Kpop Music Monday #21: SHINee, “Married to the Music”

This is one of the videos that I make people watch when they begin to express interest in kpop. I want to show them that it’s not all cutesy, girly, or sexy concepts. Sometimes it’s just plain weird. And weird is good.

I fell on the SHINee band wagon pretty early on. Their song “Ring Ding Dong” was dropped and at first the horrible pronunciation really threw me off and I thought the song was stupid. And then I couldn’t get it out of my head. And then I started researching other songs by the group, to see if all their concepts were this silly. And a lot of them are.

How do I love SHINee? Let me count the ways…

SHINee has some of the best vocalists in kpop. SHINee has some of the best dancers in kpop. SHINee had Kim Jonghyun. SHINee had that Asian guy next to Melania Trump. Most of them have put out some amazing solo work. SHINee has some of the coolest concepts, amazing songwriting skills, great music, great fans… I could go on.

But I like this video because, to me, this is an extension of where the Backstreet Boys left off in 1997 with their video for “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).” You know the one: where they’re all in a strange mansion and urn into monsters? Yeah, that one. I mean, two of my favorite things: boy bands and weird stuff, in one awesome music video. SHINee proves that it’s still a winning combo into the 21st century.

SHINee is known to play around with their concepts and that’s part of the reason why I love them. Here’s a more light-hearted but still kinda weird video to end with:

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 #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.

Kpop Music Monday #12: 2NE1, “I Am the Best”

Ten years ago, if you asked about the reigning “girl crush concept” group, everyone would know that you were talking about 2NE1.

The “girl crush concept” typically portrays strong, independent women, the kind of girls girls want to be. They’re often seen getting their revenge on cheating boyfriends or chilling with their friends. For me, no one defines “girl crush concept” better than 2NE1.

This week’s Music Monday (a few days late) is their song “I Am the Best,” another easy song for non-kpop listeners to become addicted to. Even without knowing the lyrics, you can tell it’s an empowering song by the sheer amount of black, metal, and interesting animals they have on set.

2NE1’s rise and downfall is too exhausting to write in detail, but the group started fizzling even before member Minzy left the group. There was a drug scandal with Park Bom (as well as plenty of plastic surgery rumors), and the overall mismanagement of CL’s American debut. None of this dims 2NE1’s light as one of the founding girl crush concept groups, something that even YG Entertainment’s CEO is still chasing after, in “prettier” girl group BlackPink. (He really said that. Gross.)

As much as I love “I Am the Best,” my favorite 2NE1 song remains “I Don’t Care” to this day. All of their songs are bops, though, to be quite honest with you. I will forever be a Blackjack.

Kpop Music Monday #8: Mamamoo, “Wind Flower”

Let’s shake the skeleton outta the closet: many of us listening to kpop don’t understand Korean. If it’s not the lyrics that are resonating with us, then what is it?

Today’s Music Monday is one of my favorite songs by my favorite girl group. It’s a breakup song, but before I knew that, all I understood were the few phrases I could pick out in English and Korean. For lack of a better term, I loved the “color” of the song and it resonated deeply with me. The video is also beautifully shot and does a good job expressing the song’s emotional journey (such as illustrating the girls’ isolation by featuring them alone in busy street scenes).

2018 was a year of change for me. A long term relationship ended, which led to a new living space. Unhappy with where I was, I took a friend’s lead and moved to a different coffee company. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew who I was doing it with: myself. Oh, and my cat.

At some point, a little whisper came back to me. What if I… haven’t fully given up on the idea to move to Korea to teach English? It was an idea I had ten years ago that was abandoned for various reasons, but what if I couldn’t backtrack and try to do it now?

This song encapsulates what I hope for each day: that it gets better (day by day). It recognizes the pain that we suffer in hushed tones, but sings out loud anyways through it. Sometimes you don’t need to understand the lyrics to understand the message.

Drink soju. Eat ice cream. Be happy.

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.