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 #20: NCT 127, “Superhuman”

I couldn’t tell you the names of all the members in this group. This group is actually a subunit of the larger group NCT (127 stands for the “longitudinal coordinate of Seoul”), and some members belong in more than subunit. Apparently the thought is that this could become a very large group with an unlimited number of members all across the globe. As I think I’ve mentioned before, having a larger pool of members also helps when male Korean nationals go off to do their mandatory military stint, as a way to keep the group performing and profitable in the absence of one or more members.

NCT was one of those groups that I knew “of” and could point out what their lightstick looked like but didn’t know anything else. They were first put on my radar when “Simon Says” came out, and it was a strange song that I immediately liked. It wasn’t until “Superhuman” dropped that I really started to look into the group.

The production value of “Superhuman” is through the roof, thanks to their entertainment label, SM, being one of the biggest powerhouses in Korea. Anyone who thinks that Korean pop music is all cheesy and bright and colorful should watch this video to have another view, that of Korean pop music videos utilizing technologically advanced CGI and unique costuming and dancing. I would also suggest watching with the captions on.

I can consistently name maybe four members of this ten-member group. Before I learned names, there was “that rapper who was featured on a Hitchhiker track,” “that other rapper who speaks English,” “Johnny aka the American,” “that one with the really high voice,” “that one who I found really attractive in this song but don’t know his name and the styling changed from that video so I can’t even point him out in the group’s latest track,” “I don’t know there’s a Japanese member I think?,” “there’s also that one member who everyone complains doesn’t get very many lines or screen time…”

Give me a few months and I’ll know all of their ideal types, favorite ice cream flavors, and blood types.

Since they’ve seem to exploded in popularity thanks to their recent single, I’ll add that below.

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.

Kpop Music Monday #17: BoA, "One Shot, Two Shot"

If you listen to Kpop, you should know BoA. Kwon Bo-a has been in the industry since she was the tender age of fourteen and I’m honestly not sure if she’s Korea’s version of Beyonce or Beyonce is America’s version of BoA.

BoA has released songs in three different languages and has proved successful in both Korea and Japan. I listened to the absolute shit out of her English-language album, although I was thoroughly appalled at what SM Entertainment thought American audiences would enjoy. (Bad CGI and trashy outfits?)

I chose “One Shot, Two Shot” because it showcases not only her singing but also her dancing skills. Plus, it’s a well-crafted and well-shot video.

If you’d prefer something completely in English, check out “Eat You Up,” posted below.

Basically… Stan BoA. She’s an amazing solo artist who manages to keep going and, somehow, keep improving her craft.

Kpop Music Monday #16: BTS, “On”

It’s the question I’m always asked once people find out that I like kpop.

“You know BTS?”
“Do you like BTS?”
“What’s your favorite BTS song?”

SO FINE I’LL WRITE ABOUT BTS YOU HAPPY?!

I’ve been listening to kpop for over ten years now, and I’m still scratching my head as to how this one band from a label that was not part of the “big three” (SM, JYP, YG) became so huge. One of the theories is that not only do their lyrics speak to the younger generation, but the group was active on social media and fans felt that they became close to the members.

My favorite song of theirs is probably “Fire,” although I remember when their video for “Dope” dropped. Back then, they were unknown to me and now it seems that everyone on the planet knows who they are.

My Music Monday today is their latest song “On.” It’s a rallying call to “bring the pain” because you “can’t hold me know cuz you know I’m a fighter.” In my first few weeks in Korean, listening to this song gave me a lot of hope because I was on an adventure that, despite wanting for ten years, was also going to be incredibly painful and new. Change is uncomfortable, but it’s where we grow as individuals. Especially being in Korea during the rise of Coronavirus, things here seem to be business as normal with a few changes, while back home in the States, people are losing their goddamn minds. Witnessing it from here has been a really unusual situation because even though I was there just a few weeks ago, I can’t imagine the current climate of empty shelves of toilet paper and Lysol wipes. Instead, my norm is wearing a face mask while on the bus to school and teaching students, while being surrounded by a language that feels both deeply familiar and yet totally unknown to me.

It’s an incredibly weird time for everyone, and I feel like I have each foot in a completely different world.

I’ll end this here with the Grand Central Terminal performance. Their live performances have turned many people into fans because they are incredible performers. Enjoy! It’s truly a spectacle to see.

Kpop Music Monday #15: iKon, “Love Scenario”

This song was reportedly banned in some Korean elementary schools because students wouldn’t stop singing it. The song later went on to win Song of the Year in 2018.

Any time this song came on the radio at work when my co-worker and I were playing Korean music, we would immediately stop what we were doing and garble the lyrics in Korean.

When this song came on at the bar last weekend, no fewer than four of us started singing it loudly over our shots of soju.

What a welcome to Korea.

Kpop Music Monday #14: Sunmi, “Gashina”

Hello everyone and sorry for missing last week’s Music Monday. I was understandably stressed out about my impending trip to Korea, but now that I’m here I can continue where I left off!

It’s only fitting that here I talk about my most listened-to song of 2018: Sunmi’s “Gashina.”

2018 was an interesting year for me, as I was set to start a new job around the same time that a long-term relationship ended, and I subsequently had to move out of our shared apartment. “Gashina” was the perfect song for all of my emotions, even when I first didn’t understand the lyrics. “I will live like the flowers, that’s who I am, can’t nobody stop me now, no try me…”

“Gashina” was a huge hit for Sunmi, who was one of the (original) members of the group the Wonder Girls, who you may remember as the group that got me interested in kpop. She’s gone on to release new music but nothing seems to have hit just as hard as “Gashina” did. Still, there’s no doubt that Sunmi is currently at the top of her game and we’ll continue seeing interesting tunes from her.