If U-KISS’ new song achieved anything, it reignited an old epiphany on life, love, and K-Pop. But mostly K-pop.
When U-KISS’ new song ‘Neverland’ came out I really did dig it, no lie. It wasn’t mindblowing or anything, and although it probably won’t shoot U-KISS all the way up there in the big leagues the way ‘Again & Again’ did with 2PM or ‘Abracadbra’ and ‘LOVE’ did with Brown Eyed Girls, it was definitely another step forward concerning the production of the group’s songs.
I absolutely love the pre-chorus, it’s so simple in its structure, but so effective. The verses themselves are almost abrupt, but the pre-chorus gets it absolutely right. And we need to hand it to the chorus as well, it has a simple kind of intensity. It will not get out of my head– purpose achieved.
I did wish they went a bit easier on the processing, but for whatever reason auto-tune never irked me the way it seems to irk other people, so I could look past that. There are other things, I do wish the song came together more nicely. The pre-chorus seems almost detached from the rest of the verses, I love it on its own but it kind of gets lost in the song, something which could be fixed with a cleaner transition. The rap as well is questionably placed, and I am not a fan of that awkward instrumental portion that follows it.
But after a few listens, once you know what to expect, as with most songs the disjointedness becomes less apparent. So overall I’d say this song was a good job.
As for the Music Video, well, yeah I don’t like it too much. The choreography is tight, but I believe it could have been shot better. The snow scenes were awkward to look at because of how blatantly artificial the setting was. See the advantage of dancing in a empty room, à la SuJu, is that at least it’s believable, and you don’t end up wincing or laughing into your fist. Another con was that I felt like there were too many members on the screen. And U-KISS has what- 7 members right? And I’m a Super Junior stan. I should not feel this way U-KISS. I should not feel this way at all.
Also, I’m absolutely sure SHINee’s Ring Ding Dong didn’t inspire part of the MV either. Absolutely sure.
But those little pieces of cynicism aside, I did like the song. Except one thing was nagging me about it- the instrumental sounded ridiculously familiar. And listen, I know that all pop music sounds the same these days, but holy plagiarism batman, I swear I have heard that exact instrumental before. And although I am still searching the net for the exact song, right now my gut feeling is telling me it’s ‘Hit the Lights’, the Jay Sean song that was released earlier this year and made it on radio like once or twice when I actually bothered listening to radio.
I can not be the only one hearing the similarity can I? Please tell me I’m not being paranoid, because the initial instrumental for both these songs sound almost exactly the same. (And while I’m still talking about it, I’ll say it. I like the Jay Sean song better. Sorry. It’s just cleaner, more structured, less disjointed, and I love Jay Sean, and I’m horribly biased.)
With this revelation in mind, it really does skew my perception of the song in general. I mean, I liked ‘Hit the Lights’ when it first came out, but I also recalled thinking that it was nothing special. That if Jay Sean hadn’t already made a name for himself based on ‘Down’, the song would get lost somewhere amongst all the other generic hip-hop/pop songs the industry seems to enjoy cranking out.
And considering the fact I thought ‘Neverland’ was one of the better releases this year, I can’t help but pull my hair at how narrow the Korean music industry is. Imagine if U-KISS had debuted in the US with this song- if someone like Jay Sean couldn’t make his lead single reach the top ten, how are U-KISS going to manage even making the top 100? Of course this is all theoritical, because I hope NH Media is smarter than letting U-KISS debut in the US. But the point I am trying to convey is the fact, well, K-Pop is almost hopelessly generic.
The songs that are big hits over in Korea SNSD’s ‘Genie’, Wonder Girl’s ‘Tell Me’, Super Junior’s ‘BONAMANA’, Hyori’s ‘U-Go-Girl’, heck even BIG BANG’s ‘Tonight’, are all painfully generic by international standards. They were created by following trends, rather than reinventing them. Everytime something different becomes big in K-Pop, almost all other acts jump on the bandwagon, and as a result you’re left with an industry with almost no diversity where each year is simply a new trend. Sure you have the few indie acts, but the spectrum of mainstream music is so narrow it almost makes me cry. It isn’t something that’s apparent straight away, but if you compare the difference between K-Pop best sellers like Wonder Girl’s ‘Tell Me’ and SNSD’s ‘Gee’, to international best sellers like say Owl City’s ‘Fireflies’ and Jason DeRulo’s ‘Watcha Say’, the actual shallowness of the Korean industry really begins to shine.
Even stars like 2NE1 and ‘BIG BANG- bands who apparently ‘revolutionise’ the sound OF K-Pop- in the grand scheme of things even their material comes off as unoriginal and ‘done before’. And I’m not saying this out of disdain, I hardcore stan BIG BANG and I’m pretty big on 2NE1 as well, I’m saying this out of genuine concern. If 2NE1 and BIG BANG are considered revolutionary acts, well then K-Pop has a lot of catching up to do in terms of where they stand musically.
One of the reasons I was so enamored by Ga-In’s solo venture last year, despite none of the material being particularly redefining, was because of how much ‘Irreversable’ and the songs on her B-side stood out amongst the general gist of K-Pop. That alone just made the song that much more special to me. Now thinking back to U-KISS and their dive into generic Jay Sean territory, I can’t help but think about how rudimentary Ga-In’s efforts would come off in the larger scope as well.
To be honest, I can pretty much sum up all the popular Korean acts in three genres: ballads, electropop, and hip-hop. Where’s my folk rock and rnb? Hell, where’s all the synthpop and my punk (look, I love Yonghwa, but no. CN BLUE isn’t a punk band- don’t make me laugh). Why must we play it safe? I’m telling you, these struggling rookie groups would stand out a lot more if they aimed to invent their own sound rather than trying to recreate ‘Gee’. Why do you think BoA/Wonder Girls fell so hard in the US? It’s because they came from the Kings of generic, JYP and SM.
One reason for the lack of diversity can be attributed to the minimal amount of actual artists in K-Pop. When most winning acts come from large companies more concerned with gold than anything else, you aren’t going to get a particularly colourful spectrum of music (or actual voices as a matter of fact). But to any budding artist’s defence, unless you already originate from a strong standing idol group, and even then, it’s almost impossible to make a solo debut unless you have mind-blowing vocals. And I can not think of one person in this industry who has both mind-blowing vocals as well as a knack for composing. Unless what they’re composing is ballads, and god know there’s already enough of that around. I’m pretty sure there are decent, good-enough vocalists/composers out there who wouldn’t mind making a solo debut. I mean, if Seungri can do it, why can’t they!
I’m not going to act all high and mighty, I admit it, I do enjoy mindless and uninspired pop tunes as much as the next person (read: Ree in real life). But the point I’m trying to get across is, only in Korea would a song like T-ara’s ‘Roly Poly’ be the highest selling single of the year thus far.
As for U-KISS’ ‘Neverland’. Well, amongst the amateurish compositions making their way up the charts, U-KISS definitely does stand out at least a bit. So 4.2/5.
So what do you think? Should K-Pop take a few risks and step outside of their comfort zone? Or are you fine with you music just the way it is?