As the end of June approaches signifying that half of 2013 is already over, let us reflect on the year so far in K-pop. But instead of doing the usual sorting of best/worst, let’s focus on the releases that may have gone under most K-pop radars: what comeback/debut did you really like but didn’t feel like it got enough coverage or exposure?
Shweta: Though we did get a chance to talk to MYK himself about his new endeavor, I think that his debut as SALTNPAPER was exceptionally underrated. SALTNPAPER was a spectacular mini-album and I loved every minute of it, especially the title “Hats.” Okay, okay, I know, SALTNPAPER is along the indie lines; I fully admit it. However, I felt like his debut barely made a blip on most people’s radar, even lower than some other indie artists like Nell.
I guess I would be asking for too much by requesting that an indie one-man-band get more exposure, but one can hope, right?
Mark: Can Nell still be considered “indie?” I mean, they’re signed to Woollim Entertainment. That would be like calling Epik High in their pre-YG days “indie.”
Anyway, I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t cover three amazing comebacks from a crop of girl groups who debuted in 2012 and are trying really hard to find their footing in 2013:
Glam‘s “In Front of the Mirror” provides an excellent mix of rap and vocals which comes with a very positive message for young women, one which is very well conveyed through its MV. The song doesn’t scream at you with its message of female empowerment, but instead focuses its scope on the subtle realities that women face day to day.
EvoL‘s “Get Up” may be them trying too hard to be a female rehash of their male labelmates, Block B, but the girls bring a lot of attitude and, again, solid rap and vocals makes it an enjoyable listening experience. All of the members are well utilized in the song, with each demonstrating either their suited vocal range or their rap style.
Hello Venus’ “Romantic Love” flew under most people’s radars largely because there was no MV made for it, even though the song was promoted on music shows as a follow up to “What Are You Doing Today?” This isn’t the first time Hello Venus has neglected to make a MV for one of their promoted songs and it puzzles me why they can’t at least throw together a candid “look we’re having a photo shoot for our album cover” MV to earn a few extra clicks on their YouTube channel. Anyways, the girls are given the liberty to stretch their vocals and they don’t fail to impress. Who knew Lime could sing better than she raps?
Shweta: I guess we can’t quite call Nell indie anymore based on your reasoning, Mark; though, we did feature them in our “K-Pop Indie Gem” segment. Honestly, I have no idea what to call them.
An intriguing group we didn’t cover here yet (because they just debuted) is the classical music-inspired group Odd Eye. Their fusion style is a little bit strange because they don’t cleanly incorporate the modern with the classical, yet it is interesting because of the psychedelic quality to their sound. They only have one single out so far, “Catch Me If You Can,” so keep in mind that I’m making my assumptions based on that alone. Later releases might be different.
Nonetheless, their music is a decently unique offering, and I really like that they’re using the Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 (Mvt. II) as the basis for “Catch Me If You Can.” Shostakovich is such an underrated composer, since his music tends to have a hallucinatory and discordant vibe; but I enjoy his work for that very reason.
I’m certainly curious and excited to see where Odd Eye will go, because I’m a huge sucker for fusion music.
Lindsay: Wonder Boyz “Tarzan.” Discovering this song about a month after it was released was a huge shock for me. I missed the debut of Wonder Boyz last year completely and somehow missed the release of this single as well. Man, do I feel like I was missing out. First of all, this MV is special because of its unique format and fun comic book come-to-life moments. They aren’t dancing in a box, they aren’t trying to be cute or sexy; in other words, its refreshing. The stalker concept is a bit creepy, but whatever, I’ll let it slide. Secondly, this song is insanely catchy. It has a good dance beat that makes you want to groove and the rap-singing is really appealing, which isn’t something I can always say. Speaking of dancing, this song also has interesting choreography. The Tarzan inspired chest banging move is just awesome. Ok, that is enough gushing from me, but come on people more love for Wonder Boyz, please.
Leslie: A promoted song that I really enjoyed was Jay Park‘s “Joah.” I don’t know if I would say it was underrated, but I didn’t see as much about it as I expected. Perhaps it’s just ’cause I’m biased and adore Jay Park, but I really loved that song despite my annoyance with the romanization of the title — then again, I hate most romanizations. It’s not only really cute, but it also has a great beat and uses some simple but effective instrumentals, such as with the piano and brass. The song is so catchy it’s ridiculous. Plus, I enjoyed the other two songs on the single album just as much. Even though I think Jay Park is a better rapper than singer, he carries himself well in both because he has so much stage presence.
Miyoko: I’m going to second Mark’s Glam mention.
I really liked Phantom‘s “Like Cho Yong-pil” as a song and a video (which incidentally, was mentioned in our Cho Yong-pil Spotlight), and wish it had gotten more coverage. It’s a good song that illustrates how well all three members blend together, and what they contribute to the group. I also just wish Phantom got more coverage overall because they’ve got some mad vocal skills and seem to have a unique group make-up.
Another song that pops into my head is Teen Top‘s “Walk By…” It’s not that Teen Top is underrated at all, but this song barely got any attention, even in their live promotions. It was the follow-up to “Miss Right,” which is probably why, but I actually liked “Walk By…” better. While not the most exciting musically, it’s got that upbeat poppy sound that Teen Top does really well, minus the manic-ness and overproduction that tends to creep into their stuff. And the MV is possibly the only Teen Top MV that isn’t creepy or awkward in some way. Sure, it’s just them practicing, filming and performing, but it shows them off individually and felt like a breath of fresh air in the midst of flashier videos.
Gaya: I’d actually like to see more of Cho Yong-pil himself; the massive reception for his 19th album was what prompted me to write a spotlight on him. And I also enjoyed the two title tracks from the album, so a full album review would have provided greater musical insight.
Ambika: The debut song of Ladies’ Code, “Bad Girl,” just sort of passed me by back in March. A month or so ago, I took a second look and found that I really like the song. All five members seem to have a good, steady voices, based on their live performances. Admittedly, I don’t quite understand the music video’s ending and find some of the acting strange, but I’m looking forward to the group’s next release.
I’m also fond of Younha‘s “The Real Reason Why We Broke Up.” I’m not sure how it did on the charts, and frankly I don’t really hear about Younha all that much (aside from on Seoulbeats, that is). The song and music video are both gems led by Younha’s soothing voice and acoustic instruments.
Fannie: I’ve had my eye on the R&B duo 2BiC ever since they released “Love Again” last year, and they continued to impress me this year with their comeback “Bye Bye Love.”
Another comeback that I thought was underrated was 15&‘s “Somebody.” Even though Lee Hi — with the full support of YG — definitely got off to a stronger start overall, out of the K-pop Star finalists, “Somebody” was the comeback that I enjoyed watching more. Live performances really make or break my appreciation of a comeback, and although the dance choreography for the song was a bit awkward (the choreographer’s fault, not theirs) Park Ji-min and Baek Ye-rin managed to win me over not only with their stable vocals, but also the fact that they also seemed to really enjoy performing this song up on stage.
Mark: I totally agree that follow up and repackaged promotions are always so overlooked and some are even better than the release that came before it. For example, I liked D-Unit‘s “Thank You” much better than “Talk to My Face” but its promotion just came off as lazy. Companies should try to either promote these second songs as scrupulously as the first, or not promote them at all.
I don’t think I would necessarily classify Cho Yong-pil as “underrated” because though he garners very little international attention, he owned the Korean charts.
Amongst the wave of sub-units earlier in the year, the one that certainly didn’t get enough attention was Dasoni. The Exid duo rival the pipes of Davichi and 15&, and they bring much more sass and splendor.