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!

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.