Kpop Music Monday #7: Super Junior, “Sorry, Sorry”

Back in 2009/2010 when I was just getting into kpop, one big name that kept popping up was Super Junior. A cursory google glance, and I pretty much decided that there was no way in hell that I was going to “stan” (be a fan) this group.

2009(?) image of Super Junior, all sitting or standing around in button-up short sleeved shirts with ridiculous long wispy or long spiky hair.

For starters, there are just way too many boys in this group. I had just barely mastered the names of the five TVXQ boys and remembering the names of another thirteen just in one group was a completely outlandish idea.

And that horrendous hair and bad styling! Yikes!

And then two things happened: Super Junior (also referred to as “SuJu”) recorded a World Cup fight song for Korea that was catchy, fun, and had a great music video that showcased the guys’ bright energy, and I discovered their music video for “Sorry, Sorry.”

“Sorry, Sorry” is an iconic song. Filmed in black and white, the guys are decked out in suits and perform some of the most interesting and (badly) danceable choreography to a tune that makes even non-Koreans sing out loud. “sorry sorry sorry sorry naega naega naega meonjeo nege nege nege… shawty shawty shawty shawty…”

Here’s how iconic “Sorry, Sorry” is: in 2010 I managed a small sandwich shop in Ohio, and would often play kpop over the speakers. Some of the high school students who worked there part time came to learn of the song, watched the video, and would make me play it over and over so they could learn the point choreography of rubbing their hands together, smacking their shoes, and leaning back.

So how do you memorize the names of a thirteen member group? Well, there’s usually one or two who are MIA. Then there’s gross stereotypes, such as “dude with the long hair,” “chubby dude,” “dude in glasses,” “dude with the high voice,” etc. I found some subbed episodes of a variety show that Super Junior was on, and from watching it, was able to start to recognize faces and personalities. It was then that I discovered that I have a thing for the “underdog” of the group: someone who is a very solid vocal, usually a main vocalist, but for whatever reason, doesn’t get a lot of screentime. In Super Junior, it was Yesung. Not surprisingly, Yesung is featured a lot in their World Cup tune, which was what put him and SuJu on my radar.

There’s another reason why having a group made up of thirteen young Korean men is valuable in terms of longevity of the group as a whole: when you have to send one or two off to perform their mandatory military service, you still have a whole group of boys left to go on performing! This is precisely what Super Junior has done over the last five years.

As with all groups, there has been a considerable amount of scandals for SuJu over the years. Fans were upset that one member, Sungmin, got married (from what I’ve read, it’s not that he got married, per se, but that he did it at a bad time and with no respect for the rest of the group); Kangin has dealt with numerous DUIs and was forced to step down; Hangeng, a Chinese member, broke from their company early on due to mistreatment; and numerous dating and plastic surgery scandals.

SuJu has pivoted in the last few years by collaborating with Latin artists and producing such gems as “Lo Siento” featuring Leslie Grace (see below) and “One More Time (Otra Vez)” with Mexican band REIK. They even did a cover of Luis Miguel’s “Ahora Te Puedes Marchar,” and even spoofed the original music video. Not surprisingly, SuJu remains a popular group in many Latin American countries.

I am very curious as to what the next ten and twenty years will have in store for the members of SuJu. SuJu, 파이팅!

Kpop Music Monday #6: BigBang & 2NE1, “Lollipop”

One term you start to notice the more you listen to kpop is “CF” which stands for “commercial film.” This is beyond a mere commercial–sometimes it includes songs (and choreography!) written specifically to market a brand or new release. And the greatest CF in kpop is now ten years old–BigBang and 2NE1’s “Lollipop.”

To unveil the release of a new cellphone (or something–it doesn’t appear in the music video), LG tapped into boy group BigBang and as-of-then undebuted girl group 2NE1, both artists under YG’s label. They put them in eye-catching outfits and ridiculous hair styles, and then viciously puked rainbows all over their film set.

I really can’t underestimate the power this song had over me. I’m sure my friend and then-roommate Timmy can tell you just how sick of the song he got.

I’m just going to let this one speak for itself.

Kpop Music Monday #5: Kim Jonghyun, “Before Our Spring”

Today’s Music Monday is a somber one and comes with a trigger warning for depression and suicide.

On December 18th, 2017, Kim Jonghyun committed suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning in a rented apartment.

I found out through the explore page on Instagram as tributes started pouring in. A lot of second generation kpop fans were hit very hard by this news, as Jonghyun was not only a member of massively successful group SHINee but also had a stunning solo career. He was an enigmatic solo artist who wrote much of his own music and hosted a late-night radio program where he “wanted to create a space where people, including myself, could set their hearts at rest, no matter where they were.” *

In his suicide note which he had given to his dear friend and fellow artist 9 from group Dear Cloud, he wrote: “What can I say. Just tell me I’ve done well. That this is good enough. That I’ve worked hard. Even if you can’t smile don’t fault me on my way. You did well, you worked hard. Goodbye.” Thus, the hashtag #youdidwelljonghyun and #youdidwell were popular on instagram and twitter.

A white background with a hand holding a rose on the left and a picture of Kim Jonghyun wearing a white sweater and covering his mouth with it on the right. In the center it reads “April 8, 1990” and “December 18, 2017” around his name in red.

It was obvious that he was hurting a lot, suffering from depression and the troubles that come from fame. Listening to his music, you can tell that he was a sensitive soul who wanted to make the world a kinder place, and he longed to create a space in which people could set down their everyday burdens and just be at peace with themselves. It appears, based on what I’ve read, that he planned his suicide for a while, which makes everything all the more tragic.

The group he was in, SHINee was one of my favorites. They were known for having a sparkly, brightly colored and quirky concept. One of my all-time favorite videos was theirs for “Married to the Music.” Despite the tragic loss of their main vocalist, SHINee continued to put out music. They honored Jonghyun at their Osaka concert by having a fifth microphone in the center of the stage, where he would have stood, along with a rose.

Some people in my life couldn’t understand why I was distraught at the death of this singer I’ve never met. They treated it as a childish thing. Their hyprocrisy showed when they later dealt with losses of their own idols, including David Bowie and Prince.

We grieve the death of people we’ve never met because they have created something so magical that we are taken by it and it changes us. Jonghyun was a soothing voice for so many people in dark places, and to have succumbed to his own darkness made everything all the worse.

In addition to the posthumous album that was released (which was the first kpop album I’ve ever bought, because proceeds were going to his family and the creation of the Shinin’ Foundation), the entertainment company he was under, SM, created the above video as a tribute. Some of the lyrics:

They say spring will come faster than last year
But the cold and frozen winter is still here
Don’t worry about what to do
I’m alright, spring will come to me too

“Before Our Spring”

I am including his solo “Y Si Fuera Ella” (yes, it’s a Korean cover of a Spanish song) and a clip of him singing “White T-Shirt” and “She Is” because his vocals and dancing skills are truly powerful.

Kim Jonghyun wearing a blue sweater, khakis, and a partially tie-dyed scarf, sitting with both hands behind him and smiling at the camera.

You did well, Jonghyun. You did so well.

수고했어요 정말 고생했어요
그댄 나의 자랑이죠

If you are contemplating suicide, please reach out to a trusted friend or family member. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Kpop Music Monday #4: Got7, “Confession Song [free dance live video]”

This week’s Music Monday is a live video from one of my favorite groups, Got7.

Usually, kpop artists will release a variety of videos for one single. They’ll have the official music video; a “performance video” version where they perform all the choreography (usually on one of the sets that were featured in the official music video); a “dance practice” video where they perform the choreo whilst goofing around in a dance practice room; a “relay dance” video where they all stand in a line and dance the choreo, alternating between dancing in front and moving to the back at random intervals; and usually there’s some silly video like them trying to perform the song while decorating a cake at the same time.

Sometime in late 2015, Got7 released a “free dance live video” of the group singing their song, “Confession Song.” The official music video features the group helping high school students make love confessions, and it takes place during the Christmas season. The song itself features sleigh bells and is very, very Christmas-y. Hence, the live video takes place in a simple room with a bed, Christmas tree, two cameras, and the insanity that is Got7.

It is through videos like these that we get to see each member’s unique personality, as well as how they all interact. If you didn’t like a group before you see a video like this one, you probably will afterwards. If you already liked the group, then you probably start to form a bias, or member that’s your favorite.

Does anyone know who my bias is in Got7?

Kpop Music Monday #3: Orange Caramel, “Catallena”

Orange Caramel, a subgroup of After School, a Kpop group known for its unique “graduation” concept (where members, after a certain period of time, “graduate” from the group as new members are added), relies heavily on the quirky, cute, and colorful concept in all of their videos, but “Catallena” takes the cake. Or rather, the sushi.

The video features the three singers as unfortunate mermaids. A lot can be said here about feminism and what a woman’s actual worth is (as the girls’ literal price is reduced, then cut again), but the video plays it all with a light hand, including the somewhat disturbing ending.

The song talks about one woman’s admiration for another:

“Oh my, she’s so great, I’ve fallen for her
Even as a girl, I can see she’s so great
She’s temperamental but I want to see her
I want to know her, I want to dance with her”*

This admiration can be seen in the way the girls react to the octopus as she slides by with a much higher price.

The chorus’ refrain of “Jutti meri, oye hoi hoi! Paula mera, oye hoi hoi!” comes from a Punjabi wedding song, leading an interesting Bollywood flair to the song.

This is one of my top 3 favorite Kpop music videos. And now I want sushi.

*lyrics found here