Don’t worry, you haven’t clicked on the wrong blog! While the vast majority of my posts will continue to be about books, I am introducing “On Another Note,” a feature where I talk about popular music, which is another passion of mine. The two topics might not seem connected on the surface, but pop music can be just as intriguing to analyze as a good book!
For the first post in this series, I’m highlighting five great songs from K-pop girl groups. Originally, I was going to talk about K-pop in general, but I realized that that post would be way too long. To Westerners, K-pop is still a burgeoning genre, but in reality, it’s rich and diverse, having gotten its start in the 90s. This is just a small sampling of the different kinds of music in the genre.
Orange Caramel — Catallena
There is a lot going on in this video. In some ways, it’s emblematic of every popular stereotype about K-pop: bright, colorful, manufactured, and weird. In actuality, Orange Caramel is not considered representative of K-pop; Koreans think they’re quirky, too. Where many groups take their influences from Western music, Orange Caramel tends to have more Asian influences. In this song, they sample a Punjabi wedding song and incorporate Bollywood-style disco. Aesthetically, they take more after Japanese kawaii culture than cool and glitzy K-pop, and that’s not just because they’re dressed like sushi. Where other groups often wear the latest designer clothing, Orange Caramel prefers bizarre stage outfits, the kitschier the better.
There’s more to Orange Caramel than mere weirdness, though. “Catallena” is a song that speaks to the pressures of fame and comparing oneself to others. Lyrically, this discussion is framed as having mixed feelings about another woman — they’re drawn to Catallena, but jealous at the same time. They want to hate her, but they still admire her. In the music video, they are portrayed as sushi meant for consumption by others. They can’t compete with more expensive and glamorous sushi, though, and their prices are accordingly slashed. This shows how in the entertainment industry, performers are a dime a dozen, and even those who try their hardest to stand out can be lost in the crowd. At the end, the girls each eat a piece of sushi representing themselves, eyes filled with tears. For such a fun and colorful song, the underlying meaning is fairly dark.
That being said, here’s a compilation of them yelling during performances. Iconic.
GFriend — Love Whisper
I linked to a choreography video instead of the main music video. Why? Because GFriend’s choreography is worth paying attention to. Their moves aren’t anything flashy, but they’re extremely precise. This choreography is especially interesting because they’ve performed it live in a shallow pool of water, just like in the video! Most of their music has a similar vibe, sugary-sweet songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack for a drama or an anime. In that regard, they can sometimes be formulaic, but they’re consistent performers with second-to-none dancing skills. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
GFriend are so talented that they inspired a popular variety segment. While they were guests on the show Weekly Idol, a fan called in and asked that they attempt the choreography for their song “Rough” at double the speed. They nailed it, and pretty soon every K-pop group was trying it. Unlike GFriend, though, most of them make at least a few mistakes.
Wonder Girls — Why So Lonely
Wonder Girls have had one of the twistiest career paths in K-pop. After rising to popularity in South Korea, they entered the unknown waters of the U.S. music market. This was in 2009, years before “Gangnam Style” brought the genre into American relevance. They put in the work, touring with the Jonas Brothers and even making a TV movie for Nickelodeon. They were the first South Koreans to hit the Billboard Hot 100 with the English version of “Nobody.” However, the departure of several members disrupted their success, and so they came to a standstill and went on hiatus.
In 2015, they made their grand comeback, reinventing themselves not as a typical dance group, but as an actual band. Not only that, but in their fittingly titled new album, Reboot, the members took increased creative control over their music, writing much of it themselves. After Reboot, “Why So Lonely” was their final single as a group before disbanding. Bittersweet but triumphant, they went out with a bang.
4Minute — Hate
“Hate” is, unfortunately, another case of a girl group’s final release being their best. The build-up in this song is phenomenal, taking the listener in an unexpected direction compared to the beginning. 4Minute is one of a small handful of girl groups that cultivate a strong, fierce image, and they live up to that image beautifully here.
You’ve probably seen one of these women before, even if you don’t listen to any K-pop at all. One of the members, HyunA, is prominently featured in the music video for “Gangnam Style.” There, she has orange hair, but in “Hate,” she’s the one with black pigtails. HyunA has had success both as a soloist and in various groups. She was even briefly a member of Wonder Girls at the beginning of their career!
EXID — Ah Yeah
This video might seem a bit scandalous at first, but watch further, and the images behind censor bars turn out to be totally innocent. This is part of the twofold message of “Ah Yeah.”
On one level, it’s about workplace sexual harassment. The whispering at the beginning, “where do you live? Do you live alone?” is answered by the refrain “ah yeah.” The phrase “ah yeah” here isn’t in English; it’s the transliteration of a Korean phrase used to politely deflect questions you don’t want to answer. “These moments are so typical, it’s making me uncomfortable/ Stop asking me those kinds of things,” read the lyrics.
On another level, it’s about censorship in the media. EXID is a group with an admittedly sexy image, but their choreography has been unfairly censored on Korean television. While it’s not uncommon for male artists to include hip thrusting and ab flashes in their performances, there is a double standard for female artists. EXID uses the music video to argue that censoring too much hurts female artists’ reputations by making out their work to be inherently more obscene than that of their male counterparts. In reality, the “censored” parts of the video turn out to be not so bad after all.
What do you think of this new feature? Should I continue, or would you rather just hear about books? Tell me in the comments!
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