In a month marked by tragedy in South Korea, it's hard to enjoy pop music. But the first half of April offers some undeniably great music, and hopefully some of it can help lift our spirits.
The first half of April was an exciting burst of energy from the K-pop industry. We saw great comebacks from Crayon Pop and NS Yoon-G as well as an impressive debut from Akdong Musician. Bernard Park won K-pop Star 3 and 15& announced its first album. But practically everything came to a stop after the tragic event of April 16th. The Sewol, a ferry carrying 476 passengers -- mostly school children -- sank off the southwest coast of South Korea. One hundred seventy-five people were rescued soon after it happened, but since then, no one has been found alive. This caused a lot of K-pop artists and labels to delay or cancel comebacks and promotions for the second half of the month. But while it’s hard to move on from a tragedy like this, there is still a ton of great music to help lift our spirits.
There’s no one else in K-pop quite like Crayon Pop. With only a few singles under its brightly colored belts, the group has already become a totally unique phenomenon with its overly cheesy, kinda satirical, and insanely fun songs and videos. “Uh-ee” picks up where the act left off with “Bar, Bar, Bar”. It’s a high-energy, manic dance song with aggressive vocals, corny synths, and its catchiest chorus to date. Crayon Pop wants you to have fun, and it's not taking no for an answer.
The music video opens in a swanky, up-scale gala event, with everyone in fancy suits and dresses over some canned faux-jazz music. But then the real song comes in and reveals the Crayon Pop girls in bizarre white hanbok-inspired outfits with bright red bandannas. They spend the rest of the video performing a silly but highly calculated dance routine in front of the well-dressed spectators. By using the backdrop of skeptics, Crayon Pop acknowledges the absurdity of what it's doing and how the audience perceives it. But by the end of the video, everyone is dancing along. In the chorus, the girls shout at us, “Do the chicken dance! / Cluck Cluck!” And chicken dance we do.
After winning K-pop Star 2 last year, brother/sister duo Akdong Musician (or AkMu) finally released its debut album Play. The teens wrote and produced the whole album themselves, which is an eclectic mix of folk-, indie-, and jazz-tinged pop. The lead single from the set, “200%”, is perfect for the Spring, with its bouncing rhythms and infectious harmonies. Despite its sunny exterior, the song is about a girl who is “200%” sure that she’s in love with a boy, but, of course, it’s unrequited.
Like the music, the video presents the theme with a lighthearted playfulness. We see Lee Soo-hyun adorably stalking the boy she likes, and then it seems like they get together. But we find out it was all in her imagination and that he has a girlfriend. Sad for Soo-hyun, but the video and song are so much fun that you can’t imagine she’s taking it too hard!
Later in the month, AkMu relased a somber, heartbreaking music video for its song “Melted” and is prepping a video for the opening track on Play, “Give Love”. With all that momentum and with “200%” going to number one on the Gaon charts, this has been a very successful debut for the group.
At the beginning of the year, it seemed like every female artist and group was doing a “sexy” concept. But since then, things have calmed down a lot. Don’t worry, though, NS Yoon-G is bringing sexy back with “Yasisi” (literally, “Sexual”). In fact, after releasing the music video, she put out a sexier edit, calling it the “Original Version”.
And it is quite sexy. We see NS Yoon-G putting on stockings, dancing in her lingerie, swimming in a white bathing suit, and doing a lot of hip shaking. She sings about getting dressed up sexy and wanting to break out of the monotony for a night of passion. The hook uses clever wordplay between “Yasisi-hae” and “Da sisi-hae” (“It’s sexual” / ”Everything is boring”). But more than that, the song itself is quite good. With a strange mix of an R&B beat and flourishes of Latin guitar and brass, “Yasisi” is a dynamic and exciting dance song without feeling overstuffed. NS shows off her vocals just as much as her body, and proves that they’re both something to marvel at.
Sometimes words won’t do and the only way you can express your overwhelming emotions is with an exclamation of sounds. That’s exactly what happens with Eric Nam on his comeback single, “Ooh Ooh”. The Korean-American singer returns after his Cloud 9 mini-album last year and updates his sound and image along the way. For “Ooh Ooh”, we find Nam rocking a sharp suit and matching funk track. With ecstatic horns and some slap bass, the song is instantly danceable and catchy.
Joined by Hoya of INFINITE, Eric Nam sings about falling head-over-feels for a girl. It’s love at first sight and the only way he can properly express how he feels is with an infectious string of “oohs”. At some points, his voice feels too sweet to handle the energetic song, but the track is too fun to find much fault in his performance, especially when they throw in the gratuitous modulation for the last chorus. The music video is similarly charming, featuring cameos from SPICA’s Boa, U-KISS’s Kevin, and Brad Moore, the drummer of Busker Busker. It shows Nam and Hoya performing the song for a TV broadcast, and with their cute outfits, charming personalities, and Michael Jackson references, we can’t help but swoon.
After debuting in 2012, teen duo 15& have finally announced that its first album is coming this May. Ahead of the full album, the group gives us a new single, "Can’t Hide It". The song has a strong R&B beat that shows a new side for 15&, but the members' amazing vocals continue to be the focus. It’s another song about feeling overwhelmed with love. The girls sing that they’re so in love they “can’t hide it”. Baek Ye Rin sings, “Am I dreaming? Am I under a spell? / I don’t know, but don’t wake me up”.
Out of respect to the victims of the Sewol tragedy, JYP indefinitely delayed the music video for “Can’t Hide It”. But despite the lack of promotion, “Can’t Hide It” became the girls’ first number one song on the Gaon charts. And with its ‘90s-styled beats, joyful theme, and impressive vocals from both 16-year-olds, it’s not hard to see why.
Following its latest single, “Very Good”, the seven-member boy band Block B brings back the clown masks for their comeback “Jackpot”. Instead of using them to rob a bank, though, this time they’re more at home in a creepy-circus themed music video. The personality-driven song blends styles, manically oscillating between a retro-shuffle rhythm in the verses and a manic dance beat chorus.
The music video is similarly flashy and off-kilter and all the guys bring their high-energy charisma into the performance to make it an irresistible romp. It opens with actress Kim Sae-ron showing up to a carnival late and night and getting scared by the Block B boys in their clown masks. Throughout the rest of the video, they torment her, chase her through the carnival, and throw knives at her. But don’t feel too bad for her. At the end of the video, she not only walks away unscathed, but she flips them off on her way out.
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As we move into May, we’ll likely see the industry slowly get back to normal and start releasing more music. So while we continue to mourn, we have a lot to look forward to.