by Raizel Liebler
This was an interesting year for pop music. In many ways, this was the year that U.S.-based pop music gave up even trying to innovate — and stuck with blah. (We’re not talking about you, Beyonce.) This isn’t to say that there is a dearth of good pop being created — Daft Punk and Janelle Monae prove that it is possible, but mainstream pop has gotten so lazy.
On the other hand, weird, creative and different Kpop is now mainstream. This isn’t to say that there isn’t still plenty of less challenging pop out there, but we have now reached a point that even the pinnacle of precise, perfect Kpop, Girls Generation tries to do something different with I Got A Boy. I hated that song, but at least they tried — and the subgroup TTS succeeded better, with a light R&B sound.
Overall, kpop has now reached the point where it might be diverging from mainstream American/UK pop in a significant way — most artists are putting out music that varies by having many of these elements (not to be seen in US mainstream pop): minor keys, weird time signatures (often throughout the song, focus on verses as much as choruses, melding multiple forms of music, harmonizing (oh, the harmonizing), thematic elements throughout multiple songs, and just general weirdness. And the ability to dance to it — something sorely lacking from American pop.
I don’t think that it is a coincidence that G-Dragon, one of the movers of this new type of pop, has collaborated with Missy Elliot this year. Her influence, in the music, style, sampling, and general feel of music is all over Kpop this year. I wish her awesomeness was appreciated more at home — but if it isn’t, kpop is ready for what she adds to the mix.
Below are some of the most interesting Korean pop music of this year-ish (I did fudge the dates to be fully inclusive of this wave of more “experimental” kpop). That doesn’t mean these are THE BEST, but they do show the depth of what Korean pop has to offer. And if you like anything created by Mike Patton — especially more of the Mr. Bungle, Faith No More, Fantomas type, this is your opportunity to get started with kpop.
B.A.P — Hurricane
B.A.P has put out other releases this year, bad boy music (One Shot), dance/hardrock/rap (No Mercy) and ballads (Coffee Shop), but for one song that epitomizes the true WTFness of Korean pop of today in one song, this song is it — disco, rap, harmonizing, and more in a video shot like Hype Williams of yore in Vegas, complete with gold. There are at least five different songs in here. You will listen to this again and again trying to figure it out — but you never will.
Miss A — Come Tonight (놀러와)
Miss A put out a solid second studio album, Hush (I don’t like the album’s lead single, Hush, though). However, the standout song is Come Tonight, especially reminiscent of the types of girl groups that aren’t part of the present American pop industry. JYP, their label’s owner/main songwriter loves 90s U.S. R&B and it shows here. If you liked TLC, you might very well like Miss A.
4Minute, 2Yoon, and Hyuna’s Trouble Maker — Whatever, 물 좋아? (Is It Poppin’?), 24/7, Now
I was so very disappointed by the boring releases of 2ne1 this year and last, including CL’s single. I expected so much more from them, and their unique blend of different types of music in their past releases. However, I was impressed by one of the most name-droppingest groups in Kpop, 4Minute, with their variety of releases this year. 4Minute is the closest kpop has to SWV, considering they somehow got their song, Whatever, and its very open definition of what is possible in a casual relationship past the censors.
4Minute has always put out fun songs, but this year they raised the bar on their in-your-face brand of pop — by releasing an EP and a single as a group, a subgroup release, and Hyuna’s “supergroup” release. All of the below releases are from the same overall group — and yet they cover a wide range of what pop can be, from girl group, to male-female duet, to female duet, to dance/pop, to R&B pop, to country/pop.
Shinee: Sherlock, Dream Girl — The Misconceptions of You & Why So Serious? — The Misconceptions of Me
Of all the music on this list, in many ways Shinee is the most surprising on this list. They have been putting out high-quality, but not surprising pop music for years. Their basic formula has been dance-pop high energy songs, mixed in with a few ballads … for the ladies. But in the past year, in addition to other releases, they have put out 3 concept albums.
I’ma going to let that sink in. One of the biggest names in Kpop released concept albums. Three in a year (ish). The first one was technically an EP, Sherlock, but the concept involved solving a mystery — and the main single was a mashup of two other songs on the album — Sherlock (Clue + Note). Considering both the overall interest in Sherlock Holmes — and the issue of how much his character is in the public domain, I especially liked seeing the concept of a detective solving mysteries was incorporated into this album.
The next two concept albums are really two sides to the same relationship: Dream Girl — The Misconceptions of You & Why So Serious? — The Misconceptions of Me. Throughout the Misconceptions albums there are musical and lyrical references to other songs throughout the series. Including hidden keywords — in a similar fashion as Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero, where only superfans can understand all of the varied meaning levels. If you want to hear what could be possible if kpop ever goes hard rock, listen to Why So Serious, which is so reminiscent of hair metal!
In addition to everything else, on their other new album, they have a slow jam, Symptoms. And if it sounds like Ginuwine that’s because the songwriters are The Underdogs. Seriously, Shinee had a great year.
G-Dragon’s Empire: G-Dragon, Taeyang, and T.O.P.
Over the last year, G-Dragon has released his own music, but also written for and influenced the visual aesthetic of his bandmates from BigBang, Taeyang and T.O.P. If there is anything to show the influence of Missy Elliot on kpop, it is embodied in three songs: the live performance of Missy with GD at KCon, T.O.P’s “what is even going on?” song and video — Doom Dada, and Taeyang’s dance video for Ringa Linga choreographed by a choreographer strongly inspired by Missy.
G-Dragon still releases more normal songs alongside the weird, but the fact is — this experimental style of pop is not just accepted, but with the inclusion of his performed and written music is highly, highly popular. And pop music definitely needs more weird!