June is my favorite month! To be fair, that’s really because I was born in June (Gemini all the way, baby). It’s probably because I’m biased, but it always seems like only good things happen this month. And June has given me some of my absolute favorite K-pop songs. While I favored some of the up and coming rookies, a lot of older groups also came out with some catchy music that intrigued me. And there were a lot of upbeat dance tracks, which are my favorite kind.
*NCT 127, “Cherry Bomb”
Gah that shot gets me every time I can’t I spent most of the month thoroughly absorbed in Produce 101, and this is the only comeback that brought me out of it. SM Entertainment’s rookie group is not playing. They’re ready to dominate, and “Cherry Bomb” is their proving ground. This comeback is straight up aggressive, serving spitfire raps, sultry vocals, and sexy yet powerful dancing. And while the outfits aren’t great, at least they aren’t horrible. NCT has a highly experimental sound, so it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re an NCTzen already under their spell, it’s addicting.
*BLACKPINK, “As If It’s Your Last”
Until now, the girls of BLACKPINK have been playing it fierce onstage but cute on broadcasts. Some of that cuteness made it into “As If It’s Your Last,” which is so refreshing it’s guaranteed to be one of the songs of the summer. Complete with a catchy melody, a fun and feminine dance, and killer style (seriously – I want all of those outfits), “As If It’s Your Last” is just a bundle of fun.
*Pentagon, “Critical Beauty”
While Pentagon’s first releases were decidedly on-trend, they decided to mix things up this time around. “Critical Beauty” is a unique blend of Elvis style 50’s pop music and old school dance beats. Add in some powerful vocals and charismatic rapping, and you’ve got a unique and super intriguing song. It definitely helps them stand out in an EDM/house-saturated industry, and I’m frankly disappointed that this song didn’t get more attention. And those bright pinstripe suits? Amazing.
*Produce 101, “Never“
We all know how obsessed I was Produce 101, so it’s only fitting I include it. “Never” is hands down one of my favorite songs this year. Seriously, it’s really that good. I listen to it all the time. I even play it around my friends that don’t mind K-pop, hoping they’ll comment on it. It’s has a beautiful melody and powerful lyrics, but what really makes it great is the contestants that performed it. The performance stood out from the others because that combination of trainees had everything a real group needs. They could have just debuted the way they were, and they almost did.
I promise I’m not salty about Jonghyun anymore In a season of twists and turns and lots of drama, this was just a perfect moment. It’s one of my fondest memories of the show.
THE UNDERRATED CORNER: 9Muses, “Remember”
9Muses has been around for a while, but they’ve never gotten the recognition they deserve. It’s such a shame, because they have some good music. I think “Remember” is one of their most solid releases. It’s haunting and a little sinister, and the dark concept blends nicely with their trademark sexiness. I do wish that there was vampire stuff like they were teasing, but I was sufficiently creeped out by the music video that I’d call it a success. I’m not *quite* sure what the story is, but it’s definitely unsettling.
FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEOS:
Favorite Aesthetic Music Video- Mamamoo, “Yes I Am”
(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 candy. These kind of music videos catch my attention mostly if they have interesting technical elements: color schemes, production design, lighting, cinematography, editing, etc.)
This music video is classic Mamamoo. It’s their trademark goofiness from “You’re the Best” and “Um Oh Ah Yeh,” blended with the sexiness of “Décalcomanie.” Basically, it features them doing what they do best: hamming it up for the camera and looking pretty darn good. The technical quality of the video is also really excellent: the colors are bright and vibrant (though I like how it goes all white for the bridge), the clothes and props are trendy yet funky, and the resolution is super sharp. They’ve tried some interesting things with the editing, which is always fun for a film school nerd like me.
Favorite Concept Music Video: Stellar, “Archangels of the Sephiroth”
(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.)
I was hesitant to put Stellar on this list, because it appears they want out of the business. But I thought this comeback had a lot of potential. Ethereal concepts are one of my favorites, and the “Sephiroth” reference brought out the Final Fantasy and Tales of the Abyss nerd in me. Admittedly, I’m more interested in the idea of the music video than the execution. Their management is still focused on pushing their sexiness, which doesn’t mix well with the ethereal image they’re pushing. But the music video has a strong fantasy vibe, and the twist at the end is unexpected.
Favorite Story Music Video: Monsta X, “Shine Forever”
(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.)
The story of “Shine Forever” is really romanticized. There are some continuity issues and logistical flaws, and the plot is left slightly undeveloped because we spend a lot of time looking at Monsta X’s handsome faces. However, the basic gist and the sentiment definitely come through. There are some pretty emotional moments buried in here: one member’s guilt over the accident, another’s anger, and the ending when the group does something thoughtful for the incapacitated member. While the actual storytelling misses the mark, I appreciate this video because I understand the message and the feelings they’re trying to convey.
Most Impressive Moves: NCT 127, “Cherry Bomb”
This choreography is freaking difficult. Even the moves that seem easy require precision and technique. But while the dance is hard, the vibe is even harder to pull off. It’s sexy, but not overtly so (except for those iconic leg splits at the end). Instead of explicitly projecting sexiness, they keep it right under the surface. So when you watch it, it feels like all that simmering energy is ready to explode. That’s not an easy feat, and it’s no coincidence that we keep seeing the same three members in the center: Taeyong with his extremely dominating stage presence, Yuta with his intense manly vibe, and Jaehyun with his smooth moves and confident expressions. Even if you’re not a fan, I guarantee you’ll be impressed. (SM also uploaded individually focused dance practices, if you want to get a closer look at the holy dance trinity.)
Choreography I Want to Learn: BLACKPINK, “As If It’s Your Last”
This choreography manages to be both sweet and sassy at the same time, and it goes along with the summery vibes of the song. I really like the African dance influences, which fit in naturally and accentuate the beat. BLACKPINK is helping usher in a new wave of harder girl group choreography. They slowed it down a little to add in the cute stuff, but strikes a nice balance between power posing and frustratingly fancy footwork. And there’s little to no filler, which is always a plus. If you like doing K-pop cover dances, I highly recommend this one. It’s challenging but not too difficult, and it’s a lot of fun.
*Apink, “콕콕 (Kok Kok)“ : “Five” is everything that Apink’s fans love about them, but “Kok Kok”is actually the kind of song I was expecting them to do. It’s not their signature innocent and delicate style, but the ladies are all in their twenties at this point. “Kok Kok” isn’t full-on sexy, but it has a sultry tone and a very feminine vibe. It would have been a good step to help them mature their image.
*Mamamoo, “Finally“ : This is Mamamoo’s version of a fun summer song. It’s straight up pop and focuses more on a sweet delivery rather than power vocals – an interesting direction given Mamamoo’s vocal prowess and accurate high notes. But it sounds pretty and it’s very catchy. And as expected, the harmonies are great.
*Up10tion, “Hot Blood“ : This is one of those dance tracks that you’ll hear and immediately want to jam to. Up10tion’s vocalists have very smooth tones, which is a great contrast with the aggressive beat. I can’t find any videos of them performing it, which is too bad. Based on their tendency for awesome choreography and the song’s built-in dance breaks, it would have been something to see.
*Pentagon, “Beautiful“ : Ceremony is filled with a lot of mid-tempo songs and ballads, which is surprising given “Critical Beauty” and Pentagon’s reputation as a dance group. I’m not usually a fan of those types of songs, but it reminds me that Pentagon has two of the strongest rookie main vocalists: Jinho and Hui. “Beautiful” is the perfect showcase for their voices, and it also proves that the other members aren’t so shabby either.
*Kim Chungha, “Make a Wish“ : Chungha has that rare ability to seamlessly change between images and concepts, but “Make a Wish” is the kind of song that she shines in. It’s girly, flirty, and jazzy, and it seems like it would be the perfect vehicle for both her singing and dancing skills.
FAVORITE ALBUM: NCT 127, “Cherry Bomb”
While NCT tends to favor experimental songs like “Cherry Bomb” for their title tracks, they actually have a pretty diverse musical range. Cherry Bomb has more hip hop-inclined songs like “Running 2 U,” but it also has more pop-sounding ones like “0 Mile” and “Summer 127.” “Sun & Moon” is this beautiful romantic song showcasing vocal line Taeil, Doyoung, and Jaehyun. And because *semi-scandalous* raps are apparently
an NCT thing now, we have the smooth R&B number “Whiplash.” (How many of you have ever felt personally victimized by Lee Taeyong? *waves hand furiously*) It’s seriously only a matter of time before this group explodes in popularity. It’s funny how a lot of times K-pop isn’t about the music, but in this case NCT’s music is solid.
NOTE – All images and videos are from: Cube Entertainment (Pentagon), The Entertainment Pascal (Stellar), M&H Entertainment (Kim Chungha), MNET (Produce 101 Season 2 Episode 9), Plan A Entertainment, RBW Entertainment (Mamamoo), SM Entertainment (NCT 127), Star Empire (9Muses), Starship Entertainment (Monsta X), TOP Media (Up10tion), and YG Entertainment (BLACKPINK)
Additional Sources: Omona They Didn’t (Livejournal)