K-Pop Roundup - July 2014

July has brought the full-fledged summertime songs to K-pop, so get ready for massive pop hooks, breezy production, and over-saturated music videos.

f(x) - “Red Light”

As someone naturally drawn to the more unusual and experimental K-pop, f(x) has always been one of my favorite girl groups. Especially since it released last year’s Pink Tape, the five-member, multi-ethnic group has pretty much dominated the strange, eclectic-pop side of of the genre. And Red Light, the group’s new full-length album, goes even further into the bizarre this-is-too-weird-to-be-likable-pop-but-we-all-love-it-anyway category.

But even just the title track will give you a good sense of odd world the album exists in. “Red Light” opens with erratic trap percussion and a dissonant synth line before bringing in the urgent vocals. The f(x) girls sing their rhythmic melodies like a call to arms. They’ve sounded the alarm and it’s time to fight. They’re a bit unclear as to what exactly they’re fighting, though (in the first verse, they sing, “I don’t even know what’s wrong with the current situation”). In the video, the girls run away from crowds of gas-masked men, but mostly it’s just intense shots of them performing the song. And I suppose it doesn’t matter what the red light is there to warn us about. f(x) is there to get us riled up about something with its intense and peculiar little pop song. And you know what? It works.

Girl’s Day - “Darling”

Back in January, Girl’s Day released “Something”, the title track from its third mini-album and still one of my favorite songs of the year. But for their new mini-album, the girls trade in the dark, sexy concept of “Something” for a bubbly summer number. “Darling” is practically the textbook example of a summer track, with a retro flair, pop horns, and saccharine melodies. Even if it sounds a bit too much like “Mambo No. 5” for your taste, “Darling” is an undeniable summer jam. Heck, they even start the song by announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the spectacular Girl’s Day summer party!” Then the voice asks, “Hey, are you ready?” I hope you are, because the fun is gonna start either way.

The music video may not be particularly original or all that special, but it’s packed with bright colors, tight choreography, and attractive girls in bikinis. If that’s not some good, old-fashioned summer fun, then I don’t know what is! It’s also nice to see the group bring a more mature, sexy look to a cutesy up-tempo pop song. So many girl groups have been doing the seriously sexy look this year, but the summer has brought with it some levity, and that’s much appreciated.

Eddy Kim - “Darling”

If you recall, around the same time Girl’s Day released “Something”, TVXQ also released a song called “Something”. Now it’s happened again with “Darling”, which is just sort of an odd coincidence. But just like the TVXQ “Something”, Eddy Kim’s “Darling” sounds nothing like the Girl’s Day song. After making his debut earlier this year, Kim is releasing a deluxe edition of his first EP, The Manual, which is actually the same but with “Darling” added onto the beginning of it. Not that I’m necessarily complaining though, because “Darling” is probably the most charming song the singer/songwriter has released so far.

The song finds Kim smitten with a girl (his “darling”, of course), and he sings to her over jazzy acoustic guitar chords about how he wants to do nothing but be near her. The song perfectly captures relaxing on a lazy summer day with a simple arrangement and relaxed beat.

Eddy Kim released two versions of the music video. The “Playboy” version is simpler and shows more of the "darling", but the original one has more suggestive sight gags like the girl eating a hot dog or a cleverly-placed soda can. I’ll pick visual puns over anything any day.

Sistar - “Touch My Body”

For it new mini-album, girl group Sistar also bring out a high-energy summer pop sound. “Touch My Body” utilizes a the same retro-tinged, horn-heavy production that “Darling” had, but with a bit more ”Bubble Pop” thrown into the mix. But summer songs don’t always need to be the most original or distinctive. As long as they get us dancing with a fun beat, they’re doing their job. And “Touch My Body” definitely does its job.

Plus, the music video, as you might expect from a song called “Touch My Body”, is pretty sexy. But you might expect it to show the guy touching the singers' like they ask for in the lyrics, but he’s nowhere to be found. Instead, the girls mostly touch themselves and each other, which is certainly one way of getting people to watch your music video. Overall, “Touch My Body” isn’t as strong a song as we’ve seen from Sistar or its sub-unit and solo efforts in the past, but it’s a catchy and fun offering nonetheless.

Infinite - “Back”

Not all songs in July can be happy summer songs, though. For Infinite’s latest comeback, the boy band opts for moody introspection instead of reckless summer fun. With an extended piano ballad intro leading into a dark synth pop anthem, “Back” begs for a girl to save the protagonist by coming, well … back. The song is well performed and catchy enough, but not particularly great on its own.

It’s the music video that’s the real draw here. The clip flips things around from the lyrics so that it’s the girl that needs saving and the Infinite members are the ones doing the heroics. Sunggyu’s sister has been kidnapped by a gang of red-hoodied thugs in a warehouse and the boys arrive to kick some ass and get the girl back. A lot of ass-kicking does occur (and a ton of dancing, of course), but by the end of the video, the girl is still kidnapped. The rivals are on the roof of the warehouse now—with the wrong side holding onto the girl—and as the video fades away, everyone’s running towards each other to fight some more. Perhaps this means we’ll get a sequel, because if not, it’s a pretty dark way to end a music video!

HyunA - “Red”

Have you ever wondered what Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” video would look like if it were made for a K-pop singer instead? Oh, you haven’t? Well now you’re gonna find out anyway! For her long-awaited solo comeback, 4Minute’s HyunA channels the controversial promo, but with (slightly) less racial undertones. There’s a weird hipster party going on with hot guys wearing monkey masks, real monkeys, and giant lipstick tubes. Oh, and there’s also plenty of twerking, of course. But it’s not just the video that’s strange. The chorus of the song is, “A monkey’s butt is red / Red is HyunA / HyunA is yeah." Other than that, it seems like it’s a song about feeling sexy and empowered, but how the monkey’s butt fits into that is beyond me.

Musically, the song has intense trap verses that are balanced out by a pure pop pre-chorus and a simple but infectious chorus. HyunA has never been the most talented singer or rapper, but on “Red” and her accompanying mini-album, she sounds more confident and comfortable than ever before. Her charisma completely carries this song and prevents it from being the gimmicky mess it should be. It’s a song that you fall in love with more and more on repeated listens. But I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand the monkey’s butt thing.

* * *

July was such a busy month for K-pop that we could only scratch the surface in this roundup. The month also saw big comebacks from Nu'Est, Block B, and JYJ, a controversial song from Fiestar that may or may not be about threesomes, and even some interesting debuts like Ye-A. So if you're still itching for some more summer K-pop, there's plenty more where this came from.

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