Exploring new music can be an exhausting and unpleasant task. After all, it takes work to even listen and appreciate music that one is a fan of (speaking of which, reviews of SPICA’s “You Don’t Love Me” and Ga-In’s “Fxxk U” are around the corner), let alone approach new works by unknown commodities. However, as groups like KARA and the Wonder Girls die and even SNSD seems to be approaching the golden age of “only” releasing one thing per calendar year, it becomes necessary (and even fruitful!) to branch out and experience new music, even if some of it ends up to be utter crap.
Steven Hyden of Grantland, an excellent writer on American music, had this to say on music streaming services and how new “experiences”, even the most unpleasant, can be rewarding:
If we’re really talking about a service catering to life-enriching music-related experiences, something important is being left out. I’m talking about the value of the “wrong” song. The “wrong” song isn’t fulfilling upon first listen. It might in fact be a song you think you never want to hear again. It’s certainly not the sort of thing you’d want on an uninterrupted loop. It is death metal or trap rap or mainstream country. It is the very thing that will send you scurrying to a curator who can dutifully edit out music you find disturbing. But the “wrong” song isn’t really wrong, it just isn’t immediately gratifying or instantly amenable to your sensibilities. It’s challenging.
Here’s another way to define experience: It’s a process of seeing and doing things that makes you wiser than you were before you saw or did those things. Music can only be transformative if it is allowed to reach people who will be noticeably changed by their exposure to it. Put a different way: Think of how many songs you love that you hated upon first listen. Aren’t those the songs that often end up meaning the most? That’s the essence of true discovery, when a song punctures the veil of your own myopia and proves you wrong. It’s what makes being a music fan genuinely thrilling sometimes.
For this writer, that experience would be KARA’s “STEP”, a song that grated immensely on first listen and is now a permanent fixture on any recommended K-Pop list I make. Music discovery is time consuming and not without its pitfalls but that “work” is what led to Nine Muses, SPICA, GLAM and a host of others making frequent appearances on this blog. So, below is a cursory glance into some of the groups that are either new or ones that I’ve put on the backlog for whatever reason. Each will be given a spin based on a random video. Hopefully, one or two of these groups will puncture my myopia.
If it seems like I’m not giving a group a fair shake, or if the single chosen isn’t representative of the group, let me know. Also, recommendations are always welcomed.
Without further ado:
Ladies Code – “Bad Girl”
Chosen because it has “Bad Girl” in the title and I’m shameless. A piano intro is always welcomed, as is the submarine motif. Ladies Code seems to be a pretty standard girl group, inoffensively pretty and averagely pretty by K-Pop standards. But hey! They included a white guy and a black guy in their music video so they have that going for them. The song is forgettable but it isn’t grating, which seems to be a theme for Ladies Code. The song ends and I can’t recall what it sounds like five seconds later. At least there were guns and knee high socks for reasons.
Pros: Knee-high socks, GUNS
Cons: I can’t remember anything else
Verdict: Probably a pass. Nothing is worse than a video which refuses to stick out for any reason.
BESTie – “Love Options”
Youtube gave me this one first, so why not. Dance pop is a surefire way to hold attention for three minutes so this already makes the BESTie experience a positive one. The signature dance move is what would happen if Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” choreography was set to Robin Sparkles’ “Let’s Go to the Mall”. The siren blaring in the background helps give the song an edge but it is also needlessly stressful and I keep expecting for someone to get shot, perhaps from a stray bullet from the Ladies Code set for “Bad Girl”.
Pros: There’s only four of them, so putting names to faces would be easy. Dahye. The dance pop sounds like SISTAR and Brave Brothers is attached.
Cons: “Love Options” sounds so much like SISTAR’s “So Cool” but it doesn’t have Bora’s legs. The sirens make me think someone may have died in my area.
Verdict: Will probably investigate further. Dahye will inevitably make Waifu Wednesday, so might as well pretend to know what I’m talking about.
Kiss&Cry – “Domino Game”
Chosen because they’re one of the first rookie groups of 2014. For a rookie group, Kiss&Cry has a pretty rich and mature sound (apprehension over rookie groups always boils down to being scared of being hit with a fistful of aegyo). Horns and a rather great percussion beat lend “Domino Game” a bit of a Latin funk vibe. The members look pretty and the choreography actually tries to do something with the various breaks. As far as first impressions go, this is a pretty great one.
Pros: They sound like veterans, “Domino Game” isn’t a cutesy-bubble gum pop song like I had feared and there’s only four members to remember.
Cons: No one immediately stood out and there are so many girl groups that Kiss&Cry could easily get lost in the shuffle.
Verdict: Will keep tabs on. More music like this and they’ll have another fan.
Hello Venus – “Venus”
Picked because it had 3 million views which was more than I could see for others by Hello Venus. This is one of those groups that I always said that I’d check out and never got around to. The hook of “ooooh-oooh-oooh” is dumb but fun. The singing style is also fairly light but as far as cheery music goes this works well. The verses and the musical differentiation between the verses and choruses are fairly addictive. “Venus” is the type of song that falls under the category of “guilty pleasure”, not because it’s particularly embarrassing, but because it tries so hard to be cheerful that it works in spite of itself, like a puppy that pisses on the floor because they’re so happy to see you.
Pros: Hello Venus is the type of music that is only prevalent in K-Pop, the kind of sugar-sweet pop music that is produced without a hint of irony or edge. Also, some fairly pretty members.
Cons: Good god, someone take Crayola colored hair dye far away from all K-Pop stylists.
Verdict: Truthfully, this one grated on me as it seems engineered to be earworm music. I may hate it because it worked but I’ll probably swear by Hello Venus by this time next year.
Fiestar – “I Don’t Know”
Another group that I swore I would pick up and then never did. Fiestar is everything that I fear about exploring new music. “I Don’t Know” is cute “try hard” material seemingly derived from a cross breed of the Little Drummer Boy and Candy Land. On the bright side, there’s hand-to-hand combat and bouncing boobs, so Fiestar has that going for it. On the other hand, there’s the music which is boilerplate K-Pop pop synths and it’s a chore to get through.
Pros: Street Fighter meets K-Pop. A couple of the members are breathtakingly hot.
Cons: I don’t want to listen to it again.
Verdict: I love having eyes and regret having ears sometimes.
Wa$$up – Wa$$up
Somehow, Wa$$up completely flew by my radar despite the fact that the group seems engineered to court any and all hype and “controversy”. A group built on jacking Miley Cyrus isn’t off to the best start. The actual song for “Wassup” sounds like something G-Dragon would shat out after a couple nights on molly at a rave. The singing that is employed is the Hyuna affected rap-singing that ends up being neither. The video is so cheaply trashy that one can’t say that “Wassup” didn’t accomplish what it set out to do with it’s much publicized twerkathon (ironically, there isn’t much actual twerking in the video). Of course, Wa$$up wants so desperately to be shocking that it just ends up being predictable, like any episode of The Following or a Zach Snyder film.
Pros: Wa$$up seems to know what it wants to be and has a fairly specific vision for itself as a group.
Cons: What it wants to be isn’t very interesting.
Verdict: Going to run for the hills now.
Crayon Pop – “Bar Bar Bar”
Yup, hadn’t bothered with Crayon Pop until now. Maybe starting with “Bar Bar Bar” is unfair, given that it’s seemingly struck a nerve with most people who follow the genre but given that this has been a huge “black hole” in my K-Pop knowledge, better now then never. It’s easy to see why “Bar Bar Bar” has garnered attention both positively and negatively. The song has all the subtlety of a jackhammer but the hook is fantastic and the visual gimmick of those damn helmets is inexplicably cute. There’s no richness to the production and the cheer aspect of the vocals, when combined with the lack of a strong bass and an overabundance of snare makes “Bar Bar Bar” sound like it belongs in a K-Pop version of Bring It On or on the field of your local high school football game. “Bar Bar Bar” is guaranteed to get lodged in the brain and that is probably why it is loved or hated by everyone who hears it.
Pros: Unlike most of what came before this, I won’t have any problem recalling which one is Crayon Pop or which song is their’s. “Bar Bar Bar” could easily be put on repeat for an hour and I wouldn’t want to kill anyone.
Cons: I could easily see why someone else would want to kill me after having this on repeat for an hour.
Verdict: Fuck death, gonna ride this Crayon Pop train so hard.
Final Verdict: Crayon Pop and BESTie are going places. Jury is out on Kiss&Cry and Hello Venus. Wa$$up can twerk off a cliff.