We all know that as K-pop consumers, we are constantly taking in not only audio, but also the visual aspects of a group’s debut or comeback. In fact, one could argue that a group’s ability to catch and hold attention is just as dependent on the viral potential of a song’s choreography as the music itself.
This week, we asked our panel of writers: What are some of your favorite K-pop choreographies of all time? Are there any specific moves that stand out in your mind?
Amy: Two words: RINO. NAKASONE.
She is hands down my favorite K-pop choreographer, and I love all her K-pop work, so it’s hard to narrow it down to one or two sets of choreography. I could babble on about her for days, but to keep it short, my favorite thing about her is that she can choreograph a dance just a great for the boys as she can for the girls. Obviously there are added difficulties for girl groups because choreographers have to take into consideration that girls often perform in heels, which probably limits the complexity of footwork, but I appreciate how sex-neutral her work can be. There are a lot of choreographers who are obsessed with injecting their sex into choreography (lookin’ at you: pelvis hip thrusts and dry-humping-the-floor choreographers) but I love how Rino’s choreography is mostly just about details in foot and armwork.
Sigh. I wish I could marry her. Or just be movement-literate enough to dance to her work, whichever.
Gaya: I second all the Rino love that has been, is, and will be featured in this Roundtable. I watched the video of her and her dancers perform the original choreography for SHINee‘s Japanese song “Seesaw” five times because I was too busy sobbing the first time.
For me, K-pop choreography isn’t so much about the dancing as it is about the overall performance, how it is used to highlight the song. It is near impossible to dance and sing at the same time for an entire song, and having whoever is singing their line just standing there while the rest of the group continues with the choreography gets stale pretty quickly, too–T-ara‘s latest “Day by Day” would be the latest example of that. In my opinion, non-conventional choreography that allows the audience to better follow and feel the song is my preference. One such routine is Brown Eyed Girls‘ “Sixth Sense,” with its back up dancers filling out the stage and aiding the execution of the military theme. Big Bang also uses their back up dancers to the fullest in creating the mood for their live performances, like in “Bad Girl” and “Somebody to Love.” SNSD-TTS‘ live performances of “Baby Steps” and 2AM‘s “I Did Wrong” have the idols controlled by the dancers, and are stand outs in the way the dancing does not hinder the vocals, and in the process becomes even more interesting for their non-conventionality. You can have too much of a good thing though, so I’m glad that the “puppet dance” hasn’t become a full-blown trend in K-pop. But essentially, choreography doesn’t always have to follow the typical formula and is in fact all the better for approaching the song from a different angle.
As for favourite moves: in probably what is the dumbest reason to start stanning an idol, I fell for Hyoyeon when she leapt off the floor towards the end of the Korean “Gee” MV. I mean, it was all cute and colourful and then suddenly out of nowhere this girl does an elephant jump in heels–she does the lame-o one-legged version in all the live performances and the Japanese version, but that first jump made her queen of my bias list… I also like Big Bang’s human microphone stands–where can I get one?
Dana: Though I’m not a big fan of the song or the concept, I love love love the choreography for miss A‘s “Breathe.” Not only is it unique and just really fun, it also does a superb job of showcasing miss A’s versatility as dancers and performers. I mean, Jia and Fei do choreographed HANDSTANDS. Live. On stage. Are you for real, gurls? They make it look so effortless, too. As someone who probably couldn’t do a handstand unless said handstand takes place in a swimming pool, let me assure you that it is not.
Not that I could ever figure out how to do that shoulder shake, either.
Also, this one is probably a weird personal preference, but I thought that Secret‘s choreography for “Madonna” was so totally on the money. The execution of that choreography plus the intense vocals turned me into a complete Secret fan.
Patricia: As a certified Person With Two Left Feet, I am really in no position to be commenting much on choreography, apart from expressing all-around awe and amazement at the fact that these K-pop idols do a better job busting a move than I ever will. Honestly, I think the intense choreography required of K-pop is not only one of K-pop’s biggest draws, but it also sets K-pop from any other pop scene out there, past and present. Few pop artists outside of K-pop place such a heavy emphasis on dance as a vital part of pop performance. Most of these K-pop dances would be considered highly impressive on their own, so to combine them with live singing puts K-pop at a completely different level. Excuse the hyperbole.
But fangirl gushing aside, I’m going to jump onto the Rino bandwagon because she is queen, no doubt about it. Other choreographers like Aimee Lee Lucas and Beatburger have also made their mark on the K-pop scene, but Rino has left her mark on so many signature K-pop dances in a way that makes her irreplaceable to the industry. I love that while her choreography is always so appropriate and so fitting for whatever group she’s choreographing for, her moves are still unique and easy to spot in a crowd.
And as for favorite moves…it’s totally cheesy, but SNSD‘s crouch to the floor in “The Boys” gets me every time.
Subi: Party + Music –> Subi = Happy.
Hope that equation makes sense but if it doesn’t, I love a good party and a good party is always better when there’s a dance floor. My friend and I are always cataloguing moves to whip it out on the dance floor and lo and behold, a good number of them come from K-pop and here, is, in sum, a list of my favorites.
In Mirotic: You know when Yunho puts his hand on his chin and moves his shoulders back and forth. The simplest and yet sexiest thing you can do. Mad easy, goes along with any song and makes you feel like a total baller. Seriously, why didn’t anyone in K-pop use this before? A couple of my other favorites: The Abracadabra with the hips, The Sexy, Free, and Single with the feet, the 10 out of 10 with the arms, and The Bang! with the hips. On and second you on the slide in The Boys, Patricia.
But as far as real dancing goes, K-pop isn’t short on the list either. SM has the some of the hardest dance that work out every muscle in your body and train your brain to really listen to the music–especially when it comes to BoA, DBSK, and SHINee. In “Lucifer“: Normally in dances you can listen to a key sound an know when your next count is coming in. Not with this one. The song forces you to listen to ever single sound, every single note. Without such attention to detail, you’re bound to get lost and any dance that can work with a song for it to come to life gets an A in my book. And anything by BoA. If you look to any other sources, the dancing is pretty tame, cute and/or sexy. Very few girl groups have choreo that matches their male counterparts in difficulty, skill, and technique. But not with BoA. She can dance around most, if not, all these fools and going through her choreography is really empowering. I’m not doing anything that can easily be labeled male or female — I’m doing me.
K-pop is a lot of fun but dancing is probably the pleasure without any of the livin’ la vida consequences.
Fannie: I definitely agree with Patricia in that the intense dance aspect of K-pop is something makes it particularly unique — at least in comparison to the Western music market at this current day and time. There are Western artists that can dance, of course, but it isn’t necessarily expected as a given. It all goes to say that K-pop is all about the whole package, and not just the music, which has both its benefits and its drawbacks.
In terms of choreography, I’ve always been a big fan of SHINee’s choreography (so again, props to Rino) as well as SM’s in-house choreographer, Sim Jae-won of Black Beat, but my favorite choreographers are actually the YG-affiliated choreographers — Lyle Beniga, Shaun Evaristo, Keone Madrid, Mari Martin (the Movement Lifestyle gang). Shaun and Taeyang, in particular, is really a perfect combination in terms of style. That isn’t to say that any of these choreographers brought in from the outside are necessarily exclusive to a single company; for example, lately EXO have worked with both Lyle (“MAMA”) and the Japanese crew S**t Kingz (“History”) — the latter of which has also worked with Shaun and Big Bang in the past, and whom I also happen to adore and hope to also see more of in the future.
(images via Nega Network, Rinokinawa.com, Pacific Rim Photo Press)