly banal song about grief and neglect following a break up, the talented group doesn’t disappoint and instead presents a well-rounded, musical experience.
Here I Am is Sunny Hill’s 7th anniversary commemorative song, and it doesn’t let Hillers (Sunny Hill’s fans) down. The quartet’s come a long way, beginning as a co-ed vocal group and then gaining a lot of attention for powerful, meaningful songs and music videos. Even though they’ve seen some lineup changes (Seungah and Jubi are the only original two left in the group) and are no longer co-ed, Sunny Hill continually releases great songs. Here I Am shows the maturity of the group, taking the styles that the group has explored over the years while still keeping some of Sunny Hill’s original elements. The singing is phenomenal, and the plot, visuals, and acting in the music video are near perfection. Member Misung wrote the lyrics for the song, adding a personal touch and raw emotion to the track.
Many K-Pop songs make use of multiple genres, but Sunny Hill is one of the few groups that could pull off a song like Here I Am and express the full meaning solely through the emotional range of their voices. Even though the song is beautiful in its own right, the music video for Here I Am adds further depth and expresses Sunny Hill’s growth as artists.
With ballad, acoustic, and electronic influences, Here I Am is both soft and strong in the face of heartbreak. Even though a slow soft ballad would seemingly be perfect for the depressing lyrics, Here I Am crescendos multiple times as the narrator tries to figure out how to get over heartbreak and move forward like her ex.
Even though the singing is a bit unevenly distributed, with Jubi and Kota singing a majority of the lyrics, the four voices are impeccably juxtaposed with one another and come together to perfectly depict the rawness of the song’s emotions. Jubi’s belting voice and Kota’s rough lines interplay with Misung and Seungah’s sweeter and rawer voices.
Can you hear me? Here I am
Tonight I think of your scent
I lean on time, saying that pain will be gone eventually
Here I Am starts slow, with acoustic music and rapidly gains a faster beat, before reaching the zenith of the song, with Sunny Hill declaring that heartbreak will eventually end.
Also on KultScene: Epik High’s ‘Born Hater’ Music Video & Song Review
When you are in love, being broken up with is extremely difficult, and Jubi was absolutely devastated by her lover’s actions. Everybody who has ever had his or her heart broken probably has wished that they could just wipe their mind clean, and Here I Am hints to the fact that even if you forget, some small part of you will always remember love.
Here I Am ends when the narrator/singer is still in pain over the breakup, it is implied that this pain will eventually pass. The music video recognizes this, but also recognizes how painful breaking up is, and has Jubi erase her own memory to get over the heartbreak.
The video exhibited how good Sunny Hill has become at creating complex, unique storylines for their songs, to add further depth to their already meaningful songs. The music video has winter-inspired elements and an intriguing plot, which seems like something out of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Sunny Hill’s acting in the video was great; Jubi’s emotion is always clear through her actions and expressions, the other three members shine as the fairy godmothers of memory loss. HISTORY’s Sihyung has a cameo as the man who breaks Jubi’s heart, and his various expressions of love in the flashbacks and disdain in the present are simply heartbreaking.
During the scene at the end, when Jubi returns to the café, Sunny Hill’s expertise at portraying emotions visually really shows. Seungah’s protests against showing Jubi the picture and telling her about what she wants to forget, Misung’s acceptance of erasing heartbreak, and Kota’s empathy towards Jubi’s desire to forget, reveals how not only do Sunny Hill’s members know how to express emotion clearly through their voices but also through their actions.
The settings are beautiful, with a soft glow of sunset pervading through most of the scenes as if to hint to the fading emotions and end of a relationship. Even though it’s not obviously winter, there is a chilly factor to the overall video that hints to both the coldness of the weather and the coldness of the man’s (Sihyung’s) feelings towards his ex.
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Instead of going for daring outfits, like Sunny Hill’s done in past songs such as The Grasshopper Song or Is The White Horse Coming?, the girls wear everyday, fashionable outfits that can be seen around every street corner in Korea. Yet outfits have meaning in the video.
Here I Am is a song for everybody, and the member’s elegant yet simple black and white outfits seem to emphasize the message, “this is a black-and-white story about heartbreak and loss that we all have to deal with sometime.”
Jubi outfit is clean cut and refreshing blue and white, expressing how her mind is free of excessive pain (following the cleansing.) In the flashback of Jubi crying, she’s seen wearing a confining white shirt, symbolizing the grasping, restriction of her feelings. At the end of the video, when Jubi seeks Kota, Misung, and Seungah out for help, and instead of their earlier white and gray (clean and fresh) outfits, they’re wearing complex, dark, black and red witch-like outfits to show their power over memories.
I really thought that Here I Am is a beautifully made song, musically, lyrically, and visually expressing its message perfectly. I started to like Sunny Hill because of their unique style in Midnight Circus and following intriguing concepts, but even when doing a seemingly simple song like Here I Am, the group brings in complexity and mystery. I think that the different sounds in Here I Am could make a great dance, but Sunny Hill has yet to perform the song on any music shows so I’m still looking forward to a live performance.
What did you think of Here I Am? 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.
Once a week, KPOPme will post a list with all the latest music videos and singles released. We will aim to recompile every single song each week, but between the multitude of K-Pop groups and OSTs released weekly, sometimes we’ll miss something. Please let us know if we do! We aim to please.
Here are the release from the end of July and the first few days of August. Some of the biggest names (JYJ, HyunA) made comebacks, and some interesting debut songs (HA:TFELT, Red Velvet) were also released this week. Check them all out!
JYJ Back Seat
Red Velvet Happiness
HA:TFELT (Yeeun) Ain’t Nobody
Clazziquai Project Madly
Sunny Hill Once In Summer
Tae Wan Good Morning feat. Vebal Jint
BESTie Hot Baby
LC9 East Of Eden
High4 A Little Close feat. Lim Kim
Sonnet Son Love Again
Davichi It’s Okay, That’s Love [OST It’s Okay, That’s Love]
Bob Girls Oh My Boy (Summer Edit)
Sunny Days Half Of The World Are Men