Ever wonder where those catchy rhythms and beats you love originated? Not surprisingly, sometimes the story begins in a country outside of Korean. Back in September, BTOB released their new single “WOW,” and immediately got a response via Twitter from a famous American music producer by the name of Teddy Riley. Riley congratulated BTOB for their impressive use of the genre new jack swing and was eager to collaborate with them. Now, if you are anything like me, you will have absolutely no idea what new jack swing is or who Teddy Riley is, either. Despite that, it was pretty clear from the Tweet trail that this was big news. As it turns out, Riley is no K-pop novice and, consequently, the genre of new jack swing is nothing new either.
So what is new jack swing? It is classified as a fusiongenre that combines the base beats of hip-hop and dance-pop with R&B style beats for the lyrics. It’s creation and development goes back to the 1950’s, but the term itself came about in the late 1980’s, and was directly credited to Teddy Riley himself. If you are at all familiar with US hip-hop and R&B from the late 80’s to early 90’s than you are, by virtue of that, familiar with new jack swing. Some artists you may have heard of that had hit songs that used new jack swing were Madonna, TLC, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson. One particularly famous example is Bobby Brown’s song “My Prerogative,” which used signature sounds of new jack swing.
So how did new jack swing make its way into K-pop? Obviously big trends in the Western world make it to Asia eventually, but this music genre has had a bigger influence on K-pop than just a passing fad. It can be argued that it all started with Seo Taiji and his band Seo Taiji and Boys. Their first album, released in 1992, was heavily influenced by new jack swing style beats and brought the genre into the mainstream of K-pop. Although their debut was met with some skepticism, they quickly became one of the most popular groups of the time. Their use of the hip-hop sound and culture, which was fresh and edgy at the time, is something that we see everywhere in K-pop today. Even after Seo Taiji and Boys disbanded, the members continued to spread new jack swing in Korea. The founder of YG entertainment, Yang Goon, was a member of the group and Seo Taiji continues to be a major figure in K-pop, being called “the President of culture” by many.
BTOB isn’t the only recent K-pop group to use new jack swing in their music. SNSD released “The Boys” in 2011 with an English version in order to appeal to a larger international audience. This song had a new jack swing feel to it, which only makes sense since it was co-written by Teddy Riley. Here we begin to see how Riley may have discovered BTOB. Since he had already worked with a K-pop group in the past, he already had links to the industry that would have kept him informed to new groups trying out new jack swing. Although “The Boys” is a catchy song, that has the hip-hop background beat and sexy R&B vocals that are essential to new jack swing, it didn’t quite make it in the US. This may have to do with the more K-pop new jack swing fusion sound instead of a pure new jack swing sound. The video is also very K-pop, which may be a turn-off for US audiences. Lastly, new jack swing isn’t as popular in the US as it once was, and not everyone may enjoy the retro feel of it.
So what about BTOB and “WOW” caught Teddy Riley’s attention? In his own words, BTOB has a “strong heart” for trying out the genre, and “Michael Jackson is proud” of how BTOB used new jack swing in “WOW.” Even over Twitter, those are fairly big compliments coming from a famous producer who has such a history with the genre. The opportunity to work with someone like Teddy Riley would be a huge step forward for a group as new as BTOB and if we judge them solely on their use of new jack swing, than they absolutely deserve a chance to work with a master.
If you listen to all of the videos posted above, you can clearly hear a similarity in the beat that can only be classified as the new jack swing style. What is special about “WOW” is that it has managed to succeed in having a distinctly 80’s – 90’s feel. This may be a reminder that you can’t go wrong with what is tried and true. Michael Jackson, in the US at least, will always be known as a king of pop, so why not try and emulate him? As far as popularity in Korea goes, I think new jack swing will continue to be a good choice in genre for K-pop bands to try and emulate because the Korean audience seems to be open to the retro hip-hop feel. For K-pop bands trying to make it big in the US, however, I don’t see new jack swing being as successful because the Western music industry has changed a great deal from those times and traditional hip-hop beats aren’t as popular in the mainstream anymore.
So Seoulmates, do you think BTOB will continue in this direction? Does the retro feel of new jack swing do it for you, or not?
(BobbyBrownVEVO, Joonshik, SMTOWN, Officialbtob)