While the landscape of Korean entertainment can be vast and wondrous, it’s often the little things that make us fall in love, inspire awe, evoke secondhand embarrassment, or sometimes… break our hearts.
In this segment, we ask our writers: Among the many things vying for your attention this month, what won and made your heart beat?
History Repeats Itself(?) With Exo-CBX and SM
I think what’s starting to grow into quite a massive issue is CBX’s lawsuit against SM Entertainment, and how SM is repeating its awful history of smearing its artists. I’m definitely feeling deja vu watching Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin go through what JYJ had once experienced way back. I hate that the smear campaign is working and distracting from the real issue at hand, which is artists’ rights. Despite SM previously being under scrutiny for their contracts, now we know that they are still quite unfair — as the renewal clause states that it depends on how many albums they release prior to renewal.
However, SM is the one who gets to decide this, making the decision solely theirs. It would be different if they were solely responsible for producing and releasing works, but it’s not the case for an idol group company such as SM.
Not sure if Knetz are blindly swallowing it up or if they just love gossip, but I do hope CBX come out with a good, objective retaliation. And also hoping for a (relatively) smooth comeback for the rest of the group, with CBX being able to participate whether they do or don’t get to terminate the contract. It’s been far too long since Exo‘s last comeback, and the group truly deserve everything.
+Update: Seeing as how they settled, I’m grateful the trio chose to stay in the group as the forefront. But, I’m truly disappointed in SM for getting to avoid further lawsuits and legal introspection, which was honestly needed for such a shady company. This could be the start of change, but with a long road ahead.
If XG aren’t K-pop, What Are They?
With Mid-Year Review around the corner, I’ve been taking a look back on all the releases so far this year, and one group stands out: XG. It was “Left Right” that caught my eye on Twitter back in January with its Y2K MV and intricately smooth choreography. In fact, I was so taken with the vibe of the release that it took me multiple listens to realize it’s an English track. At the time, I assumed it was just an English single (much like the approach Fifty Fifty took the following month with “Cupid“). However, I soon realized that was not the case. XG are under Avex, and are technically a Japanese girl group that are based in Korea… but release all their songs in English.
When considering placing XG into a mid-year list, I was left in a bit of a pickle. Do they count as K-pop because they promote in Korea? I know the group sees themselves as “global pop,” and I find that to be a fitting title. Yet, I also find it interesting that Avex chose Korea as the activity base for the group. The K-pop promotion system works well for XG because the members can speak Korean, girl groups are dominating right now domestically, and the K-pop market is getting unprecedented global exposure. Instead of focusing on North American promotion like many Korean companies, Avex is using Korean promotion to appeal internationally. From what I’ve seen, this strategy has worked well for Avex with XG being popular in Europe, North, and South America. So despite not technically being K-pop, they are benefitting from the combination of high quality releases and increased interest in Korean pop culture.
The unique global positioning of XG has me wondering if this is the future of the upcoming fifth gen. By that I don’t just mean English releases from Korean (or global) groups, but a shift in the idea of how promotions are done on an international scale using the already existing infrastructure of the Korean music scene. It’s an interesting concept, one that raises the always-impossible-to-answer question: in an ever globalized music market, what really is K-pop?
A Strong Start to Summer Comebacks Brings Renewed K-pop Excitement
I’ve got to be honest: I’d been feeling a little down about the quality of K-pop releases through most of the first half of 2023. Good music was coming out; I really enjoyed comebacks from TXT, Onew, and Purple Kiss, just to name a few. But with the endless stream of K-pop content, the ratio of good comebacks to mediocre or downright disappointing comebacks was unbalanced, and leaning towards the latter. As an avid K-pop fan of five years (which is shorter than many, but feels wild to me!), it made me grumpy, and also worried about the future of the industry itself.
But with downs come the inevitable ups, and this last month has been full of ups. Despite some flaws, I was impressed by Enhypen‘s comeback, particularly its conceptual ambition and their mini album Dark Blood. I will truly never stop seeking opportunities to gush over Dreamcatcher‘s “Bon Voyage,” possibly my favorite release of the year so far and a song that was the long awaited key for me to understand what legions of passionate Dreamcatcher fans have always been so excited about. CIX swung big and didn’t quite connect with their MV for “Save Me, Kill Me” (which, fair warning, has explicit themes of suicide that may be triggering), but the song itself is positively transcendent. There were many other recent releases that made me a happy-clam K-pop fan, but rather than continue with the enthusiastic laundry list, I’ll wrap by saying it sure didn’t hurt that my mood that two favorite groups of all time, Ateez and SHINee, both came back strong within weeks of each other!
What all of these releases gave me wasn’t perfection: to take Ateez and SHINee as examples, with Ateez I was blown away by title track “Bouncy” but am still coming around to the EP, and with SHINee it was the exact opposite. But perfection wasn’t really what I was looking for. What I wanted from K-pop was something that felt less formulaic and more daring, something to wake me up out of mediumness. These songs did that, and now, I’m back to reveling in the brilliance that K-pop is capable of at its best, and looking forward to what unpredictable comebacks are going to thrill me next.