Kpop… A year and some months ago, I was going through a dry phase design-wise. I was listening to the same old music my mp3 player had been spewing at me for years and hadn’t added any new songs in a while. Thankfully, around that time I discovered this guilty pleasure of mine: Korean pop.
Kpop is essentially what Motown used to be: a company trains and “fabricates” young people into becoming a whole nation’s idols, who actually have very little say in how they present their music to the masses. Some of them aren’t actually vocally talented but rather “visuals” in the group; others are better dancers than they are singers. Each of the groups’ members bring different talents to the stage, but quite often it is those different colours that make the group stand out from others. Also, let’s just say this: I have never seen a hip-hop music video with less blatant sexualisation than in a Korean music video. And still, it blew my mind. I’ll leave you to chew on that.
Here are some music videos that may inspire you, as they inspire me. Either the music itself or the video will be inspiration, but either way, welcome to my world.
BIGBANG – Gojitmal (Lies)
BIGBANG is possibly one of the most popular idol groups in South Korea – and with reason: they stand out from the masses. Originally criticised for their lack of visual appeal (I mean what?) and for their genre of music (hip-hop/rap/r&b), this is the song that helped them climb to the top in 2007, and they haven’t really come down since, much to the consternation and befuddlement of those who clearly thought they’d just be “one hit wonders”. Singers and dancers they are not just. Each of them brings a different colour to the group, from writing to producing to powerful raps and soft vocals to powerful belting, and so on. Oh, and acting, and fashion-forward thinking, and just general guts. I really admire them. And they are about to have their “comeback” onto the music scene and I can’t wait to see what they’ve cooked up!
DAESUNG – Lunatic
Technically this should be classified as k-rock, but this does feature Kang Daesung, from BIGBANG. Also, technically, this is not really a music video as it is a scene from the musical drama What’s Up (watch it here with English subtitles – and yes, it’s totally legal), in which Daesung plays a troubled youtube singer whose identity he keeps hidden under a mask and the stage name Hades. This was a scene in the drama where they introduced his character – I love the trips into his psyche via those drawings and images of his past. Ah, and if you’re wondering why the fans have balloons in the concert cuts, that is because Koreans assign fanclub balloon colours to their idols.
BOA – Hurricane Venus
Leader of the kpop wave, pretty much: she was one of the first Korean artists to make a successful leap into the Japanese industry. This video is fairly reminiscent of some of Lady Gaga’s but don’t be fooled, BoA isn’t trying to be her.
DBSK – Survivor
This song’s actually in Japanese, but indeed they are Korean idols, and they also made the leap into Japan quite successfully, although it took some time for them to take off properly. Unfortunately, three of them left the group, suing their company in the process, and have now formed a new group called JYJ under another company. They’re worth a google search, although please, please stay away from their attempt at breaking into the American market. Ayy Girl? Er, not thanks, boys.
SUPER JUNIOR – Neo Kateun Saram Ddo Eopseo (No Other)
If you ever go to Korea, do not, I repeat, do not talk trash about Super Junior. Okay? Okay. Because they are the nation’s idols. They are the favourite. They are the princes of kpop. They are untouchable. Even if you don’t think so. Which I don’t. But you won’t hear me say that for the next year! I mean, I don’t hate them or anything, but they’re everywhere! I really mean it. I watch a Korean variety show? There’s Shindong and Eunhyuk and Leeteuk. There used to be Heechul, too, before he left for the army where Kangin’s still serving. I watch a drama? There’s Siwon and Donghae and Kibum, whom everyone believes has quit on the group. I mean, they don’t mean to be annoying. No, they just want to be in your face. At all costs. Leeteuk’s even maximising on his time left before the army to make an especially gigantic splash on every freaking variety show ever. Enough is enough! But, anyhow, this here is one of my favourite songs by this group. Yes, of 13 boys. Or was it 11 then. I forget. Let’s see: Leeteuk, Yesung, Heechul, Kangin, Siwon, Shindong, Hangeng, Kyuhyun… and, er, Donghae, Ryeowook, Sungmin, Kibum, Eunhyuk… I think that’s it. So let’s count: yup, 13. Their peak. I believe this is also the last song that Hangeng participated on before he up and sued their company for racism (he’s Chinese) and other such reasons. But this song, this song… I like it. It’s real. It’s genuine. It’s beautiful. And the video reflects that. None of the fantastic electric electro-pop they’ve been blasting recently. Not that I hate electro-pop. I just know that this type of music here is what they do best.
GD&TOP – Bboekigayo (Knock Out)
You might remember these two from BIGBANG’s Lies video… and you’d be right (if you didn’t, that’s all right. The hair is shocking enough, I know). These two created a sub-group in 2010 to do something a little different from what BIGBANG usually offers. Cool. But even cooler is this music video: it’s insane. From ass chairs (I’m not kidding!) to Be@rbrick dolls and dizzying segways… yeah, this one’s a visual headcase! And I love it. Oh, and it’s a collaboration with Diplo. The music itself didn’t originally impress me much, but it grows on you.
2NE1 – Naega Cheil Chal Naga (I Am The Best)
These girls literally exploded onto the music scene in 2009 when labelmates BIGBANG collaborated with the girls, who hadn’t yet debuted at the time, to do a music video-slash-advertising for a cellphone (see: Lollipop). The song was never actually sold on an album, but I believe it’s still the highest-grossing ad track in Korea. When the girl’s debut track Fire was released, consequently, everyone and their mother knew the girls… meaning that their debut was rather smooth sailing, and they collected quite a few trophies come awards season. That said, two years later I Am The Best came out, solidifying their status as queens of all-kill-tracks (i.e. their tracks grabbing #1 repeatedly).
PARK BOM – Don’t Cry
The second solo song by 2NE1’s main vocalist, Park Bom. I love the setting: very Alice in Wonderland, don’t you think? While You and I never fails to make me cry, this one is rather more peaceful, though no less haunting. Some have theorised that Don’t Cry is the sequel to You and I… Speculate away!
CO-ED – Bbiribom Bberibom
Now, this one… it’s just insane… literally! Let’s just say that if I were to be locked up in an asylum I’d rather end up in this funhouse than anywhere else!
G-DRAGON – Butterfly
I dig this video so much, you have no idea. Not the song, so much, because it makes me sleepy. When I’m working I don’t want to be falling asleep; I want something to pep me up, give me a party in my head. But the artwork in this video is gorgeous. And right out of Alice in Wonderland. So inspiring. And the symbols? Lots of theories have been drawn about pretty much everything in this video. Want to give it a try? Speculate away.
Who wants to stay a kid forever? Me! Yeah, okay, so this song’s about this theme of eternal youth. What’s interesting and ironic is that one of their first (if not THE first) singles was about them wanting to be treated like grown-ups. Ha! All right, so I dig this song. The video doesn’t necessarily mirror the “youth” theme but I nevertheless dig. You might, too.
B.A.P. – Warrior
These are nugus (rookies). They literally debuted this month with this song. May I say, what an excellent choice. It takes no prisoners. Excellent beat, I love the stomping, and the vocals are outstanding. What more would you want? This is the kind of music that keeps me pumped up when I’m working.
SUNNY HILL – Pray
A gentle, sorrowful song with a creepy vibe that’s thoroughly emphasised in the music video. A severely deformed man is treated like a circus freak and forced to wear a mask to hide his hideous features before he is even imprisoned to hide him from humanity. This video was banned in Korea for portraying abuse, but frankly I believe it’s a realistic, albeit disturbing, view of society today: aren’t we all becoming sadistic, less human by hiding that which makes us true? Food for thought. Not at all a very enjoyable music video, but definitely worth a look-see. Makes you think.
BROWN EYED GIRLS – Cleansing Cream
This one brings tears to my eye. A woman discovers her blind younger sister is falling in love with her husband when she discovers her wearing makeup to please her husband. Fury, embarrassment and her woman’s pride make her lash out and try to drown her little sister until she realises the horror of her own actions. Some interpret the video differently: the blind girl’s near-drowning represents the grown woman’s loss of innocence. Last parting words? So good.
TROUBLEMAKERS (4Minute’s Hyuna & BEAST’s Hyunseung) – Troublemaker
Less thought-provoking but dayum that groove. I enjoy. The premise in this one is pretty straightforward but it’s flirty and fun and dangerous and… yep, kind of like Mr and Mrs Smith…