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?

F is for Failure

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So… basically the A-Z challenge kicked my butt. It took way more energy and time than I thought it would.  I know, silly me, it’s not called “challenge” for shits and giggles. So I took the last couple weeks off to distress myself, and now I am back! Don’t lie, I know you missed me.

One great thing that came out of that was I realized how much I love blogging about Kpop, and Korea in general. So I have decided to start a weekly segment called “Kpop Sunday Special.” Every week I will blog about what ever happened in the sphere of Kpop or Korean pop culture in general. If nothing really interesting happened I will just talk about something that has happened in the past that I feel like telling you about. But no matter what; it will be about something from Korea. My first edition will be out later today.

As for my writing: I laugh hysterically to myself when I look at my first post on this blog. Particularly at the part where I say I will write an entire book in 4 months. Clearly I am a comic genius. It is not going that smoothly at all. And recently I figured out why I was having such a hard time. I was trying to write the book from the wrong perspective.

It is a fantasy novel so my first thought was I should write it from the most kick-ass person in the cast. They are going to be at the center of all the action so in that aspect it kind of made sense. But then I realized that she was just too hard to relate to, I had fallen into the Superman conundrum. If she is this all powerful, awesome character, what real difficulties could she face? She the other girl that basically started out as her plucky side kick is now the main protagonist. She is so much more relatable and so much easier to write I am a little ashamed of myself for not figuring this out sooner.

R is for Running Man

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We don’t really have anything like Running Man here in the US, and I really wish we would! It is my absolute favorite Korean variety show, I have literally watched every single episode. The show has a cast of 7 celebrities and there is at least one guest nearly every week. The producers come up with a theme each week and have the cast play games or go through different challenges. Some only watch episodes with guest celebrities that they like but in my opinion the main cast is what really makes this show great. They have been working together for four years now and have great chemistry. Just watching them stand around and joke with each other often makes for my favorite part of the show.

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The leader of the show is Yoo Jae Suk, aka The Nation’s MC, and he is one of the most famous comedians in South Korea. This show was originally popular because it was his comeback after the last show he was on, Family Outing, ended. Yoo Jae Suk was originally poked fun at during the show for being one of the “weak players” because he and two others were often in competition for being the first ones eliminated. Later on, however, Yoo Jae Suk became one of the strongest players, giving himself the nickname Yooruce Willis. The only one he never really has a chance of beating in a straight on physical contest is the next cast member.

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Kim Jong Kook aka The Commander aka Sparta Kook. In case you can’t tell from his nicknames he is the physically strongest member of the show. Another of his nicknames is Coach Kook, he is such a perfectionist that no matter who is partered up with he will always nag and tell them how to do it better. Outside of the show however, he is actually a ballad singer. On the show they actually make fun of him for his “mosquito voice.” This guy is really big but his singing voice is really high pitched. Here is a link to his latest music video “All Men are Like That.” Side Note: The actor in the MV is Song Jong Ki, a former member of Running Man.

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Then, there is the Lee Kwang Soo aka the Giraffe akaFramer Kwang Soo aka Icon of Betrayal. During many games Kwang Soohas made alliances with different members or guests and as soon as it helps him he will throw them under the bus, or towards Kim Jong Kook so he can get away. None of the members trust him anymore but for some reason guests still do. What really surprised me is that Kwang Soo started his career as a model, it doesn’t fit his image on the show at all.

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But you can’t talk about Kwang Soo without talking about Ji Suk Jin, together they are known as the Easy Brothers. This is both because they are easy to take out but also because if you combine their last names (Lee and Ji) it sounds like easy. Suk Jin is the oldest member of Running man and is known as being the physically weakest. He plays along with this often challenging the women who come on the show if given the option, as they are the only ones he has any chance of beating. He is also known for betrayal, though not as much as Lee Kwang Soo.

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HaHa aka Haroro is the primary “funny man” of the cast. He is the one that jokes around the most and is picked on by the other members for his height and his similarities to a popular cartoon character, Pororo. Together Haha, Lee Kwang Soo and Ji Suk Jin make up the traitors club. While Lee Kwang Soo is best known for betrayal the other two do it whenever possible as well.Outside of the show Haha is a Reggae music singer, and seems to like to bring his comedy into his MVs.

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Kang Gary aka occasional Mr Capable is the sweet one of the show. He was never on a variety show before this and is known as the more naïve or gullible member. What I find fairly funny about that image is that he is the rapper of the duo Leessang and when doing that has more of a hardcore image. I didn’t know about his rapping until very recently and when watching him performing or during a music video I actually found it pretty hard to take seriously because of Running Man. He recently released his first solo mini album and with it an MV that is probably the most overtly sexual thing I have ever seen come out of Korea. But it is so overdone it seems more like a joke than anything else.

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I have saved the best for last! The only female member of the cast Song Ji Hyo aka the Ace aka my favorite member! Even though she is the only female Ji Hyo is considered one of the strongest competitors on the show. While quizzes are not her strong suit (another of her nicknames is blank Ji Hyo) when it comes to the games and physical contests she is amazing. She seems to have made a routine of embarrassing Haha and Ji Suk Jin by beating them, she even once beat Ji Suk Jin at wrestling. Her and Gary are also called the Monday Couple, because they are only a couple when they are filming on Mondays. They are actually the cutest thing ever and I totally wish they would date in real life! Outside of Running Man Ji Hyo is a very successful actress. She originally became famous by playing the other woman in the hit Drama Goong aka Princess Hours. She most recently has been in another drama called Emergency Couple.

If you would like to check out Running Man you can do so here.

P is for Psy

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

 

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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

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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?

J is for JYJ

JYJ is kind of the black sheep of the Kpop family. They were originally called TVXQ (or DBSK depending on which country you live in) and were a five member group. TVXQ debuted in 2003 and were amazingly popular in both Korea and Japan winning multiple awards and topping many charts with over 20 singles. But six years after their debut three of the members sued their entertainment company, SM Entertainment, saying that the contract was too long and that the profit distribution was unfair. Considering that the contract was 13 years long and Kpop is slightly infamous for “slave contracts” their complaints were most likely completely fair. The three members (Junsu, Jejoong and Yuchun) broke from TVXQ and SM and formed their own group, JYJ.

They debuted as JYJ in 2010 and, in my opinion, are more talented than then what is left of TVXQ. SM, however, is one of the most powerful talent agencies in South Korea so JYJ faces a lot of issues. For one, they are basically banned from appearing on any music shows, like Inkigayo. They aren’t technically banned, but shows that rely on SM letting their very popular artist make appearances on them are less likely to let JYJ appear. They also have much less advertisement then they did back when part of SM Entertainment.

One of the reasons I respect them so much is because despite this they are still very successful, both as a group and by themselves. Their return album debuted as number one on the Oricon chart. They also released a English album with the title track being produced and featuring Kanye West, Ayy Girl. It is honestly not my favorite JYJ song but the video did produce the famous “rolling down your sexy windows” dance move. If you don’t know what I am talking about check out the EYK review of the video here. Their next album was my favorite spawning my favorite JYJ song, In Heaven.

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Junsu aka Xia is my favorite of the group and has a very successful solo career. Apart from their group world tour he has done one on his own as well as an Asia tour. He is actually one of the most sexual of the Kpop artists out there. Just watch Intoxication… If he had released that in Korea it would have been banned SO fast. He also plays a large role in composing and writing many of his songs. He is also the captain of the South Korean celebrity Soccer team FC MEN, and has been in multiple live musicals.

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Jae-Joong aka Hero is the second member and probably the prettiest man I have ever seen. And no, I don’t mean handsome, I mean pretty. When doing solo music he actually has a much more rock feel then pop, as demonstrated with his single Mine. He also plays a large role in composing and writing many of his songs. He acts sometimes and my favorite role of his was the as the second male lead of the drama Protect the Boss.

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Yoochun aka Micky doesn’t really do much solo music, what he does a lot of is acting. With his first Korean acting role back in 2010, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, he won the “Rookie of the Year award”, “Netizen Award”, and “Best Couple Award”. He has been in three Korean Dramas since and continues to rake in the awards.

 

I will continue to support these guys because they are pretty darn talented and it sucks that they are thought of as less by a lot of Korean mainstream because of the fight with SM. But I am not the only one supporting them. Whatever they may lack in Korean popularity they make up for, many times over, in international popularity.