With the K-pop landscape getting more and more crowded every month with new groups, soloists and subunits, artists have to do something different to attract attention. In a month full of bright, colorful summer releases from Itzy, Pentagon, VAV and more, these Unsung Artists took different strategies to help them carve out their own space in the K-pop landscape. 

Some established singers reinvented their sound and changed up their concept, while rookie acts used slick visuals and stylized aesthetics to stand out.

CIX, “Movie Star”

C9 Entertainment’s rookie boy group CIX received early buzz because its lineup is stacked with former reality show contestants who appeared on Mix Nine, YG Treasure Box and Produce 101. Their most notable member is Produce 101 finalist and Wanna One member Bae Jinyoung, who is prominently featured throughout their debut MV, “Movie Star.”

Though the track is called “Movie Star,” the members look like models posing in window displays. They are surrounded by camera clicks and flashing lights, luxe fabrics and even shopping receipts while rocking slick suits and other designer duds. The effortless chic of the song, choreography and MV help this group stand out among the many other new boy groups debuting in 2019.

Sori x Folded Dragons, “I Am Not Alone”

Sori has been a master of reinvention while chasing her dreams of K-pop stardom. She appeared on Real Girls Project and Mix Nine and was part of the duo Cocosori before finally pursuing a solo career. She has done everything from cutesy to hyper sexy, and rocked almost every color of hair, but she has never released something like “I Am Not Alone” before.

The MV is a stunningly shot, emotional contemporary dance piece in which Sori alternates between simple flowing outfits in black and white. The sweeping camerawork emphasizes the powerful moments in the song and choreography, in which Sori evokes performers like Sunmi and Gain with her sensual movement.

The song itself has a simple, dramatic piano line that creates an ethereal quality when paired with Sori’s breathy high notes as she sings of the dark times where she almost lost herself. This builds into the synth drop of the chorus in which she triumphantly sings of her resilience:

“Let them try and destroy me
But you can’t come for me no
Destroy me
But they can’t touch me no no

No no no no no, it will all soon wash away
These stormy days
No no no no no, it will all soon wash away
These rainy days”

Ailee, “Room Shaker”

With releases like “U&I,” “I’ll Show You” and “Don’t Touch Me,” Korean-American soloist Ailee established herself as a sassy, powerful pop diva. In 2016, she pivoted to a grittier R&B sound with “Home.” Now with her latest release, “Room Shaker,” she is trying an edgy, hip-hop girl crush concept on for size.

In the MV, she plays it both youthful and bratty while swinging a baseball bat as well as seductive and in-charge in her powerful hot pink suit. Though she rap-sings more than she utilizes her stunning pipes, Ailee looks fantastic and exudes enough charisma to shake the room.

Dongkiz, “Blockbuster”

Recreating movies in MVs is not a new idea. Groups like EXID and GFriend have been inspired by the setting and visuals of specific movies, while others like Twice, BtoB and AOA have featured multiple movie costumes in a single video. While alluding to pop culture is still very much en vogue, it has been a while since a K-pop group shamelessly paid homage to a movie. 

For their second single “Blockbuster,” Dongkiz took a risk by channeling the recognizable sounds, costumes and storyline of Ghostbusters. Considering the Hollywood remake of the movie came out in 2016, there does not seem to be any timely or strategic element to this decision, other than the fact that the sample they use from the iconic Ray Parker Jr. theme song from 1984 remains as catchy as it was more than 30 years ago.

In the MV, the five members run their own ghostbusting agency, ride in a modern version of the Ecto-1 car, have their own proton pack-style blasters and rock khaki jumpsuits. They also give that aesthetic an upgrade by wearing corresponding tan suits, each with a different color tie, which helps new fans keep track of the members. 

The song is polished, zany fun, and the soaring vocals and whimsical choreography allow the group to show their charms beyond the familiar sample.

UHSN, “Popsicle”

UHSN is a special project group formed through the Mnet reality show Study Abroad Girl: Ticket to K-Pop, in which 10 international K-pop fans came to Korea to learn about the industry and what it takes to become an idol. The cast includes Erii, an AKB48 member who appeared on Produce 48

The group’s resulting single and MV, the sugary sweet “Popsicle,” is effervescent and catchy, perfectly capturing the energy of a cute, youthful girl group debut. The choreography is bubbly and the styling, props, sets and color palette help them show their youthful charms. While the concept of foreign idols, especially white idols, is still controversial, “Popsicle” is nothing but a pure, loving appreciation of K-pop by foreign fans.

Sometimes great songs come from reality shows when there is less pressure and the group can just let loose and have fun, like with “Shut Up,” the track from the Unnies off Sister’s Slam Dunk

What was your favorite underrated release of the month? Let us know in the comments below!

(Youtube [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]. Lyrics via M.O.L.E. Entertainment. Images via YMC Entertainment, Dongyo Entertainment.)