In a month of dating scandals, comebacks and east-meets-west collaborations, here are the five songs from South Korea’s pop and rap worlds that you need to hear
Whether you’re a serious fan or a curious newcomer, discover a monthly roundup of new releases from South Korea. From K-Pop to hip hop and everything in between, gorge yourself on all that’s new.
In K-Pop, dating has long been regarded as taboo, with many groups given dating bans as they build a loyal following. This often instills a sense that a group belongs to the fans – even if they are free to date, it’s preferred to be an out-of-sight, out-of-mind situation. When two idols are revealed to be dating each other (they’re usually outed by a tabloid), many fans furiously retract their support, and the internet echoes with the gnashing of teeth. While this is certainly not the mindset shared by all K-Pop fans, either in Korea or internationally, the fact that dating can still be called a ‘scandal’ in 2017 speaks for itself. This month, the how-dare-they-date alarm sounded over Twice’s Mina and GOT7’s BamBam in light of a leaked photo. Their label, JYP, responded by saying that the two were merely friends – but as social media, K-Pop sites, and forums continued unearthing videos and stills to try and prove otherwise, Mina faced backlash from fans and a cruel dose of shaming. BamBam, meanwhile, continued with the promotional campaign for GOT7’s new album.
Speaking of which, “Arrival” was final installment of GOT7’s Flight Log trilogy. Lead single “Never Ever” featured somewhat patchier production, but lesser-utilised vocalists Yugyeom and Jinyoung came to the fore and nailed their performances. B.A.P’s Himchan and Jongup also found the spotlight on their group’s comeback, the emotional, trance-tinged “Wake Me Up”, which saw leader Bang Yongguk make a welcome return after a mental health hiatus.
In hip hop, Ja Mezz tapped the talented rapper Giriboy to produce his new material, including the hazy stylings of “Party”, while Keith Ape dropped “Swanton Bomb”, an homage to wrestling legend Jeff Hardy that was typically unhinged, as if Ape and Limp Bizkit were stuck in a too-small cupboard. BTS’s Rap Monster released his much anticipated Wale collaboration, the socially charged (and very BTS sounding) “Change”; there’s an undeniable chemistry between them, and the song’s final minute is its real stand out. Finally, anyone craving a slice of indie should look to singer Ashmute and her track “Scenery”, which sounds like a delicately autumnal Lana Del Rey and looks like the coolest home movie you’ll never make.
GFRIEND – “FINGERTIP”
Since completing their schoolgirl trilogy last year with the brilliant “Rough”, there’s been debate over where six-member GFriend would go next creatively. Debuting two years ago, their biggest strength has been solidifying a recognisable sound where typical girl group sweetness is weighted through guitar riffs and orchestration, without letting the quality dip nor stagnate. They’ve managed, however, to best themselves with “Fingertip”, which sees them become even more instantaneous, slick, and polished. There’s whining, persuasive guitars, funky slap bass and sparkling synths that hark to Infinite and KARA’s disco pop rock, plus the irrepressible “tang tang tang” lyrical hook, all densely and propulsively packed in for a fast ride. It’s a case of the more you listen, the more you find, which you’ll need to do without the sumptuous distraction of the MV (music video), a glorious mix of fantasy, anime, cosmic backdrops, and astral projection. As a whole, it sets GFriend on the path of being the girl group of 2017.
MVP – “TAKE IT”
Two boy band debuts stood out for blatantly cherry-picking from instantly-recognisable source inspirations. For Seven O’Clock, it was BTS with a dash of Big Bang’s T.O.P, while seven-piece MVP looked to defunct group LC9 for the electro vibe. Their creative team (Viking League and Free Mind) tapped SHINee for elements of their “Sherlock” choreography and EXO’s “Love Me Right” visuals. When groups lean hard on previous concepts, you wonder what they’ve got of their own to offer – though to play devil’s advocate, why let a good concept die when you can better it? While “Take It” isn’t a cover of LC9’s 2013 “Mama Beat”, the similarities are uncanny, yet MVP use their vocalists (specifically Kanghan and Gitaek) to soften down the choruses and strengthen the melody, making “Take It” the stronger track. Everything about this debut is slightly sassy, almost a cheeky ‘fuck you’ to the entertainment giants with their big budgets and in-built fanbases. In a saturated market, smaller groups have to fight to be seen and you may as well come out swinging like you mean it, even if you’re wearing someone else’s boxing gloves.
BRAVE GIRLS – “ROLLIN’”
Being in Brave Girls probably hasn’t been the most fulfilling of endeavours. In 2016, after a two-year hiatus, the group underwent an almost complete lineup change (their creator, the producer Brave Brothers, switched to girl group AOA) while the final two original members bowed out. Yet the concept perseveres, as does Brave Brothers’ heavy electro sound, which for better or worse is deeply ingrained in K-Pop lore, having been behind mega hits such as Big Bang’s “Lies” and HyunA’s “Ice Cream”. On “Rollin’”, Brave Brothers and writing duo Two Champ stick to a defiantly fat beat while bringing in the tropical house Kygo-effect to lighten and perhaps modernise the long-standing singularity of his work. Ultimately, “Rollin’” isn’t sophisticated, but it does demonstrate that Brave Brothers can still deliver. The chorus, on which “rollin’ rollin’ rollin’” becomes, endearingly pronounced “lolly lolly lo-lay”, is made super sticky with Minyoung’s kick-out line, and the thick layers of bass, in fact, favours the group by taking the edge off their sharp higher range. It’s likely “Rollin’” will go unnoticed by most but it (and the MV’s awkward ‘sexy’ moves) deserves a spot in your mind, even for a brief moment.
BEWHY & BIG K.R.I.T. – “UNO”
BewhY, who rose via hip hop talent show Show Me The Money (eliminated in season four, winning season five), has done the impossible and made Christian rap cool. Tricky as that sounds, the rapper slots his faith neatly amongst his stories, yet gives the listener plenty to get their teeth into, whether it’s his whiplash delivery or his penchant for a horrorshow trap beat. BewhY has recently been looking further afield for collaborators, appearing on A$AP TyY’s “Like Me”, and here teams up with Southern rapper and former Def Jam artist Big K.R.I.T. Despite the differing styles, they’re a complementary fit, with seamless switches and a non-competitive approach to their verses. BewhY’s vocals are tight, perhaps a little strained, against the drawl of veteran K.R.I.T, but the tension works, urgently yanking the track forward over yawning synths and lazy beats, tinkling chimes, and bursts of sleigh bells, making “UNO” a head-turner. If anything it feels slightly isolated, neither old-school, fashionably present, or futuristic, merely watching everything else below, safe in the knowledge of its merits. Very much like BewhY himself, really.
LIVE – “KNOW ME” (FEAT. DEAN)
Although rapper LIVE (Dabin Hong) hasn’t yet hit the upper hip hop tiers in the two years since his first single “Till I Die”, he and the multimedia crew Dream Perfect Regime (which sports Christian Yu, former C-Clown member as a video director) have been chipping away, building a solid fanbase and working on some excellent collaborations. This month, in the space of just a couple of weeks, he dropped three such collabs, all with big hitters – Jay Park and Loco, Crush, and DEAN. The glitchy, time lapse photography of apocalyptic skies is an intriguing foil for “Know Me”, which, on the first run, sounds heavily reliant on its “you don’t know me now” hook, while R&B star DEAN and his distinctive croon both breaks up the track and smooths it towards the outro. But peel back the chilled delivery and chorus, and the dark visuals align themselves with LIVE’s verses, where he has plenty to say about his haters, competitors, and his race. On repeated listens, “Know Me” becomes more than just a solid track – it’s an iron fist in a velvet glove.