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K-Pop Roundup February 2014

For the second month of 2014, we have big comebacks from B.A.P., Sunmi, CNBlue, and Girls' Generation! The music videos give us everything from sexy vampire dancing to broken mirrors, to extended mockumentaries. But how do the songs hold up against the exciting first month of the year?

After the exciting start to the year, K-pop calmed down a bit in February. But despite the smaller amount of big releases, there were definitely some stand-out songs, so let's check out a few:

B.A.P. - "1004 (Angel)"

After debuting in January of 2012, six-member boy band B.A.P. (Best Absolute Perfect) has finally released its first full-length album, First Sensibility. The lead single from the album, "1004 (Angel)", came out on February 3rd and remained one of the most interesting songs/videos throughout the whole month. The song is more of a rock/pop style for the group, which tends to lean towards EDM and hip-hop, but it works surprisingly well for the boys, who really get to show off their vocals here. "1004 (Angel)" is a melodramatic song of lost love, with lyrics like "The reason I live is you" running throughout. But with its infectious hook and dance rhythm, it's hard to not enjoy.

The music video, which integrates sections of "Save Me", another song off of First Sensibility, brings the melodrama to an extreme, letting the B.A.P. members show their skills by crying, screaming, and punching mirrors and stone walls until their hands bleed. It unfortunately leaves little time for dancing, but a section towards the beginning with Zelo and Jongup features some particularly impressive moves. The video builds towards a climax of Himchan pointing a gun at himself through the mirror, deciding to take his life rather than live with the pain of not being with the woman he loves. Heavy stuff for such a fun song. Cheer up, B.A.P.!

Ga-In - "Truth Or Dare"

Speaking of cheering up, Ga-In chose to follow her abuse-themed "Fxxk U" with the much more lighthearted and silly "Truth or Dare", the title track from her new mini-album. The song playfully acknowledges Ga-In's reputation with the media and celebrity culture in general. Ga-In sings about rumors being spread about her and calls people out, singing, "It’s so strange, when you’re in front of me you can’t say anything / But you talk a lot behind my back". The video is filmed in a faux-documentary style, interviewing producers, band-mates, friends, and other people on her team about how awful Ga-In is and showing her as a self-obsessed diva. This is then cut together with shots of Ga-In performing the song with characteristically sexy dance moves.

Musically, the song immediately got compared to Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines". It's true that the bass line and use of percussion are very similar, but "Truth or Dare" is more musically interesting and has more adventurous chords and arrangements. The simplicity of "Blurred Lines" is a large part of what made it so successful, but Ga-In has never been one for simplicity anyway.

Sunmi - "Full Moon"

After leaving the popular girl-group Wonder Girls in 2010, Sunmi debuted a solo career last year with the incredible "24 Hours". But earlier this month, we finally got her first mini-album, Full Moon. The title is an easy pop song, not quite as memorable as "24 Hours", but catchy and fun. It also features Lena, a member of a new JYP girl-group. Like the rest of the song, her rap is nothing to write home about, but it's perfectly serviceable. It's the music video, though, that's getting all the attention.

Taking on a dark Gothic theme, you might assume based on the title that this video would feature werewolves. But actually, Sunmi plays a vampire instead. The video opens with Sunmi biting her victim in the middle of the night. She then spends the rest of the clip dancing very sexily while he slowly and painfully becomes a vampire as well. Pretty much every female K-pop video that has come out this year has gone with "sexy" as its concept, but few pull it off like Sunmi. It may sound strange, but the way she spreads her legs and seductively sways her hips comes off as very classy in this video.

CNBlue - "Can't Stop"

Pop-rock band CNBlue makes its return with Can't Stop, the band's fifth mini-album. As soon as I heard the title track, it instantly became one of my favorite K-pop songs of the month. In contrast with the group's usual guitar-heavy rock singles, "Can't Stop" opens up as a piano ballad, with sentimental strings, a interesting chord progression, and Jung Yong-hwa's most fragile vocal performance. But then the track moves onto an uptempo chorus with an infectious "Can't stop me now" hook. The lyrics are a predictable, "I miss you / I can't stop loving you" theme, but like "1004(Angel)", it's too catchy to care very much.

The music video features beautiful sets and the CNBlue boys playing in very nice suits, while Jung Yong-hwa broods about his lost love. He lets his fantasy run wild and imagines her on the other side of his mirror. By the end of the video, he smashes a chair through the mirror and goes to her, but they cut it off before we can see what happens, leaving the ending up to interpretation. But I think he and mirror-girl totally make out.

Girls' Generation - "Mr. Mr."

Girls' Generation's last Korean album, I Got a Boy, was a real game changer. The title track was an absurdist pastiche of loud styles, tempo and key changes, and in-your-face melodies that was unlike anything SNSD -- or anyone in K-pop -- had done before. So for their new mini-album, the girls dial it back a bit, which, for this listener at least, is a little disappointing. It's not to say that "Mr. Mr." isn't a great song, but just not quite as innovative as I would have liked.

Produced by American producers the Underdogs, the track takes on a silky electro-R&B style. While there's nothing special about the verses, the chorus is immediately catchy and memorable, with the "Mr. Mr." hook sure to get stuck in your head. The girls sing about how they want their man to take charge ("I want someone to take the lead") and they tell him to "be stronger". The wonderful irony, of course, is that they are the strong ones taking the lead in the situation.

Due to a loss of footage during the editing process, the release of the "Mr. Mr." music video has been delayed. The band needed to go back and re-shoot some of the material, so for now, we'll have to make do with the audio alone!

The real story we were hoping for in February was the head-to-head release of new singles from Girls' Generation and 2ne1. But with the delay on both music videos, it's looking like the "rivalry" will really play out in March when the two groups make their rounds promoting and performing the singles on the music shows. What we were left with was an underwhelming month. There were some great songs, but nothing that felt indispensable. Here's to hoping for more excitement in March!

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