So. K-pop is a pretty hot thing right now.
Or maybe I should say Gangnam Style is a pretty hot thing. Back in 2012, people from all around the world went crazy over the song with the horse dance, including many people I personally know. It was quite surreal seeing all my friends jam so profusely to a genre of music I never thought would catch on in the US. As of now, Gangnam Style is slowly losing momentum internationally but that's an entirely different topic that I could make a whole editorial out of if I wanted to. The point I'm trying to make is that Gangnam Style was such an insanely successful and popular song, that it more or less opened the international doors for K-pop. I know that K-pop had its very vocal niche international fandom like J-pop does but I didn't realize just how listened to K-pop was with international audiences until I saw a parody video in which Anna Kendrick joined some K-pop group whose name is a math function. It was at that moment, I started thinking, "How popular is K-pop anyways?" I always thought it was a niche market like J-pop was but looking around and knowing English-speaking people who listen to the genre, I've got to think that it's somewhat relevant in the US market, especially thanks to Gangnam Style. The song opened a door (a small door) for other K-pop artists and while I personally think K-pop has as much of a chance of breaking into the US market as J-pop did, I can't deny that Gangnam Style did introduce a lot of Westerners to K-pop. Personally, I've been in my little J-pop bubble when it comes to music so I don't really follow K-pop. The musical style has never really appealed to me; it reminds me to much of Western pop music, a music genre that spurred me getting into J-pop. But here are a few little tidbits I know about K-pop:
1. Everything is labeled as a "comeback" even when a group isn't on hiatus.
2. Each fandom has a group name and these fandoms fight. A lot.
3. Plastic surgery accusations fly left and right but it's no big deal.
4. "Oppa", "hwaiting", and "aegyo" are common terms used in K-pop.
5. Crazy K-pop fans scare the shit out of me.
In other words, I know jack shit about K-pop. I don't know who's popular, what singles are selling well, how the sales and charts are structured, zip. Believe it or not, around the time I had gotten into J-pop, I tried to get into K-pop. I listened to a few songs, watched a few videos, but I never really got into it. I think I was just distracted by all the J-pop groups I'd been getting into. I also learned about a few more K-pop groups thanks to the Hallyu wave back in 2011 and early 2012 but the only group that I really got into was Kara. Beyond them, K-pop has never really interested me and I think that's partially because the image of a K-pop group is so different from a J-pop group. I wouldn't say that K-pop is sexier then J-pop (because J-pop has plenty of sexy PVs) but the image that most K-pop groups portray feels more... mature. I think that's partially because from what I've seen of K-pop music videos, they're much more polished and sleek. One of the defining traits of the quintessential Japanese idol is that the idol in question starts out from scratch and the appeal of her is watching her grow as a performer. With K-pop, the idols have already grown as performers thanks to training; what you see is the full package wrapped up in a shiny manufactured bow. I know it's a little harsh to call K-pop "manufactured" especially since you can argue that J-pop idols are just as manufactured but with K-pop, it feels a little more obvious. The girls in K-pop groups I've seen just look so much more polished and... pretty. But that prettiness doesn't feel natural; it's too perfect, too artificial-looking. They almost look more like singing, dancing mannequins than real people. Again, a rather harsh comparison, but it's the only way I can describe how K-pop idols appear to me. Thus I think one of the main reasons that I don't really follow K-pop idols that much is because they're too... perfect.
Weird, isn't it? You'd think I'd be all over that considering how much I bitch about talent and whatnot on my blog. But I guess something I like about J-idols is the little quirks and appearance flaws each girl has; sure, not every girl looks drop dead gorgeous, but they each have their own "look" that belongs to them and only them. There's something about following an idol group and watching the girls in it grow and improve that just really appeals to me. With K-pop, you don't see much of that because the idols have already grown and improved; what you see is the final result of all that growth and improvement. So while I don't necessarily think K-pop is a bad genre of music, it's not really a genre of music that I feel inclined to get into. Musically there isn't much appeal to me and I follow enough J-pop groups already that adding K-pop to my review list would be too much for me to handle. Nonetheless, there is a small handful of K-pop song that I surprisingly enjoy listening to. I don't know what it is about each song that separates it from all the other K-pop songs I don't give a shit about, but these ten songs are pretty much the only K-pop songs I actually listen to. I've found each song on this list through a variety of different ways, ranging from Youtube to other blogs to even scandals. So let's take a segway from my usual repertoire of reviewing the latest J-pop idol PV, single, album, etc. and dive into K-pop land!
10. Dr. Feel Good - Rania
Annnd I'm starting the list with a guilty pleasure. Seriously, I almost thought about not putting this on the list just to hide my embarrassment. You know that trashy erotic novel your best friend hides under her mattress because she's too embarrassed to let anyone know she read it? That's kind of what Dr. Feel Good is for me! I mean seriously, there is no explanation that I can type cohesively to explain what I enjoy about this song. It's not even that original! The opening is ripped off from more successful American pop songs like Just Dance by Lady Gaga and the song sounds like something I'd hear from The Pussycat Dolls or some other Western pop group. Dr. Feel Good has little to no originality, even for an idol song, but there is something about it that makes me keep listening to it. You know whose fault it is!? All those idol blogs I followed that kept bringing this up in reviews and best of lists! It's their fault I discovered this song! Thanks, Wota In Training and Fly in the F***ing Wine! Well anyways... I think that part of Dr. Feel Good's appeal to me might be that even though the concept has been done a bajillion times in pop music... the members of Rania just kind of go with it. There's never a moment where it seemed like they were nervous or hesitating, they gave off an air of confidence in the music video that really makes the song enjoyable. And Dr. Feel Good is so. Damn. Catchy. In fact, something you'll notice about many of the songs on this list is that they are all extremely catchy. Mainly because of English lyrics. The English scattered through Dr. Feel Good has the magical ability to latch onto my mind and have myself humming it for days. Dr. Feel Good is a shameless guilty pleasure of mind, a raunchy but strangely awesome song thanks to the conviction of Rania, sexier than SDN48 could ever hope to be.
9. Gee - Girls' Generation
SURPRISE! I'm sure no one's ever heard of this song; I mean, it's just so obscure! Don't worry, guys; it's okay if you can't find this song because really, it's just so underground. Sarcasm aside, yes, I am one of the many fans of Gee by Girls' Generation... or SNSD... or Shoujo Jidai. Gee, this group has like ten different names! I'll just use their English group name for now! Anyways, isn't Gee like... the most popular K-pop song ever? I only know Girls' Generation from their Japanese releases as Shoujo Jidai but I know that the reason that they got so famous in their home country was thanks to Gee. The music video for this song has lot of views on Youtube in comparison to some of the other songs on this list so I was just wondering! Actually, during that brief time in which I made a half-assed effort to listen to K-pop, Gee was the first song I listened to! And to my surprise, I really liked the song! I remember having this song stuck in my head for several days after I watched the PV. Gee is a ridiculously catchy song; there are so many part of the song from the opening English lyrics to the repetition of "Gee" like... everywhere and the sheer tempo and styling of the lyrics is catchy! I don't know any of the words to this song beyond the (really good) English thrown around in the chorus and the verses yet somehow this song always gets stuck in my head! Normally a catchy song stops getting stuck in my head after awhile but nope, not Gee! Luckily, this song is catchy in a way that I still enjoy it. I don't know what it is about Gee's musical composition but it sounds like such a likable song. Sure, it's pretty generic but there's something about the enthusiasm of the music and how happy the vocals are that really makes me like this song.
8. Secret - Poison
Two words: Saxo. Phone. You see, the use of that glorious brass instrument in this song is so great that I have to emphasize its greatness by splitting it up into two words. The thing with saxophones incorporated into pop music is that the effect can either sound really cool or really cheesy. Like Juice=Juice's Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne handles the saxophone well. And so does Poison. In fact, I'd say that opening saxophone solo is what got me to listen to the entire song. I found out about this song from some post on Idolminded last year (can't remember which but the Youtube link to this song was embedded in the blog post). I think that saxophone is what gives Poison a kind of retro/noir feel to it, and that style is only amplified in the accompanying music video. I love the video for this song since it combines my personal love of vintage film noir with a really fun and engaging storyline. Like many of the other songs on this list, Poison also has really catchy English lyrics. On the subject of English, I've noticed that the English used in K-pop songs is really well-done, both grammatically and verbally. I don't know if that's because I've spent so much time listening to Engrish in J-pop but it's refreshing! I think Poison is a really fun song because it's pop with a slightly retro feel to it and I really enjoying listening to that type of music! My only complaint about Poison is that I think it's way too short. The song is a little under three and half minutes but I think the song could have gone on for another minute or so. I remember when I first listened to the song and it ended I was like, "It's already over?" It was just a really enjoyable and fun song to listen to that I didn't want it to end! But overall, Poison is a catchy pop song with just enough saxophone thrown in to make the song stand out!
7. Shampoo - After School
Guess how I found out about this song! KIOKU! Yeah for idol bloggers leading me to find songs I like listening to! Your prize, Kioku, is... the satisfaction of knowing that you indirectly lead to a song you really like getting on this list? Back in early January, she posted a list of the most played songs on her iPod and amongst the boatload of K-pop songs I didn't know/care about, Shampoo was her second most played song! And since she called it, "one of the best songs in K-pop ever," I figured Shampoo had to be a pretty kickass song to earn such an esteemed title from such a talented and critical idol blogger! And I really ended up liking the sound of Shampoo; it's a very happy and light song, perfect to listen to on a sunny morning! I even liked the cheesy sythesizers in the intro that sound like they were ripped from and 80s song! I think the instrumental of Shampoo is the best part of the song because it just sounds so light and pretty. Shampoo is just such a happy and relaxing song that I can't help but calm down every time I listen to it! I almost want to say it's good stress reliever! The only part I don't really like about Shampoo is that there's this rap sequence about midway through the song; the rapper didn't sound bad but it clashed with the light and airy tone the rest of the song set. It didn't ruin the song or anything but the mood whiplash was little jarring the first time I listened to Shampoo. Still, I love how pretty and joyful this song sounds and it's a song that I never get tired of listening to! By the way, here's a fun fact about After School: they covered Love Machine by Morning Musume! How awesome is that!? The cover's not the best in the world but I still think it's pretty sweet that they covered such a classic and iconic song by Momusu!
6. Get Out - AOA
Wanna know how I discovered this song? CHIIMA! In a way! Give yourself a pat on the back, Chiima! The PV for Get Out was requested by one of her readers in PV Review Chronicles (which she still hasn't finished yet... get to work on that, Chiima!). We were chatting on Facebook and decided to look up some of the music videos that were requested by her readers for her to review! I looked up the music video to Get Out and surprisingly, it was really entertaining! At first, the music video seemed pretty normal but I decided to keep watching because the song was decent and about thirty seconds in, the video got awesome. The music video consists of mainly a few dance shots intertwined with close-ups and shots of some of the girls playing instruments, pretty typical idol music video stuff. But then the movie references started popping up and Nia started geeking out! If there's one thing that rivals my love of idol music, it's movies and when you put them together, I'm a happy camper! The music video shows each member of AOA dressed as an iconic movie character such as Hermione from Harry Potter to The Bride from Kill Bill to even Mathilde from Leon the Professional. As someone who is a huge fan of movies, I enjoyed this PV a lot. The song is also nice too; it has a very upbeat and happy sound to it! I admit, it's not the most original or innovative pop song I've ever heard but like Gee, it's still a very likable-sounding song to my ears. What surprised me about AOA is that I learned that a portion of the group's members actually play instruments and form a little band within the group. Sure, they're no Scandal, but I thought that was interesting! Ironically, the song doesn't really sound like a song that would be played by a band but nonetheless, I still enjoy Get Out a lot!
5. Day by Day - T-ara
Hoo boy, T-ara... I wonder, are they still around? I know that they were pretty famous as a group before that bullying scandal but what about now? Did that affect their popularity at all? Because back in August I remember all over the idolsphere all everyone would talk about was T-ara and Hwayoung. The news about them was so prevalent that even I, someone who pays little to no attention to this group, caught wind of the scandal. Funny enough the last time I heard about T-ara was through another scandal between their fans and Berryz Koubou. But that's another story from another time. As for Hwayoung and whether or not their was bullying... I can't really comment on that. I'm not a fan of T-ara nor do I know about the inner workings of the group. But one good thing that did come from this scandal is that I found a really great song by T-ara! It's just unfortunate the circumstances that lead to me discovering the song were so so bleak... Since T-ara had been all over the news in August, I thought why not look up some of their music? At least I'd have an image of what this group released and maybe I could find that Hwayoung girl! Via Youtube (isn't it always) I found Day by Day and surprisingly, it really grabbed me. I love the sound of this song; I don't know much of else of what T-ara sounds like but Day by Day sounds so pretty. I think what makes this song so pretty is the simple and repetitive instrumental; that flute sounds gorgeous and the minimal use of other instruments works great in the song. Even the rapping works! I like how Day by Day isn't loud but softer and more melodic but still has a lot of energy! I don't know how T-ara's fared post-scandal or Hwayoung but regardless of the group's current reputation, I still enjoy listening to Day by Day a lot!
4. Bloom - Ga In
I think Bloom is the most recent song on here; you might recognize this song if you read my year-end post from 2012! If you managed to plunge through the paragraphs and paragraphs of text, I put the PV for Bloom as one of my favorite PVs of 2012! Much like T-ara, I only discovered this song because of controversy! See? Good things can come from scandals, like finding awesome music! I remember back in 2012, this PV got a lot of backlash for covering a sensitive topic: no, not homosexuality (leave that to SKE48) but sex! Sexual awakening to be exact. The PV's controversy stemmed from the fact that it was a visual representation of sexy and showed the singer, Ga In, very clearly having sex and enjoying it. From what I remember there was so much discussion about whether the PV was "slutty" or not that I couldn't help but take a look at the PV to see just what all this was about. And I'm glad I did because not only did I think the PV was a great interpretation of sex but I thought the song was also really good! Bloom reminds me a lot of a Madonna song and I think where the song really blooms (I promise I'll keep my puns to a minimum) is in the lyrics. Something I've noticed about K-pop is that... there lyrics tend to translate better into English than K-pop. I don't if it's because the lyrics are just more relatable to Western culture than Japanese lyrics but I feel like I can understand what K-pop lyrics I trying to convey more than J-pop songs. What I love about Bloom's lyrics is that sexual awakening is compared to a flow blooming. It's a great metaphor and makes for a very joyful and happy song about celebrating sex, not condemning it. The topic of sex is handled incredibly well in both the PV and the song and despite the controversy, I'm glad this song was released!
3. Pandora - Kara
Another fairly recent song, this is actually the only K-pop song I've listened to by Kara! Those of you who've been around the Wonderland might remember that Kara is a K-pop group that I've actually reviewed stuff by Kara. I've only ever really looked at Kara's Japanese releases though; I didn't even discover Pandora until I decided to review their Electric Boy single. Thank god I decided to go through with writing that review, otherwise I never would have found this awesome song! When I first listened to Pandora, it was during my process of writing my Electric Boy single review and what struck me about the song was just how different it was, especially compared to the other two tracks on the single. It doesn't sound at all like a J-pop song but it doesn't really sound like a K-pop song either, at least not a K-pop song I've heard. I almost want to say it's... it's a very ethereal song, with a lot synthesizers and echo-y vocals. The vocal structure of the song is just as strange as the instrumental yet somehow the weirdness of this song works. I don't know how but it does! I think Pandora sounds extremely cool and it's really unlike any other Kara song I've heard. I usually hear cuter and sweeter music from Kara and Pandora is a darker and edgier contrast (but not too dark!). It makes me wonder if Kara has any other songs like this in their K-pop discography. What I love the most about Pandora is the energy of the song; it's like there's this tension running throughout the song that just explodes when you hit the chorus. Listening to Pandora is very exhilarating; it's like you can feel the excitement in the song when you put in your earbuds and press play! You know, if Kara's K-pop discography consists of stuff like Pandora, maybe I should follow them more closely...
2. Bad Girl Good Girl - Miss A
This is one of the small amount of K-pop songs that I listened to during that brief time I mentioned earlier in which I tried to get into K-pop. Much like Gee, Bad Girl Good Girl was a song I surprisingly enjoyed. I thought this song was catchy, had a great vocal hook and a nice message in the lyrics. In fact, I think a big part of why I really love this song is because of the insanely relatable lyrics. And again, this is another case in which I'm really happy that the lyrics translate so well into English. The song is basically talking from a girl's perspective of how a boy judges her only based on her appearance and outward demeanor. She shoots him down for only seeing her as a "Bad Girl" when she's more than just a stereotype he's narrow-mindedly slapped on her. I really love that message because I think it's something that relates to the way a lot of girls feel. And I don't even think the message of the song has to be aimed at just a boy; the message of not judging someone based on his/her outward appearance can be directed towards anyone. I know that there's been more than one occasion in which I felt like I've been judged by only my outward appearance and I remember how I just wanted to scream that I was more than a stereotype people were trying to force on me. The applicability of this song's message. I also like that the song feels very... genuine. I know that idol music isn't the most sincere of music genres but when I listen to Bad Girl Good Girl, I feel like the girls singing it really understand what they're singing about. And beyond the lyrics, the song just flows really nicely. The vocals kind of sound like they could be in an R&B song and I think that works for the song. Overall, Bad Girl Good Girl is an appealing song to me not only because of its musical structure but also its lyrical content!
1. Cleansing Cream - Brown Eyed Girls
Of all the songs on this list, Cleansing Cream is the one that I never get tired of. I absolutely love this song and I love the music video for it just as much. I feel like my love for this song is half because it's just a genuinely good song and also because the music video for it is wonderful. Cleansing Cream is a ballad and one of my favorite ballad songs; if I included K-pop on my top 10 ballads, this song would absolutely be on there! What I think makes Cleansing Cream such a beautiful ballad is the perfect balance of the vocals and the instrumental; the song starts out soft and stays pretty soft until the final chorus. I love how the vocals just flow so beautifully and practically melt into the instrumental; it's a great balance makes for a very, very pretty song. I like how the music video for Cleansing Cream sort of matches the energy of the song too; for the most part, the video conveys a very subdued and tense air and then the final chorus hits along with the climax of the PV. It's absolutely perfect. Overall, I thought the music video for Cleansing Cream was overall just really well done even if the members of Brown Eyed Girls aren't in the video at all; the video focuses on three completely random people who in no way relate back to the group. But the story the viewer sees about this group of people is compellingly eerie and conveys so many different emotions and meanings in the span of just three and a half minutes. When I first saw the music video, I was actually a little confused as to what the story was about; don't get me wrong, I was intrigued but I was also really confused at what I was supposed to take from the PV. But as I watched it more, I was able to pick out my own interpretation of the story. I think the music video for Cleansing Cream is what really made me love the song.
So hey, readers who happen to listen to K-pop, do you have any particular songs you enjoy listening to? And do you have any opinions on the handful of songs I listed? Feel free to comment, I'm really curious! Or you don't have to comment... we have freedom of speech for a reason, right?