As far as the global pop industry goes, K-pop in particular has become an interesting cocktail of musical styles that isn’t afraid to drift fairly far out into the waters of other genres. One could easily argue for the existence of a mainstream sound for K-pop: a widely traveled route along the smooth waters of danceable beats, ever increasing hip-hop influences, and dubstep dance breaks. However, some artists have been willing to experiment with other genres in a way that’s really paid off, bringing welcome variety to the Korean music scene. I’d like us to take a moment to appreciate some of the finer examples of genre mashing and make some projections as to what will stick and what won’t.
Ok, I can’t restrain myself from mentioning the Wonder Boyz for a moment longer. Their grossly underappreciated May debut, “Tarzan” (not even 350,000 views yet!), involves an unlikely blend of reggaeton and K-pop that somehow really works. See its honorable mention as one of the most underrated songs of 2013 here. I was admittedly skeptical upon hearing that a rookie group was releasing a reggaeton influenced track, but Wonder Boyz absolutely nailed it! “Tarzan” turned into a brilliant experiment in genre mashing, leaving fans wondering if that’s all it was: an experiment. Will we see more reggaeton/K-pop hybrid tracks from the next Wonder Boyz release? Or from anyone? The only other example of reggaeton-infused tracks that comes readily to mind is Fiestar’s “Wicked” featuring Tiger JK, which is a fun track in its own right but even more obscure than “Tarzan” to many consumers. Let’s hope more artists will jump on this—the industry is flooded at the moment with groups with serious rapping skills who could tear up some reggaeton beats.
On a different track, folk acoustic artists have been experiencing new popularity on the charts. This is partially in thanks to shows like Superstar K which allow artists of less mainstream sounds to showcase their talents and sign to major labels. While this gentler acoustic sound was mostly relegated to the indie scene in years past, the likes of Roy Kim and Busker Busker (among others) have brought it to the forefront with great success. The charm and simple elegance of this sweet folksy sound hasn’t been lost on fans if album sales and chart topping singles are any indication. I personally hope that in spite of any scandals and setbacks (I’m looking at you, Mr. Kim), or even perhaps an inevitable future lull in popularity, the folk influence is here to stay. For anyone who actually hasn’t yet heard of Roy Kim, check out his latest single:
Sometimes artists borrow from heavier genres too. When I heard Jaejoong’s “Mine,” I immediately thought of gothic-infused J-rock reminiscent of Gackt, L’Arc en Ciel, and the openings of a thousand animes. Yes, it was something different from his usual JYJ pieces, but despite its dark image and rocker sound, “Mine” was a welcomed breath of fresh air. Jaejoong certainly seemed to relish the change and rocked that single with more passion and intensity than fans have seen from him in a long time. It would be so wonderful if this darker sound resurfaces in future releases! Other artists have the vocal chops to pull it off—but do they have the attitude? Perhaps not everyone can carry off spikes and latex with Jaejoong’s panache.
2NE1’s recent summer release, “Falling In Love,” has brought the discussion of reggae influences on K-pop back into the forefront again, but reggae has been a part of the Korean scene for a while now. It may be more of a fringe part, but reggae in K-pop is definitely a thing (like it or not). See tracks by artists like Skull and even Haha (of “Rosa” from Running Man fame) for examples. Discussions about reggae and K-pop can become awkward if issues of cultural appropriation are discussed in too much depth, but I see nothing wrong with Korean artists producing reggae style tracks based simply on appreciation of the genre.
However, the most lasting and broad influence I’ve seen from other genres is Europop. Even before NU’EST hit us with the insanely catchy “Face” last year, Europop has been influencing K-pop from behind the scenes for some time. Labels have been working with major European beat-makers to produce big tracks for the past several years. For example, SM Entertainment’s collaborations with Swedish hitmaker Pelle Lidell have produced tracks for the likes of Girls’ Generation, Shinee, and Super Junior. As for a consistent Europop sound in Korea, see pretty much every track by A.cian. They have a great handle on the K-pop/Europop mashup. So far it’s more common for groups to have maybe one release where the Europop influence is particularly strong (a lá NU’EST) and then return to their original sound (or depart form it in the former’s case). However, it’s pretty safe to say that Europop’s influence on K-pop isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Because the face of K-pop is ever changing, it’s difficult to predict with any authority which of these influences from other genres will stick long-term and which are doomed to remain isolated incidents. What do you think, readers? What kind of genre mashing would you like to see more of in the future? Which artists would you like to see attempting forays into other genres? As for me, I just want to hear B.A.P drop a reggaeton track and my life would be complete.