South Korea has one of the fastest-growing and most sonically exciting Pop scenes in the world, so we have decided to bring you “The K-Pop Bulletin”, a column highlighting some of the hottest K-Pop singles of every month. Today, we look at the finest releases from the month of May.
GFriend – Time for the Moon Night
I constantly mention my big bias towards the “cutesy girl-group sings over a lush blanket of strings and synths” scene (check last month’s column for Lovelyz, or January’s for Oh My Girl), but it’s also very exciting for K-Pop in general when one of these young, promising groups is striving to reach maturity. It can be kind of a double-edged sword at this point in their career, but because the age of easy, immediate hooks — “Rough”, “Me Gustas Tú,” “Fingertip” — is gone, new doors are opened for GFriend musically, and “Time for the Moon Night” represents a significant change in direction. Of course, melodrama is an integral part of their sound, and this lush, string-filled instrumental works pretty well with their performances; the hooks are still quite solid, they just take a bit more time to unfold.
(G)I-dle – Latata
CUBE Entertainment, the company behind the legendary 4Minute and Hyuna, gritty girl-group CLC and elegant boy-band Pentagon, is back at it with a brand new ensemble and a musical attitude that’s more in line with contemporary trends. “Latata” is tropical house-infused pop by-the-numbers, but the execution is tremendous; the production is spacious and bouncy, and the vocal performances (a bit rough, yet youthful and sensual) truly shine with personality. We always knew that a group built around the magnetism of leader Jeon Soyeon would be a good idea, and it feels so great to have this confirmed in such a strong, no-nonsense debut.
Dreamcatcher – You And I
Dreamcatcher‘s whole schtick comes down to their rock edge, the use of distorted guitar riffs and heavy drums as the anchor of their tracks, but make no mistake, this ain’t no gimmick; the performances are well-balanced, the hooks are undeniable, and most importantly, the songwriting really takes things to another level. In “You And I” there are slapping hip-hop beats in the verses, a bridge that builds actual tension, and chorus melodies for days. Dreamcatcher is looking to create a sound of their own, to move past the novelty of their concept, and there’s an infallible way of doing so: by just writing better songs.
BTS – Fake Love
For BTS, and for South Korean music itself, May was a historic month: Their new record Love Yourself 轉 ‘Tear‘ reached the top spot in the Billboard 200 albums chart, the first Asian album to achieve such a feat and the unequivocal proof that the Bangtan Boys are the biggest pop act in the world. “Fake Love”, the album’s lead single, is a perfect introduction to the band’s sound; a mid-tempo tune, completely wrapped in a hip-hop/trap envelope, but pure pop in its core, with a blaring, anthemic chorus. What happened last year with “Despacito” as a single, is reinforced this year with “Tear” as an album. Pop is a global thing, and language is no longer a barrier. The future has spoken.
Pristin V – Get It
K-Pop has often been accused of being too formulaic, and yes, while several groups have come up with concepts that pander a bit much to particular trends, or repeat themselves with specific elements, there are a lot of reliably adventurous artists and producers that keep things interesting no matter what. Pristin V‘s “Get It” is a song with a very basic structure, built around a trap beat, like so many girl-group singles today, but there’s so much more going on production-wise — like the way that dark synth-bass moves around the percussive hits — it remains exciting all the way. Besides, the group’s vocal diversity is put to excellent use, both in performance and in sonic treatment.
AOA – Bingle Bangle
Many of us were a bit skeptical about the return of veteran girl-group AOA without their de-facto leader, the charismatic ChoA, but this comeback is here to prove two important things: 1. That the group is just as strong, and it’s still full of talented performers, and 2. That they’re still the ineffable queens of the K-Pop Summer Jam. “Bingle Bangle”, with its disco-indebted bassline, its acoustic guitar breakdowns, and that über-catchy whistled melody, is a shoe-in for millions of beach-party playlists across the globe. It has the potential to soundtrack some of the greatest moments we’ll live this year.
SHINee – Good Evening
It’s such a bittersweet sensation to have the great SHINee return. On one hand, we just lost Jonghyun last December, and we’re still processing the idea of the group without him; on the other hand, SHINee are true geniuses, a band comprised of some of the most talented singers, songwriters, and performers in South Korean pop history, and there’s a seal of quality in every release. “Good Evening” is an impressive return to form, reaching back to the deep house-oriented sound of previous smash “View”, but with a more reflective approach. The production, from the melodic refrain to the vocal layering, is simply gorgeous, highlighting the strengths of a group that is all about power and complexity. The masters are back, and now that they’re celebrating their tenth anniversary, they’re here to claim back their legendary status.