(Oops, we’re already over halfway through April….)
As I predicted, March was all about the boy groups for me. Though of course several girl groups had solid comebacks, most of my attention was consumed by favorites like Got7 and Monsta X. But no matter your preferences, there was something for everyone this month.
Girl’s Day, “I’ll Be Yours”
I’m not really one of those people who will say: “[Insert group here] are the kings/queens of K-pop” or “[Insert group here] totally slayed.” That being said, Girl’s Day are the queens of K-pop and they totally slayed with their latest comeback. Great song, great dance, great music video, and killer style. Hyeri at a boxing ring in a ball gown is a tough image to beat. “I’ll Be Yours” is a bop that shows Girl’s Day off at their fiercest and most fabulous, and throws in some low-key feminism for good measure (but it’s all in good fun!).
Got7, “Never Ever”
The Flight Log trilogy might have been the best thing to happen to Got7’s career. Ever since Departure they’ve risen in popularity, broken their own records, and won several awards. The flimsy narrative has frustrated me at every turn, but their music has been consistently interesting. “Never Ever” is a little quirky, and the style is not common at all for K-pop. But I think it provides a satisfying conclusion to this era, showing a more mature and serious side to the boys that we haven’t really seen before.
Monsta X, “Beautiful”
I fully admit that a lot of my infatuation with “Beautiful” because I’m a Hyungwon stan and he finally got lines. But I still think that it’s pretty close to perfection, and it’s definitely one of their best releases. The song is amazing, the dance is awesome, and the music video is drop dead gorgeous. We may not have gotten a concrete answer to how the story ended, but we definitely have fun trying to put all of the pieces together. It’s classic Monsta X, but it also turns into something a little more nuanced and shows a different side of them. I’m sure many Monbebes are frustrated that they haven’t become a top boy group yet, but they’re really so close. I’m not a betting woman, but “Beautiful” made me sure they’ll get there sooner rather than later.
Brave Girls, “Rollin'”
I recently discovered Brave Girls (post member changes), and their music is awesome. They can cover lots of different genres, from the hip hop and R&B influenced “Deepened” to the playful and flirty “High Heels.” The music video does focus on their sexiness more than anything else, which isn’t necessarily my thing because I’m a straight woman. But the song is so good, and the dance is killer. If you haven’t checked out this group yet, please do yourself a favor and get to it.
FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEOS
Favorite Aesthetic MV – Highlight, “Plz Don’t Be Sad”
(My definition of an aesthetic MV: A classic music video that’s primarily designed to be eye-catching. There might be a concept, but there’s not necessarily an obvious story or plot to tie it into. They’re mostly visual eye candy. These kind of music videos catch my attention mostly if they have interesting technical elements: color schemes, production design, lighting, cinematography, editing, etc.)
Back when Highlight was still Beast, they covered a lot of different genres and concepts When they came back as Highlight, everyone was anticipating what they would do. Given their recent difficulties, I don’t think anyone was expecting something like “Plz Don’t be Sad.” The whole thing is a fun and whimsical delight about enjoying the little things in life. There’s a lot of great things about it, but the best part is the use of color. It’s everywhere from the decor to the costumes. The picture is so sharp and clear, and there’s a really nice contrast. Add in the members’ hilarious antics, and it’s almost impossible to watch this video without smiling.
Favorite Concept MV – BTOB, “Movie”
(My definition of a concept MV: A music video that is somewhere in between an aesthetic music video and a story music video. There is a definite concept, and everything in the video helps to visually solidify it. There is usually some kind of story, but it’s more of a situation. There generally isn’t an ending or resolution, or if there is it’s ambiguous. Or in some cases, the story is put aside in favor of the visual elements.)
BTOB is known for their big and bold personalities, so turning them into well-known movie characters is a stroke of genius. The premise is that they’re really just making amateurish home movies, but in their imaginations they look so cool and chic. The references are all from pretty well-known films, so it’s fun to watch their take on classic moments from Pulp Fiction and James Bond. It’s classic BTOB goofing off in ways only they know how, and I’m surprised that they never did anything like this sooner. Just sit back and enjoy the ride; I guarantee you’ll be entertained.
Favorite Story MV – B.A.P., “Wake Me Up”
(My definition of a story MV: A music video that is clearly has some kind of narrative, with the soloist or members often playing characters and not versions of themselves. Ideally there is a beginning, middle, and end. There must be some kind of resolution, or a promise of one if the narrative spans several music videos. The story should ideally be easy to figure out, but it can also be cryptic and give lots of visual clues like BTS’s trilogy.)
As someone who’s been immersed in pop culture most of her life, I’ve discovered that there are often two sides to the arts. One is the fun and lighthearted side, which can admittedly sometimes toe the line of superficial. The other side has more of a social conscience and a message, often drawing from personal experiences for powerful and thought-provoking material. I personally feel that there is no one side that’s “better” than the other, because different things appeal to you at different times. However, it has occurred to me that most of K-pop falls more in the former category than the latter.
A music video like “Wake Me Up” is not that common. In fact, we very rarely see such depictions of misery and despair, or struggling with various mental health issues. We live in turbulent times everywhere, and there are so many different things that could bring us down. “Wake Me Up” is powerful because it reminds us that we’re not truly alone. B.A.P. could very easily have gone the over the top route, especially given leader Yongguk’s recent health issues. But they did it very subtly, painting themselves as the voices that bring these profoundly unhappy people together for some comfort.
Special Mention – Monsta X, “Beautiful“
(Yeah, Monsta X is going to pop up in a lot of places…sorry not sorry) I can’t really put this MV into one of my defined three categories. It’s supposed to be more plot-based like the rest of the trilogy, but it looks like it puts more emphasis on the aesthetic. And it seems like there’s a larger idea behind it, but that idea is ambiguous. That being said, “Beautiful” is stunning. The production design is top quality, with rich colors, luscious sets, and gorgeous props and costumes. Normally I get cranky when “story” music videos throw away the plot, but there so many small visual details in “Beautiful” that are nods to the trilogy. I love re-watching it and trying to put all of the pieces together. It’s not really the first Monsta X MV you should ever watch, but I bet that it’s perfect for Monbebes.
Most Impressive Moves – Gfriend, “Fingertip”
Gfriend has kind of helped usher a new standard of girl group dancing. Their moves are complex, clean, sharp, and dynamic, and “Fingertip” is no exception. The girls might not have been completely successful with their mature image change, but it does show the choreography. There’s no innocence here, only power. It might not beat “Rough” as their most iconic choreography, but it comes as a close second.
Monsta X, “Beautiful”
Maturing and growing up was a common theme this month, and Monsta X handled it especially well. Their dance strong and aggressive as always, but it’s also smooth and seductive. They found the perfect balance between that sexy back roll of “All In” and the power punching of “Fighter.” This choreography is so well-crafted from beginning to end, and it has a sick dance break.
Choreography I’d Like to Learn – Pristin, “Wee Woo”
I personally think that it won’t be long before Pristin becomes a top girl group. People may be knocking them for picking Twice’s concept, but I see it as evidence that they know what’s popular. “Wee Woo” has all the makings of a classic girl group choreography. It’s fun, energetic, and relatively easy to learn. I imagine that fans will be doing covers of it for the rest of the year. I personally like how it easily combines different energies and movements: cutesy, sexy, girly, and even some cheerleader-type stuff. And that key point is stellar.
Girl’s Day, “Thirsty”
This song wonders about what went wrong in a relationship post-breakup. It has beautiful and poetic lyrics, saying that the ladies are “thirsty” because they’re so dried out from lack of affection. It manages to be upbeat and pop-esque yet keep a melancholy tone. The focus is all on the vocals, and the ladies sing softly and sweetly here. Given the nature of the song, it almost sounds haunting.
Ever since Got7 started writing their own music, they’ve had some pretty stellar B-sides. Like the other Flight Log albums, Arrival has plenty of electronic and synth pop numbers. They’re all pretty good, but I was drawn to “Q” because it sounded so different from the rest. It’s low-key and easygoing. It sounds like a swing song, something retro or even something you might hear in a modern musical. Got7 has recently shied away from their more playful and lighthearted musical roots, so it’s nice to hear something pleasant and romantic like “Q.”
Highlight was all smiles and laughs with “Plz Don’t be Sad,” but their mini album reflects some other more serious sides. “Dangerous” is a light R&B song (think perfect slow dancing music). It’s low-key on the instrumentals, placing emphasis on the soulful vocals. It’s very easy to listen to, but the lyrics about desire will get your heart going.
Pristin, “Black Widow”
Pristin has been painting themselves as various versions of girls next door and popular girls, so “Black Widow” comes as a surprise. When I watch them performance, it kind of feels like cheerleaders pretending to be goths. But aesthetics issues aside, the song is pretty awesome. I definitely wasn’t expecting a club banger from them on their debut. It’s a mish mash of different things: dizzying percussion, talk-singing, sound effects that sound like a barking dog, and an electronic Oriental influence. It feels like that shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. I’m very interested to see if they tackle something like this in the future.
FAVORITE ALBUM: Monsta X, The Clan 2.5 Beautiful
Monsta X finally got their first album, and I love it. There’s a lot of variety here in the different B-sides. I tend to prefer their more aggressive electronic hip hop side, so my favorites are “Ready or Not” and “Oi.” (Jooheon and I.M.’s rap breaks are especially impressive in “Oi”) But there are plenty of other styles. “Incomparable” is more poppy, “I’ll Be There” is calmer and more low-key “5:14 (Last Page)” is deep and emotional. The whole album flows well and is well-worth a listen.
Special Mention: B.A.P., Rose
Okay, so Rose only has three songs. But they’re all really good songs!!!! The title track “Wake Me Up” is very pop like, sounding like something Maroon5 might put out. “Dystopia” is intense and combines aggressive percussion and heavy rock influences with emotional singing and spitfire rapping. It’s perfect for those who liked their last release “Skydive” (like me). And “Diamond 4 Ya” is a smooth and seductive jazzy number that proves their maturity and charm. It’s very well-rounded and top quality, and really makes me wish that I was able to attend one of their concerts.
Well it’s taken me a while, but I’m finally done with March!!! Now I can start catching up on April. There are an insane amount of groups coming back with music, and there’s a lot of good stuff coming out!
NOTE: All music and music videos belong to – Around Us Entertainment (Highlight), Brave Entertainment (Brave Girls), Cube Entertainment (BTOB), Dream T Entertainment (Girl’s Day), JYP Entertainment (Got7), Pledis Entertainment (Pristin), Source Music (Gfriend), Starship Entertainment (Monsta X), and TS Entertainment (B.A.P.)