While there were several newer groups like K.A.R.D. that had strong comebacks, February belonged to the heavy hitters. Red Velvet dominated the first half of the month, while top groups of 2016 BTS and Twice battled it out in the second. Powerhouse Taeyeon ended the month on a high note with a solid album. There was a lot going on, but there was a lot to enjoy.
BTS, “Not Today”
I do enjoy BTS’s more introspective side (“Spring Day,” “Run,” “I Need U,” etc.), but the reason I became a fan was because of their sick dance tracks. “Dope” gets played at least ten times a week in my household. “Not Today” is classic BTS. It has everything that I love about them. It’s loud, aggressive, and in your face. It has awesome choreography (that penguin step is iconic), and it makes you want to get up and move. It gave Jungkook a new catchphrase. And for those who like BTS’s mysterious storyteller side, there’s a narrative question in the music video to ponder over. Best of all, it has a universally empowering message. While it speaks of Bangtan and how far they’ve come since the beginning, it also serves as an anthem for any and all underdogs.
gugudan, “A Girl Like Me”
I was kind of underwhelmed with gugudan’s debut, but I can’t get enough of “A Girl Like Me.” What can I say? I’m a sucker for the sassy girl crush concept (not to be confused with the badass girl crush concept). I’m also a mythology nerd, so I love how the music video gave a low-key nod to the Narcissus story. It showed the girls being egotistical, but it’s all light-hearted fun. Hana’s room filled with mirrors and Mimi photocopying her head are my favorites. Any group with former I.O.I girls risks the other members getting stuck in the background, but gugudan is very well balanced. We still get plenty of Sejeong and Mina, but we get to see what the other girls bring to the table. gugudan has a lot of potential, and I’m excited to see where they’re headed in the post-I.O.I. era.
NCT Dream, “My First and Last”
I consider the age difference between NCT Dream and myself too wide for me to really be interested in the group itself. But I absolutely love this song. For me, NCT’s strength is in their nostalgia factor. They experiment with and revitalize styles of music that were popular when I was younger. “My First and Last” reminds me of all of those bubblegum pop songs that I listened to as a kid. Theoretically, someone who is the same age as SNSD shouldn’t really have anything in common with a group of teenagers. But this sweet song filled with naivety and hopeful optimism perfectly captures those feelings of first love. It caught me at a time when I was feeling particularly vulnerable, and it really hit me in the feels. SM might be very messy with NCT’s overall organization, but the quality of their music shows that they’re not kidding around.
K.A.R.D., “Don’t Recall”
The interest in K.A.R.D. only continues to grow. Their recent announcement that they were attending KCON Toronto sold half the seats. They’re like the popular kids in high school that everyone wants to be friends with. The quartet continues to build their solid foundation: addicting club style music, bold eye-catching dance moves, and chic music videos. While “Oh Na Na” was a little uneven in showcasing the members, “Don’t Recall” lets them put their cards on the table (pun intended!) and show all they have to offer. I just can’t get enough of them.
FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEOS:
Favorite Aesthetic Music Video – K.A.R.D., “Don’t Recall”
(My definition of an aesthetic MV: A classic music video that’s primarily designed to be eye-catching. There might be a concept, but there’s not necessarily an obvious story or plot to tie it into. They’re mostly visual candy. These kind of music videos catch my attention mostly if they have interesting technical elements: color schemes, production design, lighting, cinematography, editing, etc.)
K.A.R.D. is very visually appealing. I don’t mean their looks (although those certainly aren’t bad) but rather their image and style. They’re very trendy and chic. “Don’t Recall” shows them in a very glamorous light. But as Dream Teller theorized and the group itself confirmed, not all is happy in this universe. There’s evidence of power struggles and jealousy, with the men in a chess match and the women staring at each other through cracked mirrors. All of the allusions are extremely subtle, relying mostly on color and the members’ positioning and body language to hint at internal conflict and strife. But even if you don’t get those references, the music video is still beautiful eye candy.
Favorite “Concept” Music Video – Lovelyz, “WoW”
Lovelyz sings about love being two-dimensional, and their music video reflects this idea. The entire thing takes place in an apartment filled with different pictures of Lovelyz throughout their various areas. The girls often appear as cutouts, still images, or moving paper dolls, while their “real-life” versions act cute and play hide and seek. They transition seamlessly back and forth between the two-dimensional and three dimensional versions of themselves. It’s all really just one big aegyo video, but there are a lot of cool camera tricks that make it fun and interesting.
Favorite Story Music Video – Taeyeon, “Fine”
(My definition of a story MV: A music video that is clearly has some kind of narrative, with the soloist or members often playing characters and not versions of themselves. Ideally there is a beginning, middle, and end – but there should definitely be some sort of change. There must be some kind of resolution, or a promise of one if the narrative spans several music videos. The story should ideally be easy to figure out, but it can also be cryptic and give lots of visual clues like BTS’s trilogy.)
Six months after making me cry with “11:11,” Taeyeon has returned with another music video sure to get the tears flowing. We follow her as she struggles to move on after a break-up, but it’s abundantly clear that not everything is “Fine.” There are so many visual goodies that let us into her mindset: the grainy and blurry way that she sees the world, the effects that remove her ex from her life, and the way that items with significant memories for the couple get broken or damaged over time. But perhaps the most powerful moment comes at the end, when Taeyeon breaks down in the middle of singing. It’s unclear whether she’s playing herself or acting as a singer whose personal life into her performance (I’m not going to get into the Baekhyun references). But it’s definitely a compelling depiction of a person’s journey to move on and heal. Getting over a breakup is not an easy thing to do, and I’m sure many can relate.
Special Mention – Block B, “Yesterday”
Block B has changed their image over the years to a more fun and goofy image, and “Yesterday” shows them at their best. There’s a cute story about them all getting strung along by the same girl, with hilarious results. Hijinks aside, the best part of this music video is by far the opening, a clear reference to Friends. As someone who just binge-watched that whole show for maybe the tenth time, I definitely appreciate the homage.
Most Impressive Moves – Red Velvet, “Rookie”
Red Velvet has always been top-notch when it comes to choreography, but they continue to raise the bar. Not only is “Rookie” hard to sing, but it’s also hard to dance. The girls are moving nonstop! The choreography perfectly captures the song’s bright and dynamic energy, keeping its “cheerleader” feel. Despite the intense difficulty of the routine, the girls manage to look effortlessly synchronized.
Choreography I Want to Learn – Twice, “Knock Knock”
I wasn’t really that into “Knock Knock” as a whole, but I was impressed by the dance. Twice’s choreography tends to be on the easier side yet always interesting. “Knock Knock” is especially fun to learn. It has a lot of small and precise elements, and I love how the key choreography matches the stop motion effects of the music video. Plus, Twice shows off their charms with all of the cute door-opening images.
Special Mention – BTS, “Spring Day”
K-pop choreographies are primarily meant to showcase the group’s dancing skills. It’s like they’re constantly in concert mode, and it’s usually about how cool/sexy/cute/etc. the group in question looks and how in sync they are. “Spring Day” is special because it tells a story about friendship. BTS is unquestionably skilled at dancing, but they put that aside in favor of a more raw and emotional performance. You can really feel the bond between the members in this piece, and it’s really beautiful to watch. This is probably the only dance practice I’ve ever watched where I actually teared up.
BTS, “A Supplementary Story: You Never Walk Alone”
This song is short but sweet. It combines all of the best of BTS: powerful rapping, smooth soulful singing, and meaningful lyrics that make your heart flutter. It strikes a happy balance between the moods and musical styles of “Spring Day” and “Not Today,” throwing a little bit of R&B in there for good measure.
Red Velvet, “Happily Ever After”
I wasn’t super into “Rookie,” so I would have picked “Happily Ever After” to be Red Velvet’s title track. It showcases everything that SM is trying to push about them. It’s bright and bubbly, it’s girly, and it’s quirky and whimsical. I especially like the story of the song, about a normal girl who has a fairy-tale worth experience when she falls in love.
gugudan, “Rainbow” and “Hate You“
“Rainbow” is the type of song every girl group does at some point in their career. It’s fun and bouncy, the kind of thing you listen to when you’re feeling on top of the world or when you need a pick-me-up. It kind of has that early 2000’s romantic comedy soundtrack vibe (which is totally my aesthetic). “Hate You” focuses on a girl who’s angry at her boyfriend for cheating on her and making her look like a fool. It still has that bubblegum pop sound that runs through the rest of the album, but it also has a little bit of a more mellow feel – despite the subject of the song. Vixx’s Ravi produced this song, and it definitely has his style in it.
SF9, “Still My Lady”
SF9 is quickly building their foundations on an electro-pop dance sound. Most of the songs in their first album reflect this. “Still My Lady,” about a guy pining for his ex moving on, provides a nice change of pace. Since SF9 has been heavily promoted as a dance group, I tend to place more stock in their choreography over their vocals. But this song shows off the appeal of their vocal line and proves that they’re capable of more styles of music.
Favorite Album – Taeyeon, My Voice
Normally, I’m very picky about buying albums in general. I tell myself that I have to like over half of the songs before I drop my money. Taeyeon’s album is a miracle, because I love every single song. They’re all so good. The album is also very cohesive, and the songs all flow together well as a whole collective listen. They tend to be variations of the same style, but some of them do show just how versatile her voice is. I personally recommend “Cover Up” and “Eraser,” but I can’t even pick a favorite. Just do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing.
Once again, girl groups dominated the month for me. I’ve always like both boy and girl groups, but I’m surprised to find out how much of a girl group stan I actually am. March, however, looks like it will be dominated by the boy groups – and a lot of them are in my top ten. Time to prepare for my fickle fangirl heart to be pulled in all directions.
SOURCES: All music and music videos belong to – Big Hit Entertainment (BTS), DSP Media (K.A.R.D), Jellyfish Entertainment (gugudan), JYP Entertainment (Twice), Seven Seasons Entertainment (Block B), SM Entertainment (NCT Dream, Red Velvet, Taeyeon), Woollim Entertainment (Lovelyz) / Youtube / Omona They Didn’t (Livejournal)