After promotions ceased following the Sewol ferry tragedy in April, K-pop began to get moving again in May. With big comebacks and some solo debuts from popular idol groups, this was a busy month to be a K-pop fan. So let’s take a look at some of the most notable tracks.
Exo - “Overdose”
Exo returns with its first official single after last year’s “Growl”. The boy band is really two boy bands, one to sing in Korean (Exo-K) and one in Mandarin (Exo-M). Both groups sing the same songs and each have six members (well, in theory at least: Exo-M’s leader, Kris, recently filed a lawsuit against his management company, SM Entertainment, to get out of his contract, so they’ve been down a member this month). It can get a little unruly, but luckily their songs are usually good enough to enjoy anyway. “Overdose” is certainly not their best track, but it shows off their charismatic vocals and penchant for high-concept, high-budget music videos. They sing about overdosing on love, urging, “Someone call the doctor!” And even if the lyrics and the music are filled with clichés, Exo is definitely able to make it work.
Junggigo - “Want U (ft. Beenzino)”
JungGiGo is having quite the year already. “Some”, his duet with Sistar’s Soyou, was a huge hit earlier this year, and now he’s back with another number one song, “Want U”. The track shows off his confident vocals and strong personality over a refined disco groove. With shimmery guitars and subtle percussion, the track is perfect for dancing without being too in-your-face.
“Want U” is a song about the overwhelming emotions of falling in love, but JungGiGo looks calm, cool, and collected in the music video. Seemingly filmed in one shot, the video shows the singer performing confidently in a large black room, with cool lighting and some great dancing going on behind him. The guest verse from Beenzino is expertly rapped in a self-assured flow that brings a different edge to the song. It’s not the most groundbreaking K-pop song, but it’s pulled off perfectly. JungGigo is such a charming performer that it’s not hard to “want” him back too.
Hyoseong - “Goodnight Kiss”
For her solo debut, Secret’s Jun Hyoseong delivers a memorable, trap-infused, lullaby-quoting dance pop song. It’s not quite as odd as that description makes it sound, though. The track opens with trap snares and a sampled vocal chant, but as the full song comes in, the style is more straightforward dance pop. But the chorus interpolates “Hush, Little Baby” and the “K-I-S-S-I-N-G” song, which is odd at first, but is sung so sexily by Hyoseong that it works. The song is about Hyoseong singing and kissing her love to sleep, and while the loud dance music might not be the best fit for that, it at least makes the use of the lullaby understandable.
Here, though, the video actually makes the story more interesting. Hyoseong and the boy she wants to “goodnight kiss” are not in a relationship. In fact, she’s a guest at his wedding! She lures him away during the reception, dances sexily, and they get their kiss. We’ve seen how sexy Hyoseong can be with Secret, but with all the attention focused on her now, she brings it to a whole new level.
G.NA - “G.NA’s Secret”
Canadian singer G.NA is back with her new single, “G.NA’s Secret” (it’s also titled “Pretty Lingerie” but we’ll stick with just one name). The song was composed and produced by Duble Sidekick, who also wrote “Goodnight Kiss”, which was released on the same day. But the two songs sound completely different. Instead of sexy trap lullaby, G.NA goes with cutesy retro pop.
The song is catchy, with impressive vocals from G.NA and a simple but effective arrangement, but the music video is not very good. G.NA overacts as a shy girl in love with a boy she’s presumably never talked to. They both get invited to a party at G.NA’s house (of which G.NA seemed to have known nothing about) by a giant rabbit. Excited, she and her friends go out to buy “pretty lingerie” and a new dress for the party. The man who works at the store peeps on her in the dressing room, but no sexual harassment claim is filed. Instead, they laugh it off, get ready, and go to the party, where G.NA and mystery man finally meet and dance and fall in love. The colors are washed out, the acting is bad, and the concept is weak, but at least the song is very appealing!
Jiyeon - “Never Ever”
Another song with two titles, and another song produced by Duble Sidekick. “Never Ever” or “1min 1sec” is the first solo single from a member of T-ARA and it makes an impressive case for Jiyeon as a solo artist. The song is an obvious grab for the type of song that Brave Brothers has been producing, with a relaxed mid-tempo beat and a wordless opening hook, but Jiyeon’s emotional vocal performance makes it stand out. “Never Ever” is a breakup song, with Jiyeon trying to make sense of how to move on after losing her love. She doesn’t think she can breathe for “one minute”, not “one second”, without him.
If the song is a little cookie-cutter, the music video is really something special. Half the video shows Jiyeon performing sexy idiosyncratic choreography that captures the conflicting emotions her character feels. But the other half is a Michel Gondry-style scene of Jiyeon going through the same routine every day in her apartment. Days blend into nights and everything stops making sense for her. At the end of the video, her apartment disappears and she’s revealed to be in a mental institution. The song is good, and Jiyeon proves she can hold a song on her own, but it’s really the music video, with the unique choreography and powerful message that are going to be remembered.
15& - “Sugar”
Last month we discussed 15&’s “Can’t Hide It”, which never got a proper music video because of the Sewol tragedy. This month, the duo released the music video for the title track of its debut full-length album—along with the album itself—and they are both worth the wait. We saw a little something different with 15&’s “Somebody”, but for the most part, the group has focused on R&B-tinged ballads and mid-tempos. “Sugar” throws that out the window with an over-the-top retro pop song. It’s part Motown, part jazz-fusion, all insanely catchy hooks.
We’ve seen time and time again how great Jimin and Yerin are as vocalists, but “Sugar” really lets them show off their personalities too, which is a great change of pace. They even throw in a little bit of Jimin rapping in the bridge, adding a whole new dynamic to the duo. The music video is similarly retro (except it also has a keytar and an ‘80s-metal guitar) and shows the girls having fun with choreography and the ridiculously ‘60s black and white set. And it’s not just all fun, either. The two teenagers still throw in enough vocal pyrotechnics to remind everyone that they’re some of the best singers in the game despite their age.
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June is already looking like it will be another month packed with big-name releases. Even PSY is planning his long-awaited come back, so be sure to keep an eye out for that and more!
// Notes from the Road
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