Music

K-Pop Roundup - June 2014

With summer officially arriving, K-pop in June was filled with huge comebacks from veteran artists like PSY and Taeyang as well as rookie groups like Got7 and the controversial solo debut from Hyomin.

Taeyang - "Eyes, Nose, Lips"

With so many comebacks and debuts going on, sometimes you have to take the risk and stand out with a piano-driven sentimental ballad (being sexy and shirtless in the music video helps too, but we’ll get to that). For his latest comeback, coinciding with his first full-length solo album in four year, Big Bang’s Taeyang has released “Eyes, Nose, Lips”, and made us all swoon. The tender break-up ballad starts with dramatic piano and follows Taeyang’s expressive crooning through confessional verses and a powerful chorus. He sings about his selfishness in their relationship and coming to terms with her leaving, remembering her “eyes, nose, and lips”. To top it all off, the song makes a cinematic modulation for the last chorus, really playing up the cheesy sentiment of the song.

But most importantly, let’s not forget about shirtless Taeyang. The music video opens like an homage to D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel?)” but the camera keeps panning out all the way (he’s wearing pants). The closeups in the beginning capture his vulnerability, but seeing him full body adds to the theatrical quality of the performance, especially when the billboard lights on fire. Also, the camera constantly pulling back farther and father reflects the lyrical theme of Taeyang feeling more and more distant from his failed relationship.

 
PSY - "Hangover"

I may be one of the few people out there who think that “Gentleman” is not only a funnier music video but also a better song than the inescapable smash hit “Gangnam Style”. But for his recent comeback, viral sensation PSY has really missed the mark. The song is an abrasive, obnoxious mess of trap beats and annoying hooks, which is likely the point, but at an interminable five minutes and eight seconds, it’s all just too much. He and Snoop Dogg trade verses about having the night of their lives and the next morning after-effects, but surely we could have kept it under three minutes.

The video does add a layer of humor to the affair, though. It’s entertaining to watch PSY and Snoop have a great time together, especially because everyone around them hates it and finds them as obnoxious as I find the song. But still, this is not a song I ever need to hear again. I get it, though; it would be almost impossible to not struggle at least a little bit after having an international mega-hit like “Gangnam Style”, and to date, “Hangover” has 94,000,000 views. So it may be annoying, but there’s still an audience for it! Good for PSY.

 
AoA - "Short Hair"

For the title track to its first mini-album, AoA teamed up with hit-maker Brave Brothers about finding empowerment through cutting your hair. The girl group previously collaborated with Brave Brothers on its “Miniskirt” single from earlier this year, and “Short Hair” pulls out many of the same tricks. They’re both R&B-tinged dance-pop songs with wordless hooks, funky chords, and touches of brass. But self-plagiarism aside, both songs are pretty great.

At first, the video seems confusing because not all of the girls have the eponymous short hair, but as it goes along, you realize that’s the point. We see each girl unhappy (and often incompetent) at her job, while they sing about feeling insecure. The comedic various job scenes are cut together with sexy choreography that might not make much sense in the storyline, but who’s really complaining about sexy dancing in music videos? As the video goes on, each girl goes into ChoA’s beauty salon—aptly named Short Cut—to switch up their look and take control of their life. And, of course, it works. Their problems seemingly disappear and they’re free to keep dancing sexily in the beauty salon!

 
Got7 - "A"

If new boy band Got7’s debut track earlier this year, “Girls, Girls, Girls”, left a bit to be desired, “A” is certainly that track that will win you over. The JYP Entertainment group brings out all its charm for its new single and music video, and it works. The uptempo R&B song features memorable hooks with a laid-back vibe. The group members sing confidently about how they know you’re into them with lines like, “You thought that I wouldn’t know that you liked me / That was cute of you”.

Despite their confidence, though, the music video tells a bit of a different story. The Got7 boys go around town competing with each other to get a girl who seems to not even notice them. But mostly they just dance. In fact, they kind of drop the girl chasing plot in the middle of the video and decide to keep focusing on the incredible choreography. They boys don’t seem to mind too much, either. They’re great dancers and seem to have fun doing it and we enjoy watching, so who needs her anyway?

 
Hyomin - "Nice Body"

Last month T-ara’s Jiyeon made her solo debut with “Never Ever”, and now fellow T-ara member Hyomin is also going solo with “Nice Body”. “Never Ever” may have been a good song and a great music video, but Hyomin seems to know that if you really want to get people talking, make something controversial. “Nice Body” is one of those “is this satire or is this really problematic and awful or is it maybe both?” videos. And that ambiguity makes for more heated online discussion and think-piecing. The video begins with Hyomin in prosthetic makeup to appear overweight while she eats doughnuts and cheese puffs. Then she passes out and dreams that she is confident and sexy and, of course, has a “nice body”, If you weren’t aware what a nice body should be, her outfit has numbers printed to remind you that a girl’s chest should be 34 inches, her waist 24, and her hips 36.

As fat-shaming and shallow as it all may seem (I mean, she does twerk while holding a measuring tape across her ass), it may actually be trying to bring attention to the ridiculous standards we place on women and pop stars in our society. The lyrics are too over-the-top to be completely sincere, overemphasizing how dieting and being skinny will make “a prince of my dreams will appear for sure”. Guest rapper Loco even compares her imaginary self to “those Western girls who work out”.

It might be sincere, or it might be satire, but it’s likely aiming to reap the benefits of both perspectives. Even setting aside those issues though, the song itself is very strong. It’s another Brave Brothers production, and it certainly sounds it, but it’s fun and summery and the chorus is undeniably catchy. Just, whatever you do, don’t read the comments section.

Music

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(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

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Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

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(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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