NOW KPOPPING: Boy Bands A-Go-Go with Big Bang, Super Junior and TVXQ!

The last time I went on a KPOP kick on the blog, it was celebrating TVXQ! (or at least 2/5ths of them) and their incredible single that was/is/will always be "Why (Keep Your Head Down)". Luckily for me (and those of you who dig boy bands -- be honest!), South Korea is rife with them. The "idol scene" in Korea is literally full of boy bands of every type, style, sound, variety and member count. It all depends on who you prefer. Below represent the latest releases from some of Korea's most popular young men -- there's something for every fancy, I think. And be warned, my favorite isn't what you think it might be...well, who am I kidding?

BIG BANG - "Tonight"
This One's For You If You Dig: The Black Eyed Peas's last few discs (or at least the good parts of them), David Guetta, and unrelenting exciting  noisy dancefloor pop in general.

Allow me to welcome Big Bang into the Melismatic fold, as they were one of the most successful groups that I glazed over during my "introduction" to Korean pop music last January (can you believe it was that long ago?). The five member group made their debut back in 2006, under the YG Family entertainment group, which also brings us Se7en and my unadulterated favorite KPOP girl group 2NE1. YG is known, especially recently, for their more raucous, "street savvy" and trance-y dance floor sounds, and Big Bang fill the shoes as the label's requisite group of "bad boys". 

Unlike other labels (who shall remain anonymous...until in a few minutes at least), YG has stated time and time again that they dislike putting boundaries on their artists, whether it's on their sound as a artists or their permissions as members within that group. Big Bang has used this to their advantage in a myriad of interesting ways, with several of its group members releasing solo material. One of the most popular "sub"-releases by their members, while still very much a part of the group, was the works by the group's "leader", G-Dragon, who released his single "Heartbreaker" in 2009 to massive acclaim, and many foul cries when it was oft compared to Flo Rida's international hit "Right Round". More recently (as in just a few months ago), G-Dragon and resident rapper TOP (pronounced T-O-P...I think?) released a joint project that also fared well. 

The main reason why Big Bang were left wanting on my KPOP initial adoration list was mostly because of the gangster-ish (if you can call it) "swagger" (there's that word again) that they were attemping to embody. What can I say -- I generally like my boy bands where you can at least bring them home to Mama. They also weren't releasing material as a group when I first joined the genre. I was initially only drawn to the group's main crooner, Taeyang (think the Korean Usher) and his respective solo releases, mostly because they were considerably more R&B and less in-your-face. The one Big Bang song that did catch my ear was the Japanese based single, 2009's "Gara Gara Go!" -- a relatively safe, familiar, and earwormy little gem. 

However, Big Bang is back (and in Korea) as a whole in 2011, with their most recent mini-album release, Tonight, seeing release this past February. Much of the hype is fueled on the back of the main single, also titled "Tonight". While it does sound like two or three songs pieced together as one, as Big Bang is proving to be more and more a melting pot of styles and opinions than a cohesive group unit these days, it certainly holds no grudges on the dance floor. To say it's making noise in Korea is an understatement, as Big Bang was and remains to be one of the country's most popular young artists. What is interesting is it's impact around the world -- as the mini-album, available for purchase on iTunes, saw a HUGE rise in sales, making them the first Korean artist to hit the US iTunes Top 10 (it also went Top 10 on Canadian iTunes), AND made waves on several different Billboard Charts.

Remember what I said about the Hallyu Wave hitting America? Wake up, people. It's happening.


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SUPER JUNIOR - M - "Too Perfect"
This One's For You If You Dig: A more "on the nose" kind of boy band, along the lines of a 2011 version of up-tempo *NSYNC, if their member count was multiplied by three.

To talk about Super Junior's member count would literally take me all night. Technically, the main group, houses ten active members (and three more non-active ones), and the group is so large and has become so popular, it has spawned several "sub-groups". Super Junior-M, was crafted by parent company SM Entertainment (home of TVXQ!, Girls Generation, BoA and SHINee amongst others) in 2008, three years after the main Super Junior debuted, and is more geared toward being released in the Chinese market, with songs being released in Mandarin (hence the 'M'). The sub-group originally included five members from the original Super Junior, as well as two new members of Chinese descent. Since then, the group's "leader" (and former original Super Junior member) has waged a lawsuit against SM (and by all technical accounts has won) and returned to China to pursue a solo career, leaving him no longer a part of the group. In his absence, two members from the original Super Junior (why two and not just one, I don't know) have also been added to this line up for their current release, the mini-album Perfection.

Still with me? Good. Because the single from Perfection, "Too Perfect", is kind of the business. Check out the Chinese version below:


Admittedly, I'm not Super Junior's biggest fan, other than their incredible breakaway hit that was 2009's "Sorry Sorry" (king of the KPOP earworms), but thanks to yet ANOTHER SM sub-group that included SJ member Kyuhyun (also included in this sub-unit) alongside SHINee member Jonghyun called SM-The Ballad and their baby-making jam that is "Hot Times", I was forced to take a second look. That and group member Donghae (sings much of the first chorus in "Too Perfect") is just too adorable.

"Too Perfect" took a few spins to grow on me, but once it did, oh my how it's stuck. When I find myself spinning it, I end up spinning it ad naseum, over and over again into some distinct blackhole. I enjoy it mostly because, in a KPOP landscape that often is victim of repetition rather than artistic growth, "Too Perfect" sees a interesting turn in sound for the young men without polarizing their fan base with something too far off the mark. Perhaps it's because the only music I've really listened to from the Super Junior fandom is from its original lineup, and not of its subgroups, but "Too Perfect" (both it's Mandarin version and its Korean version -- in fact, in particular it's Korean version) is boatloads of zippy fun. Rather than being too four-on-the-floor-ish in terms of the back beat, laser synths heard in "Sorry Sorry" and their most recent big hit in their original formation "BONAMANA" are replaced with more crunchy electric guitars, giving it a bit of an almost twangy (meets dancefloor?) feel. The best part is the pre-chorus go-stop go-stop robotic bits before launching into the full swing chorus.

As if the song itself wasn't a good enough guilty pleasure, how about them outfits (and headwear) in that video, eh? Oh SM Entertainment's Style Department, you never let me down.

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TVXQ! (or HoMin for the OT5 Cassies) - "Before U Go"
This One's For You If You Dig: The more epic, swoony boy band ballads of yore, complete with very melismatic warbling.

Calling this my current favorite on the Korean pop music landscape is not bias when a tune of this caliber is being belted out by two very capable men. Period.

My fandom of TVXQ! has been well documented on this blog. I'm sure even the most casual of readers of my column are aware of my stanning of the five men that make up Dong Bang Shin Ki, no matter their lineup(s). "Why (Keep Your Head Down)" would be a difficult number for Yunho and Changmin (or rather, U-Know and Max, as they seem to appear on stage more as) to outdo, so rather than try to amp things up to 12, they dialed it down with the emotional mid-tempo ballad that is "Before U Go", released as a new single to fit with their recently repackaged release of Keep Your Head Down, the full album.

Sigh. Where do I begin. For a group potentially crippled by bad press and tearful potential, and a song that literally could read as a humdinger if performed with five-voice male harmony, the memories of past TVXQ! baby-making ballads is replaced with what HoMin is able to do so well as a duo. It's sweepy and epic, without the melodrama, and it's masculine without being callous or cliche. Some may argue I'm so overcome simply because Shim "Choikang/Max" Changmin does much of the vocal heavy lifting, demonstrating his frighteningly incredible vocal range time and time again. They would be partially correct. The vocal hysteronics are both goosebump-inducing (for yours truly) and a sullen reminder of what the duo TVXQ! lacks without three middle voices to flesh them out. It makes the song even more sharp and poignant.


Does it stack up to TVXQ!'s previous ballads (both in Korean and Japanese)? I should say so. To put it mildly. It's hardly an easy song to sing live, and yet they do it with their now seemingly omni-present hardened "charisma" stares, complete with seductive choreography performed with purpose and relative ease. It's hard to tear your eyes away, even if the visible passion in their eyes seems to have wilted a bit. If you don't believe me, take a gander at their recent Music Bank live performance.

Don't mind me while I surrupticiously wipe the drool from my keyboard. That, my friends, is KPOP done right. Better yet, it's pop music done right.

3 comments

rcLoy said...

Gawd, I was surprised to see Big Bang's Tonight at the Top 10 too but I gotta admit that the mini album is definitely one of the best release this year. Agree? LOL.

I can't get pass the Sorry, Sorry era of SuJu. Sorry mate. I remember Nikki had Hot Times in here best of 2010, that's how I know that song. Gorgeous ballad, the guy from SHINee can use less of a scream though. Haha.

Mel said...

Loy - I wouldn't call it the best, since it's only March. ( :p ) But I was very VERY pleasantly surprised by it. This is rare for me, I'm knew to the BB fandom. I was more shocked by liking the SJ song. I hear you on the "Sorry Sorry" bit, but it's the SM The Ballad guy that is totally selling SJ for on their vocal front. :) And TVXQ...no words. :)

The Prophet said...

I was disappointed by Tonight after the perfect epicness that was the GD&TOP and Seungri mini-albums.

I love Tonight and Cafe though, but the rest is just half-decent filler to me.

Seungri's mini was incredible.

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