I really didn’t want to do it. I tried not to give in to the craze. But there is no way in the world I would not accept the cuteness overload of Korean pop.
With very few exceptions, songs featured in dramas never really clicked with me – it was a mall music – played somewhat in the background, with me paying little to no attention to it. Why the change of heart? Two reasons: Wonder Girls and Running Man. Although I’m not completely sold on kpop, these two contributed to my growing interest in it.
So let’s start from the top. The music video for Wonder Girls’ Nobody featured Park Jin-Young singing a fragment of his 1998 hit Honey. To be honest, at that time I was more intrigued by JYP’s tune than the MV’s actual song, but eventually Nobody grew on me and so did few other Wonder Girls songs. I decided I need to check out some other groups, and then I remembered one of the episodes of Running Man (ep. 162 if anyone’s interested), when each of the members performed a Kpop song together with the actual singers of those tracks.
I skimmed through an abundance of tunes of varying quality, and I reached few conclusions. First of all, Kpop is visually pleasing – the vivid colors, perfectly synchronized dance routines, interesting concepts for videos. There’s a ton of effort involved in producing and executing it.
What’s more, Kpop is definitely less ridiculous and cartoonish than Japanese idol music and I can treat it the same way as pop made anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, due to this generic vibe, it gets boring and repetitive after a while. Most of girls sing in similar fashion, wink and make identical gestures at the camera. Lyrics-wise I can’t say much as Korean is a crazy fucking language, but I did check out some translations and it’s usually no Joni Mitchell behind the writing. Then again, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, because it’s mainstream music and it should be regarded this way.
My biggest complaint is quite possibly intertwining Korean with English words or phrases, which is something incredibly annoying and incomprehensible to me. The Japanese do the same thing, it’s probably some cultural phenomenon but I simply don’t understand it. Very often it’s not even good English, it’s using it for the sake of using it. Is it a ploy for songs to be more friendly to foreign markets? Is it to make the singer appear to be (un)skilled in English? I don’t get it.
On the plus side, some songs are truly catchy. PSY’s Gagnam Style and Gentleman are examples of how captivating Kpop can get, and if it wasn’t for the language barrier (it remains a pretty big issue), many more tracks would break through and gain global recognition. Conversely, to me and possibly many others the unknown tongue adds a bit of charm and uniqueness.
I am greatly impressed by the sheer amount of work the music groups need to put into their respective projects – the preparations for the big debut, dancing and singing practice. I don’t think this model of achieving stardom exists in Western pop culture.
Last but not least, I do watch it because of beautiful girls, guilty as charged. Is it sexist? Perhaps, however the looks seem to be an integral part of Kpop. It’s like, we’re gonna dress and behave cute/sexy/cool (depending on the concept), you will buy our albums and support us. Dancing is very often highly sexual. Most of releases come with mini-photobooks, extra photos, posters or other gadgets. Honestly, sometimes it’s more about appearance than the music itself. And by the way, male groups are exactly the same, which is why I can’t watch them as their piercing gazing is too scary.
Sistar – Alone (나혼자) – very ‘feminine’ type of song, accompanied by a highly memorable music video with a sexy dance routine. I ordered the mini-album because of it, but I’m not really a fan of other works by Sistar, it’s music good for dance and parties, but e.g. Touch My Body is waaay too corny for me to actually sit down and listen to it.
AOA – Miniskirt (짧은 치마) – also got this one (I wanted the poster as well but it was out of stock), very catchy tune, but what stands out is Jimin’s screechy vocal. I learned that she’s been on Unpretty Rapstar show, proving herself as a rapper and gaining enemies because of her idol background. I don’t know much about her, AOA, or Korean rap scene, but she seems pretty good at whatever she does. AOA has few other decent songs, for instance Like a Cat and Moya.
Secret – I’m in Love – a track off the album Secret Summer. I knew Han Sun Hwa from Marriage, Not Dating kdrama. Jun Hyoseong is a really good singer. The powerful performance below sealed the deal. I guess their music is kind of similar to Sistar, but seems less cheesy to my ears.
4Minute – Crazy (미쳐) – my newest purchase and I certainly went crazy over it. It’s completely different than any other song on this list – nothing like sugar-pop, a bit EDM-y, very intense, intimidating even. The music video is in black and white and it’s just really well-produced and the choreography is so smooth. I jammed to Crazy like 10 times in a row when I first heard it, good stuff.
Songs which I don’t have physical copies of (yet):
Girl’s Day – Something – the chorus part of the dance is delightfully awkward, I also like sound of the higher pitched lines (first occurrence around 1:14 mark). You might also want to check out Female President by this act.
Sunmi – 24 hours (24시간이 모자라) – track from the debut solo album by Sunmi (of Wonder Girls fame) called Full Moon. Mature sound, I like the direction she’s heading.
SNSD – Tell Me Your Wish (Genie) (소원을 말해봐) – 2009 song, yet this is my favorite Girls’ Generation’s effort. They’re all cute and cuddly, but their music is not for me. God knows I tried, but it didn’t click with me at all. Genie and maybe like two other songs are alright though.
Amber – Shake That Brass (feat. Taeyeon of SNSD) – this one’s just silly, but I watched it damn too many times to say I dislike it. Just Amber goofing around with her buddies and singing a trivial tune, however it does have a feel-good vibe and might bring a smile or two.