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Music

K-Pop Roundup - September 2014

Amidst tragedy and controversy throughout the month, September also offered up some more great k-pop, especially from veteran groups like 2PM, T-ara, and Girls' Generation-TTS.

September was another month marked by tragedy and controversy. At the beginning of the month, girl group Ladies’ Code was involved in a car accident, ultimately killing members EunB and RiSe. Less tragic but still shocking, at the end of the month, SM Entertainment announced that Jessica would no longer be part of the iconic girl group Girls’ Generation. The American-born singer was the first of the nine members to be signed to SM, but after tensions rose between her, the group, and their management from Jessica’s relationship and other business ventures, Girls’ Generation officially announced that they would “continue as eight”. It’s hard to imagine SNSD without all nine members, and this incident marks the end of one of K-pop’s greatest successes. Outside of this, though, there was plenty of good music throughout the month.

 
2PM – “Go Crazy!”

For the title track to its seventh studio album, boy band 2PM pantomime ride motorcycles, fly across the moon E.T.-style, do “The Bernie” a whole lot, and, well … go crazy. It’s an up-tempo dance track that’s over-the-top and lives up to its name. The verses sound like a sped up “Billie Jean” and the chorus is designed to incite a huge sing-along. It’s not the most interesting track, but it’s pure fun, and for a song called “Go Crazy!”, it’s exactly what you want.

The music video really captures this sensibility. The performers' silly motorcycle dancing apparently gives them the power to break through walls and fly through the air. Mostly, it gives them an excuse to look silly and have fun. It’s unlikely that the motorcycle dance will catch on the same way that PSY’s horse dance did, but it makes for a pretty entertaining music video. It seems like “Go Crazy!” is exactly what it’s trying to be. 2PM has been around for a while, and it has definitely made better music than “Go Crazy!”, butit has also made worse.

 
T-ara – “Sugar Free”

After both Jiyeon and Hyomin made their solo debuts this year, T-ara is back with a new mini album, the redundantly titled And&End. T-ara has always had trouble figuring out exactly what it should sound like, and this time around the act has teamed up with Shinsadong Tiger for a Big Room EDM single, “Sugar Free”. Now, if you’re going to make a vapid Big Room EDM song, it helps to get such a talented producer and songwriter working with you, and “Sugar Free” is as good as one could hope it to be. Not that it’s all that great, though. It’s full of trashy synths with cliché buildups and stock dance beats. The vocals are ironically saccharine and overly processed. But for a full-on dance track, it does its job.

The music video, though, should come with a warning. If you’re epileptic or sensitive to flashing lights, please stay away. It’s meant, I suppose, to recreate the feeling of being at a big EDM show, but it can be quite overwhelming. Someone even went as far as counting every cut in the video and drew up some statistics: there are 671 cuts in the 233-second video, an average of 2.88 cuts per second, with the average length of each shot at 0.35 seconds. In other words: watch if you dare.

 
Teen Top – “Missing”

Just listening to “Missing”, it might not seem like a particularly sad song. The singers' voices sound pained, but the music is mostly light a breezy. The production is warm and sleek. The song starts with classic boy band stacking harmonies singing “You’re my star”. But when you listen closer, or especially if you watch the music video, you can see that Teen Top’s latest single is much darker than it sounds. It’s a song about a slowly unraveling relationship. This is not the most unique subject matter, but it is delivered with a harsh honesty.

The music video goes deeper to show infidelity and the anguish of what they’re going through. C.A.P. cheats on his girlfriend, played here by actress Lee Ho-jung, causing her to cheat on him with L.Joe. Throughout the video, the two of them look miserable, tormented by guilt. They kiss again at the end, but it still seems, especially according to the lyrics, like they’re not meant to be together. For such heavy subject matter, though, “Missing” is a very enjoyable track. It shows off Teen Top’s excellent vocal skills and the performance bits of the video capture some subtle but effective choreography.

 
Girls’ Generation-TTS – “Holler”

It’s been two years since the last release from the Girls’ Generation sub-unit TaeTiSeo, so I was very excited when they announced this comeback. Their first mini-album was great not just because Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun are arguably the best singers in SNSD, but also because the music was an exciting change of pace for the girls. “Twinkle” was brassy and posh, with intricate R&B chord changes. “Holler” is the same way. The verses are driven by a chromatic saxophone line, the shouted chorus is as in-your-face as it is catchy, and the bridge has complex, unexpected harmonies. The music video is a bit of a mess, but with a single as strong as this, it’s not taking away too much.

The song, though, is actually not wholly original. It was originally released, with different lyrics, by the Japanese singer Mizrock in 2007 as “Hello Me!” Another song on the new mini album, “Adrenaline”, is also a remake, this time of the Velvet Angels’ song of the same name. For what it’s worth, “Holler” is better than the original Mizrock track. The “oh” sound in “holler” works better for the melody than the “eh” in “hello”. Also, Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun are just better singers, and the new production is more interesting and exciting. But it is still a bit odd that SM Entertainment decided to do this for its sub-unit’s highly anticipated return.

 
Ailee – “Don’t Touch Me”

On her last single, “Singing Got Better”, American-born singer Ailee was broken and hurt. It was an empowering song about getting over a bad relationship, but you could still hear the pain. For her new song, though, she’s tough and defiant. On “Don’t Touch Me”, Ailee revels in her ex’s pathetic attempts at reconciliation. She casts him off with a short and stern “Don’t touch me” and a whole lot of “Get out!”s. “Don’t Touch Me” is female empowerment song: Ailee is refusing to hear a man out or give him the benefit of the doubt. She admits that she’s hurt, but she’s staying strong and sticking with her convictions.

It’s hard not to relate this song to Ailee’s personal life, specifically the violation of her privacy last year. Nude photos of the singer were leaked, allegedly by an ex-boyfriend she had recently left who works for the American K-pop site AllKPop.com. Nothing in “Don’t Touch Me” references the incident directly, but—especially with the more recent mass leaking of nude celebrities photos—the song takes on a very powerful subtext about personal space, consent, and female agency.

Like “Holler”, the music video for “Don’t Touch Me” is nothing special. But here, it matters more, because the song’s powerful message provided a great opportunity to do something special with the music video. Instead, the video just shows Ailee in various settings and costumes singing along with the track. Either way, it’s a powerful message and a great comeback for the singer.

* * *

With the line-up change to Girls’ Generation and the tragic deaths of EunB and RiSe, it will be interesting to see what happens to both groups going forward. For the rest of the industry, we can look forward to more great Fall releases.

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