Kpop Music Monday #33: Red Velvet, “Psycho”

Another girl group that epitomizes the “girl crush” concept is Red Velvet. Red Velvet is a hit both with Korean and international audiences–once when I was playing a Kpop channel at work, someone squealed, “Oh my god, it’s Red Velvet–I love them!”

Red Velvet takes risks as a group, notably with fashion, but also in music, shying away from the softer melodies and more “manufactured” sounds and styles of other groups. They all have killer pipes and there is no lead vocal within the group because they’re all just that good. (Check out those high notes!)

Member Wendy had an unfortunate accident during a rehearsal back in December of 2019 and broke her pelvis among other injuries she sustained. She was only able to return to the stage in late August of 2020. Apparently, a set of steps were not where they should have been, and she fell off of the platform.

I chose “Psycho” simply because it’s their best work–a little dark, a little edgy, but with all the lace and sparkling diamonds that their entertainment company could afford. I will give “Peek-a-Boo” an honorable mention because who doesn’t love a tortured pizza delivery man in their Kpop videos?

Kpop Music Monday #30: KAACHI, “Your Turn”

What is K-pop?

Is it as simple as pop music created by Koreans? (How would you reconcile this idea with the knowledge that many Korean pop songs were originally written by non-Koreans and then purchased and tailored for a Korean audience?)

Is it as simple as pop music that has been tailored for a Korean audience and sung in Korean? (How would you reconcile this with BTS’ latest track, “Dynamite,” a song written entirely in English?)

Is it as simple as pop music sung by Koreans? (How would you reconcile this with the fact that many K-pop groups feature members who are non-Korean, but almost always Asian, e.g. Thai, Japanese, Chinese?)

It’s time we talk about KAACHI.

KAACHI labels itself as the “UK’s first Kpop group” but only one member is Korean. This was their debut song.

The quality is pretty poor. The vocals are lacking, the dancing is lackluster, and it’s all just a bit too cringey for my taste.

All is not lost, however, as a YouTube creator by the name of Johnny reworked the song and made it sound much better.

And the girls weren’t upset, because they went on to give him a cameo in their comeback single, as seen below:

So… is KAACHI K-pop? I don’t think so. K-pop is a machine, and they’ve not been through the trials and tribulations that K-pop trainees go through that produces idols. It isn’t about singing in Korean, or having a Korean in the group, or making upbeat pop music, or wearing Korean brands–it’s about being part of the soul-eating machine that makes a group “K-pop.”

As someone who doesn’t like the fact that the music she’s been listening to for over ten years is produced on the backs of young teenagers and is known to break them down and eat them alive, maybe, just maybe, K-pop can learn from KAACHI to be a little more easy-going; to let their idols live a little more instead of always fighting tooth and nail for YouTube views and award show wins. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It can be flawed. We love our idols because they’re flawed, one of the most ironic things of all.

What do you guys think? What makes K-pop… K-pop?

Kpop Music Monday #29: Lee Suhyun, “Alien”

Lee SuHyun already knows fame as part of Akdong Musician (aka AKMU), the brother/sister duo that took Korea by storm as winners of K-pop Star 2, a televised music competition. This time, she’s back as a soloist and her solo is a-freaking-dorable.

I love a lot here: the short blue hair, the rainbow sleeves, the simple yet effective choreography, that sparkly dress at the end of the video and the animated bits of the video. What really shines, however, is her heavenly vocals. Girl can hit the high notes with an ease Mariah Carey would envy.

I’m going to say it: this is probably my favorite release of 2020. I love all the credits that she gives at the end of the video, because it really does take a lot of people to create a music video.

Kpop Music Monday #25: HA:TFELT, “Life Sucks”

The life of a kpop star isn’t easy, even though music videos and reality shows often make it seem like it. There has been more than one occasion where a family member has used an artist’s name in order to scam people.

Unfortunately, the usual story is that of an estranged father who begs money from someone using his connection to his well-known daughter and then defaults on his promises. This is the story of HA:TFELT, aka Yeeun/Yenny, who started her kpop career as one of the original and long-term members of the group Wonder Girls.

You can read an article about her father’s fraud and alleged sexual assault here. You could also just listen to the song and read the lyrics below, as it’s full of gut-wrenching emotion.

For the first time in my twenty-nine years
Daddy sent me a letter
Never knew how wack his handwriting was
I guess I should've known better
That's why mine is so ugly, too
That's why mine is so ugly, too

For the first time in my twenty-nine years
Daddy wrote me a letter
How's your mom? How's your sis?
I really miss ya, but you better not come here
I'm sorry, but don't you worry
'Cause I'm prayin' for your health and future

Oh dear, sweetheart
Things have gone a little South
My girl, need your help
Could you bail me out (bail me out)

Life sucks for everybody
(No need to cry no no no)
Life sucks for everybody
(Act like no child no no no)
I'm just survivin' everyday
Right at the edge of losing my mind
Life sucks for everybody
Just let me find peace of mind

If only I could go back and tell myself
"Don't you trust him, he already hurt you"
When you cried on you knees, showing some regrets
Wish I could've known better
People don't change so easily, nah
People can't change that easily
If only you meant all you told me that night
But, guess I'd better blame myself

How's your night? How's your sleep?
Have you ever woken up by your conscience?
Well I'm sorry, I've got no worries
All I have are wrath and disgust

One time, you said,
"Must obey or be cursed"
You were right, I am cursed
Running your blood in my vein (my vein)

Life sucks for everybody
(No need to cry no no no)
Life sucks for everybody
(Act like no child no no no)
I'm just survivin' everyday
Right at the edge of losing my mind
Life sucks for everybody
Just let me find peace of mind

I might pull the trigger, you know
I might do it for good, you know
I might pull the trigger, for both of us
I might do it for all, you'll see

I might pull the trigger
I might do it for good, you know
Pull the trigger
Do it for all

Kpop Music Monday #24: Stella Jang, “Villain”

It’s a mistake that people think “kpop” and instantly think attractive, often feminine, boys, skinny pretty girls, and uplifting fluffy music. Kpop has all the nuisances of American pop, which can give us both the bubblegum and the harsher, darker stuff. While Stella Jang doesn’t exactly belong to the dark side, her stuff isn’t exactly bubblegum, either. She writes most of her own music and has uploaded numerous covers online, some acapella. (She’s also apparently fluent in Korean, English, and French.)

This particular song caught my attention right away for how clean and unique the editing of the video is, as well as the questions within the lyrics. I’m a fan.

Kpop Music Monday #23: Got7, “Just Right”

Today I went to switch to a Korean sim card and had an awkward interaction with the Korea Telecom (not sponsored, obviously) guy. Y’see, I have a clear phone case. And in my phone case is the photocard of Youngjae from Got7 that I got when I ordered their album online. Not just any album, but the Youngjae specific one, so I would get his photocard and his poster and his bookmark, etc. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s such an amazing way to milk young girls for all they’re worth. I can see myself having bought the Backstreet Boys’ album five times just to collect all the photocards.

None of my students seem to know who the photocard is of, either because they’re too young or entirely too into BTS. I knew going to Korea would put me in a weird place because Got7 has a strong international fanbase but less so of a Korean base, probably owing to their make-up: four Koreans, one Thai, one Hong Kong-ese, one American. (Is that seven? I’m halfway through a bottle of cabernet sauvignon so forgive me.)

This was the first Got7 song I heard, and I was such a big fan of everything about it. The video is super cute but the message is fantastic. Even the choreography doesn’t take itself too seriously. This was on my “feel-good” mix for quite a long time and remains one of my most-played songs.

The line distribution is a little unfair, considering that Yugyeom only gets the “ooohhh” part, but Youngjae singing the bridge is like honey to the ears.

Watch it. Love it. Stan Got7.

Kpop Music Monday #22: EXID, “Up and Down”

Not only is EXID’s “Up and Down” one of my favorite music videos, but the song also tells the story of how a fledging group became one of the biggest in Kpop thanks to one fancam.

A fancam is what it says on the tin: usually, fans will film one individual idol in a group performance and then upload it to youtube or other video sharing websites. A single fancam can garner thousands, if not millions, of views, thanks to thirsty fans.

And in 2014, one fancam of EXID’s Hani dancing to “Up and Down” broke the internet and helped the on-the-verge-of-disbanding group skyrocket to fame. Because, you know, she’s hot, and the dance is, um, fairly suggestive.

The music video is everything I love about kpop music videos, including weird metaphors and bright colors. One listen and you’ll be saying “위 아래 위 위 아래” (“wi arae wi wi arae”) for the rest of the day.

Kpop Music Monday #19: B1A4, “Beautiful Target”

How to tell you’re old, kpop edition: You remember when a group debuted and followed along with them for a few years until they pretty much fell off the planet and some of the members chose not to renew their contract, effectively disbanding the group.

I remember first seeing the group B1A4 pop up on a Korean music livejournal that I followed back in 2011, and at the time I also watched a lot of EatYourKimchi, who took to the group in a rather humorous way–by renaming it to “Bilasa.” (The number one is “il” and four is “sa” in sino-Korean numbers.) And why are they called B1A4? Well, 4 members have type A blood and one (the rapper, duh) has type B! To date, the first kpop merchandise that I ever bought was a shirt from the EatYourKimchi store with “Bilasa” on it, and quite a few people complimented me on the design, despite having no idea what it was referencing. It was just a cool shirt, thankyouverymuch.

I watched through a couple of old Kpop Music Mondays from EatYourKimchi and one video called this song “fanservice.” I’ll accept that. Honestly, though, this video is probably peak kpop of the era and they do the cutesy-boy look so well. That, plus the mispronounced English in the chorus, just makes the song endearing to me. Maybe only me, but in these days, anything that makes us cut loose for a while is a good thing, regardless of how cheesy it is.

Kpop Music Monday #18: Zico, “Any Song”

Today’s Music Monday is more about the dance than the actual song. I first heard Zico’s “Any Song” when a clip of him dancing with Mamamoo’s Hwasa was going viral on Instagram. You can find many videos of him with various stars by searching on YouTube.

Some of my students would start doing the dance and I had to just ignore them, lest they keep dancing and try to get me to start dancing.

The song itself is insanely catchy, proving Zico’s ability as rapper, singer, and songwriter.