Music

K-Pop Roundup - March 2015: Back to the Garden of Eden

March was dominated by great K-pop tracks from female artists, rookie groups, and veterans alike.

For January and February’s round-ups, we focused on the shift towards serious and dramatic K-pop that’s occurred. After the rocky year the industry had in 2014, it was to be expected that so many artists were turning towards introspection. Well, it’s seemed to have worn off. March essentially returns to status quo for K-pop: bright colors, killer hooks, and tons of fun. But it was also a month dominated by female artists. Typically, I try to strike a balance in the round-ups between male and female artists, but March has seen an overwhelming amount of incredible music by female idols and groups, such that it seemed impossible to leave any of them out. Sorry boys, maybe next month.

 
The month began with five-member girl group Fiestar releasing their first mini-album, Black Label. The group had reinvented themselves last year with the threesome anthem “One More”, and the title track “You’re Pitiful” follows up with the mature, if less explicit, perspective. With incredibly alluring and suggestive choreography in the music video, Fiestar taunt and tease an ex who’s still obsessed. They emasculate him, and subsequently the audience, with lines like “You’ve become so small” and the titular “you’re pitiful”. The song similarly uses the male gaze for subversive purposes, much like Hello Venus’s “Wiggle Wiggle”, but the song is a bit more standard fare. Written and produced by Shinsadong Tiger, “You’re Pitiful” is simple and subtle, but it becomes incredibly infectious on repeated listens.

 
Cube Entertainment’s new girl group CLC (Crystal Clear) take on a similar subject matter with their debut “Pepe”. The track is one of the strongest debuts in a long time, and shows a lot of promise for the group to get even better. They complain about how “guys are all the same” and instruct them to “never look for me again” over pleasantly retro beats.

 
Conversely, Girl’s Day’s Minah makes her solo debut with “I Am A Woman Too”. Her song finds Minah heartbroken over her break up, still pining for the man who left her. To be sure, Minah is an incredible vocalist, and her ability to shift from breathy fragility to powerhouse belting makes her always interesting, but “I Am A Woman Too” is mostly forgettable. She’s sexy as always, and the “I love you love you love you” hook that is introduced in the second half of the song is truly spectacular, but this would be much better suited as a B-side on an upcoming Girl’s Day mini album.

 
The pining concept is handled better by Shannon Williams in “Why Why”. The British-born singer takes on the standard crush song trope, complete with school girl outfit and clichéd lyrics of unrequited love. But she does so to perfection, with a well put together retro track and incredible Ariana Grande-styled vocals (a comparison that becomes even more obvious on the rest of her Eighteen mini-album). She swoons and stalks the object of her affection. On her way to give him a love note, however, a new boy passes by. She drops the letter and the cycle begins again.

 
Red Velvet take a darker, sexier approach to their desires on their new track “Ice Cream Cake”. After their debut last year, SM Entertainment brought in a fifth member for the group and changed up their sound. This debut mini-album sounds more like label-mates (f)x, which is never a bad thing. But they have a younger, more demure vocal delivery that gives them a different flavor. And on “Ice Cream Cake”, Red Velvet definitely embraces all their flavors. The track combines childlike music boxes and schoolyard taunts with thinly-veiled sexual innuendo. The abrupt stylistic and harmonic shifts recall Girls’ Generation’s “I Got A Boy” (though not quite to the same extreme), and show off the group’s skill as vocalists and rappers.



Red Velvet also released a video for “Automatic”, a slower, more R&B-leaning track that showcases a ‘90s sensuality. If last year’s “Happiness” left you on the fence about Red Velvet, "Ice Cream Cake" will surely convince you that this is a group to take very seriously.

 
Outside of the relationship focus, Stellar released a Sweetune-produced track to dismiss the haters with “Fool”. The video begins with the members reading nasty comments on their controversial videos from last year. They then work on a new song and put on a concert with the help of an anthropomorphic stuffed gorilla. It’s silly, sure, but it’s a playful way to acknowledge their public perception and shrug it off while still managing to be incredibly sexy. The song itself is a bit basic, with a ‘90s R&B groove and lush harmonies. It’s maybe forgettable, but it’s also more palatable than the brash sexuality of last year’s “Marionette” and “Mask”.

 
The real focus of March was the new mini album from Ga-in, Hawwah. Ga-in is known for always taking on challenging concepts, and as alluded to in the mini-album’s title, this time she takes on the biblical story of Eve and original sin. She released two title tracks from the album, “Paradise Lost” and “Apple”. Ostensibly, “Paradise Lost” is from the perspective of the snake and “Apple” is from the perspective of Eve (or her Hebrew name, Hawwah). But producer Cho Young-chul has stated, “Was the snake not a real snake, but a symbol of her own inner raw desire?” Similarly, we can think of these two tracks, as different as they may sound, as different reflections of the same idea.



“Paradise Lost” is dark, gothic, and sensual. Ga-in writhers on the floor like a snake. She crawls amongst clawing, naked men. She seductively sips water from a dripping pipe, becoming the personification of original sin and the temptation of the snake. We, as an audience, are tempted by Ga-in with her powerful vocals and sexual appearance. With “Apple”, though, we get the more playful side of the story. Hawwah dances by herself in the Garden of Eden. She rides bikes, plays with a bouncy ball, and suggestively holds a water hose. The jazzy pop music contrasts the epic backdrop of “Paradise Lost”, but the goal is the same. Despite the protests of Jay Park’s rapping Adam, she eats the apple, and we root for her as she does. The videos and concept take on a feminist stance, turning the story of sin into one of female liberation. In the same statement, Cho Young-chul asks, “Wasn’t Eve an amazing woman who rejected the heaven told to her by others and carved out her own life?” In “Paradise Lost”, Ga-in reminds us that “they’re making up a story so they can control you and me.” As always, Ga-in is the most interesting artist in K-pop, continually pushing the boundaries musically and thematically. Hawwah is no exception.



 
Closing out the month is Crayon Pop and their incredible “FM”. At this point in their career, we’ve grown to be able to count on Crayon Pop for always coming out with something to cheer us up: something irreverent, silly, and astonishingly well-crafted and genuine. “FM” finds the girls transforming into superheroes, kicking ass, and taking names. Based mainly on the Japanese pre-cursor to Power Rangers, Choushinsei Flashman, but also alluding to Sailor Moon and other retro superhero action TV shows, “FM” is Crayon Pop at their most awesome. They fight a wide range of menacing bad guys and still find time to perform ecstatic tight choreography. Produced by Shinsadong Tiger, the song is not quite as cheesy as some of the group’s previous material, but still amps up the campy qualities to make it unmistakably Crayon Pop.

 
Now that K-pop has seemed to return to some of its normal practices, it feels like the threat posed by 2014’s “K-pocalypse” has subsided for good. Now we’ll just have to wait and see what the rest of the year brings us.


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.