I’ve been writing some fairly heavy shit lately, so I’m taking a time out to write this post about K-Pop videos instead, let us all revel in the wonder and spectacle of K-Pop.
However before I get into the K-Pop I want to post a Korean folk song I played at my grandma’s funeral yesterday. I love you grandma, you wily bitch.
I’ll think of you whenever I play this song. Shit, I’m crying again. This is the saddest song.
Ok, as always, a disclosure: I’m actually fairly resistant to watching new K-Pop acts I don’t know, who has the time, THERE ARE SO MANY, and really, I don’t even watch MV’s for groups I do know, so I’m one of the least qualified people to put together a ‘best of’ list you can imagine. Almost every K-Pop video I’ve seen is an accident titled ‘Jennifer wastes time watching youtube clips and eventually clicks on a suggested video featuring Korean people doing synchronised dance moves’. These are my favourites from what I’ve seen. I’ve included MV’s from 2013 because I’m a cheater. Watch in fullscreen to properly enjoy.
1. Infinite – “Back’
I do not care what anyone says, this is hands down the best K-Pop song of the year. Ok fine, it’s my favourite K-Pop song of the year.
I remember the first time I heard of Infinite, I was walking down Garosou-gil eating ice-cream explaining to a somewhat baffled friend how I’d gone from K-Pop newbie to K-Pop obsessive in a year, and my friend goes, “I don’t listen to much K-pop, but Infinite are good, they just do whatever the hell they want.” I resisted that bait for over a year, and now here we are.
I had a whole thing where I was going to write about how their sound is so Korean, an embrace of Korean-style ballads set to electronic beats, but instead I’m just going to explain Infinite’s appeal with a cheese metaphor, because they are approximately 75% cheese. Infinite is a really satisfying wedge of aged cheddar with all the crumbly bits and proper texture; they’re bold punchy flavour, but still fantastically familiar. Fine, I happen to be eating cheese as I’m writing this, but it is a GOOD analogy.
2. Exo – ‘Overdose’
When I said Infinite’s ‘Back’ was my favourite K-Pop song of 2014, I was sort of lying. Exo’s Overdose is probably my real favourite, given that I have watched this music video about a hundred thousand times.
Exo is another group I’ve resisted for a long time. The thing about K-Pop isn’t that I wouldn’t listen to it without the music video necessarily, it’s that when I hear the song I always want to watch the music video, and Overdose is a fucking good MV. Mostly because the camera moves you smack bang right into the action, and before you know it, you feel something, damn you SM.
I was all in at approximately 52 secs when Baekhyun hit his first hip thrust + arms in the air combo, which is all you need to know about me. Yeah, I learned all their names. Hangs head in shame.
Chinese Version! Yesss, 2 for 1.
3. Orange Caramel – ‘Catallena’
Orange Caramel are possibly my favourite K-Pop girl group outfit at the moment. They capture this odd cute-kitsch energy, which in ‘Catallena’ travels into the downright bizarre. At first watch the experience is a continued exclamation of “what the hell am I watching”, but after three or four plays, somehow this begins to feel like it could contain all the sadness in the world.
Yes, I’m saying ‘Catallena’ may be the saddest kitsch K-Pop video you’ll ever see. When the members eat their mermaid sushi selves and are overwhelmed/humbled by the experience yeah I KNOW, I dare you not feel your heart bump for a moment, you heartless bastards.
4. 2PM – ‘Go Crazy’
This song is so much fucking fun. If 2PM continue put out music videos like this, they’re going to shoot to the top of my favourites list. This is the kind of song that only K-Pop group vets can pull off, because it’s all about a vibe, and it doesn’t work if you reek of try. It’s possibly why I find Super Junior so entertaining, because underneath it all, some of them kind of seem like they couldn’t give two fucks.
I’m totally going to break out that dumb motorbike move next time I hit the dance floor.
5. Exo – ‘Growl’ (2013)
You want more Exo right, RIGHT?
‘Growl’ was Exo’s watershed moment, and for good reason. I love pretty much everything about this. The song is so easy, it sits nice and smooth in its groove and then fleshes it out, but doesn’t try to be more, and it is fucking great. The choreography is really good, the one shot thing is impressive and- just watch it ok? It may be the best decision you make today.
6. F(x) – ‘Rum Pum Pum Pum’ (2013)
I can’t explain how much I don’t care about F(x). I have no idea who any of them are, except maybe Amber (the one with short hair), and they have consistently uninteresting music videos, exemplifying the worst of SM’s ‘MV in a box’ tendencies, and yet I find myself re-watching F(x) music videos relatively often. Sometimes it’s that I quite like their subtle choreography- like the fluttery hand thing they do here in ‘Rum Pum Pum Pum’. I’ve re-watched Nu Abo just to watch them do the ‘doing my makeup’ choreo… but, it’s probably more that F(x) produce surprisingly solid electro-pop singles, the internet even tells me their last LP ‘Pink Tape’ was underrated pop gold (I have no idea I haven’t heard it), but the internet is probably right, F(x) don’t necessarily embody K-Pop charisma, but a they’re a solid listen.
7. Mino – ‘I’m Him’
Everyone knows I love Winner (aka Team A of WIN: Who is Next), and they gave me so much to love this year. However, jeez, the two music videos they released were so boring. I couldn’t watch them all the way through without getting up to do something else- I have the attention span of a gnat. I much prefer to watch their live performances** because at least there’s some token choreography, and I like Seungyoon and Taehyun’s tendency to harmonise with their own backing track vocals.
Thankfully Mino got his own solo MV for “I’m Him”, and I cannot elucidate it’s greatness enough. I don’t think it got enough attention frankly, because there is nothing bad about this. Naturally, my favourite part is the puppy dog dance at 2:30. By the way, all the dog references are visual puns, because “I’m Him” in Korean sounds like “I’m a dog”.
**Can I also say how much I love that the ‘Don’t Flirt’ choreo was full of stupid moves usually reserved for girl groups? I’m sad they eventually did away with a lot of it in later performances. Although they did keep the butt shaking, even though Seungyoon has no actual arse to speak of.
Winner at Mama Awards
8. Epik High – ‘Born Hater’
I just really like this beat.
For the un-initiated I should mention ‘nega’ means me, and ‘niga’ means you, they’re not dropping the n-word.
9. Hyuna – ‘Red’ and Crayon Pop ‘Uh-ee’
I loved a lot of specious girl group output in 2013. Pole dancing K-Pop concepts? Sure, bring it on! Songs about female presidents, but really about booty shaking? Stupid, but overwhelming entertaining (I seriously loved ‘Female President’). This year I’ve found I’ve wanted to re-watch very few girl group MV’s more than once. 2NE1 came back, so did Girl’s Generation, Sistar, T-ara, AOA, Girl’s Day, 4Minute… the list goes on and on. Mamamoo happened, Spica was a thing, sort of, and SM even introduced a new girl group Red Velvet… and I was just uniformly bored. I’m sure I’m alone in this, but personally I remained unmoved by girl groups in 2014.
Of all the sexy videos I probably liked Hyuna’s ‘Red’ the best, mainly because she is infinitely watchable and the song builds into a pretty damn good song. Hyuna also always gets extra brownie points from me for ‘Bubble Pop’.
The song features a well known Korean nursery rhyme, which is why this song got stuck in my head for ages, and effectively suggests that ‘Hyuna is delicious’ without every actually saying it. The monkey thing is from the nursery rhyme.
Crayon Pop is possibly only on this list because they’re one of the few groups whose concept doesn’t revolve around being “sexy”. I have no issue with women being sexy, it’s just when everyone is “sexy” you gradually become immune to it’s power, like not being able to get off on generic porn. My favourite Crayon Pop song for the record, is ‘Bing Bing’, but ‘Uh Eee’ also hits what I like about this group, which is this performance of ahjuma-ness meets Korean tomboy, which if you know enough Korean women, are pretty common character traits and is pretty fucking cute. Basically there is nothing “cool” about Crayon Pop, which is why they can be so much fun. ‘Uh-ee’ is not their best song however.
10. Moon Myungjin – ‘Listen’ (2013)
It’s difficult to convey to an international K-pop audience who read skewed Korean news coverage how the average Korean person doesn’t care about K-pop. I’m not saying K-Pop isn’t big, it’s massive, but the average person’s response to SNSD is going to be something along the lines of “I thought there was of eleven of them” (real life response I’ve heard). People have better things to think about than Korean idols- that is unless they idol is involved in some major scandal involving sex, drugs, gambling or nudie photos. So basically Korea is the same as the rest of the world.
Well… except that the K-Pop industry makes a ton money that lots of people are trying to get in on, so it’s become it’s own cottage industry. Everyday dating “scandals” and members leaving groups etc. are made into major news even though virtually no one cares. This is news fodder only for a self-perpetuating industry of of gossip sites and avid K-Pop fandoms that fuel themselves, even as Koreans continue on their way not giving two shits (just as they continue not caring when various North Korean leaders make threats, it’s pretty much the same thing).
Most idol stars barely scrape onto the B/C-List, partly because there are so many of them. Only a few have proper name recognition or A-List status, usually because they become a multi-hypenate or are recognised for being unique in some way, say G-Dragon, and his composing reputation.
Lee Seunggi, currently known to most international K-Pop fans as Yoona from SNSD’s boyfriend, for instance, is believe it or not, the bigger star in that pairing. Seunggi is solid A-list, and Yoona is maybe high B-list. It may also be a surprise that the charts aren’t chock a block full of K-Pop. It’s not so much that there is vibrant indie industry as much as Koreans really love their ballads and Drama/film OSTs.
When your idol wins a music show a la MNET, Inkigayo or KBS’s Music Bank, these wins are a representative of shows that promote almost exclusively K-Pop. Variety shows and entertainment programs in general thrive on the back of idol talent because, again because idols are ubiquitous and because they need to hustle to get public name recognition and promote their music. There is nothing better than making it onto a successful variety program and somehow walking away this a ‘persona’ or ‘character’, it’s a guarantee that the average Korean person may pay more attention to your work.
Anyway, in that vein, I’m posting a sort-of r&b ballad, because it’s a more accurate representation of the Korean pyche: Koreans are sad drama queens. I have no idea of Myungjin’s level of fame, except that he’s really only gotten noticed in the last couple of years after appearing on ‘Immortal Songs 2’. He is a sexy motherfucker with a great voice, which is why he gets the 10th spot. Continue being sexy Myungjin!
Honourable Mention: Hi Suhyun – ‘I’m Different’
For being adorable and featuring Bobby. I’ll let this guy explain why I like it:
Favourite Dance Practice – ‘Good Boy’
Mainly cos I like watching G-Dragon dance