Friday, November 9, 2012

K-Pop: Beyond "Gangnam Style"

You have by now most likely seen the internet sensation of PSY's "Gangnam Style" (of which Korea is very proud).  In fact, you've probably seen a couple parodies, too.  (See my favorites Here and Here.)

I've got twenty-eight minutes and sixteen seconds worth of music to show you what you're missing on if you haven't checked into more beyond PSY's (awesome) song.

Welcome to the world of Korean pop music, aka K-pop.
But first, I gotta tell you that the majority of the K-pop I hear falls into neat categories.  Either it's snazzy club music, cutesy cute music, slow sappy music, or pure catchiness with influences from either of the first categories.  I know that American pop has its own categories, too, but something about K-pop makes me feel like it's all created in a factory.  Granted, factories have become trustworthy for a reason, but there's also a reason why the idea of "K-pop" takes a while for me to swallow each time I think of it.

I want to show you some of the songs that are on the fringes of the factory boundaries.  I don't claim to know all about the music of Korea, but I keep my ears open, and I make notes of what I find enjoyable.

First up:
"" by Lee Hi (이하이)
(Just came out this week!)

Lee Hi was a finalist on "K-pop Star" (similar to American Idol), and it's easy for me to see how she would have won so many fans to get so far in the show.  Her 16-year-old voice has a similar quality to others that the West is familiar with, but it's so different from the rest of what you hear here in Korea.  For further commentary on the music video and (which I have to agree with) and on Lee Hi's production company, YG Entertainment, check out this article at The Prophet Blog.

Click here for an English translation of the lyrics.

(Came out a month or two ago)

I have to own up to how I was first drawn to this song by Monster Woo's second-long special appearances (the first one is at 0:59), but after catching my breath again after watching Monster Woo's krump magnificence, I really liked the song, too.  It's a party song.  One to shout with the windows down.  And, it's very different from standard K-pop, so it's worth a listen just for that.

Here's the English translation.

"Black Rain + Break Out" by Younha (윤하)
(From 2009)

Not one to be heard walking through the streets of Seoul (it is 3 years old), this song is a welcome distraction from the mind-numbing cutesy K-pop.  It shows you Korean music touches other ideas.  I like the way it sounds.  Electric guitar solo?  Absolutely.  It reminds me of the fun times my dad and I spent listening to classic rock.

Here's the English translation.

"Venus" by Shinhwa (신화)
(Came out March, 2012)

One of the cool things about this song is that it's come from a 14-year-old K-pop boy band.  That's right, folks, 14 years.  This is their big comeback song from this year after a four year break (during which the members served their required time in the military).  And dang, isn't this song just a blast?  It sounds like something Enrique Iglesias would do.

And the English translation.


And now deeper into the throes of the more traditional K-pop.  The fluffy stuff.  The stuff blared from Korean convenience stores and the clubs.  I'm giving you a collection of most of the best of 2011.  Korea's favorites.  And, yeah, quite a few of my favorites, too.

It's just over 12 minutes, but if you watch the entirety of this next video, I can promise that you will:
  • taste the most annoying version of cute ever (#9).
  • sample the melodrama Korea goes wild for (#8).
  • see how popular cosmetic surgery is among Korean celebrities (#10-1).
  • glimpse two dudes who made a cameo in "Gangnam Style" (#4).
  • get a small punch of  the special blend of sexy+cute seen in K-pop (#3).
  • gain a broader view of what influences young South Korea (#10-#1).
And I am not going to expound upon that last one this round...

If you find yourself completely turned off by the first few songs, don't flake out just yet.  I don't care for those ones, either.  I don't think the good ones start filing in till #7 with "Hands Up" by 2PM. (The kids like singing the chorus in class.)  Actually, besides #5, "Good Day" by IU, I really like all of numbers 7 to 1.  And if I wanted to make this post extra long, I'd make sure I pointed out just how much I enjoy these four songs in particular:

#6 왜 (Keep Your Head Down) by TVXQ
Man, I love this song!  It's got so much more oomph than what you find in the typical K-pop songs, but even separate from that comparison, I am so digging this song.  And did you check ou tthe video?  They've got some slick moves!  I am a huge fan.

#4 "Tonight" by Big Bang
I'm pretty certain this song could make it in the American circles.  It reminds me of summer hip hop.  It's a little lighter than what you hear in the States, but everyone's got their own flavor, right?

#3 "The Boys" by Girls Generation
I know it has the depth and sass of blue cotton candy, but this song is so dang catchy!  I've watched the video loads of times, and I've tried to figure out a couple of the moves.

#2 "Roly Poly" by T-ARA
Okay, here we come to the more guilty of my guilty pleasures.  I consider T-ARA flavor to be on the more annoying side of the K-pop scale, but... you gotta try the dance moves, man.  Then everything will make sense.  It's just fun.

Please, please, please, tell me what you think of these songs!  Hate them?  Love them?  Wish they weren't in some foreign language?  Wish you could move like that?  (That's what I think every time.)  I know how I feel about K-pop now that I've been in Korea for 16 months, but what about you guys?

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