October is one of my favorite months. It’s definitely fall, but it’s still the warm and sunny part (there was a week in Paris when the temperature was up to the mid-70’s ). The leaves are still on the trees and there’s lots of nice colors, and it’s just a very pleasant time of the year. It’s also one of the best months for K-pop! This month there were so many good releases to fit the mellow autumn mood, but there were also some fun and upbeat surprises.
*NU’EST W, “Where You At”
From the haunting synth hook to the theatrical choreography, “Where You At” is basically my idea of musical perfection. Pop music can and should be enjoyed at face value, but this song’s many layers and contrasts show that the genre is also capable of being deep and complex. Stylistically, it isn’t that different from NU’EST’s more recent work; they’ve always had easy listening music and gorgeous music videos. However, the members’ Produce 101 experience has brought a clear change in mood. It feels stronger, more powerful, and more emotionally charged. All in all, it’s the perfect track for the group that basically rose from the ashes.
*BTOB, “Missing You”
While I acknowledge the beauty of ballads, they’re not really my style. It’s rare to see them on my lists, but “Missing You” is a gem. It’s an intensely relatable break-up song that succeeds at being sentimental without getting too dramatic. The pared-down arrangement and straightforward melody allow BTOB’s superb vocals to shine, reminding us that sometimes less is more. And the song isn’t the only thing that’s beautiful; the choreography and music video are also very enjoyable to watch. It always amazes me how some of the goofiest guys in K-pop can move me to tears.
*GOT7, “You Are”
After a year and a half of GOT7 helping produce fantastic B-sides, one of the members has finally contributed to a title track. Partially composed by leader JB, “You Are” manages to be close enough to the group’s current sound while gently steering them in a new direction. It’s not their most defining track, but it’s perfectly pleasant. And after the rollercoaster ride of emotions that was the Flight Log trilogy, it actually sounds like a breath of fresh air. GOT7 has cycled through a bunch of musical styles since their debut, but “You Are” is a clear indication that they’re growing up and narrowing their focus.
TWICE has consistently delivered hit after hit for the past two years, and “Likey” is one of their strongest comebacks to date. By now, the girls have the recipe for success down to a science. “Likey” is quintessential TWICE, and it delivers on everything we’ve come to expect from them: catchy hooks, fun dance moves, and plenty of pretty faces and aegyo to go around. And though it puts most of the focus on how pretty the girls on (as K-pop often does), there’s a very relatable theme of the pressures of looking good on social media. Simply put, “Likey” is pop in its purest and most addictive form.
Though JBJ is a Produce 101-associated group, they’re making it abundantly clear they’re not interested in being Wanna One’s shadow. “Fantasy” is dark and mysterious, grabbing your attention right from the first drop. Everything’s great, but their sensual yet powerful choreography is a particular highlight. Produce 101 fans are basically responsible for making JBJ a reality, and they certainly chose the members well. Both the group and their song are a near-perfect balance of vocals, rap, and dance. Most rookies take a while to find their footing, but JBJ is off to a solid start. They won’t be together forever, but they’re definitely making the most of the time they have.
*Favorite Aesthetic Music Video: SF9, “O Sole Mio”
(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.)
Everything about “O Sole Mio” is gorgeous. It’s clear that everything was very well-prepared: setting, camera movement, framing, color correction and effects, etc. The results are simply stunning. The music video helps SF9 form their own unique visual identity, while also evoking so many different styles. The otherworldly effects and unnaturally bright colors make it feel like a fantasy, but the images flickering in and out like computer glitches give it a touch of sci-fi. The desert location and sweeping shots of the members casually strolling is also reminiscent of Westerns. If you like aesthetically pleasing things, look no further.
*Favorite Concept Music Video: Highlight, “Can Be Better”
(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 love how Highlight is embracing their funny side. Variety skills are a must for any K-pop group, but there aren’t very many music videos that are purely comedic. Sometimes all you need is something to make you laugh, and “Can’t Be Better” totally delivers. The opening is completely slapstick, but so relatable. Maybe you haven’t been chased by chickens on your way to work, but it’s likely you dropped your phone or lost a shoe. And the random choices of each member’s job (butcher? barber? noodle maker?) are hilarious. The music video is basically them all trolling each other at work, but it makes me smile every time.
*Favorite Story Music Video: HA:TFELT, “I Wander” and “Read Me”
(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.)
I don’t really want to write as much about these two videos, because I think talking about it will give the story away. It’s just better to watch them and see for yourself. The most background I’m going to give is that they’re connected stories, with one about love and the other about loss. However, I will say that the two videos are visually stunning, with a simple yet powerful storyline. I’m a big softie at heart, but you might need some tissues.
Most Impressive Moves:
GOT7, “You Are”
This dance pulls me in right from the opening, and I love the blend between modern dance and hip hop. Fast and precise movements usually add to a strong and powerful image. It’s pretty hard to make them look soft, but GOT7 pulls it off flawlessly. This dance is a perfect match for such a light and refreshing song.
Choreography I Want to Learn:
TWICE is pretty much a fixture in this category. Like most of their other choreographies, “Likey” is very trendy, easy to learn, and so much fun. I’ve been absentmindedly dancing the chorus for about a month and a half now! I’m also a huge fan of Momo’s dance break – very girl crush.
This is probably the only Taemin dance that’s easy enough to appear in this section! This choreography is perfect for the average non-trained dancer. Not only is it pretty simple to learn, but it’s also a great exercise in performance. K-pop dances are usually all about synchronized and uniform. You’re expressing the concept, not yourself. This is the rare dance that you can easily mold to your own style.
*Taemin featuring Seulgi (Red Velvet), “Heart Stop“ : This collaboration is perfection. It’s very Taemin – haunting synth, finger snapping rhythm, etc. – but it also fits Seulgi super well too. I wish they performed it together, because that dance would be awesome.
*Highlight, “Take On Me” : There’s so much tropical house and EDM going on in K-pop these days, but I really enjoy Highlight’s take on it (no pun intended!). It’s easy listening and it fits in perfectly with their current relaxed and laidback image
*BTOB, “Guitar (Stroke of Love)” and “Finale: Our Concert” : BTOB is a group that I follow casually, which is perhaps why I’m constantly surprised by them. “Guitar (Stroke of Love)” already sounds very smooth and seductive, so in hindsight I shouldn’t have been taken aback by those extremely sensual lyrics (looking at you, Peniel). “Finale: Our Concert” is a complete contrast; it’s a song meant for their fans that’s very compelling both in sound and lyrics. I wouldn’t call myself a Melody, but I found it very touching.
*GOT7, “Moon U” or “Firework” : Fans go back and forth on how much they like GOT7’s title tracks, but we can all agree they have some excellent B-sides. You can pick pretty much anything off of 7 for 7, but these two are my personal favorites. They’re both soft, sentimental, and very romantic. They’re also written by GOT7 members (Youngjae and Jinyoung, respectively), and each song really reflects the personality of its composer.
*TWICE, “Missing You,” “Wow,” and “Don’t Give Up” : TWICE are definitely the princesses of bubblegum pop, which is generally thought of as a fun but one-note genre. However, Twicetagram shows just how diverse bubblegum pop can be. My personal favorite is “Wow,” which is very delicate and quirky. “Don’t Give Up,” is bright and uplifting (I love the chorus!), and “Missing You” shows their more vulnerable and low-key side. But again, you can pick any track and it will be good.
*SF9, “00:00” : SF9’s rap line comes off pretty intense in most of their songs, so this soft and toned down song is an amazing change. It’s very romantic (I seem to really like that these days), and also quite intimate. Also, Hwiyoung singing the chorus is the gift that we all never knew we needed.
*JBJ, “Say My Name” : This is a pretty addictive dance track on its own, but I like how the lyrics (especially the raps) reflect JBJ’s experience on Produce 101.
NU’EST have got easy listening albums down to a science. I listen to the songs off of W,Here all the time: while I’m working, driving, cooking, etc. It’s great mood music. All the tracks flow together so easily, but each one also stands out with its own unique flavor. I think it helps that the majority of the songs are solos by each member. My favorite is obviously JR’s “With,” but I think that each song suits the person singing it extremely well. It’s worthy of NU’EST’s amazing rebirth as a top tier group, but it’s also a reflection of the quality music they’ve been giving us all along.
NOTE – All songs and videos are from Amoeba Culture (HA:TFELT), Around Us Entertainment (Highlight), Cube Entertainment (BTOB), FNC Entertainment (SF9, JYP Entertainment (GOT7 and TWICE), Loen Entertainment (JBJ), Pledis Entertainment (NU’EST W), and SM Entertainment (Taemin).