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 #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 #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 #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 #13: EXO, “Call Me Baby”

Up next is a song that was originally called “Call Me Daddy” but that was, well, uh…

EXO is one of the powerhouse boy groups currently active. Honestly, it was hard to choose a song because I really, really love the video for “Overdose.”

Recently, it was announced that member Chen was not only in a relationship with a non-celebrity, but marrying said woman, and said woman was seven months pregnant with his kid. How does this happen?

Having been a kpop fan for going on ten years, and being a woman in her damn mid 30s, I am happy to see idols date and marry. It’s about time that more members of older groups start settling down and pursuing happiness outside the idol world, in whatever way they choose. I honestly don’t remember what I felt as a teenager and how I dealt with dating rumors, but I think most of us were actually rooting for Justin and Britney to stay together, and Jessica and Nick were #goals.

Cultures are different, and the way brands are marketed vary culture to culture. Mint M&Ms were a thing in the UK long before they came to the US, for example. We plaster our supermarket aisles with crappy magazines detailing the inner worlds of celebs, and nothing, it seems, is off limit.

In Korea, idol groups are brands unto themselves, and a lot of the appeal of an idol is their availability. These are not just good lookin’ men and women, but they are single and available and maybe if you buy enough of their albums, you’ll be able to “hi-touch” them at a fan sign event. People freak out when they discover that their idol might possibly be dating someone, so idols keep their dating lives secret. And then fans get upset that their idol kept their dating life secret, so it’s really a lose/lose situation.

People were angry when it was exposed that Chen was going to marry and be a daddy, some even called for his removal from the group. Their excuses are all silly, in my opinion: either it was exposed at the “wrong time” and distracted from the group’s events, or now the group would be unable to be seen as anything other than “that group with the dude who is about to be a married father.” Married people are unprofitable, I guess.

But wait, there’s more… Singer Lee Jae-Hoon also came forward to say he was married with two kids. He confessed that he actually got married in 2009, but it was only announced in 2020.

And Hyuna (formerly of 4Minute) and E’Dawn (formerly of Pentagon) were kicked out of Cube Entertainment when their relationship of two years was exposed.

Can we just do away with all this secrecy? As a fan, you should wish for happiness for the idols you hold dear. It’s okay to feel sad to hear that your favorite idol is dating someone you deem unworthy but only they know what’s best for themselves. I honestly hope that the idol culture changes as we see the second generation of kpop stars get older and become more open about their relationships.

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 #9: ReacttotheK

This week’s Music Monday features youtube channel ReacttotheK.

Back when I first started listening to kpop, it wasn’t popular. At all. No one could understand just why I loved it so much, especially since I didn’t speak Korean. Had this channel been around then, I would have felt a lot less alone and had some armor to fight with. Sometimes good music is really just… good music.

The channel is fairly straight-forward: a group of classical musicians sit down and are shown a kpop music video. Some members are regulars and might be familiar with the groups shown, and others are approaching the genre for the first time.

It’s so refreshing to see people who know music theory be surprised by a tempo change, or give a reason why you loved that one particular part of a song.

What I appreciate the most about the channel is the carefully curated songs that they react to. Some songs aren’t necessarily that musically interesting or ground-breaking but may be a fan favorite so just one or two of the guys (usually the founder Umu and another guest) will react to it; other songs are chosen because they are

Take a listen below to hear some of the musicians playing a kpop medley from 2018!

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 #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

Kpop Music Monday #2: TVXQ, “Mirotic”

In early 2010, I discovered a group known as TVXQ. Or Tohoshinki. Or DBSK. Or Dong Bang Shin Ki. (“Rising Gods of the East.”) It was actually a Japanese release called “Break Out” that introduced me to the then-five member boy group. Korean artists often release Japanese remakes of their music, as well as original Japanese language albums.

This Japanese release by TVXQ was unusual for several reasons. The song was dark and electronic, and the video was even literally darker, with the members brooding around a post-apocalyptic city of some sort. During the chorus, the members fend off masked villians, and there’s spiders and even creepy looking children.

It takes a second viewing of the video to realize that none of the members are ever in the same shot. Three of the members (Junsu, Yoochun, and Jaejoong) were then embroiled in a lawsuit with their record label, SM Entertainment, accusing them of having a “slave labor contract” with long hours and little pay. 2009 was the last year that TVXQ promoted as five members, having been formed in 2003.

I loved “Break Out” so much that I decided to binge-listen to every song that TVXQ had ever released. One stands above all, and that is “Mirotic,” a song once banned from public broadcast in Korea due to the lyrics, “I’ve got you under my skin.” (They changed it to “I’ve got you under my sky” to perform.)

Ten years later and the song still gives me goosebumps. The video is another dark one, with the boys captured by a woman dressed in red. The video production value is great, and the outfits are simple as to not distract from the iconic dance moves. (Speaking of iconic, listen for Changmin’s scream at roughly 2:30 in.)

The fandom name for TVXQ was Cassiopeia, and it was the first fandom that I found myself in. Fandoms work much differently in Kpop than in American pop–there are official names, official colors, lightsticks, events… Back when I was in middle school, the Backstreet Boys fighting it out over N’Sync and Buffy the Vampire Slayer for door space was the only representation of a proper “fandom” that most of us had. I had fallen for a group that would no longer be performing as five-members, but two: Changmin and Yunho, as the other three formed a much-less successful group, JYJ.

I consider TVXQ to be a pretty good group to visually show the bridge between the first generation of Kpop and the second. Their first releases were grungy and futuristic (“Tri-Angle” and “Rising Sun”) as well as softer and cutesy (“Hug” and “Balloons”). The fact that the remaining two members continue to release good music (“Spellbound” and “The Chance of Love”) while we are in the third generation of Kpop is really awesome.