Kpop Sunday Special: Akdong Musician

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Akdong Musician is a new duo that just debuted with YG Entertainment and, in my opinion, is a sign of changes in the Korean music industry.  For the last decade or so flashy boy and girl bands singing pop music have dominated the scene. But recently more natural sounding music is being much more appreciated by the Korean public. Bands like Busker Busker and Urban Zakapa, along with Akdong Musician, are killing it on Korean music charts. Don’t get me wrong, established groups like 2NE1 and 2PM are still amazingly popular. But most newbie groups that are similar to them seem to be getting the beat down by Akdong Musician.

The duo consists of a sister, Lee Soo-Hyun, and brother, Lee Chan-Hyuk, who are 15 and 17 respectively. They were discovered on Kpop Star2, which is basically the Kpop version of The Voice. They were popular on the show for doing acoustic remixes of popular songs, and for a couple original ones as well.

What many found really amazing was that Chan-Hyuk, as young as he was, actually wrote and composed all of their original songs as well as composing the remixes. For the most part they were praised but one of the judges, Yang Hyun-Suk the CEO of YG, said he wasn’t sure if the way that Chan-Hyuk composed music would be very popular outside of the show.

I find this particular fact pretty funny considering a month after winning the show the siblings were signed to YG and Hyun-Suk let Chan-Hyuk write and compose their entire debut album. Papa YG was also proven wrong as the album achieved an “all kill” topping all the major music charts in Korea.

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I think the reason that these kids are so popular, other than their amazing natural talent, is that they are just so likable. Most Kpop idols seem very unapproachable, like you can only appreciate them from afar. And, to be fair, we do call them idols. But these two just seem to be normal, albeit funny and a bit wacky, kids who like to sing. They showed this to perfection with their MV for 200%. But they also have a more serious side as they showed with their single Melted.

What do you think of this type of music? Do you prefer it to pop or are neither to your taste?

Q is for Quitter

Recently Dongho, a member of the group UKiss, quit Kpop. He is, by far, not the only one. I talked about JYJ and them rebelling against their “slave contract” a few posts ago. There are also members that have quit from very popular groups Super Junior and KARA. I really can’t blame any of them.

For those of us in North America when we think of celebrities and pop music performers we think money, luxury and partying. I remember an old show “cribs” where celebrities would offer tours of their houses and it would be one person living in a house worth millions of dollars. And what did these people do to get all of this money? They would spend a year working on an album, or waiting for their label to come up with an album, and spend a couple months recording it. Then they would promote their song, maybe have a couple gigs a week and then go home to their ridiculous mansions and rake in the money. Now, I know that there are exceptions to this rule, some of these people work hard, but it is true for some. That is never how it works with Kpop idols.

First, Kpop Idols have INSANE schedules. During their promotion times they do multiple shows a day. They basically live in their vans and get carted from place to place to perform like monkeys. Only, I would treat an animal better than these people are! In North America you always hear about celebrities crazy demands for their dressing room, like “I want exactly 7.5 oranges but it must be from Australia and be this shade of orange!” Kpop Idols are lucky if they get a dressing room. If you follow them on Instagram you can see postings of Kpop groups sleeping in a group on the floor, or randomly sleeping in strange places. Then the fan girls squee and aww about it saying its cute. That is not cute, that is freaking uncomfortable. And, they are just fed whatever is around whether it is cheap delivery or convenience store food.

You might be thinking, but this is just during their promotion times! It only lasts a couple weeks and then they are done! Not so much. For one, promotion times for songs seem to last a lot longer in Korea, more than a month. Also, even when they aren’t promoting they are still constantly training and they don’t even have their own space to go home to. They all live in dorms together. And god forbid one of them gains some weight or their company decides they don’t like something about their face. Kpop Idols go on crazy diets all the time. Park Bom, for example, was criticized for being fat. At worst she had, maybe, 10 extra pounds. So she went on this “awesome” diet where all she ate was lettuce and corn. She was actually praised for it. That is both extremely unhealthy and a truly terrible example to set. But if these idols don’t conform to how their companies want them to look some are forced, by contract, to get plastic surgery.

Lastly, there are the “fans”. I say fans with quotation marks because the people I am about to describe are not real fans, they are straight up crazy.  People online or “Netizens” as they are called in Korea are vicious. They will often find pictures of Idols and circle any imperfections in red and posting it, fueling what happens in the above chapter. And lord help the Kpop idol if the netizens find out they have a girlfriend or boyfriend. When it has even been suspected death threats were pouring in for the significant other. Then there are the “Sasaeng” which means stalker. These people spend their entire lives following around the Kpop Idols. They have been known to break into their dorms or apartments, leave excrement or used feminine products in or by their houses, and there have even been attempted kidnappings.

All in all, I am pretty sure being a Kpop Idol sucks. The living conditions probably get better after the group gets popular and established, I doubt that the members of Big Bang still live in a dorm together. But they still had to go through it when they started and they still deal with the crazy fans and schedule. So I am just really grateful to my favorite groups for putting up with it and I have no hard feelings towards the people who quit.  All of this said would you put up with it to be a Kpop Idol? I sure as heck wouldn’t.

P is for Psy

Ugggghhhhh…. I HATE GANGNAM STYLE, END OF POST!

 

Gangnam Style

 

Okay, not really, but I do hate what Gangnam Style has done to Kpop! This is going to sound really hipsterish, but popularity almost ruined Kpop! Many of you may not know this but before last year and a half there were a LOT less Kpop groups. Then Gangnam Style came out and all of a sudden the world was interested in Kpop. There were a few problems with this.

1) We now have newbie Kpop groups coming out the ying yang. Kpop is popular so companies think they can make a quick buck off of it, everyone and their mother is debuting a group. Jackie Chan just debuted a group! You might think as a fan of Kpop I wouldn’t mind, the more Kpop there is the happier I am right? WRONG. Most of these groups suck. One even brought twerking into Kpop, twerking doesn’t belong here! Even if some of these newbies don’t suck it is really difficult to wade through the crap to find what is actually good! So most of us stick to what we know and cling hard to our veteran groups.

2) Kpop was starting to try way too hard. I almost feel like Kpop got stage fright. They were like “Crap, everyone is looking at me. I have to smash this and keep their attention! But… what do white people like?” Apparently they don’t know. Many groups came out with songs that were a mash of like three different songs. A bit of something for everyone. Kill me.

3) And, finally, Gangnam Style is not Kpop! After listening to Gangnam Style people would look into Kpop thinking they were going to find more videos with middle aged men acting like crazy people. Kpop takes itself way too seriously for that. Most Kpop music videos are a bunch of ridiculously attractive people staring into the camera or doing perfectly choreographed dance numbers. Gangnam Style is to Kpop what I’m on a Boat is to rap music.

I will admit it, Gangnam Style is catchy. I liked the song before it became so overplayed.  Though, in my opinion, Psy’s next song Gentleman was better. Happily Kpop seems to be recovering nicely. SNSD recently came out with a new song, Mr Mr, and it was freaking awesome, no rap breakdown! I love SNSD but dude they cannot rap. They are not the only ones though, many groups have come out with new songs recently and Kpop as a whole seems to be recovering from their brain fart. Thank you sweet baby Jesus.

N is for Neon Bunny

Neon Bunny

 

Neon Bunny is an oddity in Korea. She is a successful indie artist. She belongs to no label, and doesn’t want to. For most artist in Korea this means very little exposure and very little success outside of Hongdae, which is the center of Korean indie music. But Neon Bunny shook up the whole music scene last year when she won Best Pop Album, beating out IU. IU is basically the nation’s sweet heart. For someone of her status to be beaten out by a no name newbie has literally never happened before, and that is how awesome that album was. There isn’t a very large Indie scene in Korea, and a lot of people believe that the only music in Korea is Kpop. That is just not true.

I will admit, I am not a huge indie fan. I like pop music in general and I am not ashamed of it. The whole garage band or rock music thing doesn’t really do it for me, even if it is more artistic. My brother and I argue about this all the time. He gets so frustrated because I like the music when the one performing it didn’t write or compose it themselves. Also, according to him, it all sounds the same. But just because a group writes their own stuff doesn’t mean I like what it sounds like!! I like the way pp music sounds and, quite frankly, I like the way Kpop artists look. So sue me! And, just because they didn’t write it themselves doesn’t make them less talented. They are amazing performers and that takes as much skill as writing a song, just a different one!

I digress… where was I? Right, Korean indie scene… its small. If you live outside of Korea it is really hard to get to know much of it because mostly Korean indie bands do live performances and aren’t a big presence on YouTube. One of the easiest ways to get to know any of it is to follow the site EatYourKimchi. Every week they do a K-indie segment on what is going on. They are actually the ones that first introduced me to Neon Bunny. My favorite song she has ever done is Oh My Prince. For those of you that can’t understand it this song is actually about her telling the “Prince” to GTFO. Don’t feel embarrassed, I had to look up the translation too!

If anyone feels like sharing, what are your feelings about indie vs pop music?

L is for Lee Hi and Lee Michelle

I chose these two not only because they have the same last name that starts with L they have quite a lot in common. Both of these girls were discovered on the first season of Kpop Star and are powerhouse vocalists. Neither of them won the competition and then both were signed by YG Entertainment after the show. But that is really where the similarities end. Lee Michelle was dropped by YG before her debut and was signed by a much smaller agency. Lee Hi was debuted as a solo artist and has had major mainstream success.

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Originally the two were going to debut together along with a couple other girls under the group name Su-Pearls. Su-Pearls were actually a group created during Kpop Star and during the show Lee Hi wasn’t part of it. Both girls trained for two years after the show at YG but before the group could debut Lee Hi debuted as a soloist with the song 1234, one of my favorite Kpop songs to this day. Soon after Su-Pearls were disbanded and while no one really knows for sure why most believe it was because of Lee Hi’s success as a soloist. Lee Hi released two more singles and, like the first, they were both a major success solidifying her title of “monster rookie.”

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Now, don’t let the rest of this post fool you, I quite like Lee Hi. She is an amazing performer and I own her album, it is really great. But I feel like Lee Michelle has a lot more depth to her then Lee Hi does. She just recently released her debut single Without You. WARNING: Do not watch the video without a box of tissues handy. This is actually the first time, pretty much ever, that I cried at a music video. Normally a music video can’t get me into the story enough to make me cry. I can watch it and I know that it is sad but it doesn’t really… hit home, if you know what I mean.

For those of you that can’t tell from the picture of her above Lee Michelle is half black and half Korean, and she grew up in Korea. Some of you may not know this but Korea is actually fairly new to having foreigners. It wasn’t so long ago that a white or black person, or pretty much anyone who wasn’t Korean, couldn’t walk the streets of Seoul without being stared at. So I imagine growing up in a place where everyone thinks of you as an outsider is very difficult, and she tells us about it in her new video.

If you just look at the surface meaning of the lyrics of the song it will seem like she is just talking about a lost love. However, taken with her history and the MV, the lyrics have a much deeper meaning. During the video you mostly see a little girl that could be Lee Michelle’s little sister, who is clearly supposed to be her. She starts by running from some unseen threat to a really sad looking house. She proceeds to write racial slurs on the wall, ones that have been slung at her. At one point the little girl uses powder to whiten her face, trying to become what everyone wants her to be. But the video ends with her throwing paint at a white canvas that has Lee Michelle’s face drawn on it, giving her color again. I am not ashamed to admit that I was bawling by the end of this video.

I know in the picture of me on the About page I look really really white, but I am actually mixed. My mother is half Filipino and half Italian while my dad is part pretty much everything that is white in Europe, but mostly Irish. I proudly proclaim myself to be a mutt, thank you very much. But even if you don’t have a mixed heritage you can relate, most of us have something we feel we have been put down or bullied for. What did you think of the video, could you relate to it?

I is for Inkigayo

Inkigayo is the Romanized version of 인기가요, which translates to The Music Trend. It is a music based TV show that debuted back in the 90s. It was originally a chart show where they would just play the songs that were topping the charts. It was revamped in 2003 and every week they would have 7 of the most popular Kpop Idols that have recently released songs come and perform. They would have people vote online for who was their favorite and would crown a winner each week.

They revamped the show again back in 2012. There are still popular Kpop idols performing each week and a winner is still voted each episode, but they have switched their attention from ranking the groups to focus more on the music and artists. They even recently began a segment called Inkigayo Showcase where they take indie and new artists with less exposure and give them a chance to be seen on TV. There is also a segment called Inkigayo Q where fans submit questions via a mobile app for the Kpop idols on the show that week.

I think the reason I find this show so fascinating is because we have nothing like it here in America… not that I would watch it if  we did because I don’t care about American pop that much. I do plan on moving to Korea someday, living there for at least a year, and I will go to at least one Inkigayo taping!! But first… to become fluent in Korean.

Do you have any shows like this where you live? Would, or do, you watch it?

F is for F(x)

F(x) is a girl group with 5 members and is definitely one of my top 5 favorite Kpop groups. My favorite song that they have ever done is Electric Shock. It is so catchy!!

In my previous posts about Kpop Idols I have mostly pointed out ones that differ from most of the Kpop mainstream but these girls are pretty typical of Kpop. One thing that does set them apart is how multicultural their members are. One is Chinese, two are American while the other two are Korean.

 

 

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Victoria is the leader of the group and also the Chinese member, at 27 she is     also the oldest. She started studying dancing at a very young age and was actually scouted at a Beijing dance competition. She trained for 2 years with SM and was a model before she debuted as the leader of F(x). She was also one half of my favorite couple on We Got Married, Khuntoria, with Nickhun from 2pm. We Got Married is a Korean show where they take famous people and have them live like they are married to each other. I know the whole show is scripted but I don’t even care, it is so cute!!


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Amber is one of the American members of the girl group and is the “tomboy”. She does most of the rapping in the group and is a pretty great dancer. I feel like she gets less credit then she deserves because she isn’t the “pretty one”. But she is, in my opinion, the funniest of the group and my favorite to see in the variety shows.

 

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Krystal is the other American member of the group, at 19 she is also the youngest. She and her sister Jessica were both scouted at a very young age by SM entertainment. Her older sister debuted first as part of Girls Generation, arguably the most successful female Kpop group… ever. In my opinion Krystal doesn’t stand out too much in F(x) but she shines in her acting. She was recently in the drama Heirs and was my second favorite character. The only one I liked better was Kim Woo Bin, but that was more because he had the whole hot bad boy thing going on.

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Sulli is one of the Korean members of the group. She is the also the “visual” of the group meaning they market her as the prettiest of all the members. She was actually an actress long before she was a singer having her first acting gig at age 11. She was in one of my favorite dramas To the Beautiful You where she cross-dressed as a boy so that she could go to an all boy High School to help her role model out of rut. My first thought when watching this show was “How could anyone think that she was a boy?!?” That thought continued throughout the show but it was still a lot of fun.

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Luna is the other Korean member of the group and is the lead dancer and vocalist. I will be honest, she does have a pretty voice, but she is really my least favorite member of the group so I don’t know a whole lot about her.

 

 

 

Here is a link to their most recent music video, which member is your favorite?