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KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted: Talking T-ara [podcast]

kpop unmuted kultscene t-ara podcast k-pop

KultScene is happy to announce that, in celebration of our third anniversary, we are beginning a collaboration with K-Pop Unmuted, a podcast dedicated to delving deep into K-pop.

Nothing lasts forever, but T-ara is making a good attempt at it. On episode 20, Stephen, Tamar, and our guest Jacques Peterson discuss the group’s career and their four-member revival with “Your Name.”

You can listen to this episode, and previous ones, of KultScene’s K-Pop Unmuted on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.

Let us know your thoughts on T-ara’s new album and their career 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.

This is the hardest K-pop quiz ever

impossible K-pop quiz

Think you are a K-pop genius? That may very well be so, but our latest K-pop quiz will put that to the test. There’s nothing as simple here as “what group is Umji a member of?” (Gfriend) or “what year did 2NE1 debut?” (2009). Know how many members there are in Super Junior? Too bad!! Oh no, this is all about the little facts, that only the most fanatical K-pop lovers will know.

Take the quiz and let us know how well you fared in the comment section! A word of warning: Most of KultScene’s very knowledgeable team of writers did pretty poorly when taking this quiz so… Take your time while answering the questions!


Also on Kultscene: Which K-pop generation do you belong in?

What was your favorite (or least favorite!) question? Have any other random bits of trivia you think we should have included? Share your thoughts and results in the comment section below or on Facebook, or Tweet us your results @KultScene. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Weekly K-pop Faves: March 1(3)-March 19

KultScene-Sunday

After nearly two years of our KultScene Playlist Sunday, our staff put their heads together and decided it’s time for something now. So this week we are debuting KultScene’s brand new Weekly K-Pop Faves column. Don’t mind us though, because we’re cheating just a tiny bit this week, since we haven’t covered many of the March releases. So, without further adieu, please enjoy our inaugural edition of KultScene’s Weekly K-Pop Faves.

1. Ian Jo’s “The Little Prince Of The Rose” (released March 8)

The release of this ballad is a special one because it does not just mark a singer’s debut, it is also a discovery of a beautiful gem, at least for this K-pop industry. Ian Jo, a new singer-songwriter from a relatively obscure company, Madeleine Music, charmed with his voice, which was certainly not the typical ballad sound. Rather than using techniques like vibrato or showing off his high notes, Ian Jo’s voice was simple and even stark at some points, but it still carried the right amount of emotion and strength. The song is masterfully crafted and the various instruments blended well together to complement the overall feel of the song. It’s a pity that this singer and his company are not more well-recognized; it’s shocking that a song of this quality has only 251 views on Youtube. I’m certainly looking forward to the day that Ian Jo becomes an accomplished musician but until then, “The Little Prince Of The Rose” will sustain me.

— Anna


Also on KultScene: Fiestar’s ‘A Delicate Sense’ Album Review

2. Hyomin’s “Sketch” (released March 16)

“Because I’ll be awakened by the tip of your brush.”

Before Secret’s Hyosung comes back, Hyomin of T-ara has staked a claim for the sexiest girl group solo release of the year. That being said, I don’t think it matters what else comes out because everything about “Sketch” is sexy. The silky smooth R&B that bobs up and down with incredible ease and Hyomin’s high pitched vocals are almost dripping with sensual sweat. Piano twinkles in and out to offer a sweeter touch. The dance break is a bit too heavy around the rest of the song; I can see what they trying to do but it doesn’t really work, especially when the choreography that came before consisted of slow, simple but beautiful movements. It touches on the verge of overly explicit but is reigned in just right.

— Joe

3. KNK’s “Knock” (released March 2)

If there’s a song and group debut that took a few of the KultScene writers by storm is KNK with “Knock.” Seemingly out of nowhere, the guy group debuted with a hard-hitting mid-tempo angsty ballad about not wanting to renounce the girl they like then turns into a sort of intro at the chorus. Inconsistent? Maybe, but it’s simplistic instrumentals emphasizing the percussion at the chorus and the variety of vocals tie it together to be one of the best debut song by a rookie this year. And of course, the fact that they all seem like fashion models just adds fuel to the “omg i can’t stan another group” fire. This writer only hopes KNK survives long enough to give us more stunning releases.

— Alexis


Also on KultScene: Fandom, Not Genre, K-Pop Surpasses The Limitations Of Music

4. Red Velvet’s “One Of these Nights” (Released March 19)

Red Velvet’s done a complete 360 from the upbeat dance concepts of “Ice Cream Cake” and “Dumb Dumb” that made them big last year and come back with their velvety side on “One Of These Nights.” The song is a building mid tempo tune that incorporates a variety of orchestral elements and a tapping bass to transform into a melodic, sultry ballad that highlights Red Velvet’s vocals. The song is a bit funky, in that it’s too all over the place with its ambient sound and transitions to be a true ballad but not upbeat enough to be any sort of dance track. “One Of These Nights” caught many Red Velvet fans off guard after the group’s brighter sounds and even their sexier concepts (“Automatic,” “Be Natural”) but that’s definitely not a bad thing. Red Velvet’s wowed on “One Of These Nights” in a way that was perhaps necessary for their longevity. Previously, Red Velvet’s songs were particularly gimmicky (and this one is too, to some degree thanks to hidden meaning related to the Korean title and a traditional folktale,) but “One Of These Nights” first and foremost puts Red Velvet’s belting and melodies ahead of the ear catching beats that their other songs have thrived on. “One Of These Nights” shows Red Velvet’s cohesiveness as singers as well as a, somewhat necessary, reminder that Red Velvet has come a long way since the juvenile sound of their debut song, 2014’s “Happiness.”

—Tamar

What was your favorite song from this month so far? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter,Instagram, and Tumblrto keep up with all of our posts.

SHINee, Wonder Girls & T-ara: Single Roundup Review

Wonder Girls
Sometimes I think I’m not harsh enough on K-pop releases. Nearly every one of my reviews has been overwhelmingly positive. Those were all genuinely great releases, though, and I don’t think any differently now. Maybe K-pop is not as perfect as I thought it was, and I was adjusting my opinions to fit that. Then this week happened. Three titans of K-pop SHINee, Wonder Girls, and T-ara released equally exceptional new songs. As the kids would say, what a time to be alive.

These vanguards of K-pop are also a good example of a few different sides of the genre. Wonder Girls and SHINee deliver perfect 80/70s throwbacks in different ways and T-ara pull off the best generic Brave Brothers track since AOA’s “Miniskirt”.

SHINee “Married to the Music”

SHINee already showed us that they had the 90s sound and look down to a tee, and this time they take on the music of the 70s. Michael Jackson’s style in particular can be heard, which isn’t a surprise given his clear influence on Taemin’s solo and SHINee’s concept in general.

The first thing you’ll notice about “Married to the Music” is how wacky and fun the video is. It takes most of its inspiration from the 1975 cult classic, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” It shows the boys from SHINee drinking some weird drinks that change their disposition (alcohol! gasp!) and having a wild time in a creepy house. Heads are chopped off, eyeballs popped out as events get stranger by the second. It is by far the most fun video of the year so far. It’s great to see SM actually trying with their videos as well. When they actually put effort in, and take SM artists outside of boxes, SM Entertainment makes the best video they have ever done.


 Also on KultScene: K-Pop Sound, American Style: Marcan Entertainment Is The K-Pop Production K-Pop Agencies Turn To [INTERVIEW]

It’s disappointing then that the lyrics don’t match up with the video at all then. They’re pretty standard, about loving a girl. Even the music metaphor isn’t interesting as it’s always about the girl and not actual music, which could have been cool and unsurprising given SHINee’s seeming love of music, especially Jonghyun.

This disappointment doesn’t last long though as the song more than makes up for it. “Married to the Music” continues the retro theme with funky aplomb. The thing I really like about this song is the wide use of actual instruments over electronics. Apart from the drums it sounds like an actual band could have played this. The wandering bass that carries the song is particularly satisfying and reminiscent of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. The slick guitars provide the funk like no synths can. That’s not to say it’s devoid of electronics though, they are used sparingly to good effect at louder parts of the song like Minho’s rap. The song is a blast and has no trouble keeping up with the outrageous video.

Wonder Girls “I Feel You”

The throwbacks continue with the return of the legendary Wonder Girls. I got into K-pop in late 2011 so missed most of the Wonder Girls mania. So, they never really meant a lot to me apart from having some good songs. However, when the teaser came out for “I Feel You”, the single for their new rebooted band lineup, I fell in love. The MTV inspired video and 80s synth-pop sound appeared so perfectly realised. With the release of the video, this love turned out to be complete.

Like SHINee, it’s the dedication to being retro that really sets Wonder Girls apart. So often recently we have seen groups tack on the most obvious elements of 80s or 90s pop to make their song a retro throwback. The general sound and look of these songs are usually still quite modern, though, so it tends not to work. What Wonder Girls have done is transport the 80s to today and given it modern production values and edgy sexiness. Even with that, “I Feel You,” still sounds like it could have been from the actual 80s.

This is clearly evident in the synth hook that introduces the song. It’s an intoxicating riff that doesn’t outstay its welcome and eventually becomes the hook of the song. This is why the actual chorus comes across as quite flat at first. Sunmi’s softer, kind of talk singing over the chorus doesn’t inspire you to sing along but allows the synth riff to shine once she’s finished. It also works to carry over the sensual feeling of the verse which features similar sexy, whispered vocals. The addition of rapping that can sometimes make a retro K-pop track quite jarring doesn’t even stop “I Feel You” for a moment. Yubin’s deep, sensual voice fits perfectly with the rest of the vocals making her rap more a slightly faster verse than a whole new part.


 Also on KultScene: The Future of Virtual Reality in K-Pop

The music video also completely nails the 80s retro feel. The attention to detail in some of the images is brilliant and quite funny at times. If you ever thought the video was kind of cheesy at times, don’t worry: That’s the point. The opening is probably my favourite where Sunmi turns to the camera, smiles then zips down her shorts to reveal the group on stage. For whatever reason the turn before she smiles makes it for me; it seems unnecessary but works so well. I also love the shots of the girls as they rap the post-chorus part. They have two of the girls in each shot and pull focus as they rap. It’s the type of shot that would never be seen today and is the kind of detail that makes this song and video one of the best of the year so far.

T-ara “So Crazy”

For better or worse, Brave Brothers has become a mainstay of the K-pop environment. His safe but effective music has been increasingly popular in the last few years making him the go to guy for a hit. So his pairing with the once loved T-ara is an appropriate one. Ever since their scandal in 2012, T-ara have had a hard time regaining their popularity in Korea. Instead they have mainly focused on promoting in China where they have had unprecedented success. They, of course, have not given up on their home country though and are teaming up with Brave Brothers for “So Crazy” their new single.

While “So Crazy” stays true to the Brave Brothers form in structure and use of sounds, it is still an incredibly exciting track. It moves at intense speeds. The song doesn’t quite explode until the first chorus but the opening verse is deceptively quick and full to the brim with different sounds. Bouncing horns and layered vocals build anticipation before the song takes off. Its a sound that fits T-ara like few other groups. Their vocals lend to the high-pitched layers especially using the slightly weaker Jiyeon with a stronger vocal like Hyomin’s or Soyeon’s.

“So Crazy” is Brave Brothers at his absolute best. Of the three songs I’ve talked about so far, it is probably the least interesting and yet it remains the most exciting and listenable. His ‘oh oh oh’ hook once again works its magic. The song has an unhinged quality that is usually absent in Brave Brothers songs. It hits all the same beats as any recent AOA song yet there is always so much going that it never bores and feels like it could lift off into the stratosphere at any time.

What do you think of these three songs and of the current state of K-pop? 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.

Playlist Sunday: Animal Edition

This week, KultScene’s staff highlights some of our favorite animal-influenced songs. While some songs are more closely related to animals, whether it be their title or the outfits that the singers wear while performing or the lyrics of the song, these six songs from TVXQ, EXO, T-ara, and 2AM’s Jo Kwon will hopefully make you think of the animal kingdom.

“What are you supposed to be?” “I’m a mouse, duh.” Oh, Mean Girls. T-ara’s Bo Peep Bo Peep is a bit along the same lines, just with some adorable ears, tails, and gloves. The song’s addictive hook and catchy dance led to much success from T-ara in 2009 when the song was released, and became the song that the group debuted with in Japan in 2011. So Little Bo Peep is actually the shepherdess of the sheep, but T-ara’s dressed like cute cats, so it definitely counts, right?


—Tamar

My pick for this week’s Playlist Sunday is not a literal translation to animal. EXO’s Let Out The Beast uses adjectives that describe animals, such as “instinct”, “gazes”, “unleash the beast” and so on. These words describe the animal within us and EXO urges everyone to let it out and to have a great time while living your life. Let Out The Beast has a great beat and infectious chorus that makes it easy to sing along to and to get pumped up for whatever it is you’re doing. So unleash your inner beast and enjoy everything life throws at you.

— Tara

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

TVXQ’s “Balloons” is a single off of their 2006 album “O-Jung.Ban.Hap.” This song and music video is extremely bubbly and upbeat and can attract viewers of any age group. When this first came out 8 years ago, it was targeted towards the younger generation, hence the adorable animal outfits and cute choreography but it was also a reminder for the older generation of their forgotten youth. When you’re young, all you want to do is to “grow up” and do all these adult things that you see people around you do; you rush through so much of your childhood, so much that the things that use to be important, no longer mattered; that is, until you’re an adult and those memories come flooding back which then causes you to question where the time went.

“Balloons” continues to be a reminder for the viewers, new and old, of those beautiful childhood memories and the pure innocence that your childhood contained. Besides the fact that this song can make one feel warm and happy inside, how can you look past the fact that these were grown guys wearing animal onesies?!

—Tam

If there’s any song that expresses one’s inner animal is 2AM’s Jo Kwon’s track Animal. There is no official music video for the song but Jo Kwon fiercely performed in a very avant-garde look. Decked out in feathers, leather, and Jeffrey Campbell’s heel-less shoes Jo Kwon defined the norms and fully expressed himself with his fashion. The track is perfect for a night out to “turn up” with your friends. Plus the song features pre-debut BTS J-Hope which adds that roughness that was needed in the song.

–Alejandro

The first time I heard TVXQ’s Yunho’s solo Honey Funny Bunny at their Catch Me World Tour, my lust for him awoke. I was covering the event for an outlet and I was barely getting acquainted with the group, and I couldn’t believe Yunho was making those movements on stage. To say my jaw dropped to the floor in surprise and excitement is an understatement. But despite the very sensual choreography, the song is actually pretty cool too, being an endearing ode to his “bunny.” The smoothness in Yunho’s vocals made me think that R&B is his genre; Honey Funny Bunny is baby making music at its best.


— Alexis

More EXO here but this time it’s their best song, Wolf. You heard me right, their almost universally hated second single is my favourite EXO song and was one of my favourite’s of 2013. The reason I like it so much is because from those first few flute notes to the last ‘awoos’ I had no idea where this song was going to go. Each moment surprised and delighted me and made me want to keep coming back to get my head around it. The wolf concept is used well in the dance and lyrics, despite their cheesiness at times (get it?). EXO’s movements are animalistic and they come off with great energy on stage when performing. Each part of this song is executed in an abnormal fashion but comes together to create a complete performance in true S.M fashion.

–Joe

Did we forget any “animal” related songs? 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.

When K-Pop Lineups Change – 9 Muses

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

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

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

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

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

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T-ara & the China Influence

Amongst idol groups, scandals in K-pop have rarely had a lasting impact on the success of those on the receiving end. Members have bitterly left, got caught up in accidents, said something controversial, but in nearly all cases, these are forgotten or pushed to the side to allow the group or artist to continue their career. T-ara is one of the rare cases. The departure of Hwayoung and its aftermath have had lasting effects on the success and popularity of T-ara.

Before this scandal they were on their way to become one of the top three most popular girl groups with the massive hits of Roly Poly and Lovey Dovey, selling 4 and 3.7 million copies respectively. However, sales of their singles have been dropping ever since, with Sexy Love selling one million, Number 9 600,000, and Sugar Free 120,000.

To turn around their fortunes, T-ara had to get creative with their marketing. Sales and views in a foreign market for Number 9 gave them a unique opportunity. Not only was this market willing to help T-ara, it was also one of the biggest in the world, China. K-Pop has had a link with China for a while now, especially through SM’s use of Chinese idols. These idols were picked specifically to appeal to China, including having sub-units like Super Junior-M.

However, this approach has been mostly exclusive to SM, and while it has been successful, it has never had a huge crossover hit. There has never been great success over there like in Japan, where Kara in particular became household names. T-ara however, have begun to attack this market in order to make up for their losses in Korea, and their unprecedented success poses new possibilities that SM artists have not yet encountered.

Also on KultScene: The Colors Of K-Pop: Red

The popularity seemed to come out of nowhere. All the singles leading up to Number 9 did not light up the Chinese public’s imagination any more than all the other K-Pop groups. For seemingly no obvious reason, Number 9 has gone on to be the most watched video on China’s version of Youtube, Yinyuetai. It has 116 million views, one million more than the number two spot, which is Psy’s worldwide hit Gangnam Style, and over 50 million more than the number three. At the time of Number 9’s release, T-ara had seven of the top ten videos in the Yinyuetai Korean music real time chart with this song at the top.

What sort of effect will this have on T-ara’s career and the Korean music industry as a whole? For T-ara, they continue pursuing success over there as they have just released their first Chinese single, a Korean remake of a comedy viral hit Little Apple. The success of a group with no obvious connections to China offers up some possible effects on the industry that could cause big changes, similar to Kara in Japan. Now any group can aspire to make it big in the most populated country in the world.

K-Pop’s previous move into the Japanese market and Hollywood’s recent collaborations with China show us some possible directions K-Pop might follow in its own journey to China. For a long time now, K-Pop groups and artists have been attempting to break into the Japanese market in order to tap into the biggest music market in the world. Kara were one of the early success stories as they became as famous in Japan as they were in Korea. They did this by playing to Japanese tastes with cute concepts and J-Pop style electro music. Kara’s success led other groups into this new market.

The usual formula was for a Korean group to become somewhat popular in Korea before releasing Japanese versions of their most popular songs there. It worked well for some like Kara, Girls’ Generation, and 2pm, but many were forgotten quickly before eventually giving up on Japan. In recent times, sales have been dropping for all Korean releases in Japan and most groups have given up on the market entirely. This leaves a hole in the Korean industry which loses a lot of money and coverage for its groups. However, it is a hole that China could fill.

Entering this market will likely not be the same as Japan, of course. It’s a different culture, so it requires different attention. China’s lack of cultural diversity and output means there is no obvious aesthetic to latch onto. While Japan is also a fairly closed off society it has a discernible global image for foreigners to use if they want to break into that market. However, China lacks this image, so groups must find alternative ways of appealing to the public. If we take Number 9 as an example of something that can succeed, then all we’re left with is generic EDM inspired pop. There’s no discernible element of that song that makes it a good test for what the Chinese audience wants.

Hollywood’s activity with China might show what could happen if K-Pop pursues this country. In recent years, Hollywood blockbusters like Transformers 4 and Pacific Rim have started using China as a location more and more. Some films like Iron Man 3 have different cuts that are shown in said country, which featured Chinese actress Fan Bingbing. This is because China is the fastest growing cinema market in the world, and Hollywood is exploiting this by appealing to the Chinese masses with recognizable locations and actors.

So in the future, will we see China-centric K-Pop? Will there be collaborations between IU and female Chinese soloist Jolin Tsai? Or will there be just Chinese versions of K-Pop songs and a push in performances and promotion over there?

Also on KultScene: K-Pop Comebacks We Need NOW

If we take T-ara as the potential leaders of a Korean movement into China then it seems it will most likely be a mix of both. Ever since their growing success there, they have made many more appearances in China and are holding large concerts. They have also made a video in China for their single Do You Know Me? However, their new release of Little Apple is an example of direct collaboration with a Chinese artist, The Chopstick Brothers, which they will be used as a marketing ploy.

If T-ara does continue promoting in China, they could replicate Kara’s success in Japan and usher in a flood of K-pop groups attempting to break that market just like them. Like in Hollywood, this could cause companies to focus on appealing to Chinese wallets rather than the artistic qualities of the song, essentially making money the most prominent style. Whether K-Pop uses its own tried and tested method or more in line with Hollywood’s, China is going to have a big effect on the industry thanks to T-ara. Who could have predicted one member leaving a popular girl group could have subsequently caused such an impact?

t-ara gif china

via jphip

Do you think China is K-Pop’s newest frontier? 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.