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.

Sources

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.

Sources

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. 

Sources

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.”

Sources

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. 

Sources

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.

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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.

Sources

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.

Sources

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.

Sources

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.

Sources

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.

Sources

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.

Sources

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?”

Sources

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.

The Once and Future Fandom: How Media Shapes Perceptions of K-pop Fans

Image of varying tones of gold in a kaleidoscope
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Whether K-pop fans are praised political activists or denigrated as delusional enthusiasts, both characterizations reduce K-pop fans, especially Black fans, and fail to recognize their value beyond politics.

Up until recently, K-pop fans had a questionable reputation. On March 19, 2020, I did a search for K-pop fans, and these are the search terms Google offered:

Screen capture of Google search for k-pop fan
Screen capture, Google search for K-pop fan

This is what today’s search (June 24) for K-pop fan brings:

Screen shot of Google search for K-pop fan
Google search for K-pop fan

In the span of a few months, the perception of K-pop fans has changed, largely due to several events with political ramifications, including overwhelming the Dallas police iWatch Dallas app, taking over the #whitelivesmatter hashtag, and most recently, disrupting President Trump’s Oklahoma rally. Coverage by mainstream media outlets have praised these actions, suggesting that K-pop fans now have value because they are politically active.

However, others are pointing out that calling K-pop the newest wave of political activists is not as positive as it seems. Abby Ohlheiser does a really great job of explaining the complexity surrounding K-pop fandom and why the sudden characterization of K-pop fans as activists is problematic:

Some stans, and the academics who study them, say that while it’s great to see fans use these platforms for good, the rapid veneration is overshadowing the more complex dynamics underlying K-pop fandom. And, they say, the newfound reputation for anti-racist heroism largely ignores the voices of black K-pop fans, who have struggled with racism and harassment within the community.

The K-pop fan-as-activist is the other side of the K-pop-fan-as-crazy coin. Both are imposed by the media and narrowly construe K-pop fandom. K-pop fan activity did not suddenly become important or significant just because it intersects with the political arena or because major outlets say so. Fans were always important and significant, in and of themselves. K-pop fans’ ability to organize and mobilize for a cause can be seen as early as 2012, when fans of Seo Taiji, often credited with being the first major figure in K-pop, fundraised to create the “SeoTaiji Forest” in Brazil to support conservation. It’s the same organizing used to support groups when they promote. But it’s also scores of smaller, collaborative projects that collect information in informal archive projects. K-pop fans have always been proactive in producing culture around K-pop.

This has a particular impact for Black K-pop fans. While Black K-pop fans have been part of K-pop fandom since its early days, they are increasingly being brought to the fore solely within the context of K-pop activism around Black Lives Matter, or increasingly, to articulate their negative experiences within the fandom. While both are important in understanding the experiences of Black fans, they are not the only way to understand those experiences. Raising Black K-pop fan voices only to tell stories of racism and discrimination suggests that Black fans cannot talk about just being a fan, who they like and why. It excludes Black fans from having a voice on any other aspect of K-pop and silences them under the auspices of giving them a voice.

Black fans, and Black people in general, have a complex experience one that includes joy.  Imani Perry recently wrote for The Atlantic: “My elders taught me that I belonged to a tradition of resilience, of music that resonates across the globe, of spoken and written language that sings. . . . The injustice is inescapable. So yes, I want the world to recognize our suffering. But I do not want pity from a single soul. Sin and shame are found in neither my body nor my identity. Blackness is an immense and defiant joy.” Calling on Black voices only confirm their negative experience with ignoring their opinion on everything else in the fandom excludes them from being fans in the truest sense of the word. If the only way the public sees Black fan is as a tragic victim, we reduce the Black fan.

K-pop fans in general, and Black K-pop fans in particular, are having characterizations imposed on them by entities that do not have the best track record on K-pop coverage.  This narrative of activism is being generated by mainstream media outlets rather than the fans themselves. As a result, it continues the age-old tendency of the media reducing K-pop fans to the simplest of terms.

Sources

Abby Ohlheiser. “How K-pop Fas Became Celebrated Online Vigilantes.” MIT Technology Review. 5 Jun 2020. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/06/05/1002781/kpop-fans-and-black-lives-matter/ (Accessed 24 Jun 2020).

Imani Perry. “Racism Is Terrible. Blackness Is Not.” The Atlantic. 15 June 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/racism-terrible-blackness-not/613039/ (Accessed 24 June 2020).

Kim Rahn. “Fans Name ‘Seoetaiji Forest’ in Brazil.” The Korea Times. March 2012. http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2012/03/113_107088.html (Accessed 24 Jun 2020).

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The Once and Future Fandom: How Media Shapes Perceptions of K-pop Fans by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Soul in Seoul Playlist: g.o.d (Groove Overdose)

Image by SanderSmit from Pixabay

Veteran “idol” group g.o.d (Groove Overdose) is the first K-pop artist explored in-depth in Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop. When writing the book, I always knew that g.o.d formed the foundation of understanding the use of R&B rhythm and vocals for later “idol” groups. Their consistent use of funk rhythms and vocals, especially gospel-inflected vocals over their decades-long career allows for an exploration of their sound over time, which remains remarkably consistent. The group’s engagement with black popular music ranges from soul ballads to upbeat dance tracks. Below find a collection of the best examples of g.o.d’s engagement with black popular music. (*Tracks marked with an * are explored further in the book).

  1. Observation, Chapter 1 (1999)* | 2. So You Can Come Back to Me, Chapter 1 (1999) | 3. With Little Men, Chapter 1 (1999) | 4. Promise, Chapter 1 (1999) | 5. Love and Remember, Chapter 2 (1999) | 6. Dance All Night, Chapter 2 (1999) | 7. Friday Night, Chapter 2 (1999) | 8. Five Men’s Story, Chapter 2 (1999) | 9. 21C Our Hope, Chapter 2 (1999) | 10. One Candle, Chapter 3 (2000)* | 11. Need You, Chapter 3 (2000) | 12. Lie, Chapter 3 (2000) | 13. Dance With Me, Chapter 3 (2000) | 14. Road, Chapter 4 (2001) | 15. The Place You Where You Should Be, Chapter 4 (2001) | 16. Let’s Go, Chapter 4 (2001) | 17. Report to the Dance Floor, Chapter 5: Letter (2002) | 18. Lately, Chapter 5: Letter (2002) | 19. The Reason Why Opposites Attract (Bandaega Kkeulrineun Iyu), Ordinary Day (2004) |  20. I Don’t Know Your Heart (Ni Mameul Molla), Into the Sky (2005) |  21. It’s Alright (ft. G-Soul), Into the Sky (2005) | 22. Crime (Mujoe), Into the Sky (2005) | 23. Change, Into the Sky (2005) | 24. Sky Blue Promise, Chapter 8 (2014)* | 25. Stand Up, Chapter 8 (2014) | 26. Saturday Night, Chapter 8 (2014)* | 27. G’swag, Chapter 8 (2014)

Writing the Book I Wanted to Read – Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop

Image: University of Mississippi Press

Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop (September 2020, University of Mississippi Press) is a scholarly book that examines the ways that Korean pop (“idols), R&B and mainstream hip-hop of the Hallyu (Korean wave) era incorporate elements of black popular music and how global fans understand that influence.

As a senior scholar in transnational American Studies and Global Asias and writer on K-pop for the past 10 years, I thought a book on black music and K-pop should be the follow-up to my first book, Beyond the Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production.  It’s a labor of love and it has something for everyone.

What’s In It for Fans

It talks about people you know. It covers K-pop as a 20-year-old music tradition with genres that have developed over time and significant musical acts. It recognizes the development of “idol” acts ranging from veterans to their successors as well as the Korean and African American music producers behind the music, including Yoo Young Jin, Teddy, Teddy Riley and Harvey Mason Jr.  It explores Korean R&B singers and groups as well as mainstream Korean hip-hop artists. Musical acts covered include g.o.d., Shinhwa, 2PM, Wonder Girls, SHINee, TVXQ, Rain (Bi), Fly to the Sky, 4MEN, Brown Eyed Soul, Big Mama, Park Hyo Shin, Lyn, Zion T., Wheesung, Dynamic Duo, Epik High, Primary, Jay Park and Yoon Mirae.

What’s In It for Scholars

It critically engages K-pop through an interdisciplinary lens. Soul in Seoul draws on popular music studies, fan studies and transnational American studies to examine the intertextuality at the heart of K-pop music, an intertextuality that includes African American popular music and distinct Korean music strategies. This intertextuality sounds different through time, across genres and among artists because it draws from a variety of aspects of black popular music. At the same time, the book highlights the critical function of fans, who are responsible for its global spread and function as its music press. It places African American popular culture within a global context, thereby disrupting the homogenizing tendencies of globalization that obscure the impact of an African American popular culture with a complicated relationship to the West. The book is accessible to undergraduate and graduate students and suitable for courses in music and ethnomusicology, ethnic studies, Asian studies, African American studies, American studies, popular culture and media studies.

What’s In It for Everybody

Soul in Seoul is about the music, so it is for anyone who is curious about the ever-changing phenomenon that is K-pop.  Look for the Soul in Seoul Playlist leading up to the book’s release in September 2020 on KPK: Kpop Kollective to hear what all the fuss is about.

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Writing the Book I Wanted to Read – Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

What We Are Listening To: “Girls” by Wheesung

Wheesung (Choi Wheesung) debuted with boy group A4 in 1999 and as a solo artist with YG Entertainment in 2000. Although his roots are in rock, he is known as a solid R&B artist. Wheesung also uses the stage name Realslow, and named his company such when he started it in 2017. 

“Girls” is from Wheesung’s 2010 CD Vocolate (an almagam of the words “voice” and “chocolate”). This album also highlights the continuing hallmark of Korean music artists working with African-American music producers: Vocolate features collaborations with Rodney “DarkChild” Jerkins and Ne-Yo. I was originally introduced to this song via Jonghyun (he was a fan of and worked with Wheesung). “Girls” made a recent showing on my YouTube random play. Add it to your work-out list to keep you going through those next-to-last rotation squats or that final treadmill level-5 incline run.

Source

Wheesung-Topic. “Girls.” YouTube. 14 July 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gte–D_eLS0 (Accessed 9 Mar 2020).

Let KPK Introduce You To…D’Angelo

Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, M.S.L.S.

University of South Carolina Lancaster

Song: “Aurora”

Artist: Jonghyun (Kim Jonghyun)

Album: 좋아 (She Is)

Album Release Date: May 24, 2016

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3WjWXDBlq8

Caption: Press Play to Hear “Aurora” by Jonghyun.

“Aurora” echoes…

Song: “Lady”

Artist: D’Angelo

Album: Brown Sugar

Album Release Date: July 4, 1995

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmdUMwlrezs

Caption: Press Play to hear “Lady” by D’Angelo.

ELEMENTS OF NOTE:

  • Clapping and jazz percussion
  • Syncopated lyrics
  • Lower vocal registers for stanza performance, falsetto for ad-libs and chorus
  • Use of two- or three-part harmony
  • Background vocals feature artist
  • Both songs discuss willingness and confidence of being the best choice for the love interest and in turn, that the love interest represents his ideal (see English interpretation of “Aurora” lyrics)

TRADE OFFS:

  • D’Angelo’s strong bass-line vs. Jonghyun’s use of bass drum and modulated guitars and bass.
  • D’Angelo’s use of a catch-line (“I can tell they’re lookin’ at us”) to interrupt the traditional song composition vs. Jonghyun’s traditional lyric-chorus-lyric-chorus-bridge-chorus composition
  • D’Angelo’s piano chords vs. Jonghyun’s synthesizers

Learn more about D’Angelo.

See also: Dwele, Bilal, Ledisi

Happy Listening!

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

What We Are Listening To: “You Don’t Know My Name” (Prod Mokyo), pH-1

Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

pH-1 (Park Jun-Won, also known as Harry Park) is a Korean-American rapper on H1GHER Music Records, which also houses GroovyRoom and G.Soul. While people want to make harsh distinctions between K-pop and K-hip-hop, I actually found out about pH-1 from the K-pop sub-Reddit. From the 2019 release Summer Episodes, this is one of those songs that you LOVE upon first hearing. It sounds like summer.

Source

pH-1. “You Don’t Know My Name (Prod. Mokyo).” YouTube. 23 Jul 2019. https://youtu.be/PJux2vLbQMw (Accessed 6 Mar 2019).

What We Are Listening To: “Rising Sun” by TVXQ!

 

chris-slupski-eKYgEj1U97k-unsplash
Photo by Chris Slupski on Unsplash

TVXQ! (also billed as Dong Bang Shin Ki/DBSK in Korean and Tohoshinki in Japanese) was a five member group from 2004 to 2010. In 2011, the group continued with two members (Jung Yunho – U-Know, and Shim Changmin – MAX). The group is known for their harmonies and sensual dance moves, and “Rising Sun” choreography is one of the group’s more dynamic musical and visual accomplishments. 

“Rising Sun” is from the group’s second Korean studio album and was also featured in an American film. In a review of the album, Pop Reviews Now asserts that “Rising Sun” “is one of DBSK’s most technically-challenging and most remembered songs and for good reason.” Every member’s vocal or rap ability is highlighted, with Changmin’s signature range/ note-holding on display. As a note to the longevity and importance of this song, the two-member group continues to perform it live.

View the visuals and hear the vocals of five-member TVXQ’s “Rising Sun”:

 

And two-member performance, as well:

Sources

DBSK – “Rising Sun.” Pop Reviews Now. 28 Jul 2014. http://popreviewsnow.blogspot.com/2014/07/dbsk-rising-sun.html (25 Feb 2020).

Kpopcorner2. “DBSK [Mirotic Concert] – Rising Sun.” YouTube. 10 Feb. 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bLxrl5NRfM (25 Feb 2020).

laura bustamante. “TVXQ! – Rising Sun – Special Live Tour T1STORY in Seoul.” YouTube. 15 Jun 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEQ7ICbYhYg (25 Feb 2020).