K-Pop Roundup: May 2015 – From Spice Girls Allusions to Seventeen

K-pop in May saw '90s revivalism galore, comebacks from major artists, and a long-awaited boy band debut.

Jun Hyoseong — “Into You”

After making her solo debut last year with “Goodnight Kiss”, Secret’s Hyoseong is back with a new mini-album, Fantasia. But the songs are more Fantasia 2000 than the Disney original, focusing on a throwback ’90s sound. The title track, “Into You”, practically lifts its chord progression and synth melody from the Spice Girls classic “Say You’ll Be There”. Despite the similarity, “Into You” stands on its own as a catchy, sexy song to showcase Hyoseong’s talents.

The video in particular is sure to show off her… um, talents, as well. Hyoseong is known for being confident and self-assured in her sex appeal and curvy body, which the “Into You” music video makes perfectly clear. There seems to be some sort of framing device of someone watching old VHS tapes, but mostly this is an excuse to get the singer into different sexy outfits and leer seductively into the camera. It works for the song, which is about Hyoseong falling deep in lust-at-first-sight. “Into You” might not be the most innovative song to be released in K-pop lately, and it might not even be stronger than her solo debut, but it’s fun and sexy. Plus, we can always use more Spice Girls allusions.

BESTie — “Excuse Me”

Since their debut in 2013, BESTie — made up primarily of former EXiD members — has yet to have a truly massive hit. “Excuse Me” has not proven to give them that either, but it should have. Everything about the song and its video is exciting, interesting, and instantly iconic, but “Excuse Me” has failed to rise about number 74 on the Korean charts.

Brassy and in your face, “Excuse Me” is a strange bit of pop music. It begins with a Latin-tinged sax riff for the girls to spout their “I don’t need a man” rhetoric over. The tell their suitors to move on (“Excuse me, excuse me, I have no time for you”) during what one would think is the first chorus. However, that section of the song never returns, and after another verse, we’re launched into the real chorus, which picks up the beat to a double-time electro pop extravaganza. Uji outlines their stance clearly in the section: “I’m sick of typical love / I want someone who really loves me / You only look at my outer appearance / You think I’m easy / I’m sorry but get away.”

The music video playfully embodies the lyrics by having the girls find a magical pair of glasses which allows them to see men’s true intentions. Respectful and charming in appearance, the men are revealed to be vulgar and sex-crazed, ogling and grabbing at the girls. That is, of course, until the end of the video, when the two boys Haeryung are flirting with are discovered via the glasses to be gay, a bold choice for Korea, even if the scenes are played for laughs. They might still be a third-tier girl group sales wise, but with “Excuse Me” BESTie has considerably stepped up their game artistically.

BoA — “Kiss My Lips”

Over 15 years into her career, BoA — the Queen of K-pop, as it were — is still reinventing herself. On this time out, her eighth Korean studio album and 17th overall, the singer slips into a more mature sound. She also holds co- or sole writing and producing credit on every song on Kiss My Lips. The album is eclectic and impressive, showing off her writing skills with a variety of well-executed songs anchored by her ever-fantastic vocals.

Even if the title track is not the most exciting on the album, “Kiss My Lips” is a memorable, well put together sensual R&B track. She sings about being more attracted to a guy the more distant he gets. She begs him to “Come on, kiss my lips”, and I’m thinking he’s not going to say no. The music video finds BoA performing seductively in dimly lit rooms with projections on the wall. Her long career has given her the kind of confidence and charisma as a performer to carry just about anything she does, so even though the choreography is not as spectacular as some of her other recent dance tracks like “Only One”, BoA is completely captivating here. Even as she tries new things, the 28-year-old singer continues to remind us why she is considered one of the best of all time.

SHINee — “View”

SHINee is normally known for over-the-top productions, powerful vocals, and catchy dance tracks, but in the two years since releasing their last Korean album — during which Taemin and Jonghyun both released solo mini-albums — the band seems to have mellowed out. Odd is more reliant on R&B and hip-hop tinged tracks than the maximalist style of their earlier music. Title track “View”, in particular, seems to jump on the ’90s throw back train with a stripped-down house beat that’s as infectious as any big pop hook despite its simplicity.

To go along with the relaxed feel of the music, the abstract, Jonghyun-penned lyrics focus on senses and how they’re intensified through love — or at least sex. Or maybe it’s drugs they sing about that allow them to “start seeing the color of the music.” Throughout the song they play with this sex as love as drug metaphor, but never become too heady about it. Rather, “View” floats along unpretentiously in a way that seems boring on first listen but which is increasingly appealing the more time you spend with it.

The video, though, has raised more eyebrows. Shot in an unsaturated, Instagram-esque color palette, the “View” music video has a bit of a troubling plot. While on the road promoting and performing, SHINee are chloroformed and kidnapped by a group of fans who later force themselves on the boys. But the members of SHINee seem to enjoy the respite from being famous and partake in stealing beers from convenience stores, using strangers’ pools, and breaking into abandoned warehouses to party with the girls. It embraces a fan fantasy, where you get to rescue your bias from all that hard work his company forces him to do, and as a reward you get to rape him while he’s passed out drunk on the floor. The video never goes quite far enough to seem like satire; instead, it feels more like an endorsement from the band, which is strange. The title of the album is, in fact, Odd, but it’s hard to imagine the reaction would be good if a girl group put out a similar video.

Seventeen — “Adore U”

Pledis Entertainment has been teasing their new boy band Seventeen for the past four years. Coincidentally, four is also the number of members that have gotten lost in the interim. So now the group has finally debuted with 13 members, a title track called “Adore U” — written by member Woozi — and a mini-album, 17 Carat. It’s simply too much to try to keep track of 13 people, so it’s best to just enjoy the song and visuals without thinking too hard. That strategy works out great because the song is fun and catchy, and the music video, while not really making any sense, is eye candy to match.

The lyrics are simple and straightforward words of love, with the Seventeen boys singing about how they only have feelings for you, but the music video and production are eclectic and chaotic, playing on the size of the group. The song shifts from rock guitars to accordions to funk bass lines, all with insanely catchy hooks placed on top. The video finds the boys in a number of different sets and costumes (only ten though, which seems like a missed opportunity to have 13 or 17). And while there’s no real plot, it is impressive to see tight choreography performed by 13 good looking guys. “Adore U” isn’t breaking the mold and it’s unlikely to be a massive hit this summer, but it leaves me hopeful for Seventeen in the future.