Thursday, January 22, 2015

NOW KPOPPING: JongHyun Vs. YongHwa; Sexy Girl Groups

I last talked KPOP back in October and that was mostly just about my (SM) faves. To some, I know it seems I may have fallen off the KPOP Ledge and back in to the Western World -- and you might be a little bit right. 2014 was a crazy year for KPOP, especially for my favorite artists. The appeal has waned for me because many of the artists I adored were in hiatus or left in limbo. But here I am making a promise to you KPOP-loving readers I will try my hardest to get back on the bandwagon -- and if you have any suggestions of artists to check out, let a girl know.


When the news first broke of SHINee's lead vocal (and my favorite voice of the group) Jong Hyun would be making a stab at the solo market, I was stoked. I was even more stoked when he openly said he didn't intend to go the all ballads route like I initially feared.

His debut solo EP, Base, dropped this past week and...I'm really mad that I'm not into it. It's not that it's bad -- quite the contrary. It just weirds me out that I was more into maknae Taemin's solo offering (Ace) last year than Jong's. I'm glad he's putting out material he clearly is into and the fact that he wrote all of the lyrics to this project isn't something that should be slighted. Jong remains to be a rarity in the nameless idol game and this album takes him one step closer to the longevity in the music business that I know he craves. But when it comes to me -- I just wasn't into it. And that makes me sad. Sigh. But 2015 will bring us a new SHINee record, right? Right?

In terms of what was a surprise was the pitting of another "boy band" member going solo against Jong. CN BLUE, known as a pop/rock idol band with a slightly more serious (read: no choreography) approach to teen pop music, has had handful of great tunes that I've enjoyed ("Hey You", "I'm A Loner") but it was mostly due to me being utterly charmed by Jung Yong Hwa, the group's leader, lead vocalist, and guitarist. Yong was featured on the omnisicent Korean "reality" comedy We Got Married with the baby of Girls' Generation Seohyun and it was there that he really shined in terms of his personality and likability. He offered up a new solo single this week in "Mileage", featuring rapper YDG, and while the song itself is relatively serious and midtempo, the video is really quirky. 

As much as I stan for Jong and my loverholic robotronic SHINee boys, I'm giving this round to YongHwa.



For what seemed like the longest time, girl groups in KPOP were allowed to have one inherent concept: either be cutesy or be sexy. One or the other. No in betweens. And when I say one or the other, it had to be extreme in whichever direction you decided to take.

In 2014, the lines officially began to blur. Sure, we had 2NE1 come in back in 2009 and smash down preconceived notions of who a South Korean girl group could be in the pop world and there were plenty of groups that tried to mimic their success but fast forward to now and you see a variety of fresh girl groups using a handful of familiar ingredients and mixing them together to feel much more real as artists and women than before.

It's not to say that boy bands aren't also guilty of hiding behind generic sex appeal (who do you think you're talking to, here). But when it comes to the girls, its much more black and white -- and I think now Korea is starting to realize that girl groups can be a little more...well, grey.

EXID is a great example. They initially debuted in 2011 and had lots of potential. In 2013, half of the group (literally half!) left the group in favor of joining a fresh gal group called BESTie that is also currently still active. The remaining three members of EXID recruited two new girls and this past summer released the cut "Up & Down" -- a catchy dance song with ballsy rap, sexy choreography and a head-scratcher of a video. The song initially was a total flop but due to the wonder that is social media and viral marketing, it was boosted back up the charts months after it was released. This is definitely not something happens in the KPOP marketplace. Currently, the song is still actively being promoted and recently placed first in on Music Bank.

Being sexy in a video is a no brainer. It's nothing new; nothing we haven't already seen. But blowing and wiggling (vaguely phallic) balloons is pretty freaking ballsy (and hysterical) for the Korean Teen Idol game. There's a difference between an artist owning her sexuality and just using it as click bait.

You can absolutely look at EXID as Survivors in a notoriously shallow Girl Group game and can also compare them to another girl group -- TAHITI -- who recently dropped a brand new song called "Phone Number". On paper, the song is catchy, sexy, and shows off some talented vocals. Its much akin to the doo-wop-pop sound heralded by Meghan Trainor here in the States. But when you take a peek at the video, the appeal of the song gets drowned by the utterly blatant sex appeal offered up -- much of which was identified with EXID's "Up & Down" (the painted on leather pants, the bending-over choreography). 

Sex appeal can be critical but what I like so much about a group like EXID is its just one part of a song they are promoting rather than being the sole marketing strategy. In fact, much of the sexuality in "Up & Down" also lends itself to humor, making the group feel much more human than just sexy girls dressed up to coo and seduce.

My girls in MAMAMOO also have their style down to a science. Their latest, "Piano Man", feels intrinsically sexy without super sexually-charged choreography or barely there outfits. And don't you dare forget the fact that they can really sing -- something that should be commended outright.

Personally, I feel like if an artist can offer up more in a pop song than just a gimmick, I'm here for it. If KPOP falls prey to anything, it's being caught up the machine of constant output that the performer itself is put on a back burner. Maybe 2015 will be the year that KPOP Girl Groups get the memo that you can be a fun, relatable group and put out fun songs -- rather than just carbon-copied "concepts".

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