Oh my gosh, May feels like forever ago. K-pop moves so darn fast. There wasn’t a whole lot going on in the beginning (because of elections?), but the last week brought a whole rush of comebacks that threw me off schedule. I considered skipping this post altogether because it’s been so long, but ultimately my
perfectionism need to be consistent won out. Plus there were a lot of great songs this month. May may not have had a lot of new music, but there was a lot of diversity. All of my favorite songs this month are very different in terms of sound, and I’m loving it.
*Highlight, “Calling You”
I like a lot of
Beast Highlight’s title tracks, but this is one of my personal favorites. I’m usually not into mid-tempo songs (dance beats all the way!), but the melody is so catchy and intriguing. It’s just memorable enough that you want to keep it on repeat, but just laid-back enough that it doesn’t get stuck in your head. It’s the perfect background music, and it really feels like a song you could hear anywhere: at a café, at the mall, in a movie or TV soundtrack, etc. And while it is a breakup song (or a drunk-dialing your ex song), it’s not overly dramatic. There’s just a hint of melancholy and a splash of longing.
I still can’t believe that Sistar disbanded. Not only were they one of the first girl groups that I discovered, but they were also one of the few that I really followed closely. In fact, they probably were my favorite girl group. Part of me wished their last song was a bop that would dominate summer one last time. But in retrospect, I think this is the perfect way to end things. It’s a beautiful ballad that showcases all four ladies in their own way, and it’s wistful but not overpoweringly sad.
No one does concepts quite like Vixx. This time they dive deep into East Asian folklore, creating an interesting hybrid between the traditional music of the past and the pop music of the future. Every detail is so carefully thought out: the exotic allure of the song, the precise fan moments in the choreography, and the dazzling visuals of the music video. It’s pretty much a delight for the eyes and the ears.
*iKON, “Bling Bling”
And now for a complete change, here’s some loud and in-your-face hip hop! Everything about “Bling Bling” is meant to be epic. You can tell from the second the song starts up and that brass starts blaring. You don’t even need to understand Korean to sense all that swagger. Every time I listen, I automatically feel ten times cooler. It’s probably a little stylized for people that are into *true* hip hop, but I love this kind of thing so I can’t get enough. Those thudding beats and powerful raps (I personally think Bobby is a force of nature) are straight up addictive.
I always have such mixed feelings about Twice. It just doesn’t feel like JYP wants to explore their any potential they might have, because they’re already explosively popular at the level they have now. “Signal” isn’t a ground-breaking change from what came before. It’s still pretty bubblegum pop. But at the same time, you can tell they’re attempting something different. I definitely dug the retro vibes, from the music to the colorful clothing. And while the “in love with a funky looking alien” storyline was kind of weird, the superpower idea was cool. I could get used to quirky Twice.
*NEW SECTION!* THE UNDERRATED CORNER
With so many groups in K-pop these days, there are a bunch that inevitably fall under the radar. I added this section to try and highlight groups I don’t think get a lot of attention and/or songs that I thought had a lot of potential.
April is a hard group for me to get into. Their claim to fame is that their members are very young, and I already feel old watching groups like Oh My Girl and Lovelyz (and Apink, even though Chorong is like a year younger than me). But I put my ageist prejudices aside when “Mayday” came out, because it’s a super catchy bop. The verses have an intriguing melody, and the chorus takes full advantage of a toe-tapping swing beat. It lets them show off their fresh and cute vibes without being too babyish. And though the retro idea wasn’t as fleshed out as it should be, the style is definitely on point. They definitely could have used a stronger music video that really sold a concept, but those outfits are definitely memorable.
FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEOS
*Favorite Aesthetic MV – Vixx, “Shangri-La” (See above for video)
(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.)
Visuals are a large part of K-pop. Sometimes agencies use a group’s music videos as a vehicle to remind you how attractive they are. And Vixx is pretty hot, but this music video doesn’t even need to focus on that because “Shangri-La” is gorgeous. Everything about it screams beauty, extravagance, and luxury. The colors are so rich and vivid – it’s amazing what great lighting and color correction will do. It’s literally one of the prettiest music videos I’ve ever seen. Just do yourself a favor and watch it if you haven’t.
*Favorite Concept MV – Astro, “Baby”
(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.)
Another large part of K-pop is about making you think these people could be your boyfriend/girlfriend. So there are many music videos like “Baby” that are tailor-made to showcase idols as the perfect romantic partner. I’m significantly older than most Astro members, so I don’t actually consider any of them boyfriend material However, I think “Baby” is super adorable. If I was eighteen, it would probably work on me. It has a really clever idea: going to a special café and dreaming about different guys based on what drink you pick. We saw the soda idea before in “Breathless,” so it’s a nice tie-in. I’m also all about color, and their use of it is excellent here – especially in the production design.
*Favorite Story MV – Triple H, “365 Fresh”
(My definition of a story MV: A music video that 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.)
This music video is a dark and (sort of) scandalous Thelma and Louise type story about the adventures of three misfits running away from their crimes. But it’s also definitely made by millennials for millennials, and in a way I think it speaks to the frustrations of our generation. Being a self-sufficient adult is hard in this day and age. I think a lot of us have those tempting moments where we want to drop everything and run away, or those reckless impulses to rage against the machine. I obviously don’t identify with the darker stuff, but driving around without a care in the world and bonding with like-minded souls definitely speaks to me.
Most Impressive Moves
*Seventeen, “Don’t Wanna Cry”
Seventeen’s stages literally never disappoint. Though the choreography itself isn’t my favorite of theirs, I picked this dance for its incredible staging. Personally, I think Seventeen’s formations are unrivaled. They often take full advantage of their large numbers, but they also know how to work small groups. Their precision is flawless, and their execution is effortless. They’re the definition of a well-oiled machine, and the results are stunning.
While I chose “Don’t Wanna Cry” for the performance, I chose “Baby” for the choreography. This dance is seriously impressive. I remember constantly exclaiming the first time I watched it because of how fast it is – but of course it’s all done perfectly. I grew up as a jazz dancer, and this kind of reminds me of the kind of routines I did in high school. The current trend is mixing hip hop with modern, but it’s nice to be reminded how awesome jazz is. It’s all about the footwork here; you really need strong legs and light feet to pull it off. The boys look like they’re gliding across the room, proving that Astro is a rising star when it comes to dancing.
Choreography I’d Like To Learn
*iKon, “Bling Bling”
I don’t normally put boy group dances it’s this category. It’s not that I don’t want to learn them; it’s more that I find them harder to self-teach. But this choreography is fairly simplistic, because the emphasis is on stage presence and swag. “Bling Bling” is the kind of song where you’ll naturally want to dance, and the moves really match the feel. B.I. really paid attention to the rhythm and how the body naturally wants to move when it hears the music. Seriously, anyone who can do this dance will look super cool.
Twice songs are always a good starting point for K-pop cover dances because they’re fun and easy. “Signal” is a little harder (and faster) than some of their other hits, but it’s still classic Twice. It highlights their classic feminine image and plays up their cuteness. Prepare to throw like fifty hearts during this three minute dance. You can work on your dance moves and your aegyo at the same time!
I know next to nothing about vocal technique, but I personally think that Seventeen has a great vocal line. All five of them have voices that are really nice to listen to, and the harmonies in this song are beautiful. I’ve always prioritized music over lyrics. Even if it’s an emotional song like this one, it doesn’t matter if I don’t understand – as long as I can feel it in the music and the singers’ voices. And of them – particularly DK and Seungkwan – are really pouring emotions into this song. The melody is already pretty captivating, but the chorus pulls at my heart and almost makes me tear up.
Twice is pretty known for bubblegum pop, so it’s nice to hear something a little different. “Three Times a Day” is much more laid-back, but still pretty darn catchy. I find myself humming the chorus a lot. “Someone Like Me” got heat for having the same guitar melody as Hailee Steinfeld’s “Starving,” but it’s actually a very stripped down sound for Twice that really suits them. They’ve gotten hate for their vocals, but these two types of songs really let them show off the sweeter qualities in their voices.
*Astro, “You Smile”
The title explains it all: this song will make you smile. This is Astro at their best: bright, fun, heart-warming, and super boy-next-door. It kind of takes me back to 2012, when One Direction was taking over the world with their fresh faces and innocent lyrics. They’re really gunning for their fans’ hearts, but I can’t imagine Arohas mind too much.
*Triple H, “Hope”
This song is literally all about millennial frustration. And hey, I’m a frustrated millennial! I talk with my friends a lot about how we kind of feel stagnant in life, and how we’re just doing what we’re supposed to rather than we want to (because we can’t). So this kind of song pretty much just voices what I’m feeling. But on a technical note, I think it also reflects really well the potential of this trio: Hui’s smooth vocals, E’Dawn’s intriguing rap, and Hyuna’s unique way of blending the two.
FAVORITE ALBUM – Vixx, “Shangri-La”
This album reminds me that Vixx actually has a wide and diverse range of music that they can cover. There’s the beautiful and sensual “Shangri-La.” There’s “INTO THE VOID,” which is more reminiscent of the dark music they’ve become so famous for. “Black Out,” is upbeat, jazzy, and super sexy. To top it off, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5” and “To Us” are beautiful and emotional ballads. It’s rare that I’ll like all of the songs on an album, but every single track on Shangri-La is top notch.
NOTE – All videos and images are from: Around Us Entertainment (Highlight), Cube Entertainment (Triple H), DSP Media (April), Fantagio Entertainment (Astro), Jellyfish Entertainment (Vixx), JYP Entertainment (Twice), Pledis Entertainment (Seventeen), Starship Entertainment (Sistar), and YG Entertainment (iKon)