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Jonghyun’s The Collection ‘Story Op.2’ album review

I want to be clear when I say that I expected nothing less from Jonghyun’s newest release than what I received. Because in all honesty, the SHINee member’s captivating music composition and ethos are consistent in their individual brilliance, from the soul and funk of She Is to the effortless groove of Base.

And although The Collection: “Story Op.2” serves as a follow up to Jonghyun’s The Collection: “Story Op.1,” this newest release doesn’t prove strictly synonymous. Instead, it serves as a reminder that love, in all its glory does present pain and that such misery can either present itself as inescapable devastation or beautiful chaos that’s worth fighting for.

The Collection: “Story Op.2” presents itself as somewhat of a departure from albums past. Here, Jonghyun poses himself as more than just a vocalist; he’s the maestro, the composer, the lyricist, and the producer. The album presents itself with a bit of everything from sorrowful ballads and steady R&B beats to hopeful odes of what’s to come, similar to Jonghyun’s first installment, The Collection: “Story Op.1.”

The album begins with its title track, “Lonely,” which features a bit of star power and combines vocals from both Jonghyun and Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon. It’s also the only song on the album that has a music video The single showcases an honest and strikingly desolate depiction of what it means to be alone. It also delivers dark undertones of the detrimental pain and suffocation that arises while in isolation, especially the experience of feeling sequestered and detached from someone even within a seemingly “happy” relationship.

The album’s second track “1000” introduces light guitar strums and highlights how even after an extended time, intimate love in its truest form can still remain intact.


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What comes next is “Just Chill,” which discusses taking a moment to disconnect from the world and love entirely by taking solace in silence, while its companion, “Love Is So Nice,” drops into a two step of sorts and revels in the carousel of casual and comfortable romance, such as lying in bed together or taking a devil-may-care attitude when making plans.

Track number five, “Blinking Game,” is instead a more playful jazz track. Here, the tone is more lighthearted as the artist frolics in the beauty that love provides, posing a tongue-in-cheek staring contest with his lover to see who breaks first. And when she begins to feel shy he politely requests she not look away, for her bare beauty is what he truly desires. And “Elevator” takes a departure in tone entirely, serving as an aching ballad that seemingly presents Jonghyun as his own bystander struggling to reconcile his demons.

The track that packs the most powerful punch arrives toward the end of the album titled, “Let Me Out.” This is a track that gives a potent delivery of what it means to be paralyzed by the past, specifically concerning matters of nostalgia and being unable to forgive oneself from past transgressions. The beat is methodical, beginning with piano tricklings that instantly capture the ear and induce a focused series of vocals centered on introspection as the song intensifies then decrescendos to a solemn conclusion. And it’s that resistance and the pleas of wanting to let a loved one go that keeps the listener locked from start to finish.

“Fireplace” then provides a powerful follow up, except this time the lyrics provide a more hardened approach to forgotten memories of what was. Here, the love that was present is no longer and in place of the plea of “Let Me Out” is a blatant understanding and indifference to wanting things as they were. The forlorn vocals are smooth and mesmerize the senses, leaving the ear tantalized with whispers of lost expectations.


Also on KultScene: Album Review: SHINee’s ‘Odd’

Jonghyun’s album concludes with “Our Season,” a brighter ballad that relaxes the previous instances of melancholy and ventures into hopeful declarations of reuniting with love only after constructive dissection of how to positively move forward and learn from one’s mistakes.

Really, this an album centered on introspection, pain, reciprocity and unapologetic honesty when it comes to matters of the heart, which makes this record a must listen for any and all.

What did you think of Jonghyun’s latest album? Leave a comment below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Weekly K-Pop Faves Feb 27-March 5

Each week, the KultScene crew gets together and talks which K-pop songs released the past week caught our attention. The last week of February saw a lot of good releases, but we focused this week’s playlist on boy band Victon, a B-side from the first LP from Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon, and a hip hop collab between LIVE and DEAN.

“Eyez Eyez” by VICTON (Released Mar. 2)

Despite being all quite similar, the new generation of boy groups are quite good at delivering classic K-pop sounding tracks. VICTON’s “Eyez Eyez” is one of the best examples. Pairing the synths of Sweetune with dripping dub reminiscent of Nu’est at their best, “Eyez Eyez” is dramatic in the ways that only K-pop boy groups can be. The developing mix of synths and dub carries this drama throughout, however, never steering into the realm of silliness. Especially in the pre-chorus, it kicks into overdrive with vocals pushing the music to keep up. It has no trouble as the song climbs to an epic plateau where a chorus can naturally occur. Producers BeomXNang have worked with VICTON on all their singles so far, improving each time. VICTON lack in distinctive qualities but compared to other boy groups right now, few can compete in terms of consistency.

— Joe

Also on KultScene: Is K.A.R.D the future of K-pop?

“Cover Up” by Taeyeon (Released Feb. 28)

With its light-hearted tropical beats and Taeyeon’s brightly effusive deliver of the lovestruck lyrics, the sweet “Cover Up” is a standout from Taeyeon’s My Voice album. It’s quite honestly like a burst of fresh air on the album after “Fine,” the more melancholic opening track. “Cover Up” seems like a more positive, saccharine spin on the the electro-pop feel Taeyeon pursued on last year’s “Why,” although altogether more of a feel good song. Practically incessant in its cheeriness and cool, romantic tone, “Cover Up” seems more like a song suited for the start of spring than at the end of the winter (although I guess those are the same thing?), but regardless of its release date I am very, very happy and would love to hear this spritely version of Taeyeon more often.


— Tamar

“Know Me (feat. DEAN)” by LIVE (Released Mar 1)

I honestly don’t know who LIVE is, but he’s got a new song out with none other than DEAN, and well, here we are. In “Know Me,” DEAN doesn’t just lend his velvety vocals and falsettos, but actually talk raps and he absolutely killed it. MORE OF THIS PLEASE! The song itself goes on a roller coaster, going from fast-paced, fire spitting bars to a more mellow lullaby. And it’s just not DEAN who makes the song amazing, but LIVE’s rapping is pretty dope. I may not had known him before, but as the lyrics say, now I do.

— Alexis
What was your favorite song of the week? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

The Big Three: K-Pop Record Label Mid-Year Review

taeyeon bigbang twice jyp yg sm

Whether you’re an Inspirit, Pink Panda, Blackjack, S<3NE, B2UTY, or anything in between, you probably know the names of some of K-pop’s biggest record labels. From SM to YG to JYP to Cube to others, each label plays a huge role in the present and future of K-pop’s stars and the industry as a whole. And every year, some labels grow in power while others get closer and closer to obscurity.

Halfway through this year, some labels have tons to work on, while others are definitely killing it. Let’s take a look at some of K-pop’s biggest record labels and talk about their strengths and weaknesses from throughout the year. The evaluation will be based on the following five categories: Artist Management, Artist Popularity, Music Quality, Music Popularity, and Overall Success. For the first part, I’ll be discussing SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment, affectionately known as the Big Three labels. With the biggest overall success, popularity, market share in some areas, these companies are on a separate level than other labels, and therefore deserve an article of their own.


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SM Entertainment

SM Tiffany Taemin Taeyeon NCT U

The worldwide leader of K-pop entertainment is still thriving. With major artists like EXO, Taeyeon, Red Velvet, and more leading the first half of the year, SM has clearly spared no expense in maintaining its seat on the throne for K-pop kings and queens. It seems like every week or two brings a new album release out of SM, along with actual weekly song releases through SM’s ambitious STATION music project. Collectively, the frequency and efficiency with which SM releases are things other labels can only dream of emulating.

And with that, there’s an emphasis on solos and subunits. So far, we have seen solo releases from Taeyeon, Tiffany, Jonghyun, Taemin, Yesung, Ryeowook, Luna, Amber, to name a few, with rumored solos in the works for Seohyun, Yuri, and Onew. The amount of fanbase power that each artist, whether in solo, subunit or full-group releases, ensures SM’s continued relevance and money-making abilities. Each mini-album sells a few ten-thousand albums and brings the label more profit. Artists are also receiving more creative freedom, with SHINee members Taemin and Jonghyun having extensive control over their own solo releases. With Taemin, NCT’s Ten, and Hyoyeon all participating on Mnet’s “Hit the Stage” in addition to tons of schedules for non-enlisted Super Junior members, Girls’ Generation members, and f(x) members, it seems SM is also doing a good job of keeping its artists within the spotlight.

SM’s only major weakness this year, however, is completely self-inflicted (and also very noticeable). With minimal promotion for some solo releases and a seemingly compulsive desire to dive into alternative and electronic genres, SM is losing the Korean crowd on digital charts. EXO’s “Call Me Baby” made #2 on 2015’s First Half-Year Gaon Chart, proving that “Call Me Baby” was a strong and popular release throughout and beyond its promotion cycle. On 2016’s Half-Year Chart, the highest-charting SM song is “Everytime” by Chen and Punch at #11. This song wasn’t even part of SM’s promotions, as it was part of the “Descendants of the Sun” OST. Aside from a few STATION releases that went without promotion on music shows and 2015’s “I” by Taeyeon, the only SM song in the Top 100 that was actually promoted this year is EXO’s “Monster,” which sits at #100. Clearly, SM is taking horrible losses in the digital market.

It seems, however, that SM knows their songs aren’t demolishing the charts, and seems to value the quality and quantity over digital success and public popularity. While it might be frustrating seeing our faves so low on the charts, SM seems to have an agenda — even with new group NCT, which is aiming for world domination. We’ll just have to wait to see more of what SM is planning. The only other weakness is scandals, which have hurt artists like Krystal, Kai, Victoria, Lay, and Zhoumi. Since we have yet to see the full effect of these scandals in the context of a musical release (except for Zhoumi, but there aren’t many negative effects since he was never super popular in Korea to begin with), these scandals are still only minor losses for SM.

For the first half of 2016, they get a solid 8.5/10 from me.

YG Entertainment

yg akmu akdong musician winner lee hi

Angry fans everywhere can tell you that YG is slacking. The once-great label was home to domestic and international chart-topping groups, with huge fanbase power in tow. Now, it’s another story, and YG is entirely to blame for its mistakes. As expected of a group with ten years under its belt, BIGBANG is slowing down with releases, especially considering the fact that none of the five members have enlisted in the military yet. As a result, we are left with the remains of 2NE1, which continues on a downward spiral of mismanagement, and newer artists like WINNER, iKON, Lee Hi, AKMU, and, originally “by the end of July” now August 8th, Black Pink. These artists are by no means bad, but YG fails to give them the proper management to make them succeed. They still don’t make many TV appearances, and have huge hiatuses between comebacks. Lee Hi lost a lot of traction and momentum once YG delayed her comeback for over three years — WINNER had a similar situation, waiting over a year for a comeback as well.

This isn’t to say that YG doesn’t have some successes this year — while many say that WINNER’s comeback was a failure, this isn’t entirely true, as their one mini-album yielded three top ten singles this year. Lee Hi shot the same number of songs to the top ten with her album “Seoulite,” and Akdong Musician achieved a number-one hit with the catchy “Re-Bye.” Even iKON got into the top three without any promotion with “#WYD.” Not everything is in shambles for YG, as their newer artists are clearly decently popular, but there’s definitely a lot to criticize.

Let’s look at the current situation — 2NE1’s three-member summer comeback is nowhere in sight, WINNER’s E.X.I.T. series, which was supposed to yield four albums throughout the year, has only seen one album release with the year’s seventh month having come to a close. iKON’s July comeback never happened (aside from a few random singles), BIGBANG’s MADE album from last year is still lost in the void, and only the next week will be able to show us whether YG actually puts out Black Pink on August 8th like the company is saying. It seems the only good things about YG this year are the quality of the music (even though it takes an eternity to be released) and sub-label recruitments from HIGHGRND and The Black Label. On the whole, YG gets a 4/10 from me. Burn.

JYP Entertainment

GOT7 JYP Wonder Girls TWICE Baek Ah Yeon Baek Yerin

Arguably the most successful label of the year, JYP has made quite a comeback of its own. I love a good underdog, and seeing JYP rise from the ashes of its pre-2015 decline has been quite exciting. With the explosive success that is TWICE, the label is definitely raking in the dough this year. Based on further analysis of the Gaon Chart, it’s evident that TWICE’s second mini album “Page Two” has already sold more than any previous Wonder Girls or Miss A album, and TWICE’s two mini albums have, in less than a year, collectively outsold the entirety of Miss A’s discography. With tons of CFs and variety appearances in tow, TWICE has clearly given JYP new life.

But TWICE isn’t JYP’s only success this year. With successful releases from Baek Ah Yeon, Baek Yerin, and Wonder Girls, the label is a huge success in terms of musical and artist popularity this year. Wonder Girls is an especially large win, considering that the group was in danger of becoming irrelevant after last year’s “I Feel You.” Through “Why So Lonely”’s breakthrough success (the song still tops charts almost a month after release), Wonder Girls have proved the resilience of both their group and their label. JYP teaches us all that a label is truly successful when both its older and newer groups can make waves in the K-pop world.

Along with profits piling in from TWICE, GOT7, and a successful Japanese release from 2PM, JYP is killing it in all aspects of success. It’s also definitely notable that its artists are being promoted well — many are given creative freedom, constant releases, and stable promotion. Each TWICE member has made upwards of seven or eight variety appearances since debut. While Tzuyu and Sana are currently the most popular members, JYP is taking the time to bring Jihyo and Momo some attention as well, given their recent appearances on shows like “King of Mask Singer” and “Hit the Stage,” respectively.

Keeping all of this success in mind, JYP has taken a few hits this year, specifically in GOT7’s scandal and Fei’s recent solo release. While GOT7’s controversial actions definitely hurt their reputation in Korea and possibly abroad, the group still has a lot of room for upward advancement, given their increasing sales and ability to tour worldwide. Fei was never incredibly popular, and her recent support of China in the South China Sea dispute has really hurt her Korean reputation as well. The result was catastrophic — the single fell off of most charts within a day of release. Recognizing these minor losses as nothing more than, well, minor losses, JYP gets a stellar 9.5/10 from me.


Also on KultScene: An Ode to SHINee on the Eve of KCON LA 2016

And that wraps up the Mid-Year Review of the Big Three. For the first time in years, it seems like JYP has become the overall best label of the year so far. We can only hope that their success continues, while praying that SM can get themselves a hit or two before the year’s end and that YG lives up to at least a fourth of its promises.

The ranking is as such:

  1. JYP Entertainment — 9.5/10
  2. SM Entertainment — 8.5/10
  3. YG Entertainment — 4/10

What do you think of the Big Three so far this year? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Battle of the “Why:” Wanna.B vs Taeyeon

Taeyeon & Wanna.B
Why were there two songs called “Why” released on the same day, 28th June? What links these tracks, one by titan of K-pop Taeyeon and the other by flop girl group Wanna.B? Nothing really, but the coincidence of their titles is an excuse to compare both the songs. In most cases it is probably irrelevant, but I think it might be interesting to see directly side by side the gap between the biggest and smallest of what K-pop can give us.

“Why” by Wanna.B

Watching Wanna.B’s “Why” for the first time we get an air of familiarity before anything else. The video and sound is almost a direct jack from Mamamoo, particularly “Um Oh Ah Yeah” for the video. Their sound continues the jazzy horns but tones them down considerably with more emphasis played on an overall mix. More pop oriented than Mamamoo, but the hallmarks are there. Even the whiny raps come off distinct like Hwasa’s own peculiar drawl. This proves that they are really starting to have an impact. The GFriend clones were coming all over the place, but only have the Mama-mimes shown themselves. It does represent some sort of a step up for Wanna.B though, who last year put out an After School inspired track “Attention;” Everyone knows After School are so 2013 (I don’t mean this please let them come back Pledis).


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Why Mamamoo? The pop comedy angle is an interesting one that can garner a lot of fans if done well but be embarrassing done wrong. I don’t think Wanna.B will pursue it quite like Mamamoo, but it is present here with the gurning actors and cosplay settings in their video. Musically, it sits in an awkward position between a Mamamoo inspired jazz belter and a Brave Brothers classic. It sticks to the structure but never fluctuates in intensity. Like many songs, a rap is used as the break/bridge. The vocal itself works well, the delivery is accusatory and playful whipping around the beat. Yet the song never takes off alongside it. It sticks to its plucked strings and horns, which again are nice sounds but stagnant within these confines.

Wanna.B’s why is for a man, obviously. They curse themselves for not being able to seduce a man with their high heels, perfume, and general things that make them prettier. Like the music, there’s no progression of ideas. One might ask, why?

 

“Why” by Taeyeon

Taeyeon’s very own “Why” also provides us with a sense of deja vu with first listen. Since discovering producers LDN Noise on SHINee’s “View,” SM have used them for a number of songs, essentially letting them define the current SM sound. Given their name it’s no surprise that it’s a typically British house/garage sound. They return to production duties here alongside Rodnae Bell (EXO’s “Monster,” SNSD’s “Mr Mr”) and Laura Dyson, with lyrics by Jo Yoon Kyung.


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In adapting to SM’s house sound, Taeyeon has not completely lost her original solo colour. The laid-back pop of “I” and “Rain” is in fact bolstered and allowed to move up with it. Those previous songs relied on her vocals to progress the song. “Why” builds constantly thanks to both the vocals and music. It begins with a verse that alone would have been seen as fairly generic. Yet it builds nicely, with subtle tropical hints of what is to come. The soaring chorus that follows is a perfect mix of the two sounds. Taeyeon’s vocals, which I thought might not have fit, are beautiful in their inquisitiveness alongside thumping house beats. Those refrains of “good, good” come for my very soul. The chorus transitions directly into another verse while continuing on the blend of house slow-jam. It progresses the song without an abrupt moment. This is what Wanna.B sorely lacked. While different in genre, Taeyeon’s “Why” rises and falls and adds new elements at every turn. Wanna.B’s “Why” picked its direction and could not see otherwise.

Taeyeon’s track continually makes the right choices in production, particularly the bridge which firsts gives Taeyeon her vocal moment but allows the music to take over for the big break. LDN Noise knew this was not a regular Taeyeon track and knowing that they allowed her to shine in a different manner. The lyrics that drive the production are also more interesting than Wanna.B. They are the correct use of a title like “Why.” Taeyeon is a curious traveller, moving at random in search of beautiful moments, “The needle that would turn on a compass, Blooming abundantly at the place where it stops.” She projects an openness to allowing life to happen to her. It’s a feeling that fits with her new sound, an unfamiliarity driven by fresh experiences.

 

Why Taeyeon and Wanna.B?

It has proven to be somewhat unfair to compare these two. Although, like I mentioned before, there are things we can take from this. Namely as the gap between big and small companies gets smaller with regards to production level and to a lesser but growing extent sales, it seems like the bigger companies are still getting better. The sound quality between Taeyeon and Wanna.B is not vastly different, yet Taeyeon’s “Why” is vastly superior. SM have always proven to be sharp hit makers and they continually remain on top because of their adaptability. Not only that, but they also make the hip sounds of the time their own, creating new structures to place sounds in. SM’s ingenuity with the song as a total experience is why they remain on top.

Wanna.B, on the other hand, have taken a popular sound and look directly from a single group, watered it down a bit, and made it sound like the most classic of K-pop tracks. Through these filters, the special things about each of these elements is lost. The individuality of Mamamoo, the inexplicable joyous pop of a Brave Brothers track, and Wanna.B’s own flair are all forgotten. So disappointingly we leave knowing that the big dogs win again. Yet Wanna.B are only one of a string of lesser known girl groups with releases towards the end of July. Maybe there is hope.

Which “Why” do you prefer? Taeyeon or Wanna.B? Let us know WHY 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’s Competition: What Korea Also Listened To In 2015

What Koreans Listend To In 2015

With guyliner to spare and an abundance of autotune, one would think that all South Korea has to offer the music world is K-pop’s girl groups and boy bands. But calling everything that Korea has to offer “K-pop” is doing the world a disservice, and moving past the K-pop title opens up a whole new variety of music. So let’s take a look at what Korea also listened to in 2015.

Thriving on ingenuity and high production values, music coming out of South Korea is some of the most innovative in the world today. But between Psy and K-pop girl groups and boy bands, it is easy to overlook what else the country is producing. K-pop is phenomena, but despite its popularity K-pop isn’t necessarily what the average Korean is going to listen to day in and day out. Defining what K-pop exactly is isn’t the easiest thing, but when you see it, you know it and its not innately bad. It’s primarily dance-pop music produced by entertainment agencies, typically sung by teenagers and twenty-somethings who have trained for years to become pop stars. It’s enjoyable. And what is left is the music that we should all take notice of.

With an ample amount of soft rock, romantic ballads, retro pop, R&B, and rap thrown in for good measure, mainstream Korean music is all over the place, in part because Korean culture thrives on the new and experimental. The top tracks in Korea nowadays offer something fresh and familiar all at once. Many of the most popular songs are more mature, mellower alternatives to the feverishness of K-pop dance tracks. Indie music, which is so mainstream in other countries, struggles, but has made leaps and bounds in the past few years with songs by bands like Busker Busker and Hyukoh rising from the dust like little indie demons ready to slay acts put out by the large music companies that dominate South Korea.


Also on KultScene: Playlist Sunday: Worst Korean Singles of 2015

Meanwhile, the most popular genre of Korean music in 2015, aside from K-pop, is Korea’s take on hip hop. Hardly any singles are released nowadays without a featured rapper adding some spit to the track. Even K-pop acts incorporate hip hop, with just about every group having at least one designated rapper. Korea has been playing with hip hop for years, and prominent acts like MFBTY (Drunken Tiger) and Epik High still remain relevant amidst the onslaught of pop acts. But it was only a few years ago that hip hop gained true relevancy in South Korea’s music scene, and 2015 has seen an onslaught of hip hop releases. Rather than being anti-establishment, radio friendly hip hop songs in South Korea are largely related to the struggles of daily life and society.

With unexpected elements and a bit of something for everyone, mainstream Korean music comes off as less mainstream and more experimental. This year alone has seen great variety from both K-pop and non K-pop artists. Duets are still popular, but Korean music is able to retain its favoritism towards duet and ballads while transmuting the music to fit more modern tastes. The two worlds often collide, since K-pop is king in South Korea, but the variety and depth of music that Korean artists are putting out is something worth taking more than a cursory glance at.
[Disclaimer: It would be impossible to cover all non-K-pop songs, so I picked some of the most popular songs from Korea’s Gaon chart. Excluded from the list were songs by K-pop idol groups, although artists who explored beyond the boundaries of K-pop are featured here.]

“Fire” – Mad Clown feat. Jinsil of Mad Soul Child

One of Korea’s up and coming rappers, Mad Clown released the retro-inspired “Fire” earlier this year, straight off of his EP “Piece of Mine.” Despite only joining the mainstream Korean music scene in 2013, Mad Clown has became a mainstay with his smooth hip hop style, and “Fire” is one of his best songs to date. “Fire” tells a story of a man unable to get out of a relationship with a woman who is driving him insane with her actions. Mad Clown’s rapid, high-toned rap contrasts with Jinsil’s sultry taunts, while a big brass band provides the song’s throwback elements.

“W-ing W-ing” Hyukoh

The most surprising musical act of 2015 in South Korea is certainly the soft rock indie band Hyukoh. The shoegaze-esque music produced by the band launched Hyukoh to fame this summer, and “Comes and Goes” became one of their most popular songs overnight. “Comes and Goes,” like all of Hyukoh’s songs, are about the daily struggles that young people face in their daily lives. The lyrics revolve around growing up and finding that your parents spent their entire lives worrying, and that childhood and time in general re fleeting. The gentle strumming introand lead singer Oh Hyuk’s washed out vocals helps the song retain qualities that we’re more used to hearing from 90’s indie bands, but Hyukoh’s the biggest thing to hit Korea in recent years.

“Eat”- Zion. T

Soft spoken hip hop crooners are trendy in Korea nowadays, and 2015 has been a Zion. T’s breakout year, with multiple hit songs including the latest, “Eat.” “Take out this song, enjoy it like a piece of chocolate cake,” Zion.T says, equating his music to comfort food, offering the soft R&B tune to the listeners like a decadent sweet that will help cheer us up. The track keeps things basic, with piano and snapping sounds and not much more for the majority of the song. “Eat” is musical simplicity at its best, but as far as possible from the flash and flare that’s garnered Korean music much of its popularity overseas. Also check out his “Just” collaborative song with Crush.

“Lean On Me”- Soyou of Sistar & Kwon Jeong Yeol of 10cm

Indie and K-pop come together in this romantic duet, with Kwon of the indie duo 10cm joining with Soyou, a popular K-pop balladeer. The soft melody is an acoustic-based song meant to urge people to not give up hope in the face of today’s economy, which is the reported cause of many Koreans giving up on romantic and familial relationship and instead focusing on work. “So many numbers saved on your phone, but you can’t dial a single one up,” they sing, references Korea’s plugged-in culture, urging one another to “Lean On Me.” The Korean-ness of the song is what made it a surefire hit in South Korea: The sweet, melodious duet performed by talented, popular singers, the synth undertones, and the urging to find strength in community are all common themes in Korean music.

“Love Mash” – MC Mong feat. Chancellor of the Channels

MC Mong is arguably one of the most controversial musicians in South Korea after he attempted to get out of mandatory military service. But the radio-friendly pop-rap hybrid “Love Mash” released earlier this year could be less loved. With a light upbeat rhythm, “Love Mash” is a foot-tapping tune that never takes itself too seriously while trying to win back an ex. The humorous take on Korean rap, like where MC Mong describes himself as “smelling like a loser,” is old hat for Korean rap making its way around the world- Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is just one of many instances where South Korean rappers use their music to make fun of themselves and their culture.


Also on KultScene: Top 20 Korean Music Videos of 2015

“Awoo” Lim Kim

Lim Kim, also known as Kim Ye Rim of the indie duo Togeworl, released the playful track early in the year, and gained attention for its multi-elemental style, meshing R&B, pop, and electronic elements. The song is a modern anthem on flirting, combining Lim Kim’s husky voice with her whimsicalness to create a modern take on crushes that compares seduction to being a cat on the prowl, leading to the song’s “Awoo” moments. EDM thumping and scratching distortion makes the song a bit eerie that adds to the song’s mischievousness in a way that keeps it lighthearted but with a twist. The quirky song is a bit off to the left field even for mainstream Korea, but it’s undeniably one of the best production of the year.

“Shouldn’t Have” Baek A Yeon feat. Young K of DAY6

Baek A Yeon’s whimsical “Shouldn’t Have” is everything that Korean music aims to be. A bit of folk, a bit of pop, and extraordinary vocal control kept “Shouldn’t Have” from disappearing into mediocrity, despite Baek A Yeon being relatively unknown in South Korea. The self-composed track is a heartfelt about the regrets and “shouldn’t haves” of a woman. Despite the meaning, the mid-tempo song is something that listeners could tap their feet or bob their head to while singing along. While the song is firmly encompassed in the pop-ballad category, Korea doesn’t go without its raps, so there’s a bit of that thrown in for good measure.

“Leon” –IU & Park Myung Soo

If Taylor Swift and Jimmy Fallon released a song for a late night show skit in Korean, this would be that song. One of the most popular music festivals in South Korea isn’t even organized by musicians, but part of the popular variety show, “Infinite Challenge.” During the span of a few episodes, prominent Korean musicians work with the show’s cast to produce tracks for the festival, including this jazzy song created by Korea’s most Korea’s most darling startle IU and the variety show host Park Myung Soo. The song is based on the 1994 French film, “Leon: The Professional,” about a hitman and the young woman, and the Parisian influences of “Leon” are audible through the delicate instrumental sections, while the song remains firmly rooted in Korean musical theory, with the rap and back and forth between the pair.

“Don’t Be Shy” –Primary feat. ChoA of AOA & Iron

Primary is the man behind the box in South Korea, a producer who has the vision to put together whatever he wants and do well while hiding his face from the public. His latest hit, sung by the captivating K-pop vocalist ChoA and underground rapper Iron, is a tropical, sleepy reggae tune with echoing acid house overtones. Repetition and ChoA’s suggestive words take the song over into the gray zone rarely heard in Korean mainstream music, and the lyrics themselves question what she’s singing about. “That risky line, should I cross it or not?” ChoA wonders as her breathiness carries over the drumbeats. Iron’s rap takes the song down a few notches, his sleepy rhymes offering a moment of relative clarity in an otherwise hypnotic tune.

“I” – Taeyeon feat. Verbal Jint

Kim Taeyeon is the lead vocalist of Girls’ Generation, the most K-pop girl group of all, but her first EP as a soloist came out in October and solidified her place as one of Korea’s most intriguing artists. ” Bringing the intensity of K-pop production while exploring other genres, “I” is one of the K-pop hybrid songs that are making waves in South Korea today. Her self-declarative tune is an ambient soft rock song that wouldn’t be out of place from a movie soundtrack. With a few quirks- starting the song off with the chorus and quickly bringing in the featured artist- “I” exploits Taeyeon’s vocals in the best way possible, layering her vocals at times while allowing the crisp sound to fly free during other moments.

“Love Again” – Lim Chang Jung

This emotional song could do no wrong in 2015. With Lim’s crisp vocals over simple piano melodies, the song starts off simply before building into a soaring, heartfelt ballad. “Love Again” is the quintessential Korean ballad of 2015, with its bare minimum musical elements and focusing primarily on Lim Chung Jang’s strong, sincere voice. Strings and a heavy beat provide a background for the majority of the song, which is all about second-chances in love, a common theme in South Korean songs.

“Boys and Girls” –Zico feat. Babylon

If Taeyeon was the K-pop singer who broke through to everyone’s heartstrings in 2015 with her solo, Block B’s Zico just can’t be ignored. His tropical, synth-y take on K-hop-hop song in “Boys and Girls” was one of the most popular songs at last year’s end. Compared to Zico’s more in your face songs (like “Tough Cookie,”) “Boys and Girls” appealed to the Korean public’s taste with its lighthearted, yet technically impressive fun-filled rap. At the end of the year, as South Koreans prepared for a cold winter and new year, Zico’s song made people smile and ensured that hip hop would still be a trend in 2016.

What do you think of what South Korea was listening to in 2015? Does our list cover all of your favorite songs? Let us know in the comments section below. Share your thoughts on the drama 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.

Fantasy Vs Reality: MAMA 2015 Award Winners

MAMA awards

Much to the delight of international K-pop fans, the annual Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA) is coming round again on the second of December and will be held in Macau. Nominees for the various categories were announced on Oct. 31,and fan voting began on the same day. It is already shaping up to be a heated battle between the multiple fandoms but there are a few groups that have already gained and maintained a strong lead against their competitors.

Based on the results of previous years, there is a definite correlation between the size of a group’s fanbase and their chances of winning awards, which might unfairly cause more deserving groups to miss out on their prize. To acknowledge the possibly underappreciated groups and artists that will not be recognised during the awards, let’s have a round of Fantasy Vs Reality as a prediction for this year’s winners –with the exception of Union Pay Artist and Song of the Year, there are too many nominees for us to pick!

1. Best New Male/Female Artist

Fantasy: SEVENTEEN & Oh My Girl
These two groups could not be more different in nature but the one thing they have in common is that they’re insanely talented. From participating in the composing and production of their own tracks (SEVENTEEN) to standing out amongst several other girl groups using cute concepts (Oh My Girl), both groups have massive potential and will go far in the K-pop industry. Although they have been gaining a lot of fans since their debuts, neither of these two groups have a large enough fanbase at the moment to ensure their victory in MAMA. However, I’m looking forward to their work in the future!


Reality: iKon & TWICE
Both these groups debuted from huge and rich entertainment companies (YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment) which had previously produced hugely successful acts such as BIGBANG and the Wonder Girls, so it is a given that they would have a more polished debut filled with lots of high budget teasers, hype and music show promotions. Both groups had also participated in pre-debut reality competition shows (“Mix or Match” and “Sixteen”) which garnered the members a sizeable fan base, giving them a headstart and strong lead against other rookie groups. For so much hype though, their actual debut proved to be underwhelming, especially in the case of iKon, so they may not be as deserving of this award in a year filled with better rookie debuts.

2. Best Male/Female Artist

Fantasy: Jung Yonghwa(CNBLUE)/Ailee
It’s pretty interesting how Yonghwa’s solo album that was released earlier this year was so much better than his group’s recent comeback in terms of its musicality, catchiness and coherence as an album. The title track “One Fine Day” was a great song even though it was more of a ballad than anything else, and Yonghwa had a few great collaborations with artists such as JJ Lin and Verbal Jint in the other tracks, all of which contributed to my opinion of him as the best male solo artist of the year, even though he may not be recognised widely for his efforts. Ailee, on the other hand, is definitely a well-known and respected female soloist. She has been nominated for the same award at least two times now but she has always been shy of receiving it. Her releases are consistently amazing and she is always wowing fans with her performances on “Immortal Song” or other music shows. Someone give this woman an award already!


Reality: Kyuhyun(Super Junior)/IU
I cannot deny that Kyuhyun is a great soloist and his releases so far have been nothing short of amazing. However he always sings the same genre of music (ballads) and I believe that his songs are a little over-rated. In my opinion, he may not be as deserving as other more diverse soloists like Yonghwa but he will surely attain victory thanks to his enormous fanbase. Likewise, I cannot really complain about IU because it is true that she is an extremely talented soloist and a diverse singer at that. She also has collaborated with countless artists in the past year and has even impressed fans with her performance in “The Producers” as idol singer Cindy. With her recent release “23,” she showcased a honest side of herself, all of which has helped her add fans to her already large group of supporters. While she is certainly deserving of the award, she has also won the same award previously so perhaps it is time to give the other nominees some recognition.

3. Best Male/Female Group

Fantasy: BTS/AOA
It’s been a great year for both these groups who have achieved major breakthroughs in their career. For AOA in particular, after they changed their concept from being a female band to being an ultra sexy girl group in 2014 it has worked wonders for them. They have gained a lot more fans and recognition through their releases such as “Like a Cat”, “Miniskirt”, and their most recent comeback, “Heart Attack.” BTS has been going strong ever since their debut in 2013 and has been steadily building up their fanbase of ARMY, their fan name, with addictive releases such as “I Need You” and “Dope.” Their songs are of a consistently good standard and each member showcases impressive vocal and rapping skills accordingly. What is there not to like about this group? Both these groups deserve awards for the improvements and work they have done over this year.


Reality: BIGBANG & Girls’ Generation
If Best Male/Female Group was determined on which groups were the most active this year, it would make sense that these two groups would be awarded. In the case of BIGBANG, they’ve had an extremely busy year with their “Made” album, in which two title tracks were released every month starting from May. While I am definitely a fan of BIGBANG’s songs, there were some releases that were overhyped and they did well on the charts just because they were from BIGBANG. The same goes with Girls’ Generation. With a total of four songs released this year, they have certainly been active in the K-pop scene. These songs were definitely not the best ones this year though, despite being accompanied with colourful and cool music videos that boasted SM Entertainment’s high budget. These groups have their loyal and dedicated fans to thank for being able to maintain a lead on the polls so far.


Also on Kultscene: 8 K-pop Girl Power Anthems Pt. 6

4. Best Dance Performance Solo

Fantasy: Gain (Brown Eyed Girls) – “Paradise Lost”
Brown Eyed Girls have always been known for their sexual concepts and Gain’s solos have been no exception. Her solo release was not great to me in a musical sense, but her dance is another story. She really exposed and expressed herself through her extremely sexual dance, and to be able to do that on so many stages is really amazing. Furthermore, as compared to the other nominees on this list, her dance seems to be the most difficult and technical but she pulls it off with ease.


Reality: Amber ( f(x)) – “Shake That Brass”
When I saw that Amber was leading the polls for this award, I literally had to roll my eyes. Not because I have anything against her or f(x) but because I was less than impressed when I watched her live performance for this song. The dance (and song for that matter) seems just like Amber’s character, fun and energetic, but on a technical sense, she’s not actually doing much. Once again, her popularity as a member of f(x) and being part of SM Entertainment is going to smooth her path to victory, whether she actually deserves it or not.

5. Best Dance Performance Male/Female Group

Fantasy: GOT7(“If You Do”) & 4MINUTE (“Crazy”)
GOT7 has never impressed me ever since their debut up until the release of their latest song, “If You Do.” Not only is the sound an overall more mature one from the group, their dance is simply amazing. Even their CEO, Park Jinyoung (JYP) praised them for mastering it, and for good reason. Every step is so synchronized and technically difficult, but the boys were able to master it and show off their individual charms at the same time. For a group that is only about a year old, this is an amazing showing and is proof that they will definitely continue to impress. 4MINUTE’s choreography for “Crazy” also surprised me. Previously I had no knowledge about this group whatsoever but when I saw their dance practice video for “Crazy” I saw how powerful they are. They give off such a strong aura that I was immediately drawn to them, and for that they stand out among the other girl groups in contention for this award.


Reality: EXO (“Call Me Baby”) & Red Velvet (“Ice Cream Cake”)
Even with nine members EXO is always able to showcase a good performance, and their live versions of “Call Me Baby” were executed well. I also loved the way they cleverly made use of props or their clothes to give fans a fresh and new performance every time. Their choreography for this song however, was slightly lacking in terms of its technicality. They were not particularly synchronized nor were their moves very difficult, and this was not their best dance, especially when compared to previous hits like “Growl.” For Red Velvet, maybe it is because I have never been a big fan of cute concepts, I did not find their dance for “Ice Cream Cake” very impressive. They just seemed mediocre, and were similar to several other girl groups both past and present.

6. Best Male/Female Vocal Performance

Fantasy: Lim Chang Jung (“Love Again”)/ Davichi (“Cry Again”)
With his recent comeback “Love Again” Lim Chang Jung created a stir on the music charts where his song had a very strong showing. He even won first place on some music shows during his promotions, which I can say that it was very well-deserved. He sings with a lot of emotions in a style that vaguely resembles Korean trot-singing and his voice found its way into my heart even though I did not understand what he was singing about. Davichi does this all the time as well. From the albums and songs that they have previously released I became quite a huge fan and was more than excited when they came back with “Davichi Hug” this year. All the songs on their album were amazing but none stood out more than their title track “Cry Again.” The choruses and the bridges were so touching and their perfect harmonies really shined. It’s a pity that they did not get more recognition during their promotion period but they really deserve it during these awards.


Reality: Kyuhyun (“At Gwanghwamun”)/ Taeyeon (“I”)
Okay I’m not going to lie, I would be happy if Kyuhyun won for “At Gwanghwamun” because that song is amazing. When it first came out I replayed it so many times and fell in love with it so much so that I actually went to visit Gwanghwamun when I went to Korea because of it. However, he is already highly recognised and constantly awarded either as a soloist or with his group, so I still hope that other vocalists (aka Lim Chang Jung) would get recognised during MAMA instead. I have the opposite sentiment for Taeyeon, unfortunately. I admit that her voice is one of the best in K-pop and that Girls’ Generation would definitely not be as good without her. However, her solo debut was underwhelming in that it sounded so similar to say, a Taylor Swift song and it failed to show off her individuality. Furthermore, she did not really showcase her best vocal ability through this release and is probably more undeserving of this award than the other female vocalists being nominated in this category.

7. Best Rap Performance

Fantasy: Mad Clown – “Fire”
Mad Clown is hands down one of my favourite rappers. His lyrics are not just witty and relatable, his delivery is also very smooth and confident. In particular this track, he matched perfectly with the singer featuring on his track, Jinsil, to create an overall fantastic and addictive song, but it is evident that he is carrying most of the track. His emotions are spot on as well, and he doesn’t come off as full of rage but rather he shows a more passive type of anger. He needs more international exposure and recognition so I really hope that he will be able to get this award.


Reality: Gary (from Leessang) – “Get Some Air”
Once again, I wouldn’t be very upset if Gary ends up winning this award after all. I got to know him after watching him on popular variety show “Running Man” and it is no wonder that he has such a large fan base because the show is popular not just in Korea but in a lot of countries around the world. The track is a pretty good one as well, with a great collaboration between the featured singer (Miwoo) and Gary, but his rap is just lacking as compared to Mad Clown. He also portrays his sad emotions well but his flow and delivery isn’t as smooth or as well done as Mad Clown’s, so on a technical level he may not be as deserving of this award. He did put in a lot of effort for this solo release however and I am looking forward to his future work.


Also on Kultscene: f(x)’s “4 Walls” Album Review

8. Best Band Performance

Fantasy: Hyukoh – “Comes And Goes”
This is probably the category that I feel the most for because Hyukoh is a real gem that I discovered recently due to their appearance on another popular variety show, “Infinite Challenge.” It’s so satisfying to watch them receive so much attention nowadays from Korean and international fans alike because their music is just that good. Indie bands and music have never been my thing, but Hyukoh is so unique and fresh that I can’t help falling in love with them. Their humble attitude is another plus point, especially since they are already so skilled. “Comes And Goes” has such a chill vibe to it and it makes me feel so comfortable that I want to listen to it over and over again. By far, they are definitely the best band among the other bands nominated in this category.

Reality: CNBLUE – “Cinderella”
In contrast, CNBLUE might well be the worst band listed in this category. I say this as a fan of the band, but “Cinderella” is definitely not their best work. In fact, as compared to “Can’t Stop”, which they won Best Band for in MAMA 2014, “Cinderella” is unfortunately a huge decrease in standards. Where “Can’t Stop” was catchy and addictive, “Cinderella” was rather annoying and I couldn’t even bring myself to replay it after the first time. In a year where other bands such as Hyukoh and FTISLAND showed off more of their colour and talent, CNBLUE really shouldn’t get to win this award.

9. Best Collaboration & Unit

Fantasy: VIXX LR– “Beautiful Liar”
I’ve always been fascinated by VIXX as a group, although their concepts sometimes scare me, their songs are always consistently good. It was this expectation that I had from them that caused me to check out their new subunit. It did not disappoint and this great release was a pleasant surprise for me. Ravi’s raps in the song were amazing and really enhanced the track, while Leo did his part and sang beautifully. Together they were a strong pair and it is a pity that this song seemed to go under the radar amongst other popular releases when it is really deserving of recognition. For a debut, it is definitely a great release and I can’t wait for their comeback already.

Reality: Zion T & Crush – “Just”
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that this collaboration was leading the polls because “Just” gained a lot of attention when it was first released at the start of the year. It’s not the first time that these two artists have worked together, and it really shows in the way they are able to complement each other in singing and rapping. While it is a nice release, it doesn’t work on an emotional way like “Beautiful Liar” did for me, so I do think that VIXX LR would be more deserving of this award.

10. Best Music Video

Fantasy: INFINITE – “Bad”
Apart from loving the song, I also enjoyed watching the music video and thought that it was very cool. The way the set was used in different ways for the members intrigued me and there were even some parts that were very creepy, especially when the mirrors were used. Although the other version of the music video wasn’t nominated for this award, I also enjoyed watching the 360 VR version of it because viewers got to play around with the video while watching it to see the video from different perspectives. It was a very cool and fresh idea which made me excited for the future of K-pop music videos.

Reality: BIGBANG – “Bae Bae”
I can only use two words to describe this video: colourful and crazy. It did fit the song very well but it was extremely messy and random with abrupt scene changes and totally different vibes for each part of the song. All it does, in essence, is show off how rich YG Entertainment is, but as a music video I did not enjoy it at all. At least in INFINITE’s video there was an over-arching theme that kept the video coherent and relevant to the song, in “Bae Bae.”..not so much.

All in all, it can be concluded that MAMA awards is essentially a popularity contest, and while the fan polls are not always the determining factors for who eventually wins the awards, they are pretty good indicators. I’m excited to see how it turns out and I’ll always be rooting for the underdogs, even though they may not be favoured to win.

Are you excited for the MAMA awards? What are your predictions? Share your throughts 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.

Taeyeon’s ‘I’ Music Video & Song Review

Taeyeon music review

I am not a Sone (official fanclub name for Girls Generation) but I have always enjoyed Taeyeon’s solo releases, especially popular OSTs such as “Missing You Like Crazy” and “And One”. That was why I got excited when I heard about Taeyeon’s solo album, and even more so when I heard that her title track “I” achieved an all-kill on local and international music charts. With well-known rapper Verbal Jint featuring on this track, I knew that it would be something special. Without further ado, here’s my review of “I”.

Song

The track opens right away with the addictive chorus but is immediately followed by Verbal Jint’s short rap. The first time I heard it I found the transition a bit abrupt, especially since the chorus is repeated again after his rap. Taeyeon’s style of singing the chorus, or mainly the word “I,” reminds me of country music and Taylor Swift (in her first few releases). While it is nice to listen to, initially, I got quite tired of it by the time the song was over. The song picks up considerably during the other verses and the bridge though, both in terms of melody and the emotions in Taeyeon’s voice. I especially love how Taeyeon’s voice grows stronger and more free in the bridge as the song comes to a climax, as it clearly empathizes the meaningful and inspirational lyrics of the song.

Flower petals wilt
I had difficult times, but followed a small light
Distant day, let it go far, faraway
I fly splendidly
Sky that pours light
Renewed eyes (Renewed eyes)
Fly far away (Fly high, fly high)
Beauty that belongs only to me

The instrumentals were pretty amazing from start to finish as it started out softly but gradually built up and really enhanced the track; it honestly blew my breath away towards the end of the song. I would probably have enjoyed the song more if Verbal Jint’s presence was more prominent because he definitely added a level of intensity and depth to this otherwise catchy but musically shallow track. That’s not to say that it was bad, because Taeyeon exceeded my expectations entirely with this release.


Also on Kultscene: Girls’ Generation’s “Lion Heart” and “You Think” Song Review

Videography

The music video for this song is simply gorgeous, mostly because of the natural scenery featured frequently in it. The music video was shot in New Zealand, a country famous for its physical beauty, and the videography certainly did justice to it.

taeyeon review 3

I love the fact that this music video has an engaging storyline and an empowering message. Featuring Taeyeon as the protagonist, she plays a waitress who hates her dreary life in a cafe and is constantly dreaming about frollicking freely in nature. She eventually quits her job at the cafe (in a totally bad-ass way) and gets to live out her dream.

Don’t be afraid to follow your heart and fulfill your dreams is the beautiful and inspirational message that Taeyeon is conveying through this video. As can be seen by the comments left on her video on Youtube, this message is encouraging and relatable to many viewers who feel stuck in their tiring daily lives. It is rare to see K-pop music videos these days that have such meaning and it is certainly refreshing.


Also on Kultscene: 8 Jessi Songs To Get You Ready For Her Los Angeles Show

Styling

Taeyeon wore a few outfits throughout this video and definitely looks gorgeous in her waitress uniform even though I think she had too much jewellry on. However, her styling when she was in the fields leaves much to be desired.

During scenes when Taeyeon is surrounded by nature, she sports a country-style white dress and a cute braided hairstyle, but the make-up splattered on her face does not suit her attire at all. The choice of the feather earring for these scenes was also a bit unfortunate because it kept flying up her face due to the strong winds.

taeyeon review 2

I love this look on Taeyeon though, she pulls off the girl-next-door vibe very well. It looks comfortable but still extremely glamorous on her with her flawless beauty.

Overall Thoughts

This was a good solo debut for Taeyeon and she certainly deserves the success she is getting from it right now. The song and video were not perfect but they undoubtedly brought out the right tone and message befitting the lyrics. She has set a high bar for her future releases and I cannot wait for her next comeback.

Have you heard ‘I’? What do you think about it? 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.