Most days the Internet is a double-edged sword: it introduces me to tons of cool stuff, but it also generates in me ulcers of anxiety – the feeling of always falling behind, too busy muddling in my corner of the web to finish exploring the ever-expanding universe of memes, music, and news.
If you, like me, share these sentiments of online FOMO, this month’s Unsung Artists is dedicated to you! I’ve done my best to traverse the March lands of K-pop releases and highlight the noteworthy and unusual. Feel free to shoutout to an artist in the comments if you felt there was a gem that I missed.
Ovan, “Virgin Love”
At this point rapper Ovan is probably best known for criticizing the judging process on Show Me the Money 5, which he tried out for and later dropped out of. Now signed to the hip-hop label Romantic Factory Entertainment, he’s officially debuted with a competent double-single release, “Virgin Love” and “Girl You Deserved It.”
An initial run makes “Virgin Love” sound like your standard K-hip-hop release, though a deeper listen at the lyrics point towards the sexual frustration of being young and smitten and horny:
My parents come home around 12 o’clock
If you’re worried, should I lock the door?
Your shoulder which looks like a peach
It’s not enough with a bite
Ironically, the MV chooses to play innocent, instead emphasizing the childishness of the attraction between a boy and girl: they dawdle around a playground, play telephone with disposable cups, and ride an inflatable flamingo together. Even the bed scenes stay PG, with momentum working towards a final kiss. This coyness is both fun and frustrating, though perhaps ultimately an accurate portrayal of what we choose to share and hide about our relationships on social media.
Ra.D, “Look Into Your Eyes”
In recent years R&B crooner Ra.D has been a shepherd on the K-indie scene, probably best known for starting Realcollabo Entertainment and working with artists ranging from BrotherSu to Ga-in – though with the closing of his label in 2015, it will be interesting to see how his solo work develops from here on out.
The MV for his latest release, “Look Into Your Eyes,” features the infamous trainee Kim Sohye from Produce 101, who serves as a lip-syncing model in place of Ra.D himself. While this choice may raise some eyebrows, the song itself unfurls in typical Ra.D fashion, turning the agitated unhappiness of a failing relationship into a calm meditation on love.
LambC, “Love Like That”
The second major single from a relatively new artist, LambC’s “Love Like That” takes its cues from the jazzy, lo-fi vibes of a self-producing Soundcloud generation. It’s the kind of music we’ve taken to bathing our ears in as we smoke, study, or do nothing around the house, though it’s also the kind of pleasant generic-ness that may struggle to find an enthusiastic, paying fan base.
Nell, “Full Moon”
For me, the arc of teenage angst followed Nell’s critical success: the psychedelic rock of their fourth and fifth albums, Healing Process (2006) and Separation Anxiety (2008), carried me through rejection from crushes and colleges, an aural security blanket to clutch when things felt impossible.
A decade later, nothing much has changed: I’m still listening to the band through good times and bad. They’ve since completed military service and created Space Bohemian, and are now promoting their latest album C in the form of MV releases. “Full Moon” is an uplifting rock ballad (in English) that employs a frenzied string orchestra, to remind us to seize the day:
The moon is full and bright
Nothing can be disguised
Just let it go, let it all out
It’s a familiar anthem that remains relevant for both the overly emotional teenager and the young adult strait jacked into a suit.
Henry continues to flex his songwriting skills with a slow, bittersweet love letter to a former girlfriend. The light piano backing is a pleasant change from the heavy electropop sounds that have characterized most past singles; his voice sings gently at its natural volume, without having to belt at forced lengths. And while there’s nothing original here, it’s a nice piece of fan service to tide Strings over until Henry’s next major release.
Jang Hee-Young, “I Can’t Drink Anymore”
In a moment when all kind of gimmicks, from animations to rotoscoping, are being used to gain MV views, Jang Hee Young’s new single keeps it simple with a black and white short of her alone at the table. And rather than seating her at a chic café or staged set, it is instead shot at a real restaurant in all its familiar mundaneness.
This defies the rules K-pop tends to play by today, but there is no particular need for glitz when the star of the video is really Jang Hee Young’s voice. As the former leader of ballad trio Gavy NJ, Jang has largely worked with drama OSTs since leaving the girl group; “I Can’t Drink Anymore” is a surprising but welcome release that once again reminds us what raw talent sounds like.
Observe the wistful glance as her face slips into reverie, and the taunting wisps of smoke rising from the pot; note the organic shaking of the camera, as Jang leans into her drunken unhappiness and wonders, “If I empty this [glass], will I empty you too?”
Vincent, “Now Us”
Guys, I do believe we’ve found the Korean Ed Sheeran. (Isn’t it eerie how similar this all sounds – the acoustic guitar, the rhythms, the inflection, the stacked harmonies?) It’s Vincent, probably better known as Superstar K3 contestant Min Hoon-ki. He was a participant on the same season as artists like Busker Busker and Lim Kim, which perhaps explains how he has, unfortunately, remained relatively unknown since his debut in 2011.
If this is your jam, I suggest digging into some of his past work, such as the single “Close Your Eyes,” and his early drama OST releases.