One might expect romantic love from releases in February, but K-pop could not care less. Winter or not, the industry gave us upbeat, energetic tracks that were determined to get us moving. From BTS‘s “ON” and Iz One‘s “Fiesta” to rookie Cignature‘s “NunNuNaNa“, the prevailing theme was largely one of good cheer. This month also welcomed iKon with “i Decide“, after a hiatus following B.I‘s scandal and departure last year.

Amidst all the excitement, a few deserving comebacks slipped through the cracks here at Seoulbeats. In this month’s edition of Unsung Artists, we cover a few releases worth a deeper look.

DKB, “Sorry Mama”

Opening the month with an apology to their mothers was the debut of Brave Entertainment’s newest boy group, the nine-member DKB. Believe it or not, DKB is short for “Dark Brown Eyes”. It’s difficult to predict where the Brave Brothers are going with this ridiculous soft, romantic name, because there is nothing in the group’s debut title to justify it. In “Sorry Mama”, the members are smug about their youth, which is portrayed as whimsical, carefree, and puts off everything for tomorrow. They turn off their cell phones (and mom’s calls) and party all night.

We goin’ all night (Oh)
Come out, all you playboys
Now, now, turn off your phones
Even if you call me immature (it’s alright)
(Because) I’ll spit on the worries of the youth
I decide how to live my life, so engrave this like a tattoo

But this is not a cheerful song, it is a rebellious one – the group boldly declares its intention to do what they like, regardless of consequences. In the accompanying MV, the members are styled in hip hop swag. They break vases, smash guitars, fire guns, and dance amidst angry backgrounds. The song follows every possible trend among rookie groups at the moment. It is edgy, dark, and without any real melody to speak of — and surprisingly, brings to mind an Itzy-inspired tendency towards brat-pop, in boy group format.

Cherry Bullet, “Hands Up”

Cherry Bullet made their second comeback with a digital single and only 7 members, having lost three — Mirae, Kokoro, and Linlin — in December 2019. The absence of three members is conspicuous in the “Hands Up” MV, which seems almost empty when compared to their earlier releases. Thankfully, the music does not miss them. A group of ten can afford to lose a few members but still retain its versatility.

Slap your knees. Then, hands up!
On your own, stand up!
What’s the point of talking a lot?
Vroom! Vroom! Start the car

Hey, where are you looking? Come here, Lovable
Boy, can’t you feel it? I’m ready for love

Clearly, Cherry Bullet has no time to waste in the hunt for love. What is most striking about the song is that it samples Beethoven’s “Für Elise”. Oddly enough, the classic gives the song an almost comedic feel as the girls take control of the car of romance. Fittingly, much of the MV is spent in front of a garage and performing on a car. It is a fun idea and makes for even more funny imagery; Cherry Bullet successfully surpasses the hurdle it faced in losing three members so early on.

AB6IX, “Moondance”

Interestingly, AB6IX chose to release a compilation of solos, each with its own MV, for their latest comeback. The first to be released was Jeon Woong’s “Moondance”. “Moondance” is a sexy, atmospheric song, and Woong carries it well. His restrained, sultry vocals invite the listener to hold him (the song’s persona) tight under the rhythm, and focus on love.

The MV sets a sensual mood. The wet bedroom and large moon forming the backdrop, and the idols’s shimmery outfit and suggestive performance – the movement of his hips, crotch grabs and more – all point heavily towards lust, even though the lyrics talk of love. The music replicates the feeling. Just when the tune threatens to get too repetitive, the song hits a dramatic climax.

For all its attempts at sophistication, “Moondance” is a slightly clumsy effort. However, not only are such obvious references to sex less common within K-pop, but it is interesting that AB6IX is giving its members the opportunity to explore solos — bold ones at that — quite early in their career. It showcases their talents early on, and will help the members stand out.

Moonbyul, “Eclipse”

Dramatic synths, edgy concepts and references to the moon continued to be the flavor of the month, with the return of Mamamoo’s rapper Moonbyul in “Eclipse”, the title track to her second solo release Dark Side of the Moon. Moonbyul alternates in black and white clothing representing the two sides of the moon – or perhaps the bright moon, and the moon covered by an eclipse – as she promises to the listener’s “moonstar”, or the listener’s light in a time of darkness.

Moon, moon, what kind of moon?
A Moonstar that will protect you
Hiding across the moon
A monster that will swallow the light
Moon, moon, what kind of moon?
A Moonstar that will protect you
Swallow up the dark world, what of darkness

The wordplay stands out. “Moonbyul” is written in Korean as “문별”, and “별” or “byeol” means star. In other words, Moonbyul says she will become a “moonbyeol” that will protect you by becoming the light — which has been swallowed by the similar-sounding “monster”. She questions herself, but the answer is obvious. Since Moonbyul is, by her very name, already a moonstar, the song is Moonbyul’s promise to be a source of strength for the listener.

Musically, this is a concept very suited to the rapper. Her vocal limitations are obvious, and the song balances her abilities with hard hitting synths that complement her warm, raspy voice. Amidst the beat, the song utilizes quieter, calmer moments to give listeners a reprieve. This is an enjoyable offering from Moonbyul, and RBW shows once again that they have some of the strongest songwriters in K-pop.     

Dreamcatcher, “Scream”

Dreamcatcher’s latest, “Scream” from Dystopia: The Tree of Language, is K-pop doing what K-pop does best: precision choreography, eye catching visuals, addictive music, and a great concept coming together to create an immersive experience.

The upbeat song blends rock with EDM, and its thumping and purposeful drums move things at a brisk pace. Little elements like the scream in the background preceding the chorus or the “scream, scream, scream” ending it, show that much love, care, and attention to detail has been poured into the song’s production. The performance incorporates a masked dancer along with six members — presumably making room for HanDong who could not participate in this comeback because of her schedules in China.

“Scream” comes with the single most gorgeous MV of 2020 so far, but it is hard to decipher what the MV wants to show viewers. The lyrics speak of bring trapped on a burning path of fire and having no escape, yet not wanting to scream. Drawing from the lyrics, it appears that the girls are trapped within a mythical land and looking for a way out. Regardless of narrative or symbolic intent, the aesthetics of the MV are clear and beautiful. It is a audio-visual feast and a recommended watch.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5]. Lyrics via colourcodedlyrics [1][2], popgasa. Images via RBW, Happy Face Entertainment)