Beyond Gangnam Style

Heyyyyyy, Geeky Ladies…and Geeky Dudes.  Perhaps, after hearing PSY’s international hit, “Gangnam Style,” you were wondering what other musical magic Korea has to offer.  Consider this your K-pop 101.

K-pop has a lot in common with North American pop music.  The style is pop with influences of rap, R&B, and a bit of club/dance music.  Personally, I find K-pop rather nostalgic, because it reminds me of what was cool in North America back in the 90s before all this autotuning began.  That’s right.  K-popular hardly uses autotuning.  If you prefer music wherein you can hear the singers’ actual voices, give K-pop a listen.

K-pop idols are usually trained singers AND dancers (and sometimes actors as well), and the release of a new music video is treated as a major event.  Perhaps this is just the biased opinion of a K-pop fan, but I think K-pop videos are just better than the North American ones.  The videos have a story to them, whereas North American music videos tend to be more like “I am walking in slow motion while things go on fire” and “I am standing in a desert, and I am walking in a night club, and I am surrounded by young alcoholics.”  K-pop videos are more like little movies, interspersed with highly choreographed dances.  But don’t take my word for it.  Have a look at some of these major K-pop bands.

Wonder Girls
You might already know this band, since they recently did a song with Akon.  It’s called “Like Money,” and it doesn’t have much to do with their general style of music.  Their music in Korea tends to have a funkier, “brighter” sound to it.  They kind of remind me a bit of Destiny’s Child, if each singer had her own chance to shine instead of there being one Beyonce and a handful of backup singers.

Last summer, they released a song called “Nobody” wherein you can better hear their talents.

Here’s a band that’s got a good balance of “club” sound and highlighting the lead singer’s talent.  I find that most club music sounds overly robotized or washed out entirely, but 4Minute avoids that pitfall.  The lead singer, Hyuna, has also released singles on her own and done duets with other K-pop idols.  She’s kind of the Beyonce, if you’ll excuse the second consecutive reference to Destiny’s Child.

Here’s one of their more recent songs, “Volume Up.”

I consider these guys to be the N*SYNC of the K-pop world – except you won’t get sick of them because they’re not horribly overplayed (or played at all) outside Korea.  SHINee (pronounced “shiny”) has the quintessential pop image when it comes to singing and dancing.  You could compare them to any 90s boy band, really, except that their image is presented as a unified group.  That is, their dances are meant for the five members to perform together, instead of just having five guys onstage who happen to be doing the same thing.  They also don’t break off into “the cute one,” “the shy one,” and so on.

Here’s their big hit from earlier this year, “Sherlock.”

SNSD or Girls Generation
First, before there is any confusion, this band goes by a few names.  They are called So Nyeo Shi Dae.  So Nyeo = Girls.  Shi Dae = Generation.   Sometimes they are called by their acronym, SNSD, or their translated name, Girls Generation.  Because they are popular in Japan as well, they are sometimes referred to as Shoju Jidai or ShoShi as well, but whatever you call them, they are adorable.

Their sound is poppy and electronic-sounding and their image is a cuteness overload.  SNSD is a bit like the Spice Girls in that each one gets a chance to sing and they take turns being backup for one another.  Their dances mostly consist of stepping in unison and making cute poses one by one, but for them, it kinda works.

The band has nine members, three of whom have released singles as a sub-group.

Here’s a song by the whole band, called “Oh.”

And here’s a song by the sub-group, TTS, called “Twinkle.”

Orange Caramel
Is K-pop not hideously cute enough for you yet?  Okay, have some Orange Caramel.  This band’s sound and image are a style called “aegyo,” which is what would happen if every Spice Girl were Baby Spice.  I could describe Orange Caramel as three young women dressing up as a little girl’s dream and doing a cute cheerleading-style dance in what appears to be a giant dollhouse, or I could just show you this:

Warning: Orange Caramel’s “Magic Girl” is not for those with sensitivity to extreme cuteness.

Are you tired of cuteness?  Have some BIGBANG.  This is one of my favourite K-pop bands.  They have a “tougher” sound than the previous bands mentioned here.  BIGBANG is influenced by hip hop and rap music.  They also differ from the other bands in that each of the five members focuses on having an individual persona and meshing them after the fact, rather than going for the unified look.  They all have an awesome blend of glamour and toughness – “street glam,” if you will – and it comes together beautifully.  Not to mention, Daesung and Seungri have exceptionally awesome voices.  Okay, they ALL have completely awesome voices but… must… stop… fangirling.

This is their totally awesome video, “Fantastic Baby.”

If you like BIGBANG’s urban sound, take it a step further with BAP.  BAP (which stands for Best. Absolute. Perfect, and I’m sure that makes sense before translation) has a gritty sound and makes gritty videos to match.  There’s no innocent cuteness to be found here; just rough rap, powerful singing, and aggressive (yet beautifully choreographed) urban dance.

Have a look, with their song “Warrior.”

Here we are: another one of my favourite K-pop bands.  While most K-pop bands – the girl bands, especially – go for an ultra-cute image, 2NE1 is a bit rougher and has a lot more variation in their songs.  They’ve got a musical style like TLC and a lyrical message like P!nk’s.  Their songs say “screw you, I don’t care what you think of me,” but are tempered with “we are all emotionally vulnerable inside.”  The subject matter of their songs also reaches beyond the usual “I have a crush on you.”  Instead, they sing about passion, confidence, insecurity, and rebellion.  Compare “I Love You” and “Hate You,” or “Ugly” and “I Am The Best.”  Yes, those are all songs by the same group.  And their voices!  So gorgeous!

While their videos usually consist of them posing, dancing, and then destroying the set with lots of smashing and firepower, I will show you their animated video instead.  This video looks like a full-fledged cartoon just by itself.

Without further ado, “Hate You” by 2NE1.

Let’s go back to the sugary side of K-pop with B1A4.  They’re rather “Mickey Mouse club” for my taste, but oodles of fans can’t be wrong.  Perhaps B1A4’s imaginative videos, playful dances, and innocent cute songs are what appeals to younger fans.  Come to think of it, they kind of remind me of Hanson.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Judge for yourself, with “Baby Goodnight.”

Girl’s Day
I’m ending this little intro to K-pop with a band that’s not super famous but has a really great song and video.  Words can’t really do it justice, so I’m just going to show it to you.

This is Girl’s Day’s “Oh My God.”


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