SB Exchange #30: OK B1A4!
2011 saw a deluge of debuts flood the K-pop scene, but very few rookie groups from last year have managed to stay active in 2012, let alone thrive. B1A4 is one of the groups that not only survived, but are now thriving.
Debuting in late April of 2011, WM Entertainment‘s flagship (and currently only) boy band B1A4 had managed to generate interest with its casual boy-next-door image. The group has been steadily gaining fans and experience, but late 2012 has seen a noticeable boost in both their work and their popularity, with appearances (and a win) on Immortal Song 2 and now with their breathtakingly good 3rd mini-album In the Wind. For a rookie group from a nondescript year and small company, the success Jinyoung, Sandeul, CNU, Baro and Gongchan have thus far gained is somewhat unexpected, and definitely caught me off-guard. So, with a desire to educate myself, I’ve called upon older B1A4 fans Ambika, Jasper and Bethany to answer my questions.
1. Like myself, a lot of people have not paid much attention to B1A4 until their most recent release. What made you like B1A4 enough to become a fan before this time?
Ambika: B1A4 is one of the 2011 rookies that I’ve been with since the start. I happened upon them by chance April last year, running into a performance of their debut song, “O.K.” And that was all I needed. Those boys, from the start, brought so much energy to their stages: they genuinely enjoy performing. Coming from an unknown company, it’s difficult to make waves with promotions, and they were definitely going about it the right way. From that performance, I’ve been hooked, always checking into their music and variety. It helps that they’re all good-looking.
Jasper: To be perfectly honest, before this release, I wasn’t really a fan of B1A4 for their music. Rather, I became a fan of the boys through variety. I discovered them through their ridiculous sprout dance while watching clips of Quiz to Change the World, and their pure entertainment value intrigued me enough to check them out. Granted, it was a pretty barren time in K-pop at the time so I was pretty bored, but I’m definitely glad I decided to look into them. The boys and their variety kept me amused for quite a while, and I marathoned their Match Up (with fellow rookies Block B) and Sesame Player in a pretty short amount of time.
The boys’ personalities and gags kept my attention on them, but in the process, I learned that they boys were definitely more talented than they let on. Out of their promoted songs, I only really fell in love with “O.K.” and “Only Learned the Bad Things,” but some of B-sides had me much more impressed. From their B-sides and covers of other artists’ songs, I slowly but surely started genuinely enjoying the boys’ talent (my bias Sandeul’s vocals especially), and I only wished their title songs reflected that talent. But then “Tried to Walk” was dropped, and I was left assured I had nothing more to worry about.
Bethany: Usually I don’t like cutesy boy groups much, but B1A4’s genuine enthusiasm and dorkiness in their debut really caught my attention. Like Jasper mentioned, the sprout dance caught my attention while I was watching Gayo Daejuns last year. They weren’t bad live, and I took the time to do a little research about them, and well, then I discovered Gongchan’s boyishly good looks and never looked back.
2. B1A4’s more mature turn as of late definitely came as a surprise for me. Would you say the same, or had you seen hints of this before?
Ambika: I was very surprised by the direction In the Wind took. Most of B1A4’s previous music had been lively, fun, or a party style. The teaser pictures had me worried because they reminded me of SHINee‘s delicate photos for Sherlock. And since WM is no SM, the teasers would be related to the actual music. The teasers also made it clear the music would take a more serious turn, but it was a little bit of a scary territory since I wasn’t sure how well the group would do with that theme, especially for a whole mini-album: a title track is supposed to give an idea of the rest of the music.
Jasper: I wouldn’t call myself surprised per se about the boys’ maturity since I more or less had a feeling that they had it in them. While their first attempt at maturity with “Baby I’m Sorry” turned out to be somewhat unnatural, I saw a bit of potential in some members, namely CNU, Baro, and Sandeul, when it came to handling maturity. Moreover, some of their B-sides showed more serious sides of B1A4 as well, a complete contrast from their usual party-oriented singles. So it wasn’t a matter of if B1A4 was able to handle maturity, but rather when they were able to handle it since I had a feeling they were going to revisit it again eventually.
Instead, I’d call myself surprised at how well the mature concept suited the boys. When I first saw the teasers of their most recent effort, I was reminded of rookie group 4K and their heavily acoustic and simple style of music, and I thought B1A4 was going for a similar route. And I didn’t really have a problem with this since I knew B1A4 was able to pull of that more minimal sound considering their talent.
However, I expected the abrupt shift to a more serious sound to be unnatural for the boys, since I imagined they were going to disregard their more upbeat progression for a change in image. “Tried to Walk” and the entirety of In the Wind happily proved me wrong, since while it was a more serious change in pace, it still sounded like B1A4, albeit a more mature version of them. The serious concept worked so naturally with the boys, complementing them rather than overwhelming them, that I couldn’t help but be surprised.
Bethany: I was waiting for so long to see this turn happen! I wasn’t very surprised — I thought that their previous material was starting to show hints of “staleness” so it would only be logical for their company to turn them in a new direction. This mature turn has really done wonders for their image (and fanbase) and hopefully we’ll leave those sprout dancing days in the past.
3. Jinyoung has been growing as a composer, do you see him being able to compose most songs for B1A4 like G-Dragon does for Big Bang?
Ambika: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Jinyoung’s growth in B1A4’s album has been wonderful to hear. Just the difference between “Baby I’m Sorry” and “Tried to Walk” alone is splendid. I’ve read some comments that people have made about their latest track, some of them about how the members’ parts seemed made for them. And they probably were. That kind of personalization with music is difficult to achieve when there isn’t a close tie between group and composer/writer. At the rate of exponential growth Jinyoung seems to have, he’s definitely en route to being as influential in B1A4’s music as G-Dragon is in Big Bang‘s. Indeed, he’s probably almost there. If we continue along the parallel’s to Big Bang, Baro seems similar to T.O.P in that both write their own rap portions. And B1A4 seems to look up to Big Bang too, in this lovely gifting of cupcakes (see left).
Jasper: Oh, I’d definitely agree in Jinyoung playing the G-Dragon of his group. He seems to know better than anyone his group’s and its members’ strengths and weaknesses and assigns them accordingly. Jinyoung’s improved leaps and bounds from his “Bling Girl” days, and I’m glad WM Entertainment is allowing him more input and control in his group’s sound, to even allowing him to compose the title songs for his group. The range in Jinyoung’s compositions is fairly laudable as well, showing his versatility, and I definitely can’t wait to see what else he’ll come up with in the future. B1A4 is in good hands with Jinyoung in charge.
Bethany: It will definitely take more than just a little time for Jinyoung to truly harness his arranging/composing skills, but I’m going to say the boy has it in him to be a great music producer! Right now, it feels like B1A4 is still a little gimmicky (compared with Big Bang this long after their debut), but that’s probably because of the different entertainment companies they’re signed to. However, I do think that Jinyoung will be more active in the process and hopefully steer B1A4 in a solid musical direction.
4. The “Rural Idol” image is something that got really stuck onto B1A4. Do you think they’ll be able to shake it off, or make it a less prominent part of their image, or can they wield this to their advantage without becoming overwhelmed by it?
Ambika: So far, I think they’ve been using that rural aspect well. It’s certainly something to discuss in interviews as well as an aspect that no other group has. However, they have been occasionally overwhelmed by it, like in the recent season of Hello Baby that played on their limited knowledge of Seoul. There’s only so long that they can play the country idols before it’s evident that they’ve spent sufficient time in cities. The termination of the idea that country idols equals stupid or uneducated is also overdue. I think as they continue to put out more music, their country-dol label will recede to the background. It seems to be in the foreground more after “Baby I’m Sorry” and now mainly because more and more people are becoming aware of the group. I realize Daum fancafes aren’t the best measure of popularity, but B1A4 has moved into 10th place, which was a much higher rank than I thought they’d have. But back to their label: I think it won’t matter soon enough or it’ll be so known that there’s no point in talking about it any longer.
Jasper: To be quite honest, I have really mixed feelings of the group’s “Rural Idol” image. On one hand, it gives the group a bit of distinction they need to stand out among the huge hoards of idols these days. However, on the other hand, they do seem to get overwhelmed by it, especially in their variety appearances. Every one of their variety shows took advantage of the boys’ relative lack of knowledge of the city, and the topic is a fairly common one in interviews. As Ambika said, while it’s good for some laughs and as a conversation starter, it gets old pretty fast, and it’ll only be a matter of time before the boys become well versed enough in the city that they lose that title.
But while this distinction may overwhelm the boys a bit in variety, it doesn’t really seem to affect the boys much in terms of their music. Like Ambika put it, as they release more and more music, the title seems to play less of a role in the boys’ distinction as idols. But if the “Rural Idol” is utilized like it was in their recent “Tried to Walk,” I wouldn’t mind at all if it stuck with them. Have I made my love for that song obvious yet by the way?
Bethany: The rural country label has its own charm, especially on variety shows. Even though for the past two years, B1A4 has been kind of known by that and that only, they’ve been able to step out from behind it (i.e. with this comeback), and I’m glad to see that. I think that as long as they leave that label behind during performances and use it to their advantage on variety shows, it’ll do them more help than harm. It’s almost endearing to see idols from the countryside instead of all these urban idols.
The sprout dance, for all its ridiculousness, seems to have worked very well for the boys–that was how I learnt of the group as well! I haven’t seen it in a while though, and I’m all the happy for it–as Bethany said, B1A4 can at times come off as gimmicky, and keeping that sprout dance may not have worked in the group’s favour in the long run.
In fact, this may be the appeal of In the Wind is that it moves away from the gimmicks much more successfully than first album Ignition did (with perhaps the exception of Baro’s hair). It may have taken B1A4 longer to find this path than it may have Big Bang, but I’m just glad they found it at all considering the very manufactured and gimmick-reliant nature of idoldom. Having Jinyoung regularly composing for the group is a boon, and hopefully it works to their advantage.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing how B1A4 progresses from this point on–I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on them, that’s for sure! How about you, readers? What are your thoughts on B1A4? Leave your comments below!
(B1A4Only@YouTube, KBS, WM Entertainment)