WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 3

Image by Mary Theresa McLean from Pixabay

Welcome to WWLT, or What We’re Listening To, which features mini music analyses that provide context and introduce readers to K-pop music that may be new-to-them.

This issue features analyses of tracks by Super Junior featuring Yunho and Yoochun (TVXQ!), NU’EST, VIXX, Jay Park, T.O.P (BigBang), Ahn Ye Eun and Hoppipolla by members of HWAITING!, KPK’s K-pop music research accelerator.

Super Junior (feat. U-Know Yunho and Micky Yoochun of TVXQ!), “이별… 넌 쉽니 Heartquake” Sorry Sorry (2009)

N Lina An

TVXQ! and Super Junior are no strangers to Kpop. A more well-known collaboration between both groups was a joint CD single titled Show Me Your Love in 2005. They reunited again with a more mature sound by releasing the song 이별… 넌 쉽니 or its English title, Heartquake (lit. Saying Goodbye… Is It Easy For You).

Heartquake is the 8th track on Super Junior’s 3rd studio album Sorry Sorry released in 2009. This monster collaboration featured the rap-unit of TVXQ!, members U-Know Yunho and Micky Yoochun, together with the vocal unit of Super Junior, K.R.Y. (Kyuhyun, Ryeowook and Yesung). While the song Sorry Sorry catapulted Super Junior to greater heights, this collaboration saw TVXQ! members U-Know and Micky as featured guests, writing the rap parts for the verses and Super Junior’s vocalists Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, Yesung (K.R.Y) carrying the melody in the chorus and bridge.

The song opens rather cynically with the titular line “이별… 넌 쉽니” which is a colloquial way of saying “breaking up, it’s easy for you eh?” before going into the verse where the lyrics continue in the tone of hurt and abandonment. The last line of the first verse reads “연예인이 하는 사랑… 다 그런거지…” (t/n: Love of a celebrity… it’s always like this) could have hinted that the context of this song is about a relationship between a non-idol with an idol. The words of the rap verses were presented in the order of disbelief of the breakup, longing for the love to return, blame — in the last line that sings “모두 부수고 떠난 너” (t/n: You who destroyed everything and left) — and finally, acceptance that the love will not return. The chorus sings about how one carries on with life after heartbreak and despair, but the bridge questions why should this suffering be one-sided?

The song in a minor key indicates emotions of sadness and hurt; echoing its negative connotation in the lyrics. The use of synth and sampled beats gives the song an electronic vibe, while the strings and piano adds on an acoustic touch. These electro-acoustic sounds fill up the spaces, giving the song an eclectic mix of textures. There is a distinct repeated descending piano riff that is heard in the verse, and the vocals imitates this in the first phrase of the verses. The song modulates in the last chorus bringing the overall “pain” to its highest point where the rap and vocals overlap each other, creating a polyphonic texture before tapering off and a sudden drop of dynamics and texture all together at the end.


Super Junior. “이별… 넌 쉽니 Heartquake” YouTube. 2 August 2019. https://youtu.be/k7QLEL-4Yjw (14 March 2022)

Gil Hye-sung. “Lee Yeon-hee and TVXQ are featured in Super Junior’s third album” . Moneytoday (in Korean). March 9, 2009. https://star.mt.co.kr/stview.php?no=2009030908325038262&type=1&outlink=1 (14 March 2022)

Lyric Translation. “이별… 넌 쉽니 Heartquake”. AZLyrics. No publication date information. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/superjunior/heartquake.html (14 March 2022)

NU’EST, “Look (a starlight night)” CANVAS (2016)

Ngan Tran

Debuted in 2012 as Pledis Entertainment’s first boy group, NU’EST was considered a formidable rookie among their peers like EXO and B.A.P. In 2017, four members of the group, JR, Baekho, Minhyun, and Ren, appeared on season two of Mnet’s survival show Produce 101. (The last member, Aron, did not appear on the show). Produce 101 quite literally saved their career and brought their popularity to an explosive high. Their sonic identity post-Produce 101  is best characterized by a sophisticated maturity that just sounds effortlessly stylish, a continuation of where their 5th mini album CANVAS left off before the boys went on the show. It’s a coincidence that NU’EST’s narrative is much like a K-pop fairytale on its own. Their return to success is often compared to a modern day Cinderella story, and their 6th mini album in 2019 after reuniting as a quintet was even named Happily Ever After. But all things must come to an end, and the group effectively disbanded on their 10th anniversary with a compilation album. 

“Look (a starlight night)” is the last track in CANVAS. It is composed by Bumzu, Jun Byoung-sun, and Hong Young-in, with words by Bumzu, JR, and Baekho, and arrangement by Joseph Park. The song is an electronic dance number that oozes swagger with a dash of mystique allure. Allow me a second to explain these nondescript words. The verses are built on a pair of looping synths and pulsating drum beats that allow the vocals to be delivered with reassured confidence. The pre-chorus comes sweeping in with gorgeous synths and a soft piano sound before coming to an abrupt halt, and almost immediately the bombastic chorus yanks us right back to reality with an addictive melodic hook. Here is a good example of utilizing different vocal timbres to add flavor to a song: the interplay between Minhyun’s airy falsetto floating lazily on the dreamy soundscape and Baekho’s fiery, powerful belt in the chorus is simply mesmerizing. The rich harmonies are brought to the front of the mix, giving their vocals much needed weight instead of being drowned out by the instrumental. “Look (a starlight night)” is like the sonic equivalence of looking up to the night sky and mistaking the skyscraper lights for the stars – a fleeting urban fairytale.


NU’EST. “[Choreography Video] NU’EST 5th Mini Album CANVAS ‘Look(A Starlight Night)’.” YouTube. 17 November 2016. https://youtu.be/rKNL7eME7JY (15 March 2022)

VIXX, “대.다.나.다.너 (G.R.8.U)” Jekyll (2013)

Luisa do Amaral

VIXX debuted in May 2012 with a bright art pop visual concept and a catchy dance sound, with “Super Hero”, followed up by “Rock Your Body”. It wasn’t until their April 2013 comeback, with single album On and On, that they first showcased the dark, impactful image they became known for. The group presented a vampire concept, with heavy makeup, color lenses, and choreography inspired by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. Later that year, in May, when they released their first EP hyde, they carried on with that new bold image, borrowing from “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” for the title track of the same name. 

In that sense, “G.R.8.U”, lead single of the repackaged version of hyde, Jekyll (2013), was a contrast; the visual concept is sunny and bright, fitting for a fun summer track. The song is credited to hit producers Hyuk Shin and Ross Lara, who discussed the creative process in a video for Full Sail University in August, 2013. They wanted to bring together different elements of multiple genres, like disco house, with “groovy happy chords” and “dancey vibes” (2013). The big chorus layers anthemic hooks on top of a heart-fluttering melody that expresses the joys of being young and in love in the Summer. The buildup is aided by bass and electric guitars; according to Lara, the addition of acoustic elements to the electronic composition helped bring the music to life (2013). The lyrics are the real tick of the song; they were penned by Kim Eana, credited in numerous number-one songs on Korean charts, such as Brown Eyed Girls’ “Abracadabra” and IU’s “Good Day”. The opening scene of the music video for G.R.8.U is a TV showing scenes of the MV for their previous title track, “hyde”, whose lyrics are also credited to Kim. Even though their visual concepts differ widely, both songs share the same overarching theme, inspired by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – finding a different, unexpected side of oneself next to one’s significant other. While the former approaches it from a dark, crazy evil perspective, “G.R.8.U”’s endearingly explosive sound is perfect to sing about being crazy in love.


VIXX. “대.다.나.다.너 (G.R.8.U) Official Music Video.” YouTube. 31 Jul 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vIZT-aIUKc (15 Mar 2022)

Full Sail University. “Behind the Scenes of VIXX’s “대.다.나.다.너 (G.R.8.U)” with Hyuk Shin and Ross Lara.” YouTube. 1 Aug 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8_jERfgzGc (15 Mar 2022).

Jay Park, “GANADARA (Feat. IU),” GANADARA (2022)

Vitoria F. Doretto

Park Jaebeom (박재범), mostly known as Jay Park, is a Korean-American b-boy, dancer, rapper, producer, CEO, model, and actor. He debuted in 2008 as the leader of K-pop group 2PM (now a former member) and also participated in the Seattle b-boy team, Art of Movement.

The single “GANADARA” is his first release under MORE VISION, the record label he recently created. The title (가나다라) is the beginning of the Korean alphabet and a recurrent order of consonants used to teach kids —similarly to ABC in English or Portuguese. The lyrics address the difficulty in speaking Korean and how one uses body language to express their feelings – the Ga Na Da Ra Ma Ba Sa repeatedly in the chorus is easy-to-sing and portrays the desire to connect and communicate with someone effectively without the language barrier. It was written by HAON (김하온), Woogie, and Jay Park, composed by Jay and Woogie, and arranged by Slom & Woogie.

The track is a mix of R&B and Hip-hop with a subdued, mid-tempo beat and strummed guitar loop. It features singer-songwriter IU, the South Korean superstar and nation’s sweetheart whose impressive voice blends so well with Jay’s soothing vocals that is surprising. Overall the track is simple, and the chorus is catchy. The most astonishing is that its arrangement enables one to focus on their vocals.

The music video is refreshing and silly, with this awkward vibe in the background, which is a good point and signals the concept of More Vision (a nice place to work and all). In it, Jay is “starstruck by the songstress IU with her unmatched visuals, glimmering vocals, and an ability to leave you speechless,” as Agrawal (2022) points out.


JAY PARK. “박재범 (Jay Park) – ‘GANADARA (Feat. 아이유 IU)’ Official Music Video”. YouTube. 11 Mar 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFb1TftvdoM (16 Mar 2022)

Agrawal, Ayushi. “Jay Park and IU are reflections of their star lives in hilarious ‘GANADARA’ music video”. Pink Villa, 2022. https://www.pinkvilla.com/entertainment/jay-park-and-iu-are-reflections-their-star-lives-hilarious-ganadara-music-video-1044296 (16 Mar 2022)

T.O.P (of BIGBANG), “DOOM DADA,” (2013)

Mariam Elba

After a four year hiatus, YG Entertainment announced in February that BIGBANG would be making their long-awaited comeback in early April. This would be their first musical release after 2018’s Flower Road single and after a tumultuous scandal and criminal case involving a now-former member. 

This announcement came with a particular spotlight on BIGBANG member, T.O.P, (real name Choi Seung-hyun), as the agency also announced that he would be ending his contract with YG Entertainment after 16 year with the company. His last solo single, DOOM DADA, released in 2013 (only one of two singles he released as a soloist so far) was written by Choi himself, and co-composed and arranged with Choice37. The song is a fast-paced, hard-hitting rap song, the the sharpness of a diss track with lyrics like: I’m a 21st century, extraordinary Korean; A god-given rap Basquait with a mic; I’m warming up my mouth for the first time in a while, I’ll be done in just one song.”

The song is atypical within K-pop, as Choi himself described it as “experimental” at the time of release. Reviewer R. Jun wrote for Soompi, “The song has rough, yet abstract lyrics, and has a surrealistic feel.” Taylor Glasby of Dazed astutely observes, “The lyrical rhythms are both inviting and alienating, while the beats align to trap and M.I.A’s jagged tribalism. But go deeper and recognisable cadences reveal themselves…. it’s K-Pop but sly, frenetic and slippery.”

The music video is peppered with influences from Choi’s family background in the arts, with nods to the artist, Salvador Dali and themed based off of Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

While DOOM DADA was Choi’s last solo work released to the public, he spoke to the press for the first time since 2017 in an interview with Prestige Magazine in Hong Kong in which he hinted at more solo work to come.


BIGBANG. “T.O.P – DOOM DADA M/V.” YouTube.  15 November 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAoME_aMm1w&ab_channel=BIGBANG (accessed 20 March 2022).

Maisie Duff. “K-Pop Music Video Breakdown – T.O.P ‘Doom Dada.’”UNITEDKPOP. 17 November 2013. http://unitedkpop.com/2013/11/k-pop-music-video-breakdown-t-o-p-doom-dada/.  (accessed 20 March 2022). 

R. Jun. “T.O.P Hits 2 Million Views in 2 Days with “Doom Dada” MV.” Soompi. 18 November 2013. https://www.soompi.com/article/551465wpp/t-o-p-hits-2-million-views-in-2-days-with-doom-dada-mv. (accessed 20 March 2022).

Taylor Glasby. “Top ten K-Pop of 2013.” Dazed. 10 December 2013. https://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/18097/1/top-ten-k-pop-of-2013. (accessed 20 March 2022).

Nathan Erickson. “T.O.P is Back – A Star Reborn.” Prestige. 9 March 2022. https://www.prestigeonline.com/hk/people-events/people/top-choi-seung-hyun-interview-march-2022. (accessed 20 March 2022).

Ahn Ye Eun, “CHANGGWI,” CHANGGWI (2021)

Tan Puay Shuang

When two founders of prestigious K-pop entertainment companies decided that Ahn Ye Eun’s  musical direction was not what they were looking for in the K-pop music they had in mind, It was Yoo Hee-yeol, the founder of Antenna Music, used his wild card to give her a chance to continue as a competing contestant in a survival show, citing that her “unique, never-seen-before style is what makes it all the more refreshing to see in the industry”. This is how the runner-up of K-pop Star 5 began her career in the Korean music industry. The soloist debuted in late 2016 with a self-titled album, and despite being a versatile artist who is backed up with a sea of knowledge as an alumnus of Dong-ah Institute of Media and Arts, Ahn Ye Eun is probably most well-known for her distinctive vocal timbre reminiscent of the various traditional chang singing styles – which almost never goes unnoticed as the artist herself often incorporates traditional flavors into her music. Previously, Ahn Ye Eun has garnered attention for writing and singing the soundtrack for the Korean TV series, Rebel: Thief who Stole the People, which featured songs that were previously performed on K-pop Star 5 like ‘Red Tie’ and ‘If Spring Comes’ as well as alternate renditions to the former songs and several new tracks. Ahn Ye Eun then continued to sing in a few more original soundtracks, including the well-received ‘Night Flower’, featured as the theme song of the Korean webtoon Painter of the Night.

After her first horror-themed single ‘Trumpet Creeper’ in 2020, Ahn Ye Eun continued her series with ‘CHANGGWI’ almost exactly a year later. As the title suggests, she sings from the perspectives of the changgwi – a Korean mythological creature that takes the form of the ghost of a young man who was eaten by a tiger in the tall mountains, and occasionally strikes a lyrical conversation with the ghost as the tiger itself. Hoping to find a sacrifice to aid him as he continues on his road to reincarnation, he lures a passer-by in the middle of a dark night into listening to his story as they approach his final demise. As usual, Ahn Ye Eun shows her dedication to storytelling through the way she crafts the lyrics and melody to this song. The use of Korean traditional instruments is not a surprise to her loyal listeners, but she has also brought attention to her lyrics that include difficult Korean and Sino-Korean words that are not commonly used in urban conversation. She also effectively demonstrated the musical concept of text painting by reflecting the playful tone of the changgwi in the second verse through her soft yet well-articulated lyrics inviting the passer-by to place his bets, and the deafening roars of a tiger in her well-grounded belts, especially on the very last note of the song. The engaging storytelling experience through Ahn Ye Eun’s memorable singing, combined with the repeated chanting in the background, never fails to keep the listeners of ‘CHANGGWI’ stuck in the never-ending cycle of listening to this song.


xxentertainment. “안예은(AHN YEEUN) HORROR SINGLE 창귀 CHANGGWI LYRIC VIDEO.” YouTube. 1 August 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UUDyQyuvwI (20 March 2022).

xxentertainment. “ ‘다들 책 펴’ 일타강사 안예은 선생님의 ‘창귀’ 가사 특강.”

YouTube. 2 August 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13-YRd7pOM0 (20 March 2022).

Hoppipolla, “Your Ocean (너의 바다),” And Then There Was Us (2021)

Nykeah Parham

In 2019, South Korea added another music show to their national repertoire by the name of Superband. This talent survival show produced by JTBC gathered indie musicians from street performers to classical musicians that would be placed in bands together by the judges (referred to as “Producers” in the show) that would compete against one another. Each stage performed by the competing bands were evaluated by the judges (Yoon Jong-shin, Yoon Sang, Kim Jong-wan of Nell, Joe Hahn of Linkin Park, and AKMU’s Lee Su-hyun) and the lowest ranking musicians from the losing bands would be eliminated. The band that emerged as the winner was the rock ballad Hoppipolla, consisting of vocalist and keyboardist frontman, I’ll, cellist, Hong Jin-ho, vocalist and guitarist, Ha Hyun-sang, and guitarist, Kim Young-so. Their name, which means “jumping into puddles” in Icelandic, displays their hopes that people around the world can immerse themselves in their music and find solace. They made their debut in November 2019 with the single album “About Time.”

“Your Ocean” is a rock ballad that correctly defines what Hoppipolla hopes to do with their music. The song begins quietly with Hyun-sang’s soft, almost breathy vocals over a solo piano that then builds with I’ll’s stronger singing and Jin-ho’s added cello. At the chorus’ beginning, the drums are added in to give the song a bit of bass and tempo alongside what sounds like an antique music box that figuratively plays on the listener’s heart strings and nostalgia. It sounds like deep love, but that of longing for a past memory—which is hinted at in the lyrics, “just like always, should we chat all night and fall asleep?”—or of childlike love. The chorus ends almost in silence again, like the ebbs and flows of the ocean. After the second verse and chorus, there is a guitar solo that then becomes a duet between the guitar and cello showing off the skills of the other members, and then leads into a crescendo of vocals, harmonies, and instruments. That is until I’ll completes the song with the same question and in a similar soft vocal of the beginning, “Shall we go to the ocean?”


호피폴라 Hoppipolla. “Hoppipolla – Your Ocean.” YouTube. 20 Jan 2021. https://youtu.be/2OPsHmrWQ7I (22 March 2022).

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WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 3 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 2

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Welcome to WWLT, or What We’re Listening To, which features mini music analyses that provide context and introduce readers to K-pop music that may be new-to-them.

This issue features analyses of tracks by Super Junior, ATEEZ, Shinhwa, TVXQ!, Sam Kim, Suho, B.I., and Jo Jung Suk by members of HWAITING!, KPK’s K-pop music research accelerator.

Super Junior, “Why I Like You,” Sorry, Sorry (2009)

Ngan Tran

The year is 2009. Super Junior still has 13 members. (Deep breath and say it with me now: Leeteuk, Heechul, Hangeng, Yesung, Kangin, Shindong, Sungmin, Eunhyuk, Siwon, Donghae, Ryeowook, Kibum, Kyuhyun!) Everybody is rubbing their hands together and apologizing without really meaning it to the addictive tune of “Sorry, Sorry.” Indeed, four years into their career, the group gave K-pop one of the most iconic songs in existence with the release of their third album Sorry, Sorry. We all know how great the title track is, so this review will be dedicated to the slightly underappreciated B-side off of the album: “Why I Like You.”

The song is written by Shiro, with music composed by Jimmy Burney, Steven Lee, Sean Alexander (Avenue 52), and Pascal Guyon. Steven Lee also handled the production. Coming right after the earworm title track, “Why I Like You” has a lot to live up to – and it wastes no time in getting to the point. It is a moody dance number, driven by a thumping drum beat and catchy guitar loop. What’s so great about straightforward pop music like this is how it creates an atmosphere of urgency and tension that begs to be resolved. And the climax comes, like an overflowing confession of love, in the bridge leading to the soaring final chorus. Ryeowook’s bright, youthful timbre and the honeyed warmth of Kyuhyun’s voice sound especially gorgeous together here, stacking another layer of emotional pain on top. This is the sound that Super Junior excelled in early in their career, and would be explored further in the brooding, dramatic “It’s You,” the lead single to their repackage album later that year.

Nearly 13 years down the line, perhaps the biggest strength of “Why I Like You” lies in the sheer nostalgia of it. Okay, it’s mostly the gratuitous autotune on their vocals. But as time goes by, the autotune adds a special charm to the song, reminding you of a time when things were simpler. When it was 2009, and Super Junior still had 13 members…

MBCkpop. “Super Junior – Why I Like You, 슈퍼주니어 – 니가 좋은 이유, Music Core 20090314.” YouTube. 7 February 2012. https://youtu.be/7hgqPXXQ_GI. (4 February 2022).

SMTOWN. “SUPER JUNIOR 슈퍼주니어 ‘너라고 (It’s You)’ MV.” YouTube. 8 June 2009.  https://youtu.be/7ErgffP0wVw. (4 February 2022).

ATEEZ, “Answer,” Treasure Epilogue: Action to Answer (2020)

Andrew Ty

“Answer” is the lead single of the release that concludes the “Treasure” concept around which ATEEZ debuted in 2018. Despite two years of narrative and thematic buildup, the anthemic power of the song itself makes it a striking introduction for anyone new to the sound of the group’s eight members: Hongjoong, Minji, Seonghwa, Yunho, Yeosang, San, Woosung, and Jongho. 

ATEEZ rappers Hongjoong and Minji contributed lyrics to music strongly shaped by Ollounder and LEEZ who both wrote, composed, and arranged the song, alongside EDEN on writing and composing and BUDDY on composing and arranging. “Answer” eschews the heavy guitars so essential for the songs that LEEZ and Ollounder make for Dreamcatcher. Instead, the synths in the ATEEZ song generate an EDM sound tinged with slight hints of Latin pop and hip-hop parts. 

“Answer” still rocks hard though, less club-friendly and more arena-ready. The crucial element is a melodic component where the song’s hook is placed front and center with the song beginning with the chorus from singers San and Jongho. San’s part, when it reappears, switches to Seonghwa, and a new addition to the chorus, punctuated by an epic group “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh,” introduces Wooyoung in a single line that nevertheless stands out for its catchy phrasing: “불러 불러 우릴 지금 불러” (“bulleo bulleo uril jigeum bulleo”).

The song has many other elements to it: the transitions from  Hongjoong’s rap parts to those of Minji are thrilling and Yunho has a pre-chorus chant made memorable for how its percussive feel creates tension for the chorus to release, but the chorus is really a standout, for both its composition and its position within the song’s structure.

Many of the singles released prior to “Answer” share a trademark sound that clearly identifies ATEEZ music: larger-than-life emotions expressed musically through in-your-face compositions often built around the darkness of a predominantly minor-key tonality. Steadfast commitment to this musical identity is a strong part of the group’s appeal. “Answer” is no exception, but I feel it also achieves something different.

When ATEEZ performed a rearrangement of this song for the Mnet show Kingdom: Legendary War, choral parts from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (“Ode to Joy”) performed by South Korean classically-trained vocal group La Poem were combined with chugging rock guitars. The result was pretty much symphonic metal performed by K-pop idols on television, a dual gesture to the grandiose emotionality of Romanticism and the arena-ready sounds of metal. As impressive as that was, they are simply enhancements that made explicit the power the original recording of “Answer” already possessed. 


Stone Music Entertainment. “ATEEZ (에이티즈) – ‘Answer’ Official MV.” YouTube. 06 January 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTT3MRODUsA. (07 February 2022).
Mnet K-POP. “[풀버전] ♬ Answer : Ode to Joy – 에이티즈(ATEEZ).” 27 May 2021. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDOYmJedFF8. (14 February 2022).

Shinhwa, “T.O.P (Twinkling of Paradise),” T.O.P (1999)

N Lina An

The sudden sforzando to the trembling sounds of the strings before the oboe comes in, almost lament-like. Suddenly, synthesized sounds echo that melodic lament, and the drum beat drops before the rap takes place. The melody to the opening of Act 2 from Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet Swan Lake Op. 20 is synonymous in K-pop, belonging to the longest surviving idol group, Shinhwa. Shinhwa has 6-members (Eric, Minwoo, Dongwan, Hyesung, Junjin and Andy) debuted under SM Entertainment on 24th March 1998.  T.O.P is an acronym for Twinkling of Paradise, written by SM’s resident composer Yoo Youngjin with lyrics by both Yoo and member Eric was released in 1999 in their second studio album also titled T.O.P.

There are 2 main themes to the slightly less than 3-minutes opening of the ballet. T.O.P samples both themes, using them in different sections of the song. In fact, Shinhwa’s melody of the chorus is the first melodic theme, and the second melodic theme is heard in the bridge when member Hyesung sings 니가돌아오는 길에 내가 서있을게. The lyrics itself presents multiple uses of acronyms, most of which may not present any proper English meaning to it, but merely a rhyme to the song title itself. Some of the meanings to the acronyms were briefly mentioned in a group interview in 2012, showing SM Entertainment’s heavy use of acronyms in their early days (for example H.O.T, S.E.S).

In the music video, all members wear white against a backdrop of greenery dancing on what looks like a lake. The choreography incorporated what looks like movements of swans, but it was mostly towards the hip-hop/dance genre of which the group is known for.

Shinhwa Official. T.O.P. Twinkling of paradise (audio only).  Youtube. 2 Aug 2019.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE9TXY4gazk (Accessed on 12 Feb 2022)

SHINHWASubs&Cuts. SHINHWA (신화) – T.O.P. (Twinkling Of Paradise). 12 Nov 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORFX3yIe6Kw (Accessed on 12 Feb 2022)
Note: meaning of acronyms are in the video descriptionMarcel Simader. Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake Ballet, Act II, Op. 20 (Sheet Music). Youtube. 28 March 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_kJosheX7k&t=0s (Accessed on 12 Feb 2022)

TVXQ!, “Maximum,” Keep Your Head Down (2011)

Mariam Elba

TVXQ!, acronym for Rising Gods of the East (or Dong Bang Shin Ki, Tohoshinki in Japanese), released this album over 10 years ago, their first since becoming a duo (Max, Shim Chang-min, and U-Know, Lee Yun-ho– the group was originally a quintet but splintered in 2010).  The album set the stage for how TVXQ would move forward in their new circumstances. “Maximum,” written, composed, and arranged by the frequent SM Entertainment songwriter Yoo Young-jin, is the third song off the album. The song starts with gayageum (a Korean zither) in its intro, then shifts into a high-energy dance-pop song mixing in traditional exclamations (“ulsooh!”), held together by bass drum and clapping rhythm. The lyrics prominently portray overcoming hardship and developing a pride and love for oneself. A notable aspect of the chorus is the chanting of: “소리쳐! 너는 세상에서 제일 아름답다!” or in English, “Scream! You’re the most beautiful in the world!” 

As the duo affirmed in their recent performance of “Rising Sun,” at SMTOWN: SMCU Express 2021, their brand of pop, frequently mixed with orchestral arrangements, hip-hop, and R&B with some of the most elaborate choreography from their contemporaries, and continues to stand out and influence contemporary K-pop. “Maximum” had its live debut at SMTOWN 2010, the first TVXQ performance since the quintet split. It was received well by fans and reviewers, Soompi described the song as “a great fusion number tying Eastern and Western elements into one.” SeoulBeats praised the song, calling it “ it’s dynamic without being heavy or overdramatic.”

Mnet K-POP “TVXQ_Intro+Maximum.” YouTube. 11 February 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJyLqUS3wjg. (Accessed 02/14/2022) 

TVXQ! “Maximum.” Youtube. 2 August 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWKkc3JwRAE. (Accessed 02/14/2022)

Sam Kim, “The One,” Sun and Moon (2018)

Nykeah Parham

If the neo-soul genre was looking for a new generation to which to pass the torch, one person emerges to the forefront in the name, vocals, and musicality of Sam Kim. Sam Kim first stepped into the K-pop scene as the runner-up to SBS’ reality competition show, K-pop Star 3, which debuted names like Bernard Park, Jamie Park, Akdong Musician (AKMU), Lee Hi, and Winner’s Hoony. After signing with the legendary Yu Hee-yeol’s label, Antenna Music, Kim released his debut EP, I Am Sam, in 2016 which featured collaborations with R&B singer, Crush, and labelmates Kwon Jin-ah, Lee Jin-ah, and Jung Seung-hwan. His debut could have prepared listeners for his first studio album, Sun and Moon; however, as the lyrics to his song “The One” says, listeners are already “in deep” and cannot let go.

“The One” is the epitome of Sam’s musical style and playfulness with a genre, lyrics, and language. Composed and arranged from the minds of Sam, producer and keyboardist, Hong So-jin (aka Hong Ttochi/Hong Ttochi Soulchild, because that says a lot about her), and Jukjae (initially known for his work as a former guitarist and arranger for IU, Taeyeon, AKMU and Sam Kim), this B-side track invites listeners to this intimate and wistful confession of Sam’s. Albeit short, the track has a kind of start-and-stop, push-and-pull flow with the drumbeat, complete silence, and vocals. It seems quiet at first, but around the first chorus, trumpets, brass, and saxophones are introduced. Lyrically, Sam begins in all Korean, and then whips in the English where both languages play on the rhythm of the bass and drums. Every few seconds of the song, there is a beat drop that creates this bass and snare snap and groove that continues throughout the entire song. It’s difficult to not dance, groove, snap, or bob your head to this. 

In the middle of the track, there is another beat drop pause that, at first, only allows Sam to repeat the words, “I know.” He does this in a way that is reminiscent of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1971) and it seems listeners are finally in on this hidden joke of love. He laughs joyously and knows exactly what to do with that guitar solo, particularly in the live performance of this song. Sam must be in something “better than dreaming” since he “won’t sleep” and “won’t dream.” So, “catch [him] if you can, Z, Z, Z.”


안테나 Antenna. “샘김 Sam Kim ‘The One’ / Live Performance.” YouTube. 08 March 2019. https://youtu.be/kvyq6JKOyME. (Accessed 14 February 2022).

안테나 Antenna. “샘김 Sam Kim ‘The One’|Official Audio.” YouTube. 27 November 2018. https://youtu.be/qqyMt6PdHtc. (Accessed 14 February 2022).
Bill Withers. “Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine (Official Audio).” YouTube. 12 June 2015. https://youtu.be/YuKfiH0Scao. (Accessed 14 February 2022).

Suho, “O2”, Self-Portrait (2020)

Vitoria F. Doretto

In his debut as a soloist, Suho, the leader of the Sino-Korean group EXO, brings a mini-album full of poetry and heart, and it is not different in “O2”, the first track of Self-Portrait, an album with concept and visual style inspired by Vincent van Gogh.

Along with “사랑, 하자 (Let’s Love)”, “Made In You”, “암막 커튼 (Starry Night)”, “자화상 (Self-Portrait)”, and “너의 차례 (For You Now)”, featuring Younha, “O2” is a powerful and emotional track. As Conway (2020) said, “the heart of Suho’s vulnerable self-portrait is his emotional lyrics,” and “O2” provides a picture of some of the complex emotions that the idol overflows in the album. Titled after the chemical formula of oxygen, the song starts calmingly, almost like holding the breath before the start, and some seconds pass until his voice washes over us, singing about lovers who need each other like oxygen. Suho’s words soothe the listener; wrap in tranquility, comfort, and peace. It is like a breath of fresh air. Merging breath and water, Suho is capable of transporting us to a beautiful beach immersed in a dream-like reality.

The track is a dreamy, slow-tempo acoustic pop song with string instruments and was written by Ryan Colt Levy, Bryan Cho, Cliff Lin, and Suho himself and arranged by Lin, Levy, and Cho.


EXO. “SUHO 수호 ‘O2’ Live Session.” YouTube. 30 March 2020. www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ydjda6SBlQ (10 February 2022).
Conway, Sara. “Suho Blends Musical & Artistic Inspiration with “Self-Portrait”.” Seoulbeats. 5 April 2020. https://seoulbeats.com/2020/04/suho-blends-musical-artistic-inspiration-with-self-portrait/ (13 February 2022)

B.I, “해변 (illa illa)” WATERFALL (2021)

Luisa do Amaral

25-year-old rapper B.I has often remarked on the importance of movies and poetry in his songwriting, as means of experiencing, feeling or articulating things he hasn’t experienced for himself, but that can result in vivid images and evoke strong feelings from listeners. The song “illa illa”, released on 1 June, 2021 as lead single of his first full-length album, is no exception to his style of painting strong images – the song’s Korean title 해변 [haebyeon] means “beach”; the English title, although a nonexistent word, bears close resemblance to the Korean ideophones that represent the undulating movement of waves. The whole track, along with its cinematic music video, make use of seaside metaphors to talk about finding yourself washed up on the shore after nearly being swallowed by the waves of an ocean which, in this story, is made of his own tears – “at the end of my sleeves there’s a beach/ because of the tears that I wiped from my cheeks.” This specific metaphor, which structures the song, was taken from the poem “The Taste Of Candy And Beach” [사탕과 해변의 맛] by poet Seo Yun-hoo.

Originally the leader of 7-member boy group iKON, which debuted under K-pop powerhouse YG Entertainment in 2015, he was credited for every release of the group up until his departure, in mid-2019, being awarded “Songwriter of the Year” in 2018 at the Melon Music Awards, one of South Korea’s major awards shows, after their megahit “Love Scenario”, crowned “Song of The Year” at two major award shows that same year. Much like “Love Scenario”, “illa illa” doesn’t come across as particularly happy nor sad on a first listen; the production favors a minimalist approach, but without ever losing depth, with enough room for the layering of sounds to boost the vocals to an echoed atmosphere that intensifies a catchy chorus that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the song. However, unlike his movie-inspired songwriting, these lyrics feel very personal; when  his album was released, B.I was still under public scrutiny due to allegations of illegal drug purchases, the reason for his withdrawal from his former group and agency. Though still awaiting final sentencing when the song came out, in the swirling of waves, as much as it is about the sinking, “illa illa” is about the emerging; like Kat Moon (2021) writes for TIME, “On the other side of the water is dry land, and in the song’s final verses the artist triumphantly sings of not shedding new tears. “Though I know it will crumble/ I’ll probably build a sandcastle again,” he declares. With the breadth and depth of emotions he conveys, B.I. shows he’s as much a storyteller as he is a songwriter.” The music and arrangement are also credited to Millennium, Sihwang, Kang Uk-jin and Diggy, who had previously worked with B.I in iKON, as well as other artists associated with YG Entertainment, such as AKMU, WINNER and Lee Hi. 


B.I. “해변 (illa illa).” YouTube. 1 Jun 2021.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GaVA3ebKCo  (14 Feb 2022)

iKON. “‘사랑을 했다(LOVE SCENARIO).” YouTube. 25 Jan 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vecSVX1QYbQ (14 Feb 2022)

Moon, Kat. “The Best K-Pop Songs of 2021 So Far” TIME, 1 Jul. 2021, https://time.com/6077450/best-kpop-songs-2021/ Accessed 14 Feb. 2022.

조정석 (Jo Jung Suk). “Aloha,” (2020)—cover of original song “Aloha” by Cool, (2001)

H. Lee Otto

Actor Jo Jung Suk (조정석) showcases his musical talents on the OST (original soundtrack) of popular drama series Hospital Playlist (슬기로운 의사생활), earning a top spot on Melon charts 20 days following its release (Soompi, 2020). As the lead vocalist of the series’ hobby band ensemble, Jo’s character Ik-Jun covers “Aloha,” an earlier K-pop track by the band Cool (쿨), reminiscing his days in medical school with his closest friends and band members.

Whereas Cool recorded “Aloha” as a duet with a male and female part, Jo covers the song solo, perhaps reflective of the memory of unrequited love that is a prevalent theme within Hospital Playlist. “Aloha” lies between pure pop and ballad, as its lyrics are directed toward a lover in a wholesome and devoted romance typical of a ballad (You light up my life/you’re the one in my life), while the tempo is more playful and upbeat. In the original song, Cool released Aloha in 2001 as part of album First Whisper under the label SM Entertainment (Stanley, 2014). Cool member Yuri provided female vocals while both Lee Jae Hoon and Kim Sung Soo provided male vocals.   

The feature of a recording artist in new K-drama series has become an expectation of the genre, such that a contemporary OST (original soundtrack) does not lack a popular K-pop artist or emerging soloist. As Oh (2021) notes in her work regarding this pop culture strategy, “[d]rama characters and K-pop idols…affect people through their affective labor, encouraging them to engage in other types of affective labor such as transmitting the appreciation of media content throughout diverse media” (p. 16). However, unlike other featured soloists on an OST, Jo’s background is in broadway and theatre, debuting in The Nutcracker in 2004, and then moving to big screen features and series in 2012 (Rakuten Viki, n.d.). The acclaim for Jo’s cover of Aloha, sung by a star with formal musical training, perhaps makes Aloha a surprise to many, including Jo himself (Soompi 2020).  

The threads that compose the calculated and complex cultural fabric of the contemporary K-drama collectively mobilize central areas of pop culture, national pride, and economy. The convergence of South Korea pop culture media in the K drama can be seen as a historiographic enterprise, archiving a nation’s pop culture media, which did not hold the same significance in official history until recently. The valorization of Korean pop culture in music is seen in the Melon charts, as well as in series such as Hospital Playlist, which showcases K-pop contextualized in time. 


Cho Jung Seok. “Aloha.” YouTube. 26 March 2020. https://youtu.be/3DOkxQ3HDXE (7 February 2022). 

Cool. “Aloha” YouTube. 15 January 2015. https://youtu.be/004x09gOAJI (14 February 2022).

Rakuten Viki. “Jo Jung Suk – 조정석.” n.d. https://www.viki.com/celebrities/15574pr-jo-jung-suk?locale=en (25 February 2022).

Oh, Youjeong. (2021). Pop City. Cornell University Press. Kindle Edition.

Soompi.  “Jo Jung Suk Expresses Surprise and Happiness Over Chart Success of His “Hospital  Playlist” OST.” 16 Apr 2020, https://www.soompi.com/article/1394735wpp/jo-jung-suk-expresses-surprise-and-happiness-over-chart-success-of-his-hospital-playlist-ost (Accessed 10 February 2022. 

Stanley, Adrienne. 2014 Aug 30.   https://www.kpopstarz.com/articles/107129/20140831/k-pop-rewind-cool-aloha.htm (26 February 2022).

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WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 2 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 1

Image by Mary Theresa McLean from Pixabay

Welcome to WWLT, or What We’re Listening To, which features mini music analyses that provide context and introduce readers to K-pop music that may be new-to-them.

This issue features analyses of tracks by The Rose, Zion. T, ONEUS, Cherry Bullet and Infinite by members of HWAITING!, KPK’s K-pop music research accelerator.

The Rose, “Candy (so good),” Void (2018)

Ngan Tran

The Rose is an independent rock band which made its official debut under its former label, J&Star Company in 2017. Consisting of four members Woosung (vocals, guitar), Dojoon (vocals, keyboard), Jaehyung (bass), and Hajoon (drums), the band is known for its signature soft rock sound thanks to the lush, atmospheric production and charismatic delivery from its two vocalists.

Now there are songs that are unfairly short, and “Candy (so good)” is one of them. Composed, written, and arranged by all four members of the band, this serves as the opening track to the first mini album Void (2018). And it does a fine job of setting the tone for what comes next. The track starts with a swelling synth sound joined by the guitar and drums, pausing for a brief moment before the guitar returns with an addictive pulsating loop, which would serve as the motif for the rest of the song. A mesmerizing game of push and pull, the energy contrast between the restrained verses and the cathartic choruses brings pure aural bliss every time the refrain “You look so good” hits. Woosung’s gorgeous raspy voice and Dojoon’s warm, straightforward tone deliver a controlled yet satisfying vocal performance. Stopping at the 2:46 mark, the song is clever enough to get you hitting repeat – and while I would definitely enjoy an extended mix, some things are indeed better left short like this.

The Rose’s career in the past years has been rocky, with a lawsuit with its former company finally settled in June 2021, and three out of four members beginning their military service in 2020. The release of their latest single “Beauty and the Beast” on December 29, 2021 feels like we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, promising more great music from the band moving forward.


The Rose. “Candy (so good).” YouTube. 18 Apr 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhvEQZ6HB3g  (5 Jan 2022).

Zion.T, “Snow (ft. Lee Moon Sae),” Non-Album Single, 2017

Nykeah Parham

Arguably one of the most unique Korean hip-hop and R&B singers in the industry, Zion.T never fails to release music that targets nostalgic and sentimental emotions. The sunglasses-clad singer debuted in April 2011 under the Korean hip-hop label founded by Dynamic Duo and Go Kyung Min, Amoeba Culture, with the single, “Click Me” featuring Dok2. From then, he became known in the mainstream industry by collaborating with Korean hip-hop giants like Dok2, GRAY, Simon Dimonic, Crucial Star, and Primary and K-pop idol giants like G-Dragon. He is known for heartfelt and honest hits such as “Yanghwa BRDG” (2014), “No Makeup” (2015), and features on his many hip-hop friends’ songs such as “Nighty Night (잘 자)” (Crush, 2019) and Show Me the Money singles.

“Snow,” released as a single with the accompanying short film music video on December 4, 2017, is a perfect example of how Zion.T captures a season and all of the emotions that come with it. Written by Zion.T himself, the song was also composed by Zion.T alongside Korean hip-hop producer SLOM and jazz pianist Yun Seok Cheol and features the legendary Korean singer known as the “icon of Korean pop,” Lee Moon Sae, who started in the Korean pop industry in 1978. The ballad begins with a slow jazzy intro of a light piano and stringed instruments that causes one to think of slow dancing, fireplaces, and of course, snow in the background of a winter scene. Both Zion.T and Lee Moon Sae’s unique and soft vocals contribute to the romantic and also melancholic vibes of the passage of time as they repeat the question, “Will it snow?” over the gentle sweeping drumbeat. When the duo come to the end of the song, where the ballad slows down even more to their repetition of “it’s snowing,” one almost doesn’t want it to end. It is the type of song that’s smooth enough to play on repeat in hopes that the snow will come.


Zion.T. “눈(Snow) (ft. 이문세).” YouTube. 04 Dec 2017. https://youtu.be/fiGSDywrX1Y  (5 Jan 2022).

ONEUS, “Intro: 창 (窓: Window) (Feat. Choi Ye Lim),” Blood Moon (2021)

Tan Puay Shuang

Released in 2021, the two-year-old boy group ONEUS’ 6th mini-album ‘Blood Moon’ revolves around the story of six immortal monsters (represented by the members: RAVN, Seoho, Leedo, Keonhee, Hwanwoong, and Xion) who wait for years and centuries in hopes of reuniting with their lover, once again bringing traditional flavours to the table for their fans and the general public to enjoy. However, this was not the boy group’s first attempt at incorporating traditional elements into their music. Previously in 2019, their third EP ‘Lit’ had also taken a much more light-hearted approach to this kind of fusion music, and had even performed a rearranged version of it on Mnet’s survival show Road to Kingdom

‘Intro: 창 (窓: Window)’ was written by RBW Entertainment’s in-house composers: Lee Sang Ho, Yong Bae, and Lee Hoo Sang, as well as Marvel.J on the lyrics. This track stands out for the sole reason that they have gone an extra mile to feature professional traditional Korean singer Choi Ye Lim, who not only contributed her but also penned some of the lyrics in the song. The structure of this introduction track can be separated into several clear sections: the intro where Ye Lim narrates the story in the style of pansori storytelling, the verse which consists of Leedo and RAVN’s raps accompanied by a contrasting trap beat, and the pre-chorus that slowly introduces the marriage of both styles as it finally leads us into the hook of the song. A notable mention of this song is how the pre-chorus later makes its reappearance in the title track ‘Luna’, with some alterations to its structure. This helped reinforce the connection and coherence of the story that ONEUS intends to tell through ‘Blood Moon’, proving to the audience that, while there have been predecessors like VIXX who have pioneered and introduced the trend of traditional-pop fusion into the K-pop scene, ONEUS as a relatively new group definitely did not prove their production value to be inferior.


ONEUS. “ONEUS(원어스) ‘Intro : 창 (窓 : Window) (Feat. 최예림)’.” YouTube. 21 October 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSXIp1pBaj4  (3 January 2022).

Mnet K-POP. “Road to Kingdom [풀버전] ♬ 가자 (LIT) – 원어스 @2차 경연 200521 EP.4.” YouTube. 21 May 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jVBKcv5NzQ  (3 January 2022).

Cherry Bullet, “Q&A,” Let’s Play Cherry Bullet (2019)

Andrew Ty

Since debuting in January 2019, FNC Entertainment girl-group Cherry Bullet has had issues that included losing three members from its original ten and a cultural appropriation controversy (Lullet Official, 2021; serinjimin, 2021). Before all that turmoil however was the untroubled and confident sound of their debut single “Q&A,” with lyrics by Han Seong Ho and Seo Yong Bae and music by Louise Frick Sveen and the JeL team of Alexander Karlsson and Alexej Viktorovitch, who also arranged the track. With this release, Mirae, Kokoro, and Linlin were still Cherry Bullet members alongside Haeyoon, Yuju, Bora, Jiwon, Remi, Chaerin, and May.

With the “Q&A” MV’s pixel-art video-game motif so closely aligned with the packaging and design of the Let’s Play Cherry Bullet single album, there was a clear sense that Cherry Bullet were here and they were pleased to meet you. The confidence the group exudes through the song has much to do with how upbeat it is. Its insistently melodic synth lines sound bright and catchy, but the most prominent sound of the song is its bouncy bassline. Mixed loud enough, it makes the song sound groovy and organic, even when a variety of video-game sound effects pop up like musical filigrees at various parts of the song. “Q&A”’s pleasant electropop sound is not groundbreaking, but for a debut single to sound as self-assured was a big deal.

The line distribution among ten members, for listeners paying close attention to such matters, is (unsurprisingly?) uneven, but the members who sing much of the lyrics carry the song well enough and during performances of the song, the members with fewer lines do give their all regardless. Also notable is how the song features no rap parts; the closest it gets are a couple of phrases chanted cheerleader-style. Alongside a “dadadadada” hook in the chorus, the result is a song lacking sharp edges, which makes it easier for it to fully commit to such unabashed fun.


FNCEnt. “Q&A.” YouTube. 21 January 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KdWuQyIEYk (08 January 2022).

Lullet Official [@LulletOfficial]. “History of Cherry Bullet’s mismanagement and why they need support now more than ever  #ProtectCherryBullet.” Twitter. 10 April 2021. https://twitter.com/lulletofficial/status/1380737803806507008. (09 January 2022).

serinjimin. “Cherry Bullet: The Forgotten Girl Group.” allkpop. 13 August 2021. https://www.allkpop.com/article/2021/08/cherry-bullet-the-forgotten-girl-group. (09 January 2022).

INFINITE, “Paradise,” Paradise (2011) 

Luisa do Amaral

INFINITE debuted in 2010, with the chanty Hitchhiker-produced “Come Back Again”, but it was only with the synth-pop legendary song “Be Mine”, the title track of their first full album Over the Top (2011), that the group got their first music show win, still at the beginning of their rise to one of the biggest and best-selling boy groups of their generation. This big moment was followed by a repackaged version of the album, titled Paradise (2011), promoted with the lead single of the same name. The song was one of many generation-defining INFINITE tracks by producer team Sweetune, also credited for “Be Mine”, the iconic “BTD (Before The Dawn)”, and “The Chaser”, which placed at #3 on Billboard’s Staff List of The 100 Greatest K-Pop Songs of the 2010s.

Although “Paradise” isn’t one of the synth-pop tunes they’re best known for, the group’s ability to inject tracks with emotion and skillfully carry a powerful chorus is on full display. The track starts off with striking percussion and a mighty instrumental, led by strings and the lurking texture of the electric guitar adding heaviness and helping set the tone for a song which is about loss, and the desperation to try to stop the impending end of something. There’s a sense of urgency and defeat that is conveyed by the pungency of the melody and the percussion, but especially by the vocals – not just the outstanding individual performance of each member, but also the special effect of the layering of their seven voices, a prominent trademark across INFINITE’s tracks, about which K-pop blogger and music critic Nick James (2020) said: “I often classify Infinite as a group of eight voices – seven individual tones plus that unbeatable blend when they come together. Some have compared it to the Bee Gees, but it’s more robust here [in Paradise]”. The resulting chorus sounds both like the desired Heaven, and the actual living Hell of the parting, perfectly articulating and intensifying all parts of a song that succeeds in conveying every emotion it attempts.


INFINITE. “Paradise.” YouTube. 25 Sep 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sj0FvZGSzCo  (4 Jan 2022)

James, Nick. “The 100 Best K-Pop Songs of All-Time: Number 10” The Bias List, 22 Jul. 2020, https://thebiaslist.com/2020/07/22/the-100-best-k-pop-songs-of-all-time-number-10/. Accessed 4 Jan. 2022. 

Billboard Staff. “The 100 Greatest K-Pop Songs of the 2010s: Staff List” Billboard, 25 Nov. 2019, https://www.billboard.com/media/lists/best-k-pop-songs-2010s-top-100-8544710/ Accessed 4 Jan. 2022.

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WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 1 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 5

Image by donations welcome from Pixabay

Welcome to WWLT, or What We’re Listening To, which features mini music analyses that provide context and introduce readers to K-pop music that may be new-to-them.

This issue features analyses of tracks by U-KISS, TVXQ!, WOODZ, Bobby, and Billlie by members of HWAITING!, KPK’s K-pop music research accelerator.

U-KISS, “내 여자야 (She’s Mine),” Moments (2013)

Nykeah Parham

As the nostalgia train rushes into the land of K-pop once again, after surprise comebacks from many 2nd generation K-pop groups, it would be wonderful to appreciate the group that is U-KISS. For many, U-KISS is regarded as one of the most underrated K-pop groups. Despite a somewhat lackluster debut as a 6-member group in Korea in August 2008 under NH Media with the song, “어리지 않아 (Not Young),” U-KISS initially debuted in Japan and was considered for a Japan-Korea collaborative project as rookies. Although original members Kibum and Kevin had previously been a part of the short-lived group XING, they later joined group leader, Soohyun, Eli, Alexander, and maknae Dongho and began to prove the group’s ability to be the “Ubiquitous Korean International Idol Super Star” as their name claims. Their break-out song, “만만하니 (I’m Not Easy)” in 2009 came with a line-up change adding seventh member, Kiseop, and garnered newfound popularity in Thailand and the Philippines. They were the first K-pop group to hold a fan meeting in Cambodia and, in that same year, were the first Asian act to perform at the “Los 40 Principales” in Columbia. Throughout the group’s career U-KISS has performed and/or recorded songs in Korean, Japanese, English, Chinese, and Spanish and were usually one of the first K-pop groups to do so.

U-KISS’ eighth EP, Moments, marked a change in musical styles for the group. This album, with its title track, “내 여자야 (She’s Mine),” displayed the group’s experimenting with R&B and hip-hop. Composed by Brave Brothers (formerly of YG Entertainment, now CEO of Brave Entertainment), War of the Stars, and miss lee, and written by Brave Brothers, Maboos of the hip-hop trio Electoboyz, and Cha Khun, the track immediately begins without warning. It’s in-your-face nature of starting with Eli and AJ’s tag team rapping over steady drumbeat and bass guitar. The first singing verse continues this tough and strong vocal until the refrain comes with a smoother Kevin and Soohyun that only lasts for a few moments before starting the chorus. The underlying play with Korean lyrics and the rhythm of speaking and singing against the repetitive drumbeat that rarely changes throughout the song shows that it was written by rappers, mainly. Fun, but direct in saying that “she’s mine,” U-KISS ends the song with Kevin and Soohyun’s refrain and fading music, so that you heed their warning. It was a welcomed change, as the group continued to utilize the musical styles in later albums.


Ladymarsy. “U-KISS-Man Man Ha ni HD.” YouTube. 05 Nov 2009. https://youtu.be/04v7dRrHvbg (09 May 2022).

MBCkpop. “U-Kiss – Not young, 유키스 – 어리지 않아, Music Core 20080927.” YouTube. 11 Feb 2012. https://youtu.be/AKu_0dA6yCI (09 May 2022).

U-KISS. “U-KISS 유키스 – 내 여자야 (She’s Mine) – Music Video Full ver.” YouTube. 30 Oct 2013. https://youtu.be/lL2Gasb6QTg (09 May 2022).

TVXQ!, “12시 34분 Nothing Better,” 2009 Summer SMTown – We Are Shining (2009)

N Lina An

This song was part of 2009 Summer SMTown – We Are Shining which was released in mid-August. The album has a total of 4 tracks featuring TVXQ!, Super Junior and SHINee; each group releasing 1-track, and a collaboration track with all 3 groups. According to the article by Yoon-se Song of Newsen, the 4-tracks were released sequentially on Korean streaming sites. 12시 34분 Nothing Better is the 2nd track in this summer release and was the last to be released out of the 4 tracks.

Most information on this song can be found on Korean streaming sites such as Bugs! and Genie. Both sites credited John Paul Lam and Brandon Fraley as composers, Max Changmin as lyricist and Brandon Fraley as arranger. Then 5-member group TVXQ! (Hero Jaejoong, UKnow Yunho, Micky Yoochun and Max Changmin) who in 2009 were highly successful after the release of their 4th studio album Mirotic the year before. The group is known for their rich vocal harmonies, brought out various colors of the song 12시 34분 Nothing Better.

12시 34분 Nothing Better is a mid-tempo pop ballad. The 2 key features of this song is its use of advanced harmonic structures and vocal arrangements. The harmonic structure uses a lot of ii7-V7 chord progression (also known as secondary chord progressions) allowing flexibility to use chord tensions which is often used in jazz music. Hence, the jazzy R&B vibe is felt in this song. It is also interesting to note that the verse is in the key of G, whereas the chorus is in the key of Bb. This is quite special in terms of a typical pop song tonality which normally sticks to conventional tonic-dominant key structure.

Another interesting observation to note is that the chorus is more rhythmic and the verses are more melodious. The song opens with the chorus with Xiah Junsu taking the lead and the rest of the members providing the harmonies. The canon-like vocal arrangements creates a polyphonic weave of melodic variations, indicating advanced vocal arrangements, but apt for a vocal group like TVXQ!.


SM Town – Topic. “12시 34분 Nothing Better (Sung by TVXQ!)” Youtube. 2 Aug 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzdZoiEFhsc (12 May 2022)

Yoon-se Song. “TVXQ-SJ-SHINee SM Summer Album Released in 2 Years” Newsen. 11 Aug 2009. https://www.newsen.com/news_view.php?uid=200908110848501002 (11 May 2022)

WOODZ, “난 너 없이 (I hate you),” COLORFUL TRAUMA (2022)

Vitoria F. Doretto

Cho Seung-young, known as Woodz (and Luisinho in Brazil, given his teenage days as a football player in the Brazilian football club Corinthians), is a Korean singer, composer, rapper, and producer. His musical career started in 2004 as the principal rapper in the Sino-Korean boy group UNIQ. Along with his solo schedules, the singer appeared in the fifth season of Show Me the Money and later on Mnet Produce X 101, in which he debuted as part of X1. His tracks as Woodz have a mix of genres, but most are deep in alternative R&B. 

In his latest solo album, Woodz presents tracks immersed in pop-rock with lyrics intending to help his listeners overcome their bad memories and hard times. The third song, “난 너 없이 (I hate you),” is a pop-punk and pop-rock song. The solid track with explosive energy talks about someone getting over a toxic relationship and moving on but, in reality, still wants the ex-lover. It is written and composed by Woodz, Nathan (네이슨), and Hoho and produced by Nathan (네이슨) and Hoho. The highlight is the pre-chorus in a slower tempo and the English lines “I hate you, I forget you” because it surprises the listener and leaves a strong impression. The chorus is a more traditional rock with electric guitar and bass drum. His capacity to wander between sentimental, ferocious, and rhythmic moments and the rawness of his performance suits the genre and delivers a satisfactory and enjoyable song.


Stone Music Entertainment. “WOODZ (조승연) – 난 너 없이 (I hate you) MV.” YouTube, 4 May 2022. www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCHk9zoFIr8 (10 May 2022).

Bobby, “RaiNinG” (feat. Ju-ne), Lucky Man (2021)  

Luisa do Amaral

Korean rapper Bobby, born Kim Jiwon, was first introduced to the public in 2013 during the survival show WIN, in which he and his future group mates — then known as “Team B” — competed for the chance to become YG Entertainment’s first boy group since BIGBANG (2006). After losing to Team A (which went on to become WINNER), it would take another two years for him to become iKON’s Bobby, in 2015. Before that, in 2014, he competed on season 3 of Show Me The Money, the popular Korean rap competition. He became the first, and so far only, idol to win the show in its ten seasons, a victory which secured his place as one of the best rappers in the Korean music industry. He has so far released two solo albums; Love and Fall (2017) and Lucky Man, released on 25 January, 2021, with 13 tracks plus 4 skits, and featuring fellow iKON members DK and Ju-ne. 

Lucky Man tells a story of success, love, and heartbreak; the b-side “RaiNinG” (feat. Ju-ne) comes right after Skit 4, starting the final portion of the album, which deals with the struggle to reach closure, but eventually moving on. The skit is a recording of Bobby arriving home, and pouring himself a drink, with rain sounds in the background. The song is credited to Bobby and producer HRDR, and it uses moody weather references to discuss pain and isolation. The swing rhythm gives it a jazzy sound and amplifies the melancholic feel of how the song is carried, with enough playfulness in the pace for it to be considered upbeat and hopeful, despite its gloomy subject. Even though the track has a clear sense of build-up, the melody and the hook — “I said it’s raining, raining, raining, raining” — make several repeated movements, giving it a feel of cycling through emotions. Ju-ne’s distinguishing raspy voice is one of the highlights; his vocal color matches the energy of the song, and Bobby’s, very well, and he’s able to convey the most intense emotions and tone it down when the track spaces out. On the bridge, he repeatedly sings “Save our soul”; Bobby is very open about his Christian faith. Even though Ju-ne isn’t credited in the lyrics, he’s also openly Christian, and thus able to deliver the lines with just as much meaning as they were intended to carry. “RaiNinG” was the third time that Bobby and Ju-ne worked together on a track, after the remake of Jeon Yu Na’s 1995 song “Even if I love you” (2019), a special stage for a competition show, and “Deep Night” (2020), a special song dedicated to iKON fans. 


BOBBY – Topic. RaiNinG ft. JU-NE. YouTube. 25 Jan 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKiie6btN2Q&ab_channel=BOBBY-Topic (12 May 2022)

[HOT] BOBBY, Junhoe – in love with you, 다시 쓰는 차트쇼 지금 1위는? 20190205. 5 Feb 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TpF4h4ytrw&ab_channel=MBCentertainment (12 May 2022)iKON-ON : BOBBY & JU-NE – ‘깊은 밤’ (Deep Night). YouTube. 23 Jan 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWDG4dpgG9s&ab_channel=iKON (12 May 2022)

Billlie, “GingaMingaYo (the strange world),” (2022)

Tan Puay Shuang

Since the early 2010s, the K-pop industry has already seen many examples of idol groups creating their own ‘universes’. Notable examples are EXO and its ‘twelve forces nurturing the tree of life’, members of B.A.P representing alien rabbits called ‘Matokis’, and not to mention BTS’ infamous universe that spanned across multiple albums. Fast forward to the new era of metaverses, we now have SM Entertainment and the enigmatic GWANGYA, making it the biggest fictional universe that has ever been created in the industry thus far. However, Mystic Story also has their own way of introducing the element of storytelling through their artists’ repertoire – the six original members of Billlie (Haram, Moon SuA, Suhyeon, Sheon, Tsuki, Siyoon, Haruna) were originally known as Mystic Rookies and debuted in October 2021 and most of them have already stepped foot into the industry, most notably Moon Sua who started as a 10-year YG trainee (and was one of the members of ‘Future 2NE1’) and leader Suhyeon who previously contested in the first season of Produce 101 and a main character of the hit webdrama A-Teen. Their seventh member, Sheon, was later added to the group after her elimination from the final lineup of Girls Planet 999. In an interview, the members have explained that Billlie is defined as ‘an internal self that anyone can have and sympathize with’, and their fictional universe emphasizes on the significance of the number ‘11’, which is an essential part of the story that they want to tell (Aquila). A notable fact about this group is their unwavering intention of immersing their listeners into their lore by frequently referencing the number 11 and the ‘disappearance of Billlie’ in their lyrics.

As the title track to Billlie’s second EP ‘The Collective Soul and Unconscious: Chapter One’, ‘GingaMingaYo (the strange world)’ once again showcased Billlie’s distinctive, experimental musical colors. Although sounding like a thread of gibberish, the phrase ‘Gingaminga’ from the title is, in fact, a Korean expression of ambiguity and uncertainty, and the general message of the lyrics alludes to a person struggling to adapt to the changes in life as they grow older. Most people would recognise this synth-heavy dance-pop track by its chorus, especially the line “Wae GingaMingaYo?” which shares the same melodic phrase from the children’s song ‘Old MacDonald’ that has been engraved in most people’s minds. Above all, it was the choreography that received great attention for its eccentric use of facial expressions and sharp movements to mirror the ‘quirkiness’ that was being reflected in the lyrics. This was also the source of Tsuki’s newfound fame among netizens. Having prior experience as an idol in the J-pop scene and later proceeding to train in SM Entertainment, she brought out the essence of the choreography through her animated expressions and was widely praised for her exceptional professionalism through her viral fancam. With a member lineup with great potential in the industry and a compelling story to tell through their discography, there is no doubt that there is much more to receive from Billlie soon.


ARIRANG. “[플리캠 4K 가로] Billlie TSUKI ‘GingaMingaYo(the strange world)'(빌리 츠키 직캠) l Simply K-Pop CON-TOUR Ep.508.” YouTube. 25 February 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpCM_NDyPuI (12 May 2022).

Billlie. “Billlie | ‘GingaMingaYo (the strange world)’ M/V.” YouTube. 23 February 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKKh8d4wZbU (12 May 2022).

T. Aquila. “Meet Billlie: The K-pop Group with Mystical Lore.” Envi. 22 February 2022. https://www.envimedia.co/meet-billlie-the-k-pop-group-with-mystical-lore/ (12 May 2022).

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WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 5 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 4

Image by Mondschwinge from Pixabay

Welcome to WWLT, or What We’re Listening To, which features mini music analyses that provide context and introduce readers to K-pop music that may be new-to-them.

This issue features analyses of tracks by Anyband, Suho, Red Velvet, BigBang and V.

Anyband, “Talk, Play Love + Promise You,” EP by Anyband (2007)

N Lina An

This collaboration had 4 prominent names from the 2nd generation of K-pop: BoA, (Jin) Bora, Tablo of Epik High and Xia (formerly Xiah Junsu of then 5-member group TVXQ). These 4 stars formed AnyBand, for the 4th Anycall music drama; as a project group to promote Samsung’s phone brand in 2007. The project band also has a 3rd track titled Daydream. The whole EP was produced by Tablo. Unfortunately, there is no official channel hosting this music video. The premise of the 9-minute music video shows an oppressed nation where talk, play and love is prohibited. Then, four separate individuals come together using the Anycall phone to spread a message encouraging people to talk, play and love freely. These 2 contrasting emotions are represented in 2 songs: Talk, Play, Love and Promise You.

In Talk, Play, Love, the song is in a minor key; giving the sense of oppression and hopelessness as the citizens are being controlled. The melody is within the same pitch range and short in its rhythmic articulations. This depicts the mundane and robotic life where there is no communication allowed. The use of the synthesizer gives a mechanical feel, and the alternating octave in the bass represents the march that the citizens are parading on the streets, elevating the cyborg-feel of the music video. In the bridge, the song scales down to a monophonic texture where BoA sings unaccompanied. Then, it crescendos to a final chorus with ad-libs by Xia, layered by BoA and Tablo singing the chorus in different octaves and Bora’s blues-y improvisation giving a polyphonic texture ending.

Promise You is the exact opposite, sounding much brighter in a major key. Its song structure is in clear verse and chorus forms, with longer and more melodious musical phrasings. We can hear BoA and Junsu as main vocals, taking turns in the verse while harmonizing in the chorus. And, Tablo’s rap is interwoven with Bora’s jazzy improvisation on the piano keys in the bridge. In the music video, it is represented by the citizens rejoicing in the newfound liberation as they are able to communicate via the Anycall phone. The chorus repeats “anytime any day with you” assuring that hope is always around with the magic of the phone’s communication system. But, in both songs, the keywords of talk, play, love is interspersed in the lyrics connecting both songs together.

BoA is no stranger to the K-pop scene. Known as the Queen of Kpop, her impact in the Kpop scene transcends borders as she is also popular in Japan and all across Asia. As of December 2021, she is a member of a group Got the Beat formed by SM Entertainment, and will release a Japanese album to commemorate her 20th anniversary in the industry. There is little found information about Jin Bora, who at a very young age learned the piano and went on to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music under scholarship. According to her wikipedia page, her most recent performance was at the 2020 Korean Popular Culture and Arts Awards where she performed “Flower” from the Crash Landing on You OST. >>

Xia has been active in the music industry since his debut with TVXQ in 2003. Apart from the 2-year hiatus to serve his military duties, he has been active in the musical theatre scene in South Korea and also as an artist in Japan. Recently, Xia has made a comeback into South Korean media by releasing his 3rd mini album Dimensions, and also appearing on cable TV, Channel A’s 요즘 남자 라이프 신랑수업 (Nowadays Men’s Life Groom Class) as a cast member. Tablo is leader, producer and one-third of hip-hop group Epik High who recently concluded their North American tour, and will be performing their 2022 Seoul tour in May 2022.

There has not been any further collaborations that saw the triangulation of pop, hip-hop and jazz styles since this project group, or even an advertisement for a phone brand of this scale. Only time would tell if such a powerful combination would make a comeback.


Windstruck44. “[ANYBAND] Music Video Full Vers. (Talk Play Love + Promise U)” YouTube. 16 Aug 2008. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o24-Av2LIVw (15 April 2022)

The K-POP2. “2020 대한민국 대중문화예술상 시상식 | 2020 Korean Popular Culture and Arts Awards” Youtube. Streamed live on 28 Oct 2020. https://youtu.be/14dT14JYBzQ?t=2063 (15 April 2022)

Suho, “Hurdle,” Grey Suit (2022)

Vitoria F. Doretto

Following his solo debut with the mini-album Self-Portrait, in Grey Suit, the EXO’s leader deepens his roots in rock and sings about his time spent in the military (Morin, 2022). The six-track record comes shortly after Suho’s discharge from the military in February and evokes nostalgia with its 90’s vibe. 

In messages on Bubble (a chat with paid subscription), the singer asked the fans to listen to the album rightly, from the first to the last track, as it tells a story, and if one listens to the song separately it seems like watching a drama from the middle. But the second track has a livelier melody that draws attention and is completely different from “Grey Suit,” the title track, so it is not difficult for to it become the favorite on the album. “Hurdle,” the second track, has a mixture of funky verses and a cool chorus – the chorus is the highlight of the song and what makes it unforgettable, as it is fun and full of energy. It is a pop-rock song with city noise and an intense baseline in the intro that has witty lyrics about a person transcending time and running to someone loved, as the singer said in the countdown live on April 4 (EXO, 2022). Its lyrics were written by Gila, Noday, I’LL, Park Moonchi, and SH2O, it was composed by I’LL, Park Moonchi, Gila, and Noday, and arranged by Park Moonchi and Gila.

Although the music video is colorful and chaotic, settled in an office and expressing a workaholic society, its lyrics never miss the main theme, the desire to run to the lover. Its unique concept solidifies Suho’s identity as a soloist and his light tenor feels incredible in this song, more mature, and even the high number of high notes works really well and brings personality to the track.

“Hurdle” enables Suho to show his inner rock star, the live band in the performances adds to the appeal and it becomes a whole package.


EXO. [REPLAY] SUHO 수호 ‘Grey Suit’ Countdown Live. YouTube. 5 April 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMpCCBmNLgc (April 17, 2022)

Morin, Natalie. “EXO’s Suho Talks Life After the Military and His Upcoming Solo Project”. Rolling Stone, 2022. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/suho-interview-exo-1315110 (April 17, 2022)

SMTOWN. SUHO 수호 ‘Hurdle’ MV. YouTube. 7 April 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kPinfiIhb8 (April 17, 2022)

Red Velvet, “Day 1,” The Red (2015)  

Luisa do Amaral

Released in September 2015, Red Velvet’s first studio album The Red (2015) was the first installment in their series of records centered around their dual concept – fresh, bright and quirky “red” and  luscious, sultry and sexy “velvet” – which was followed by The Velvet (2016), Perfect Velvet (2017) and The Perfect Red Velvet (2018). In the 10-track album, “Day 1” is the second-to-last song, credited to Hwang Hyun of production team MonoTree. The star producer, a Classic Composition major who’s been called “the Beethoven of K-pop” (Gearlounge, 2021), has a long track record in the industry, having worked with Red Velvet’s senior groups at SM Entertainment – f(x), Girls’ Generation and S.E.S – as well as the agency’s boy groups Super Junior, SHINee and EXO-CBX, plus tracks such as LOONA’s “Hi High” (2018), “Kiss Later” (2017) and “Love & Live” (2017), Gfriend’s “Apple” (2020) and Stellar’s “Vibrato” (2015). More recently, he’s been recognised for his partnership with group ONF (WM Entertainment), having worked in all of their title tracks since their debut in 2017, and most of their b-sides, which have earned the group the title of “b-side masters” (Kim, 2022). 

Hwang worked in four Red Velvet tracks, including Japanese b-side “Aitai-tai” (from their 2018 Japanese debut EP #Cookie Jar). In “Day 1”, he is credited for lyrics, music and arrangement. The song’s title refers to the first day of a new relationship, right after a confession, as two good friends discover the joy of becoming lovers. Its quirky vibe made it a fan-favorite, being usually performed by the group during the special fan moments at the end of concerts. The song opens with guitar and bass, and its melody played by trumpet. The bossa nova sound establishes a distinctive softly lively atmosphere, whose upbeat aspects are highlighted by opting for pop-rock drums instead of the tamborim. The melodic motion is mainly upwards, which gives the song a sensation of constant growth. The latter part of the bridge has added layers of vocals and synths that increase its depth and make the track even bigger, and lead listeners into the last chorus and the outro to reach peak joy and excitement. This special layering of sounds to create a bigger-than-life effect is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of Hwang Hyun’s work, which is a perfect match for Red Velvet’s vocal colors. Yeri and Irene’s playfulness, Seulgi’s endearing excitement, Joy’s loveliness, and Wendy’s warm, bright range, play an important role in the process of crafting “Day 1”’s most heart-fluttering qualities. 


Red Velvet. “Day 1.” YouTube. 10 Nov 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTaa3Pbv9c0 (20 Apr 2022)

Red Velvet. “[HD] Red Velvet Red Mare in Japan – Day 1.” YouTube. 28 Dec 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwzXDehdwEo (20 Apr 2022)

Gearlounge. “[GL Interview] K-Pop 프로듀싱 & 퍼블리싱 컴퍼니 모노트리의 대표, 황 현” [Hwan Hyun, CEO of K-Pop Production and Publishing Company MonoTree]. Gearlounge, 28 Jun, 2021, https://gearlounge.com/editorial/glinterview-yellowstring Accessed 20 Apr, 2022. 

EBS 펜타곤의 밤의 라디오 [EBS Pentagon Night Radio]. “[Full ver.] 음색노래춤컨셉 맛집 온앤오프의 매력을 알고 싶다면?! 김가네 K-POP w.김영대 평론가” [If you want to know the charm of ONF, the must-eat place for voices, songs, dance and concept? The Flavour of K-pop with Critic Kim Young-dae]. 11 Mar 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSkP_jXjHRM (20 Apr 2022) 

BIGBANG (featuring Park Bom of 2NE1), “We Belong Together,” Big Bang (2006)

Mariam Elba

In light of BIGBANG’s long-awaited comeback with single Still Life, and 2NE1’s surprise return to the stage for the first time since 2015 at Coachella, it’s fitting to return to their first musical collaborations together. At the beginning of both groups’ careers with YG Entertainment on BIGBANG’s debut self-titled single album (Park Bom would debut with 2NE1 two years after the release of this record). We Belong Together sets the stage for what would come for BIGBANG’s discography in the following 16 years. With music composed by member, G-Dragon, lyrics co-written with member T.O.P, and arranged by G-Dragon and YG producer, Teddy. The song is reminiscent of popular hip-hop and R&B songs that were emblematic of the 2000s. Park Bom sings the chorus, with G-Dragon and T.O.P rapping in a call-and-answer style alongside Park’s singing. Both members are also the only BIGBANG members who appear on the track, though the other three members at the time, Taeyang, Daesung, and Seungri appear in the music video.

The song showcases the songwriting talents of G-Dragon (real name: Kwon Ji-yong), and T.O.P (real name: Choi Seung-hyun), both of whom would go on to write much of BIGBANG’s discography and break historic ground in the K-pop industry’s growth and popularity outside of Korea going into the mid 2010s. NICK from The Bias List notes, “it wouldn’t be until 2007 that BIGBANG really broke through with Lies. You can hear the smallest bit of that groundwork being laid in We Belong Together.”


YG Entertainment. “BIGBANG – WE BELONG TOGETHER M/V.” YouTube. 2 October 2008. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjTEMBB-mjY (accessed 20 April 2022).

NICK. “Debut Re-Evaluation: BIGBANG – We Belong Together (ft. Park Bom).” The Bias List. 19 April 2022. https://thebiaslist.com/2022/04/19/debut-re-evaluation-bigbang-we-belong-together-ft-park-bom. (accessed 20 April 2022).

V, “Christmas Tree,” Our Beloved Summer (그 해 우리는) OST (2020)

Hannah Lee Otto

V of BTS showcases his solo vocals in one of the primary theme ballads for the original television soundtrack, Our Beloved Summer (2020). In contrast with the heavier studio effects and accentuated bassline of V’s BTS solo track “Singularity,” the simple acoustic instrumentation, slower tempo, and reflective lyrics  in “Christmas Tree” spotlight V’s voice more intimately than a BTS release. In Our Beloved Summer, “Christmas Tree” provides a melancholic sweetness for the youthful romance between icy overachiever Kook Yeon-Soo and laidback artist Choi Ung, played by V’s close friend Choi Woosik of Parasite fame. Aware of the supportive friendship between superstars Kim Taehyung (V’s real name) and Choi Woosik, the highly acclaimed OST music director Nam Hye-Seung wrote the song with V specifically in mind (Naver, 2022). 

The organic collaboration proved fruitful on the charts, as “Christmas Tree” made V the first Korean soloist to debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s Digital Song sales chart (Cha, 2022). For V as a soloist, “Christmas Tree” elevates V as an expressive vocalist, capable of poignant storytelling through ballad, in English as well as Korean (“Christmas Tree” is mostly in English, with one verse in Korean). 

With “Christmas Tree” and V’s reflective ballad carrying the memory of a youthful unrequited romance headlined by Choi Woosik, the superstar power collaboration achieves new heights for V as a soloist, as well as the genre of Kdrama. 


Cha, E. “BTS’s V becomes 1st Korean soloist ever to debut a No. 1 on Billboard’s Digital Song 

Sales chart with a solo song.” 4 Jan 2022. https://www.soompi.com/article/1506958wpp/btss-v-becomes-1st-korean-soloist-ever-to-debut-at-no-1-on-billboards-digital-song-sales-chart-with-a-solo-song (20 April 2022). 

Most Contents. “V – Christmas Tree.” YouTube. 24 Dec 2021. https://youtu.be/lj8TV9q59P4 (20 April 2022).  

Naver. “Actor Choi Wooshik thanks his best friend BTS’s V for participating in ‘Our Beloved 

Summer’ OST with ‘Christmas Tree’.” Allkpop. 26 Jan 2022. https://www.allkpop.com/article/2022/01/actor-choi-wooshik-thanks-his-best-friend-btss-v-for-participating-in-our-beloved-summer-ost-with-christmas-tree

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WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 4 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

WWLT, Vol 1. No. 1

Image by heliofil from Pixabay

Welcome to the inaugural issue of WWLT, or What We’re Listening To, which features mini music analyses that provide context and introduce readers to K-pop music that may be new-to-them.

This issue features tracks from EXO, TVXQ, Jeon Somi, CL, Jonghyun X Youngbae, VIXX, Red Velvet, SEVENTEEN, SF9 and 2AM from contributors who are members of the K-pop music research accelerator, HWAITING! (managed by KPK: Kpop Kollective).

EXO, “Stronger,” Ex’Act (2016)

Crystal S. Anderson

EXO follows in the footsteps of large groups at SM Entertainment, including Super Junior and Girls’ Generation. In addition to the creation of sub-units (EXO-K and EXO-M; EXO-CBX) several members embarked on solo careers, including D.O, Baekhyun, Lay and Suho.  The group is known for its impressive choreography to upbeat, rhythm-driven dance tracks. “Stronger” appears on  the 2016 album, Ex’Act, which was repackaged as Lotto later that year. Ex’Act was released after Exodus (2015), which included “Call Me Baby”, and Love Me Right, which was released the same year with the title song as the promo track. Agnes Shin, Chung Joo-hee, Lee Joo-hyung,  Andreas Oberg,  Gustav Karlstrom wrote the lyrics and Karlstrom, Lee, Oberg composed the music. “Stronger” departs from EXO’s uptempo tracks by showcasing vocals accompanied only by a piano at a slower pace. The piano creates sparse instrumentation without electronic songs, which makes the vocals shine even more. Relying on members Suho, Baekhyun, Chen and D.O., the track showcases their individual vocal talents as well as their harmonization, traversing the gamut of the vocal range and using various vocalists to punctuate the vocal performance of others. The structure of the song is also non-traditional, diverging from a straight verse-chorus arrangement.  This track offers a different side of the group, showing vocal versatility as an additional element to their dance repertoire. 


EXO. “Stronger.” YouTube. 8 Nov 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuDhioEWnMI (29 Oct 2021)  

TVXQ, “Tri-Angle,” Tri-Angle (2004)

N. Lina Anuar

After debuting with the song Hug on Boxing Day 2003, then 5-member group TVXQ from SM Entertainment released Tri-Angle from their first studio album The Way U Are in 2004. The music video of this song emulated the aesthetics of visual-Kei like elaborate hairstyles and makeup (Throwback Thoughts, 2019), which one could trace back to the times of glam rock of KISS and David Bowie.

The song credits SM Entertainment’s in-house songwriter Yoo Young-jin as composer, lyricist and arranger; with Groovie K having a hand in the composition as well. While the entire album is labeled as Kpop, dance, contemporary R&B and teen pop, Tri-Angle sampled Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor (Hallyu Reviews, 2021), and is heard as the hook and an overlay in the chorus.

This song is built on the typical pop song structure of verse-chorus-bridge which could be labeled as K-pop. However, it features a mishmash of other styles that includes classical nuances heard by the small string orchestra, sounds of grunge/punk rock through the guitar effects of distortion and overdrive in the bridge, and the powerhouse pop vocals of BoA, dubbed as the Queen of Kpop.

Tri-Angle was really a representation of SM’s hottest artists in the early millennium of TVXQ, BoA and TraxX, who unfortunately now is a defunct-rock group creating a trifecta of collaborations of their time.


Car Door Guy’s Girl. (2019, April 18). Throwback thoughts: Tri-angle- TVXQ (ft. Boa and TRAX). https://cardoorguysgirl.wordpress.com/2019/04/18/throwback-thoughts-tri-angle-tvxq-ft-boa-and-trax/.

Hallyureviews. (2021, February 14). Song of the moment: TVXQ – tri-angle (with Boa, TRAX). https://hallyureviews.wordpress.com/2021/02/17/song-of-the-moment-tvxq-tri-angle-with-boa-trax/.

TVXQ! 동방신기 ‘tri-angle (extended ver.) (feat. Boa & Trax)’ MV. YouTube. (2009, November 23). https://youtu.be/GM8wZRaHXTg.

Jeon Somi, “XOXO,” XOXO (2021)

Andrew Ty

Somi was an aspirant in Sixteen, the 2015 Mnet competition show that produced JYP girl-group Twice. She earned first-place a year later in another Mnet show, Produce 101 (Season One) and debuted with I.O.I., which disbanded in 2017. Two years later, Somi released her solo debut “Birthday.” 

Her fourth single “XOXO” was released in October 2021, the title track to her first full-length album with lyrics by Teddy, Danny Chung, Vince, Somi, and Kush. Teddy also composed the music alongside Pink Sweats, Pacific, and 24 who also handled the arrangement. Like “Birthday,” previous singles “What You Waiting For” and “Dumb Dumb,” and almost every song on her full-length, “XOXO” showcases Somi’s signature bright bubblegum sound. 

“XOXO” is especially anthemic, centered on the hook-filled chorus that opens the song, with layers of chanted vocals over muted arpeggios and sparse beats sounding almost too large, too insistent. This effect is tastefully capped by how Somi sings “hoo-hoo” after each chant of “XOXO!”—soaring high above the wall of sound, creating an opening in the song that both verse and pre-chorus fill, making the chorus hit harder. The effect is unexpectedly reminiscent of “Where Is My Mind?” by American alt-rock group the Pixies. I can’t imagine Somi’s next single sounding larger than “XOXO”; the bigger impact might be in swerving towards an unexpectedly understated sound.


Jeon Somi. “XOXO.” YouTube. 29 Oct 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8kqPkEXP_E (08 Nov 2021)

Pixies. “Where Is My Mind?” YouTube. 21 Feb 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49FB9hhoO6c (08 Nov 2021)

Somi. “Birthday.” YouTube. 13 Jun 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDJ4ct59NC4 (08 Nov 2021)

Somi. “Dumb Dumb.” YouTube. 02 Aug 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tg2uF3R_Ozo (08 Nov 2021)

Somi. “What You Waiting For.” YouTube. 22 Jul 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBYyAQ99ZFI (08 Nov 2021).

CL, “SPICY”—ALPHA (2021)

Hannah Lee Otto

CL, known for her rapping, edgy unconventional styling, and melismatic vocals, perhaps represents an anomaly of the K-pop and entertainment industry: a post girlband veteran to go solo by severing ties with a big-name entertainment company, forging her own way through richly diverse collaborations and friendships across the industry and across the world—ranging from Diplo, ReQuest Dance Crew, Method Man, and ReQuest Dance Crew, to name a few. The diversity of CL’s collaborations and talents seem to reflect her diverse background, growing up in Korea, Japan, and schooling in France prior to her landing a spot in Kpop girl group 2NE1 in 2014 (Myers, 2021). Considered a pioneering Kpop female group, 2NE1’s tomboyish and punk attitude countered the image of cutesy girliness typical to Kpop at the time (Lee, 2021). CL’s independent projects reflect a continuation of 2NE1’s edge on her own terms, evolving her I AM THE BEST anthem swagger to self-reflective and self-empowering tracks in her truly independent full-length ALPHA (Kwak, 2021). ALPHA emerges after years of efforts in becoming an independent K-pop artist, formally leaving YG Entertainment in 2019, working a move stateside with Scooter Braun, and now under her own label, Very Cherry Record (Myers, 2021). ALPHA is CL’s first full-length album, following a train of collaborations, singles, and a mini album since going solo in 2014. 

SPICY opens ALPHA with John Malkovich asking for “that sauce that is spicy made in Korea” and chanting “energy, power, chemistry” looping in his meditative voice in the background. CL answers the request for spicy with a battle-like rap declaring herself as the alpha, proud of her Korean spice, a metaphor that is sweeping culture worldwide. With a catchy beat and staccato, straightforward lyrics delivered over John Malkovich’s meditative echo, the song provides an accessible entry into the album and the signature CL attitude.  


CL. “SPICY.” YouTube. 24 August 2021. https://youtu.be/QMwJtMJLXE0

Kwak, Kristine. “CL Reintroduces Herself as the ‘Alpha.’ Rolling Stone, 20 Oct. 2021,   

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/cl-alpha-1244017/ Accessed 8 

Nov. 2021. 

Lee, Christine. “Review: On ALPHA, CL finishes what she started.” NPR, 27 Oct. 2021, 

Accessed 8 Nov 2021. 

Myers, Owen. “K-Pop Queen CL on making her indie comeback: ‘My album is like me writing a 

book.’” Billboard, 16 Jan. 2021,  https://www.billboard.com/music/pop/cl-new-album-alpha-interview-k-pop-comeback-9510948/

Jonghyun x Youngbae, “It Must be Autumn” (2015)

Ngan Tran

Kim Jonghyun, the main vocalist of SHINee, was also known as an extremely talented songwriter. A hidden gem from his discography is “It Must be Autumn” (also translated as “I guess now it’s the fall”), which debuted as a single on the Mnet show Monthly Live Connection. Featuring guest vocals from Go Youngbae (lead vocalist of the band SORAN), the song is co-written and co-composed by Jonghyun and Youngbae, with the arrangement done by Youngbae, Seo Myeon-ho, Lee Tae-wook, and Pyon Yoo-il. This is a delicate acoustic track that perfectly captures the sentiment of autumn.

The song opens with a simple guitar melody that would form the backbone for the rest of the track. As if letting listeners into a secret, the acoustic strumming combined with Jonghyun and Youngbae’s quiet vocals immediately set the tone for an intimate late night conversation. Lyrically, it is about receiving a random call from an ex-lover who has moved on long ago, and then mentally falling apart like autumn leaves. It is easy to slip into the territory of ambient coffee shop music here, but a steady percussion beat arrives just in time for the second verse to give it a much-needed depth. Jonghyun’s soft, airy vocals and Youngbae’s warm, gentle timbre complement each other extremely well as their gorgeous harmonies flutter into the bridge, where the song finally flourishes – in its own subdued fashion. The bass ripples, the keyboard tiptoes, and the catalytic moment comes, ironically, when the narrator admits that “today, too, I am still standing here,” stuck in memories of the past. And so the track ends with the same restrained energy it started with, completely unable to move on.


Jonghyun x Youngbae. “It Must be Autumn.” YouTube. 29 October 2015. https://youtu.be/neftAitSVw8?t=127 (9 November 2021).

VIXX, “Fantasy,” Hades (2016)

Nykeah Parham

No strangers to fantastic, other-worldly, or supernatural ideas, VIXX, the heralded “Concept Kings” of K-pop, announced the year-long project, VIXX 2016 Conception Trilogy. Each album in 2016 had a different concept based on a Greek deity, beginning with Zelos and the title track “Dynamite,” Hades and “Fantasy,” and ending with Kratos and “The Closer.” The Trilogy follows a man in his attempt to win over his love and the “fate” or “ruin” that befalls him. In “Fantasy,” the mortal man, N, has lost his love to Leo, someone in the underworld.

Produced by the LA-based production team, Devinne Channel’s Kei Lim and Ryan Kim, “Fantasy” begins with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” establishing the dark concept of Hades and the Underworld alongside Ravi’s deep and raspy tone in contrast to Leo’s falsetto. As soon as the introduction moves to the first verse, Ken’s mid-range vocal is underscored with not-so-subtle bass and snapping that resembles a clock ticking. There is a quick transition to Leo’s higher tone and the introduction of a rolling hi-hat that is all meant to showcase the main character losing his sanity as time progresses. By the time the pre-chorus and its marching drum begins, the energy and harmony have risen to an anxious heartbeat with the added string instruments in the chorus. There is a whiplash at the second verse, but that energy continues to build until the music stops suddenly and Moonlight Sonata plays again as a soft reprise even though the character has met a tragic end and not the fantasy he once imagined. In the end, all that is left is the admittance of defeat, “It’s all my fantasy.”


VIXX. “Fantasy.” YouTube. 14 August 2016. https://youtu.be/IuaRdAozUI0 (08 November 2021)

Red Velvet, “Knock on Wood,” Queendom (2021)

Luisa do Amaral

Red Velvet debuted in 2014 with the promise to bring together the elements that distinguished their predecessors, Girls’ Generation and f(x). One’s magical, sunny mass-appeal, and the other’s more experimental edge – through the fresh “Red” and the luscious “Velvet” concepts. Celebrating their seventh anniversary, the group made their first official release since ‘The ReVe Festival’ Finale (2019) with the six-track mini album Queendom (2021), released in August. The record includes the electro-punk track “Knock on Wood,” a B-side that uses a magical motif to compare the anxious desire for requited affections akin to casting a little spell (Yun, 2021).

The track is credited to duo Moonshine (Jonatan Gusmark and Ludvig Evers), Cazzi Opeia and Ellen Berg, who have worked together in previous RV tracks such as the B-side “In & Out” (2019) and the title track “Peek-A-Boo” (2017). The Korean lyrics were written by Seo Ji-Eum from Jam Factory. “Knock on Wood” opens with bewitching wobbly synths; enchanting ad-libs and vocals are layered over little finger snaps, squelches and glassy sounds (Daly, 2021) for an eerie feeling that heightens the magical element. The lyrics switch between anxiously hopeful confessions and spells, with each member adding to the atmosphere. Irene’s and Yeri’s lines are playful, mischievous – complementing Seulgi’s honey-glazed uneasiness, as well as Joy’s innocent sweetness and Wendy’s buoyant brightness, whose voices lead the pre-chorus into the chorus. The more distressed undertones of the song are resolved at the whimsical bridge, and the fairytale-like story ends with a modified chorus that expresses the assurance of getting the desired outcome. All the red flavors are there, but with the otherworldly magical edge that Red Velvet carried on from the sweet witchcraft of f(x).


Red Velvet. “Knock on Wood.” YouTube. 16 Aug 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHINkx2So0s (8 Nov 2021)

Yun, Sanggeun 윤상근. “레드벨벳, ‘Queendom’으로 전할 감각적 음악 세계..위트 더한다” [Red Velvet to deliver a sensory music world through ‘Queendom’.. with increased wit]. 스타뉴스 STARNEWS, 9 Aug, 2021, https://entertain.naver.com/read?oid=108&aid=0002979163 Accessed 8 Nov, 2021. 

Daly, Rhian. “Red Velvet – ‘Queendom’ review: a safe but sometimes spellbinding return from SM’s ruling girl group” NME, 18 Aug. 2021, https://www.nme.com/reviews/album/red-velvet-queendom-review-3022231. Accessed 7 Nov. 2021. 

SEVENTEEN, “Ready To Love,” Your Choice (2021)

Tan Puay Shuang

Being given the title of ‘self-producing idols’, SEVENTEEN is best known not only for their entertaining presence on variety shows, but also for being actively involved in various aspects of their comeback productions since debut. While one could visibly tell that the group’s music has drastically evolved and matured with time, not many were prepared to learn that the song-writing credits of their eighth mini-album Your Choice would include “hitman” Bang Sihyuk, the founder of HYBE Corporation that has just acquired their label Pledis Entertainment last year. Apart from him, the song also introduced the participation of Danke, Kyler Niko, Wonderkid, Christoffer Semelius, and H.Kenneth, some of which would be familiar to fans of other HYBE artists like TXT and ENHYPEN.

Your Choice was released as the second part to SEVENTEEN’s yearlong project “The Power of ‘Love’”. Its title track “Ready To Love” features a prominent electric guitar and an anthemic chorus, which combined with the typical EDM beats forms an upbeat dance track that sings about the emotions of someone who has fallen in love with a friend (Chakraborty, 2021). Besides departing from the retro vibes that they have featured in their previous mini albums, Heng:garæ and Semicolon, the song also stands out for the amount of English being used in their lyrics. Despite the high energy and optimistic lyrics, the song eludes a somewhat melancholic tone, and the adlibs done by the members hold equal importance as the main melody, with the choreography during the last chorus specially made to highlight Seungkwan’s voice towards the end of the final chorus. 


HYBE LABELS. “SEVENTEEN (세븐틴) ‘Ready to love’ Official MV.” YouTube. 18 Jun 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4ffQuYFfY8 (8 Nov 2021).

SEVENTEEN. “[Choreography Video] SEVENTEEN(세븐틴) – Ready to love.” YouTube. 20 Jun 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxWowt5Oc9Y (8 Nov 2021).

Chakraborty, Riddhi. “Seventeen Get Ready to Risk Everything in ‘Ready to Love’.” Rolling Stone India. 18 Jun 2021. https://rollingstoneindia.com/seventeen-get-ready-to-risk-everything-in-ready-to-love/ (8 Nov 2021).

SF9, “Hey Hi Bye,” Turn Over (2021)

Vitoria F. Doretto

SF9 (shortened from Sensational Feeling 9) is the first dance boy group formed by FNC Entertainment. Known for their dynamic stage presence and experimental sound, and following their contract renovation, the nine members released on July 5, 2021, their ninth mini-album, Turn Over, with “Tear Drop” as the title track. The album follows their participation in Kingdom: Legendary War, where “Believer” was released as their final round song (which also appears on this album). The mini-album is the last part of the “9lory” series, which conveys their narrative world. In it, they show their willingness to pioneer fate on its own without yielding to what was already set.

“Hey Hi Bye” is the last track with synth-brass-laden and peppy beats. The lyrics are written by Han Sung Ho (한성호),Young Bin  (영빈), Zuho (주호), and Hwiyoung (SF9s lead rapper). The composers are Han Sung Ho (한성호), Park Soo Suk (박수석), Bong Won Seok (봉원석), Moon Kim, and Tiyon TC Mack, and the arrangement was made by Park Soo Suk and Bong Won Seok. It is a fun track with a captivating mix of retro influences and a synth-like filter that adds to the instrumental – and their voices are capable of staying above it all, which is surprising. The track wraps up the album with a sweet tone, as its last verses are “Can’t nobody, can’t nobody love you like me/ Hey, hiya, bye.” Its first live stage was at the “2021 SF9 Online Fan Meeting ‘Reply FANTASY‘” (Laure, 2021).


에셒구. [SF9] Hey Hi Bye 응답하라 판타지 210815 팬미팅. YouTube. 16 Aug 2021.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i37Tw6310dc (9 Nov. 2021).

Laure. Exclusive Review: SF9 Cheerfully Spends Time At “2021 SF9 Online Fan Meeting ‘Reply FANTASY'”. Kpopmag, 17 Aug 2021. http://www.kpopmap.com/exclusive-review-sf9-cheerfully-spends-time-at-2021-sf9-online-fan-meeting-reply-fantasy (9 Nov. 2021).

2AM, “Should’ve known” (가까이 있어서 몰랐어), Ballad 21 F/W (2021)

Mariam Elba

After 7 years, 2AM released its first, long-awaited EP after their hiatus that began in 2013 on November 1. Formed as a part of One Day, a project of JYP Entertainment in 2008, members Jinwoon, Changmin, Jo Kwon, and Seulong broke off to form 2AM. They quickly became known as the ballad-idol quartet, different from their One Day counterparts, 2PM. each bring different vocal styles elements to their ballads. Park Jin-young of JYP Entertainment as well as “hitman” bang, or Bang Si-hyuk, and now the chairman of HYBE, were both frequent producers and songwriters for the group.

“Should’ve known” is their first of two title tracks on 2AM’s new EP, Ballad 21 F/W, written and composed by “Hitman” Bang, and arranged by Megatone and Score.  The song starts with a simple piano harmony as Jinwoon starts the song in an almost-hushed voice, Seulong ushers in the bridge, and builds a gradual crescendo as Jo Kwon and Changmin’s voices carry the crescendo into the chorus with soaring high notes, evoking the emotion of the lyrics charged with regret of a lost love. The third bridge highlights 2AM’s frequent harmonizing, a signature characteristic in their songs.

A unique aspect of the music video is that it tells the first part of a story that the second title song’s music video continues. Starring One Day counterpart, 2PM’s Junho and Kim So-hyun, re-enact the story the lyrics tell in Should’ve known, and second title song No good in good-bye (잘 가라니).


2am – 가까이 있어서 몰랐어 (Should′ve known) MV. YouTube. 1 Nov 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5NyZsDz0oI (10 Nov 2021).

 Creative Commons License WWLT Vol. 1, No. 1 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

KPK Seeks Members for Its K-pop Music Research Accelerator!

KPK Seeks Members for Its K-pop Music Research Accelerator!

Are you outside of academia yet do research on K-pop music or related topics? Are you an advanced undergrad or grad student researching K-pop music, but lack a research community? Do you want an opportunity to hone your analytic skills and publish on K-pop music? Consider applying to HWAITING! The K-pop Music Research Accelerator!

HWAITING!: The K-Pop Music Research Accelerator cultivates and produces public scholarship on global Korean popular music (K-pop). Managed by KPK: K-pop Kollective, the oldest and only aca-fansite for K-pop, HWAITING! houses an online research community that also publishes small-scale music analyses. Its mission is to generate comprehensive, well-informed discourse around K-pop music that contributes to an understanding of its content, history and impact. The HWAITING! Accelerator functions as a: 

  • study group that reads scholarly writing and discusses topics related to K-pop music to keep members current with K-pop music discourse
  • listening group that shares music recommendations to expand the knowledge base of its members and help them find music beyond their favorites  
  • writing group that publishes music analyses accessible to a general audience to provide opportunities for members to share their knowledge

Criteria. Ideal applicants come from within or outside academia, work on K-pop or related topics, and would benefit from being a part of an active K-pop research community. This includes advanced undergraduates, current/former graduate students, bloggers, journalists and podcasters. Knowledge of or familiarity with multiple K-pop artists/groups is required.

Expectations. Generally, members can expect to spend 1-2 hours a week on HWAITING. They will be expected to:

  • write a 150-200-word musical analysis of at least one K-pop track bi-monthly, to be published on KPK: Kpop Kollective. (For an idea, see What We Are Listening To: ‘Rising Sun’ by TVXQ!)  
  • recommend at least one K-pop track to the group every two weeks 
  • participate in weekly discussions about scholarly writing and critical topics relevant to K-pop music
  • provide progress reports on individual projects as needed

To apply. Complete this short form, which will also ask you to provide a reference, someone who can confirm your interest in K-pop. References will be contacted. Deadline: Oct 18, 2021. Questions? Contact Dr. Crystal S. Anderson, csaphd5@gmail.com.

MUSIC REVIEW: Sam Kim, Sun and Moon (2018)

MUSIC REVIEW: Sam Kim, Sun and Moon (2018)

By the time Sam Kim released Sun and Moon (2018), he had already established a reputation for mellow tracks with singles like “Don’t Worry Mama” and “Seattle,” both of which appear on his 2016 release, I Am Sam. Sun and Moon continues his signature style.

Kim’s voice complements the acoustic and sparse instrumentation that frequently accompany his tracks. The use of featured artists, often singers who have R&B and hip-hop reputations, allows a contrast to his vocals. While “It’s You” (ft. Zico) uses a common structure that places the rap verse near the middle of the song, “Make Up” (ft. Crush) uses Crush’s rap and singing vocals to contrast with Kim’s plaintive vocal.  The track is also punctuated with a recurrent, driving electric guitar riff that provides a bit of flair. As the promotional tracks for the album, they also feature music videos.  “It’s You” makes use of a colorful palette and deconstructed living room, which underscores the track’s upbeat feel.  “Make Up” follows Kim’s emotional spiral that eventually lands him in the back of a police car for graffiti.

While instrumentation in Kim’s music evokes a chill atmosphere, it also draws on elements from several genres. “The One,” written by Kim and composed by Kim and frequent collaborators Hong So Jin and Jeog Jai, strategically introduces horns on the chorus and throughout the verses. As the song continues, they gradually swell in a way that intensives the jazz feel of the track, providing for a nice extended outro.  “Would You Believe,” written and composed by Kim, starts out as a piano-based ballad. Gospel choir-like backing vocals support Kim’s expressive and emotional voice, filling out the choruses in contrast to the more stark verses. The instrumentation becomes more complex as well, with an electric guitar complementing the initially plaintive piano, bringing with it a gospel cadence.

Track List

  1. Sun and Moon
  2. It’s You (ft. Zico)
  3. Make Up (ft. Crush)
  4. Sunny Days, Summer Nights (그 여름밤)
  5. The One
  6. Would You Believe
  7. The Weight (무기력)
  8. If

Image: Antenna Music


Antenna. “샘김 Sam Kim ‘Would You Believe’|Official Audio.” YouTube. 27 Nov 2018. https://youtu.be/4pV2Btw-lUc

SecretlyRian. “SAM KIM (샘김) – THE ONE [han|rom|eng lyrics/가사].” YouTube. 25 Nov 2018. https://youtu.be/Y3RMC9me-Xs

Creative Commons License
MUSIC REVIEW: Sam Kim, Sun and Moon (2018) by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Spotify, YouTube and the Shaping of the K-pop Listening Audience

Spotify, YouTube and the Shaping of the K-pop Listening Audience

Spotify has become a benchmark for measuring K-pop success, but it limits the growth of the K-pop listening audience. Despite changes in its algorithm, YouTube remains the place to develop and grow as a K-pop listener because of the input of other K-pop fans.

Spotify is recognized for spearheading the music streaming revolution, changing the music distribution model that gave music away for little to nothing to the public and profited from artists in other ways, as Michael Hann explains: “[Spotify’s] main business is not helping listeners discover new music (something it’s not very good at), but collecting information about listeners in order to sell its audiences to advertisers.”

When Spotify began to feature K-pop, it was seen as a win for global K-pop fans. Finally, they had a (legal!), reliable site to access their favorite groups. For some, it was an opportunity to draw attention to their faves with high streaming counts. Kate Whitehead credits the increased global spread of K-pop to Spotify: “In 2014, Spotify launched its K-pop flagship playlist K-pop Daebak, which now has more than 2.4 million followers. Between January 2014 and January this year, K-pop streams increased more than 1,800 per cent and during the same period users listened to more than 134 billion minutes of K-pop on Spotify.” For many K-pop fans, it has become the primary source of K-pop.

However, that access comes at a cost in terms of the variety of K-pop to which fans are exposed, a variety that is vital in creating a listening audience with diverse tastes. Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Laura Snapes argue: “Spotify prides itself on its personalised recommendations, which work by connecting dots between ‘data points’ assigned to songs (from rap, indie, and so on, to infinite micro-genre permutations) to determine new music you might like. Its model doesn’t code for surprise, but perpetuates “lean-back” passivity.” Using data to curate the listener’s experience, Spotify de-emphasizes the discovery of new music that may be far afield of a listener’s preferences.

This is contrast to other ways that global fans develop their K-pop preferences in the past. My own research reveals that K-pop fans have a tendency to seek out new groups and artists after their initial exposure to K-pop. This branching is guided by recommendations from friends as well as YouTube playlists and recommendations. YouTube represents a fundamentally different way of accessing music, one that gives a larger role to the human component in the form of other fans. For example, listeners can access playlists compiled by fans that include entries based on their likes.

The presence of simply more music outside the bounds of those determined by data shapes our conception of the music in general. I compiled a playlist a YouTube playlist for my book, Soul in Seoul: African American Music and K-pop. For example, I was able to find examples by R&B artists who incorporate a monologue at the beginning of their songs, like the Chi-Lites‘ “Have You Seen Her,” the same kind of monologue that K-pop group Shinhwa incorporates into their 2004 track “Crazy.”


When I went to create my playlist on Spotify, Shinhwa’s album Brand New was missing from the artist listing, which is a serious omission. Brand New was Shinhwa’s first album after their departure from SM Entertainment, the company with which the group debuted. Not only is it incredibly significant in terms of the development of the group’s sound, it features several hit songs, including “Crazy” and “Brand New.” But a Spotify listener would not know this. In this way, Spotify shapes the listening experience of an individual in a way that omits significant parts of an artist’s musical trajectory.

What does this mean for K-pop? The inability to encounter music outside of a data-driven model means that K-pop listeners are limited if they largely access their K-pop from streaming sites that use such a model,  which can skew their overall perception of K-pop.


Cloud. “The Chi-lites “Have you seen her.” YouTube. 10 Apr 2009. https://youtu.be/xVYxKRXDT2I

Kate Whitehead. “How Spotify Had a Hand in K-pop’s Meteoric Rise BTS, Blackpink and EXO Among App’s Top Streamed Bands.” South China Morning Post. 27 Feb 2020. https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/entertainment/article/3052419/how-spotify-had-hand-k-pops-meteoric-rise-bts-blackpink-and

Michael Hann. “How Spotify’s Algorithms Are Ruining Music.” Financial Times. 2 May 2019. https://www.ft.com/content/dca07c32-6844-11e9-b809-6f0d2f5705f6

Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Laura Snapes. “Has 10 years of Spotify Ruined Music?” The Guardian. 5 Oct 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/oct/05/10-years-of-spotify-should-we-celebrate-or-despair

omega. “[역대1위곡] 신화(Shinhwa) – 열병(Crazy).” YouTube. 10 Sept 2016. https://youtu.be/BxsSmAXRaXo

Shinwha Official. “GROUP SHINHWA – ‘Brand New’ Official Music Video.” YouTube. https://youtu.be/YowZgL1AOTA

Creative Commons License
Spotify, YouTube and the Shaping of the K-pop Listening Audience by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.