On Another Note: A K-pop Playlist for Halloween

K-pop may seem bright and cheery, more suited for summer fun than Halloween. In actuality, the aesthetic-based, high concept nature of the genre makes it perfect for spooky songs and videos. Some are genuinely dark, while others attach supernatural visuals to an otherwise bubblegum kind of song. However you like your music, there’s a Halloween K-pop song for you. In this post I highlight ten songs, but the full playlist I’ve created is much longer, available on Spotify or YouTube.

1. Dreamcatcher — Chase Me

Dreamcatcher is a fierce girl group with a hard rock vibe and killer dance moves. To match, their music video concepts have thus far involved horror, with “Chase Me” channeling The Shining. They’ve dedicated themselves to a ghostly storyline with gusto, and it’s paid off, attracting to them a dedicated cult following (not literally… we hope). Driving guitars combined with poppy vocals give their music a J-rock sensibility that wouldn’t be out of place on an anime soundtrack. Although they’re more rock than metal, they’ll appeal to fans of the Japanese sensation Babymetal.

2. VIXX — Voodoo Doll

WARNING: Contains body horror.

VIXX is famous for going full-out with their aesthetic concepts, and Voodoo Doll is no exception, crossing the line from dark to frightening and gory. Forget NSYNC’s mannequin look, this video shows the members as literal victims of voodoo dolls, gushing blood and stuck through with needles as their eyes glaze over into Xs. A dark, pulsing electronic beat supports dramatic vocals and rapping, and the choreography uses a needle prop. Both the music video and the choreography were rated adult in Korea for violence.

Note: Actual voodoo religions do not use dolls in the stereotypically depicted way. Please keep in mind the difference between myth and fact when enjoying horror!

3. Red Velvet — Peek-A-Boo

Red Velvet divides their discography into two main categories: their Red side is cute and quirky pop, while their Velvet side is smooth and sensual R&B. In “Peek-A-Boo,” they strike a balance between the two. Sonically, there’s nothing particularly ominous about this song, which dips into tropical house and has a Red-style chipper chorus. However, the music video shows the members living in a murder mansion where they lure delivery boys to their deaths. Red Velvet’s cuter songs tend to have unsettling vibes to them (see “Russian Roulette,”) but this femme fatale style was a step in a new direction for them, one that they leaned into with their following single, “Bad Boy.”

4. TRCNG — Wolf Baby

Several boy bands have used a werewolf concept to showcase a tough and mysterious vibe. TRCNG takes a different angle. They play up the campiness of the song and manage to make a dark, creepy monster into something actually cute. With sampled howls, exaggerated dance moves, and ketchup instead of blood, they add a pinch of humor to the slightly eerie refrain and the glimmering contact lenses. This is just the right catchy-cute bop to get you in the Halloween spirit if you’re not into the scary stuff.

5. Grace — Trick or Treat

More into hip-hop than pop? Grace is a Korean-American rapper who brings a grungy, rhythmic vibe to this song. The harsh, staccato consonants of “trick or treat” become their own kind of drumbeat, and the sung pre-chorus gives this track a nice pop sensibility. Don’t let the low-budget music video put you off. For a song that makes you feel like no one can mess with you, “Trick or Treat” is perfect.

6. HISTORY — Psycho

The song is, of course, inspired by the movie of the same name. I’m a sucker for eighties-style pop, and this delivers in a deliciously spooky way. The opening lines actually remind me of the Ghostbusters theme, which makes it sound like it might be a bit campy, but it’s actually got just the right amount of velvety darkness as it progresses to the pre-chorus. If you’re looking for something scary but sensual, this is your song.

7. SunnyHill — Midnight Circus

SunnyHill combines distinctly Korean-style dance-pop with demented circus music for a perfect upbeat Halloween bop. Small touches like male member Janghyun’s layered vocals and Kota’s oddly menacing refrain of “replay, replay” add extra flair to an already creepy instrumental. I love the styling in this video, too, which is reminiscent of scene kids in the aughts with their stripes, tiny top hats, and ripped leggings.

8. BOYFRIEND — WITCH

This music video turns Red Riding Hood into a horror concept with Red as a witch and the members of the band as werewolves. They make creative use of red banners representing her cloak in their choreography, too. The visuals here really elevate a somewhat typical song about a bewitching bad girl into a story of its own that comes across as more Halloween than fairy tale.

9. 4Minute — Volume Up

4Minute is better known for their later hip-hop bangers like “Crazy” and “Hate,” but the poppier “Volume Up” isn’t any less fiery. This jubilant break-up song features some truly intense soaring vocals building into a danceable chorus. In the video, the members sport gorgeous vampire chic outfits and pose with a snake for added dangerous flair. It’s just subtle enough that you wonder if they’re really supposed to be vampires or not… until they vanish into clouds of black smoke at the end.

10. BIGBANG — Monster

What I love about this song is that its story is as apparent through its melancholy, pleading melody as through its lyrics. The members of BIGBANG channel the kind of angsty, secretly sensitive bad boy that populates supernatural romance novels, and they play their roles to a T. The emotional highs of the song are in English, and they express the song’s meaning in just a few words: “I love you. Baby, I’m not a monster” in the chorus, and the heart-wrenching outro, “I think I’m sick.”

Enjoy these? I’ve created a full playlist on YouTube and on Spotify. Note that they’re not quite identical — the YouTube version includes some songs that aren’t available on Spotify, while the Spotify version includes a few deep cuts that don’t have music videos.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/valerie-an/playlist/0yvJ7wQ2oLinQHhMl8ctIY

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Check out my masterlist for the rest of my posts and reviews!

On Another Note: 5 Great K-pop Boy Band Songs

By popular demand (read: exactly one person, you know who you are), music posting is back, and it’s more K-pop. Since I did a short survey of my favorite girl group songs, I thought it would only be fair to create a boys version.

iKON — Love Scenario

With its simple, clean, and catchy sound, it should be no surprise that this has been the radio hit of the year in Korea. The music video matches perfectly — I like the section with the turning chairs for the way it subtly hides faces, and there’s something aesthetically pleasing in the way duplicates are used throughout the video. This song is an apparent favorite among elementary schoolers, and it’s had an unintended consequence: some parents have tried to ban the song in schools, ostensibly for being “inappropriate,” but really just because their kids won’t stop singing it all. The. Time.

A.C.E — Take Me Higher

This is my personal song of the summer. A.C.E is an interesting bunch. The members have the raw singing and dancing talent of top-tier groups, but their label is tiny and has very little budget. Their first two singles are catchy, but in an attempt to stand out from the pack, they were written in an unconventional genre, hardstyle. Unfortunately, their style was a bit too unconventional, and the group didn’t gain much attention at first. After the members competed on survival TV shows, though, they gained more exposure. “Take Me Higher” capitalizes on that exposure and also departs from their original sound, instead going full-on bubblegum pop. And honestly? It’s their best work yet. Let’s hope that this song… takes them higher.

Note: this is actually a 5 member group, but one of the members, Chan, is taking a temporary break after being included in the winning group on a survival show, The Unit.

BTOB — Movie

In the video for “Movie,” each of the members act out roles from popular films. It’s a fun, danceable bop with a cute gimmick and a disco vibe. What’s not to like? For me, what gives this song extra spice is Peniel’s rap in English. K-pop is no stranger to cheesy rap, but hearing the same kind of lyrics in English adds an extra layer of absurdity to it. I have a suspicion that Peniel wrote these lyrics as a joke and decided to put them in the final version of the song just for kicks.

Block B — Nillili Mambo

“Nillili Mambo” is one of the first K-pop songs I ever listened to, and it was totally by chance. I’m a fan of the webcomic Homestuck, and a popular fan-made animation was set to this song. The lyrics are a bunch of vaguely party-oriented word salad, but you can’t deny that the music absolutely bangs. Just ignore Zico’s atrocious dreadlocks and enjoy the weird Pirates of the Caribbean plot.

BIGBANG — Fantastic Baby

I was debating with myself what my final selection for this list would be. I enjoy recommending songs that people might not know, but I also want to pay homage to the greats. I was considering recommending a lesser-known BTS track, but then I thought about Fantastic Baby. It’s one of the songs that went semi-viral in the wake of “Gangnam Style,” so it’s more likely to be recognized by casual listeners than many other K-pop tracks, but in my opinion, if there’s one person out there who hasn’t heard this song, that’s one person too many. It’s bombastic and over-the-top, yes, but it’s undeniably cool, and it fuses the electronic sound of earlier K-pop with the loud visuals and high production quality of newer K-pop. And it’s the home of G-Dragon’s most iconic look!

Wow. Fantastic, baby.

Did you enjoy any of these songs? What other music topics should I cover? Tell me in the comments!

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Check out my masterlist for the rest of my posts and reviews!

On Another Note: 5 Great K-pop Girl Group Songs

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.

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Orange Caramel with Kim Daesung, the drag artist seen in the music video.

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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Check out  my masterlist for the rest of my posts!