April was one of those months where everyone and their mother had a comeback. There was so much music that it was definitely hard to keep up! For someone so multifandom as I am, it got pretty overwhelming. But the good part was that there was a lot of variety and that there was something for everyone. Though I stuck to the same few groups this month in terms of favorites, the ones that I chose had very different concepts and styles.
EXID, “Night Rather Than Day”
Sometimes a group promising a new image change ultimately doesn’t deliver. Luckily, EXID made good on their promise. I was expecting their habitual sassy-sexy jazz number, so I was thrown by the low-key old school R&B. While I do miss their more cheeky side, I have to admit that mellow looks good on them – especially in the absence of their powerhouse Solji. EXID has been accused of all of their songs sounding the same. Though I like them, I confess I also thought that for a while. “Night Rather Than Day” proves that they are indeed capable of shaking things up, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
After two long hiatuses (in a three year career!) and the departure of Nam Taehyun, Winner had a lot riding on this comeback. Weirdly, success in K-pop doesn’t always have to do with music. However, this time I think it did. Both of their title tracks were top notch and remained on my playlist all month. I debated which one to put on this list, but at the end of the day I think I prefer “Fool.” K-pop songs tend to be really busy and have a lot going on with instruments and effects. “Fool” strips it down and keeps things really basic, and that simplicity is what makes it so beautiful. It’s emotional and compelling, accompanied by a poetic dance and a powerful music video (more on that later).
Oh My Girl, “Coloring Book”
I feel like I’m constantly saying how cute concepts don’t really do anything for me. They’re obviously very popular in Korea (and somewhat internationally) right now, so I always feel weird about being so ambivalent. But every once in a while, one will slip through the cracks and get to me. My weakness tends to be Oh My Girl, whom I have a really soft spot for. Their combination of super quirky and super cute just gets to me. I’ll admit that “Coloring Book” is a little over the place but it’s so bright and bubbly and filled with joy. It’s impossible to watch it without smiling, because their energy is so infectious.
K.A.R.D. is pretty much unstoppable at this point. They already (pre-) debuted strong, but they come back better every time. “Rumor” is a certified bop that will make you want to sway to the beat once you hear it. It has compelling and real lyrics about heartbreak over an ex, but it also manages to be a light and catchy club jam. Their previous tracks really focused on them as a co-ed group, playing up the guys and girls or guy vs. girls aspects. “Rumor” sees them working as one cohesive unit, showing that they have plenty of various talents to back up that flashy “co-ed” status.
FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEOS
Favorite Aesthetic MV – Taeyeon, “Make Me Love You”
(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.)
SM Entertainment pretty much rules the rest when it comes to MV aesthetics. A lot of their stories might turn out ambiguous, but the visuals are always top notch. Every single one of their videos is beautiful to look at, and “Make Me Love You” is no exception. Taeyeon ushers in spring with a soft but gorgeous pastel aesthetic. The highlight is her fashion, which of course is on point. She looks like she basically just walked off the runway. If she had promoted this track more, that image of her surrounded by pale pink roses would have become iconic. She looks downright ethereal. Most of this video is very subtle (for K-pop anyway), but it’s so pretty to look at and has a calming effect that matches the song.
Favorite Concept MV – Oh My Girl, “Coloring Book” (See above for video)
(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.)
Oh My Girl has a decidedly eclectic streak, and “Coloring Book” takes full advantage. The concept is that the girls are cloud makers in a box in the sky, only knowing white. That is, until Yooa accidentally breaks an egg and sees a burst of color. Then there’s no going back. Something named “Coloring Book” should definitely feature all the shades of the rainbow, and this music video certainly doesn’t disappoint. I imagine some people might consider it overkill, but I love this kind of thing. It’s just so exuberant and joyful!
Favorite Story MV – Winner, “Fool” (See above for video)
(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.)
“Fool” is chilling. It’s also incredibly beautiful, which makes it all the more haunting. We see the members in vulnerable moments: recalling memories both fond and regrettable, grieving after a fatal accident, searching for the culprit who ruined their beloved’s wedding dress. But they realize they were actually the ones who caused their relationships to end. They see – and are forced to acknowledge – what their actions have caused. Like I said in my review, whenever I watch it I feel so profoundly sad. The key rule of telling a story in a music video is showing, because there’s no dialogue to tell. It’s surprisingly hard to follow this, and most videos end up leaving us confused because they haven’t explained enough. “Fool” is an excellent example of how to put a bunch of layers into something that’s just four minutes long. And while it will be easy enough to figure out the first time, you can learn so much more by going back and watching again.
Most Impressive Moves
Teen Top, “Love Is”
There are so many boy groups who rock at knife choreography, but I personally think Teen Top will always be one of the best. Complete synchronization is difficult to master in and of itself, and having a group where all members are strong dancers is rare. Teen Top has some of the hardest choreography I’ve ever seen, and they make it look easy and effortless. “Love Is” is a fusion between hip hop and modern, adding some emotion into their fancy footwork. So not only does it look cool, it also has touches of vulnerability – always a nice thing in dance. Teen Top may have suffered from the seven-year curse with the departure of L.Joe, but this dance proves that they’re still going strong.
Choreography I’d Like To Learn
EXID, “Night Rather Than Day”
EXID choreography has always been a little bit on the easy side, so I was excited to see them kick it up a notch. The dance for “Night Rather Than Day” is fun and playful – a little sensual but not overly sexy like normal. It’s the type of song that will naturally make you want to groove along, and the choreography plays to that impulse. It does take a little practice to get the moves down, but once you memorize it it’s second nature.
*Gong Minzy, “Superwoman“
This R&B song is low-key easy listening, but it carries a powerful message of standing strong and enduring through difficult times. Given Minzy’s recent experiences, it’s hard not to think about what might have caused her to leave 2NE1 – or what that year since has been like. It’s a pretty typical girl power anthem, but you can never have too many of those in my book.
*Oh My Girl, “Real World“
I actually like a lot of the songs from Coloring Book, but “Real World” really struck me. Oh My Girl usually pushes their quirkiness and/or cuteness, but they also have a really soft and innocent side. “Real World” helps bring that part of them out, relying heavily on their sweet vocals and the strums of an acoustic guitar. It’s about realizing someone you have a crush on returns your feelings, and all of those moments you’ve been dreaming about can actually become real. I already have a soft spot for Oh My Girl, but I find this song so adorable and endearing.
*SF9, “Watch Out“
Though SF9 didn’t promote the catchy dance jam this time around, they still had it with “Watch Out.” It boasts their signature heavy club beat and flashy moves, easily moving between vocals and rap. It also draws some interesting parallels to “Easy Love,” as the members scold an ex who toyed around with them too much. I really like SF9’s B-sides in general, and this one in particular has a strong 90’s vibe that makes me think of music when I was a kid.
As a rookie group, Dreamcatcher is working hard to establish their signature sound and aesthetic. By all accounts, they’re succeeding. They’re well known for their anime/metal sound and their dark horror concepts. “Lullaby” is a complete change from that. Suitable to it’s name, it’s a soft and romantic song promoting sweet and delicate vocals. Not only is it beautiful to listen to (that piano!), it’s a good reminder that groups are capable of a lot more that we sometimes think. K-pop does tend to run on concepts, but it’s always good to show some versatility.
FAVORITE ALBUM – EXID, “Eclipse”
I really can’t get enough of EXID’s new R&B sound. I liked their previous music just fine, but this style suits them too. All of the songs have a very sensual feel, especially “Boy” and L.E.’s song “Velvet.” It’s still plenty sexy, but it’s a little more mature and sophisticated. As someone in my mid-twenties, it’s much more my speed. Also, it features an awesome solo song for Hani. I’m clearly a bad Hani stan, because I had no idea she could sing like that!
And now I’m FINALLY done with April! I know I’ve been super late, but I figured it was okay because there hasn’t been much new music in May. Of course, now a whole wave of boy groups are coming out with music this week so I’m bound to get behind again…
NOTE – All videos and images are from: Banana Culture (EXID), DSP Media (K.A.R.D.), FNC Entertainment (SF9), Music Works (Minzy), SM Entertainment (Taeyeon), TOP Media (Teen Top), WM Entertainment (Oh My Girl), and YG Entertainment (Winner)