Welcome to ATK’s newest column, K-pop 5s! Served like a five-course meal, each article promises to be highly nutritious for K-pop veterans and newbies alike!
Good day ATK readers! Thanks for checking out the opening article of ATK’s newest K-pop column, K-Pop 5s! This week, I’ll be sharing with you my top five comebacks of (the first half of) 2014.
For those new to the vernacular, ‘comeback’ in K-pop is essentially the ‘return’ of an existing K-pop act, often in the form of a new album and spearheaded with a music video or two, or in some cases, more. Yep, for some it’s ‘go hard or go home!’ In addition, they take these releases to the stage and promote for several weeks on live television, a period during which they may win a few awards if they rank high (and long) enough on the charts. The term ‘comeback’ is a bit of a misnomer though, because it describes the duration an act is musically active until they’re, well, not. But that’s a debate for another day.
For these picks, I disregarded its progress on the charts and focused more on something arbitrary: simply put, appeal. Like any type of music, that ‘wow’ factor is more or less subjective to personal opinion and circumstance. There are some amazing K-pop releases with not-so-amazing music videos; while there are those with an unforgettable beat but lyrics that make you glad (or wish) you didn’t understand Korean. In my eyes, a recipe for a really awesome comeback is when there is sophistication to not just the music video and just the track, but in the way they compliment one another to make a nice and tight, well-rounded package. Of course, it helps when there’s something differentiating it from the rest of the K-pop pack at any given time, but again, it’s in the eyes of the beholder. Hear me out and check out what I have to say for my picks below.
(Note: These five are not ranked in any particular order because that’s just too stressful.)
Taeyang – Eyes, Nose, Lips (눈,코,입)
Released June 2014
Sometimes, the most beautiful things lie in its simplicity. This is exactly what Taeyang of megastar group BIGBANG had in mind as he was cooking up the title track of his second studio album ‘Rise’. The intention for which he himself explained is all about the rawness of emotion. Taeyang nailed it with the intimate nature of not just the lyrics, but of the music video. As you watch, notice how the entire production is a single shot, starting with the crooner’s close-up and eventually closing with a wider camera frame. Even as the special effects come in, the burst of flames towards the end, there are no cuts whatsoever. A convincing portrayal of honesty and realness, ‘Eyes, Nose, Lips’ is Taeyang stripping himself down on many levels to unveil an unedited performance with soulful delivery of a personal confession, and, let’s not kid ourselves, a beautifully sculpted upper body.
2NE1 – Gotta Be You (너아님안돼)
Released April 2014
I always find myself drawn particularly to avant-garde concepts in K-pop; but as there is that thin line between cheap and quirky, unorganized and meticulously planned, it somehow has to be done right. As the trendsetters of K-pop republic, 2NE1 is often deemed royalty among girl groups. What I love so much about this release is that it strikes the perfect balance between eccentric and deliberate – lying beneath the pretty colors and catchy beat is a recurring motif of contrast and contradiction. At the very least, you have the music video itself oscillating between bright, neon color burns and monochromatic scenes. Clashing emotions of hate and love towards an ex make up the melancholy lyrics, which conflict with the loud visuals. Slow verses transition into a fast-paced chorus; and adding a nice touch are the occasional English annotations supplementing the Korean singing.
Orange Caramel (오렌지캬라멜) – Catallena (까탈레나)
Released March 2014
As we’re on the topic, here’s one girl group particularly known as the face of avant-garde in K-pop. Diverging from the sexiness usually assumed by their main group After School, sub-unit Orange Caramel has donned cute with an idiosyncratic flavour ever since their debut in 2010. (Fun fact: their concept plays off the lolita fashion trends popularized in Japan). This latest release differs from most as it takes the perspective of a girl lamenting her double-edged jealousy of another, the ‘Catallena’, whom the lyrics suggest is temperamental and pretentious yet magnetizes those around her. The comical music video aside, what’s also really cool about this disco-like track is the fact it samples a popular Hindi folk song ‘Jutti Meri’, from which some of the lyrics are retained: “Jutti meri, oye hoi hoi; paula meri, oye hoi hoi!” Now that’s what I call a pretty sweet (pun very much intended) twist.
SPEED (스피드)– Why I’m Not? (왜난꼭)
Released February 2014
I tend to steer clear of angst in K-pop simply because many of those to which I have been exposed were more face-palming than heartbreaking, but I’ll have to give it to SPEED for being an exception. Placing aside the blatant ‘wow-you-tore-out-my-soul-and-slammed-it-to-the-ground-you-evil-witch’ nature of the lyrics, the music video for ‘Why I’m Not?’ feels really authentic. I blame it on the effects of the pseudo-continuous camera shot and the female lead for her excellent acting (she looks so legitimately pissed it scares me), but also the natural layout and course of the production. There is nothing fancy about the set nor the members’ getups and shares of screen time, insofar as to allow the song itself and its emotional delivery to take center stage. As a self-confessed fan of the group, I even daresay slow to mid-tempo tracks fit SPEED’s style (see ‘Pain, The Love of Heart (통증)’ and ‘That’s My Fault/Sad Promise (슬픈약속)’) better than those that are upbeat (please never see ‘Don’t Tease Me (놀리러간다)’ and ‘Zombie Party(좀비파티)’).
Follow SPEED on Twitter: @CCM_SPEED
Block B (블락비) – Her
Released July 2014
If I were to give this comeback a score out of a hundred, I’d rate it a million. To reiterate what I recently said to a friend, “how Block B manages to turn a seemingly conventional love song into another huge idiot fest is beyond me.” And I say that with all the love in the world. Block B has this unique aura of comedy and chaos that they cannot escape even if they tried – just check out their previous works of ‘Jackpot (잭팟)’, ‘Very Good (베리굿)’, and ‘Nillili Mambo (닐리리 맘보)’, foot-stompers released over the last year that earned them their akdong (‘devilish’ – again, nothing but love!) reputation among K-pop fans. (That and their notorious tendency to wind up in a controversy (or ‘controversy’) almost every time they return to the stage.) This time around, the boys divert from their usual self-boasting lyrics and take on something different – they shriek to the world the unworldliness of ‘Her’ beauty, but not without retaining the same level of energy and goof their listeners love most about them. Go ahead and call me biased, but I think we ought to devote our attention instead to the fact Zico is wooing an ostrich.
That’s it for this edition of K-pop 5s! Until next time, I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on these comebacks! Would they make your list or are there any others that deserve special mention?
Disclaimer: The opinions shared in this article are solely those of the author’s and not ATK Magazine’s as a whole.