With PSY having achieved billionaire/Bieber-destroyer status just in time for the holidays, here’s a mix of not-so-Gangnam s(e)oul jams to recap 2012 and usher in the new year. These aren’t quite for the club; they’re more for staying in — with your boo, or just you — and making it through the rest of the winter. And you’d better make it, because 2013 is gonna be the Year of the K-Dragon. (Silly rabbit, snakes are for planes.)
Curated by Ingmar Carlson of Shy Girls
Editor’s Note: Given the valued aesthetics of the K-Pop industry, each of these tracks is paired not only with a track and MP3, but a killer music video as well. Enjoy.
Jay Park – “Come On Over” // 박재범 – 놀러와
Turn off your phone, girl. Listen up. It’s Jay Park. Think of him as a 25-year-old Korean evocation of Usher, if you like, or even the solution to Frank Ocean’s inability to read Hangul. Ultimately, there’s little need to situate him, though; Park is truly a singular talent. He actually writes the bulk of his own material, and in the context of K-Pop, that rather lends him the carriage of a polar bear walking through a tropical rainforest. He’s also American, hailing from Seattle. Allen Huang of SSG Music and JKPOP! told me he was a childhood friend. One day his mother asked, “Whatever happened to your friend Jay?” He’d skipped town and become a star.
www.jaypark.com + www.instagram.com/jparkitrighthere
Jay Park – “Turn Off Your Phone” // 박재범 – 전화기를 꺼놔
BigBang – “Bad Boy” / 빅뱅 – “Bad Boy”
Naughty or nice, five-guy supergroup BigBang have certainly been the K-Boys of the year. The NYTimes called them the “true wild heart of K-Pop,” and Alive made it on fuse’s top 40 albums of 2012. “Bad Boy” is a masterpiece. Sure, “Fantastic Baby” will keep folks on the floor, and it’s perfect for rudely awaking your roomies, but it can be a bit much in your headphones. “Bad Boy” is truly a jam for all seasons. The MV is already a classic. It finds the boys in Williamsburg trying to kick it, albeit to no avail, with what looks like a choice selection of Russian supermodels. (Really, it’s only one instance of this hyper-urban-industrial MV style that YG Entertainment has been harping on lately. The “Blue” MV, for instance, is essentially the same idea. No sense in arguing over which is better. Your choice. Drop it on me.)
EXO – “What Is Love”
EXO is S.M. Entertainment‘s newest project, a prototype pitch at taking Chairman Lee Soo-man‘s theory of ,cultural technology’ to the next level. EXO actually conssts of two distinct detachments: EXO-K, which is the Korean contingent, and EXO-M, which is the Mandarin export, each made up of a specific set of six members. This shotgun method enables SM to tailor the same material to linguistically disparate markets with the utmost precision. It’s a novel strategy, even brilliant. (It’s also all you need to take your table tennis game to the next level, btw: a Chinese offense and a Korean defense.) That isn’t to say, however, that both versions of this track are equally successful; I do think the song works much better in Korean. The two iterations intimate something of the substantive phonetic unity of music and language. Just as in poetry, the identity of any lyrical-melodic idea in vocal music is inextricable from the language in which it is articulated: the phoneme, well before the word itself, is as much a part of the thought as its pitch and rhythmic placement. I suspect that this song was written first in Korean and later translated, which might be why the Mandarin sounds rather forced at times. That said, you gotta love the wushu-style moves in the Chinese edition of the video. For me it’s really been a toss-up between this and “Bad Boy,” and I’m leaning towards EXO.
exo-k.smtown.com + exo-m.smtown.com
TVXQ! – “Destiny” // 동방신기 – “Destiny”
Since their debut circa 2004, TVXQ (aka DongBangShinGi or “Rising Gods of the East”) have proven to be one of SM’s soundest investments. “Destiny” is one of the under-plugged standouts on their latest full-length Catch Me, and not least because of that kick and snare. It straddles the line between a true jam and pure balladry, weaving seamlessly from one idiom to the other. To be honest, when I put on Catch Me, I generally skip the title track/single and head straight for this and the other chiller (filler) spots on the record. It gives me the feeling that Chairman Lee hasn’t been playing his best mens’ strongest hand, though “Humanoids” might be enough to shut me up on that score.
tvxq.smtown.com + dbskconfessions.tumblr.com
BtoB – “U&I” // 비투비 – “U&I”
BtoB (Born to Beat) are Cube Entertainment‘s latest offering, “U&I” being one of my favorites off their second mini-album Press Play. K-Pop has managed to safeguard the delectable kind of acoustic guitar stylings that flourished in the peak years of ’90s pop and R&B, which have lamentably fallen into disuse. Wonder Girls’ “Girlfriend” (below) is another great example.
Super Junior – “From U” // 슈퍼주니어 – “너로부터”
I caught my first glimpse of K-Pop unwittingly, on a billboard in Seoul. It was an epic hi-def composite of a troop of model-level dudes with unrealistically well-did hair, accompanied by the moniker ‘Super Junior’ (a lot like this only bigger, better, and not a desktop wallpaper made by a Filipina Fangirl). I hadn’t the slightest idea what it referred to: a fashion label? a hair salon? a lifestyle? The answer came later while I was flipping channels at my hotel and stumbled upon a music network. There it was again. (If memory serves, it was “Mr. Simple” video. I was glued to the tube for at least two hours thereafter, and I’ve been addicted to the stuff ever since.)
Girls’ Generation – “Love Sick” // 소녀시대 – “Love Sick”
I initially conceived this as an all-K-Boy mix, but those hits at 1:08 virtually kicked the wind out of my musical chauvinism — with heels. I can’t get over those greasy gospel guitar gestures à la maniere d’Angelo. Girls’ Generation (aka SNSD) are bonafide K-Girl royalty. They figure heavily in The New Yorker’s article on K-Pop by John Seabrook.
Ailee – “My Love” (Feat. Swings) // 에일리 – “My Love” (feat. 스윙스)”
While rookie of the year Ailee’s debut single “Heaven” sounded something like K-Perry/K-Clarkson, “My Love” is a hidden gem that takes K-Girl R&B nearly to the point of period accuracy (i.e. Aileeyah) without sounding too ‘dated.’ The synth-bass and e-piano on this track are almost too good to be heard, Swings featured verse is right in the pocket, and Ailee’s delivery is absolutely exquisite. This is pure K–R&B gold.
www.facebook.com + www.ymcent.com
G.NA – “(Drop It (Cut It Off))” // 최지나 – “때려 쳐”
If I didn’t know any better I’d think this was Jay Park before the vocals came in. (The opener on Bloom does feature Jay, after all, so I suppose I wouldn’t be too off base.) G.NA is effectively his female counterpart, being Canadian-born–raised just across the border in Vancouver, BC — and those common roots show. Both betray a palpably new-world sensibility in their work. I wonder if they’d ever date (publicly). The global netizenry would soil itself.
Wonder Girls – “Girlfriend” // 원더걸스 – “Girlfriend”]
Perhaps no other K-Pop group has been as fiercely marketed in the States as Park Jin-young‘s flagship Wonder Girls. His dreams of crossover success have seen them on tour with the Jonas Bros, on a bill with Bieber, starring in Disney made-for-TV movie, and featuring Akon on a recent single (right). “Girlfriend” is one of the big hooks on their latest release Wonder Party, the smoother correlate to the dance-ready single “Like This”. The Girls are currently on an extended hiatus. Perhaps they’ll be back Stateside after the dust has settled from the BigBang (but by then things might look a whole lot different around here).
miss A – “If I Were a Boy” // 미쓰에이 – “남자 없이 잘 살아”
“If I were a boy it wouldn’t be this hard / If I’m over you I’d laugh after remembering nothing.” Hey girl, That’s sexist. Don’t sell yourself short. If you were a boy you’d be a shy girl, and I really mean that as a compliment. Besides, you’re an independent lady: you don’t need a man. All the same I’ve been thinking… Coffee some time? Also, are you really into Beyonce?
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