While I still refuse to watch Korean drama religiously, I’m not reluctant listening to Korean music. I wrote posts about my favorite Korean songs and music videos before, which mostly involve the unique color of their music videos, not taking much of the music itself. So, today I intend to write one.
It’s hard to understand completely what’s make Korean music so interesting or the very first time I’ve been drawn into it. It’s like a giant black hole that sucks your soul which only give 2 options of going forward, stay on your spot or dig deeper into it. Either way, you’re already fallen into it :))
For me, Korean music is experimental. The music is often loud and usually, combines a lot of sounds and samples that put together in a really weird way. It’s non-conservative and non-traditional way of thinking, which I think is good because they bring their own color to the table. Unlike the weird vibe of Japanese music which is not afraid to smash uncommon things together (remember Baby Metal?), Korean music is still oriented towards the trend of Western Music. It’s not a surprise that EDM and hip-hop are taking Korean music like storm nowadays.
It’s mostly true that Korean idol groups are the fabricated products from entertainment agencies. But since it’s already a long way from the start of this so called Korean Wave, an idol who composes and write his/her own song is not that rare anymore. The other reason why I said Korean music is experimental, it is because there are a lot of up and coming groups with their own ‘concept’ for time to time (you’ll lose count on how many boy band, girl band, and don’t get started on how many members are actually in their groups). Some concepts may work for few groups, but not for some others. Some idol groups may find success after their first debut, while some rocketed to the chart after two albums, after 6 years, or after a video made viral. It seems that Korean music is also in the midst of figuring out the best formula to make them stay in business.
If you noticed already, I keep using the term Korean music rather than K-Pop here. I’m trying not to degrade the very existence of the music inside. While most famous Korean music is still dominated by idol groups with flashy performance, Korean music is more than just pop genre and the dance breaks. When listening to Korean music there is one rule that I always keep, if you cannot picture the music without its music video and performance, then it would probably not that good. Because in the end, music is made to listen to.
Here are a few Korean band or song, which I recently in love with and I think worth to listen to. I’m not really a dedicated fan, so if you ask me each of the band’s member name or every track’s lyrics meaning, I might not remember it completely :)) But as I said over and over again: good music is good music, no matter what genre it is, no matter in what language it speaks.
The band comes as a dark horse in Korean indie scene in 2014 with their unique music color and relatable lyrics (which often take on the pain of growing up). While Hyukoh’s song mostly resembles rock music, their songs mutate into something different from time to time. Taking the role of main vocal, Oh Hyuk’s voice is soulful and rich. His tone is unbelievable! The first time I hear their songs, it reminds me of the reason why I love Asian Kungfu Generation, Tokyo Jihen, and Bara Suara. My favorite songs which I think would also make everyone falls in love with is Wi Ing Wi Ing from their debut album 20, also Leather Jacket and Tomboy from their latest album 23.
Another great showcase of Oh Hyuk’s voice is when he featured in a song called Can’t Love You Anymore with a female solo artist named IU. Their voice blends perfectly especially in some point of the song where they sing a verse and made it like a telephone calls conversation.
I followed the tide and flowed along
Then I realize I’m older than yesterday, half of fifty
Getting pushed around, I came here though I have no interest
Now all the water has left me, I’m exhausted
I gathered my shed tears
And set off my shrunken ego
So I won’t be swayed by the Jordan River
Please hold tight onto me
Leather Jacket (2017) – Hyukoh
The acoustic indie duo is known by their easy-listening music with witty lyrics. The wittiness is not only shown within their lyrics, they also named their band based on the height difference between the two members. 10cm’s lyrics are raw and honest, they often put a lot of erotic hints and adult contents in a very unique way. My favorite song is probably What’s The Spring? which released in 2016’s April Fools. Unlike the lovely music they produce, the lyrics of What’s The Spring? curses all the spring couple and portray the jealousy and loneliness of a single person under cherry blossom. Here is my favorite clip of the band singing their song under the actual cherry blossom. Another favorite of mine are Love In The Milky Way, Sseudam Sseudam, It’s Killing Me, and I’m Afraid Of The Dark (which probably almost all of their songs). While I rarely find the English translation video of their song, this performance in Yu Huiyeol’s Sketchbook is a gem (to save your time, they perform in min 34:37).
What if I really go crazy?
What if I stop breathing all of a sudden?
The seaweed on your teeth to me is
It’s so nice, so nice, so nice
Even your underendowed chest to me is
It’s so nice, so nice, so nice
I don’t know what to do with myself
It’s Killing Me (2010) – 10cm
Having snatch up the Best Indie Award at Melon Music Award in 2016, the duo is now a darling in Korean indie music. Consists of high school friends Ahn Ji-young and Woo Ji-yoon, Bolbbalgan4’s music is light and beautiful. Though I still cannot spell their name correctly each time, I really enjoy their 2016 album Red Planet. It is a perfect way to sketch their band name’s meaning, Blushing Adolescence. Their title song Galaxy, which swept up music chart, is an exploration of falling in love in a sweet way. Ji-young’s voice sounds really pure and has this kind of unique tremble effects which echoes in your ears even after the song ends. Because I don’t find their album in Spotify playlist so I will leave you with their live performance at LIVE ONE.
Yesterday I was in a really good mood
I carved your name
on the planet I passed by
after a while when the stars come
that star shines the brightest
When the day breaks
I’ll sleep by your side again
I fall asleep under the stars
and it’s like I have the whole universe
Galaxy (2016) – Bbolbalgan4
Nam Taehyun left the boy band WINNER in late 2016, which caused a ruckus not only among the group’s fans but also YG Entertainment‘s fanatics. I have an obligation to insert this one because I really like WINNER as a band (WINNER’s Baby Baby is one of my favorite Korean songs of all time). As an idol, Nam Taehyun is an oddball since he expresses music differently (which he uploads on his SoundCloud from time to time), so it’s not a surprise that he left early. Having been open about his mental health and music restriction within the company, Taehyun is back in the music industry with his own label company and the band SouthClub. The mini album titled 90 is true to its name, making an ode to 90’s music which contains pure rock and blues. The pre-release song called Hug Me, which is the only ballad song, contains TaeHyun’s sweet voice and express his longing to be comforted while the song I Got The Blues tells daily life where he needs to swallow his problems away.
I think I drank too much last night
I open my eyes and I’m thirsty and so hungry
I look through my whole house but there’s nothing to eat
So I call my friend and say
I Got The Blues
I Got The Blues (2017) – SouthClub
Woo Ji-ho takes the stage name Zico and made his name as an underground rapper turns boyband member Block B in his early career. Nowadays, Zico’s songs are always guaranteed a high ranking in music charts, which shows not only his capability of creating music but also his intention to break genre stereotype of Korean music. I’m not usually listening to hip-hop, but Zico’s music falls between the sweet spot of mainstream music with a catchy chorus and the hard jamming of indie hip-hop. His latest mini album as a soloist called Television is a thoughtful recollection of his minds, showcasing his potential both as a rapper and great producer. In one of his songs called Anti, Zico roasts himself and writing in the position of an anti-fan which gives a chilling vibe to the song. In other song titled Artist, he asked us to express our mind freely since everyone is an artist in their own way.
From now on
Turn every back to a blank canvas
Don’t think, just do, you’re holding the brush
You have the most sense when you’re in front of the mirror
Life is short Art is long
You or me or him, I make em say
Ah We are we artist baby
Artist (2017) – Zico
Barely missed the cut and placed 12th in one of the hottest survival show in Korean, Produce 101 (which aimed to debut an idol group consists of 11 members amongst the original 101 contestants), Jung Se-Woon is not a new face in Korean TV Show. He also participated in K-Pop Star season 3 when he’s 17 years old (although he is eliminated in Top 10). His gentle voice and acoustic guitar rendition are calming and soothing. The song Mom, Wait and Don’t Get Me Wrong sums up his music, which portrays daily life with honest storytelling (which I easily love). Though Jung Sewoon is not formally releasing any song whatsoever, I’m excited to hear more of him in the future :3
This guide is written with the intention of giving you a new look of Korean music. I’m not trying to make the idol groups or K-Pop looks awful by giving more of indie rock and acoustic references. I just naturally drawn to it since it’s one of my comfort zone in music. There are also a lot of interesting things on idol groups’ songs that I want to tell you later :)) I debated a lot on writing the title of this post since I’m not that kind of expert and only listen to the Korean music intensively for the past year, but I was intrigued by how interesting it is on the surface. So, if you have other references and interesting take on the subject, do let me know! I’d love to know more.
On and all, have a nice day :)