Kpop Music Monday #41: AleXa, “Bomb”/”Wonderland”

I’m unsure how many of my readers are from the US, but if you are, you may have seen a clip or two from American Song Contest. Based on Eurovision, it pits all 50 states (and territories!) against one another in a song competition. It was hosted by Snoop Dogg and Kelly Clarkson.

Its contestants seem to run the gamut from being well-established artists in their own right to up-and-comers. The winner, hailing from Oklahoma, was probably someone that you’ve never heard of, but if you’re into Kpop, you should definitely know who she is.

Her name is AleXa, and her music brand is cyber-punk pop (not punk-pop, that’s another thing). Her videos feature lots of shiny lights, robotic doohickeys, lasers… It’s much more sci-fi than we’ve seen in Kpop.

AleXa is notable because she was born and raised in Oklahoma, the daughter of a Russian-American and a Korean adoptee, making her half Korean. There are a handful of half-Korean and not fully Korean Kpop idols, but none that have made it this far on an American singing show.

AleXa has great stage performance and is an incredible dancer and I hope to see what else she has in store for us!

Kpop Music Monday #40: Eric Nam, “Can’t Help Myself”/”I Don’t Know You Anymore”

Years ago, I missed out on an Eric Nam show in Washington, DC because of strep throat and I’ve been angry about it ever since.

You can’t talk about kpop and its international appeal without mentioning the likes of individuals like Eric Nam, whose straddling of cultures and multi-lingual abilities help bring Korean music to the world that doesn’t speak Korean. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Eric got his “big break” when a music cover he did went viral on YouTube and he was invited to participate in a Korean talent show.

He’s been lauded for his numerous interviews with Korean and non-Korean celebrities, has gone on several successful world tours, is currenly on podcast number two, hosted Arirang TV’s After School Club (a kpop show broadcast all over the world), was virtually married to Mamamoo’s Solar in “We Got Married,” and is behind the infamous “Your dog speaks Chinese?” clip.

His most recent release was an English album which had this gem on it:

Kpop Music Monday #39: Pink Fantasy, “Tales of the Unusual”/”Poison”

I had saved this group’s “Lemon Candy” video in my “Kpop Forever” YouTube playlist but found it to be your run-of-the-mill rookie-group-from-a-small-company music video so I didn’t add it to my song playlist or even look into the group further. I figured this was their concept: cute, bubbly, highly-saturated and colorful. It didn’t even register that one of the members was wearing a cat mask.

At some point, their video for “Tales of the Unusual,” specifically the Zombie version, popped up on my feed and maybe it’s because I love strange, macabre things, or maybe because it’s just so unusual to have such a concept in Kpop, but I was instantly hooked. They have a so-called “normal” version of the song, but the zombie makeup fits so well with the spooky song that it has over 3 times the number of views (308k to 74k).

And about that girl with the cat mask on… Her name is Daewang and her identity is unknown. In the early stages of the group, she wore a massive white rabbit head and the concept of the group was something like Alice in Wonderland, with Daewang being the (literal) white rabbit. No one knows who she actually is, but it’s been theorized that she’s none other than the CEO of the company the girls are under, MyDoll Entertainment’s Lee So Hee. So Hee was an idol prior to establishing MyDoll Entertainment, going under the name Chie in one group and Yumi in another.

Unlike other groups, the group also has a very large age-gap between members, with Daewang’s birth year being 1989 and the maknae’s 2005.

Ever since Dreamcatcher took home their first win on “Show Champion” with their song “Maison,” whose group’s concept is heavier and more rock-based than most kpop, I’d like to say that there’s room in kpop for edgier concepts and harder-hitting music. And I think Pink Fantasy would fit well in that mold.

Bonus video:

Kpop Music Monday #39: Jamie, “Pity Party”

Jamie’s “Pity Party” is perhaps a far cry from her debut stage in 2011 as part of a music competition show called Kpop Star. (You can watch her cover of “Irreplaceable” here. Spoilers: she won the competition.) We love to see a good comeback and an artist that has come into their own.

Though she was born in Korea and Korean is her mother tongue, she spent 8 years living in Thailand and attending an international school. She apparently prefers speaking in English, so it makes sense that her discography features English songs. A question I cannot answer: is it still Kpop if it’s a language other than Korean? Is it Kpop solely because it’s pop music sung by a Korean artist, and what then of Korean-hyphen artists, or even Chinese artists who sing in Korean?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Jamie is here to do whatever the hell she wants, and we respect her for it.

Kpop Music Monday #38: Everglow, “Pirate”

Sometimes you hear a song and it just resonates with you. Suddenly you find yourself singing and dancing along to it over and over and over again and you can’t figure out exactly why this song has such a hold on you.

“… cuz I’m a pirate, yeah yeah…”

This will be one of my most-played songs of 2022. I’m a little mad that the line distribution is pretty bad, with one member getting most of the lines and a lot of screen time while another member is quiet for most of the song, but this song is still a bop.

Kpop Music Monday #37: G(I-DLE), Tomboy

Truth be told, I don’t know much about (G)I-DLE. Like how to properly say their group’s name. I recognize the rapper, who has featured in other songs and is apparently a very good songwriter and producer, producing some of the group’s tracks herself, and know that there was another member who quit the group after a scandal broke that she bullied some of her classmates. Other than that, though, I don’t really follow this group. Or “stan” them, as we would say in the Kpop community.

The bullying scandal is nothing new in the world of Korean celebrities. Many a celebrity have been accused of bullying in their middle and high school days, and it often ends with either a teary-eyed apology letter or stone-faced denial. There’s also something to be said about the cyber-bullying that tends to occur once the scandal breaks, not of the victim in question but of the alleged bully themselves, sometimes leading to a person’s departure from a group or being dropped from a sponsorship. (What is to be said, however, I’m not sure. Obviously bullying is bad but sometimes the vitriol that comes after the scandal seems worse than the alleged bullying. Let’s hold people accountable for their actions, but also acknowledge that people can grow and learn.)

Bullying is a big deal in Korea and I admit I don’t know much about it, teaching at a hagwon rather than a public school. I’ve dealt with some minor bullying, such as a boy calling his classmate an idiot for getting vocabulary test answers wrong, but nothing of the nature that is being called to attention by people who grew up with celebrities. This is a good article that briefly discusses the topic.

But back to the video!

The English in this video is not that great (“sometimes we swear without cigarettes”?), but holy moly, did they just drop an English curse word in the chorus?! Yes they did! You can even hear it in the uncensored version. Not only did they switch it up with a concept change, but they went all out and didn’t just change their hair colors and call it a day. (Here’s another song for you.)

I can dig it.

Kpop Music Mondays #36: Got7, “Encore”

On January 19th, 2021, I got the news that my favorite kpop group, Got7, had officially departed from their label, JYP Entertainment.

I meant to write about it because it was a huge thing, but I either couldn’t find the time or simply didn’t know what to say. This wasn’t a disbandment, this wasn’t a member or two not renewing their contract… the entire group just decided to part ways with their label.

As far as I know, nothing like this has happened in kpop. You’ve had groups that have sued for their contracts to be nullified before renegotiating their rights to a new company (Block B), and you’ve had groups where individual members have departed (there are too many of those to list here), and sued and departed (there are also too many of those to list here), and you’ve had one group launch their own label and rename themselves (Highlight, formerly Beast) but to have an entire group just… pop off was something new.

Got7 turned around and dropped a new single on us shortly after the news, appropriately titled, “Encore.”

Now, I won’t be one of those wide-eyed, naive kpop fans. I know that the likelihood of me going to a Got7 concert with all members present is now a pipe dream. With each member being picked up by different agencies, we get to see the members blossom into their own while remaining part of the group–a group that transcends record labels, a group of 7 ridiculously talented, good-looking, and altogether weird guys. Unlike a lot of kpop groups, these guys seem like they’ve created a family.

And from what we’ve seen of the guys in 2021, I think they’ll do just fine on their own.

Everything about you was a gift
Remember that
Right now too, all of you

We will sing for you
We will sing for you
Encore! Encore!

Kpop Music Monday #35: Lee Hi, “Breathe”

Kim Jonghyun, wearing a white sweater, blue jeans and a wide brim hat, sits and sings into a microphone

This past Saturday marked the 4th anniversary of the death of one of kpop’s brightest stars, Kim Jonghyun. We still hold space for his spirit; we still listen to his music when we’re feeling lonely at the end of a hard day.

This Kpop Music Monday is Lee Hi’s “Breathe,” which Jonghyun wrote for her.

There is another, harder to watch version I’ve linked below, a special stage at the 32nd Golden Disc Awards that sees Lee Hi have to break away from singing to compose herself before continuing the song.

Lyrics from azlyrics.com:

Take a deep breath
Until both sides of your heart get numb
Until it hurts a little
Let out your breath even more
Until you feel
Like there’s nothing left inside
It’s alright if you run out of breath
No one will blame you
It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes
Because anyone can do so
Although comforting by saying it’s alright
Are just words

Someone’s breath. That heavy breath
How can I see through that?
Though I can’t understand your breath
It’s alright I’ll hold you

It’s alright if you run out of breath
No one will blame you
It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes
Because anyone can do so
Although comforting by saying it’s alright
Are just words

Someone’s breath. That heavy breath
How can I see through that?
Though I can’t understand your breath
It’s alright I’ll hold you

Even if others think your sigh
Takes out energy and strength
I already know
That you had a day that’s hard enough
To let out even a small sigh
Now don’t think of anything else
Let out a deep sigh
Just let it out like that

Someone’s breath. That heavy breath
How can I see through that?
Though I can’t understand your breath
It’s alright I’ll hold you
You really did a good job

A baby pink-haired Kim Jonghyun, wearing a pink and white patterned suit, sings into a microphone on stage

정말 수고했어요

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 #34: Bibi, “The Weekend”

Today’s Kpop Music Monday is a song entirely in English, a collaboration between Korean singer Bibi and 88rising, an “American multinational music company.”

You can read about the company in this Paper article.

88rising “provides not only the cultural support, but also the strategic and technical know-how to help emerging Asian artists cross over in an efficient but meaningful way.”

The reason I’m posting about this song for Music Monday is quite simply because it’s a total bop and has been on repeat on my playlist ever since I discovered it. Bibi has a beautiful, unique voice, and I’ve enjoyed past releases of hers.

And in case you want to listen to “The Weekend” again, check out this alternative official music video:

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?