I had my suspicions before, but July proved I’m heavily biased towards SM artists. It’s more of a “I like their music/style” thing rather than a “SM is the best/blindly following the company” thing, but there it is. I always try to be diverse, since there are so many other groups out there to love. But when Red Velvet and EXO both had comebacks this month, my preferences were clear. “Red Flavor” and “Ko Ko Bop” were by far my most played songs, and I was way more enthusiastic about them than anyone else. But at the same time, I do think there were several groups that had quality music.
ALL AROUND FAVORITES:
*NU’EST W, “If You”
If you read my Produce 101 recaps and my well-documented appreciation for JR, you’ll know this is my other bias coming into play just a little bit. But in all seriousness, this is a very beautiful and poignant song. I really like music that’s simple but elegant. I’m starting to think NU’EST’s likes to pull you in with an enchanting melody but get you with poetic lyrics. All those thinly veiled references to Minhyun not being with them are kicking me in the feels.
*EXO, “Ko Ko Bop”
This group is constantly surprising me. None of their title tracks sound remotely alike, but it all fits together. I definitely wasn’t expecting a reggae type track like “Ko Ko Bop,” but it totally works for them. It has a very casual and carefree vibe that goes well with summer, and the melody is super addictive. The vocals are smooth and sexy, Kai and Sehun are killing the dance, and Chanyeol’s rap is the perfect amount. K-pop music doesn’t usually sound this relaxed, but I’m definitely on board with a more chill EXO.
*Red Velvet, “Red Flavor”
Bubbly and refreshing feel? Check. Addictive melody? Check. Killer dance? Check. Quirky music video? Check! This is Red Velvet at their best: feminine and fun. The fruit concept is a little weird aesthetically, but I guess it works because I think of fruit juice whenever I listen to it. I was so excited when I first heard “Red Flavor,” because it’s the kind of music I’ve been waiting to hear from Red Velvet for a long time. In my opinion, this is the K-pop song of the summer.
*K.A.R.D., “Hola Hola”
I always put K.A.R.D. on these lists, but I just really like dance beats! (And apparently tropical house music) “Hola Hola” is admittedly not my favorite song of theirs, but the beat and the chorus always get me dancing along. It’s light and fun, and very similar to when they started half a year ago with “Oh Na Na.” And like the majority of the songs I’ve picked, it’s perfect for summer. I think it’s a pretty solid debut, and it’s very consistent with what they’ve been giving us in their pre-debut releases.
THE UNDERRATED CORNER: DREAMCATCHER, “FLY HIGH”
I’m really big on consistency in K-pop, especially when it comes to rookies. Many new groups change concepts, and sometimes that actually keeps them from finding their footing. From the start, Dreamcatcher has been getting a lot of attention for their horror aesthetic and rock metal sound (especially internationally). This latest comeback is a great example of how to change things up without completely ditching a concept. “Fly High” is lighter, more pop like, and probably more accessible to the Korean public. But at the same time, it’s not a far stretch from the music that they’ve become known for . And the music video is just as unsettlingly creepy as ever.
FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEOS:
*Favorite Aesthetic Music Video: JJ Project, “Tomorrow, Today”
(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.)
This song sounds very pretty, and the music video adds to the calming and soothing feel. There are so many beautiful shots of the forest and the mountains, and it gives me wanderlust. It’s very simple, but very well-done. They also do a really good job focusing on JB and Jinyoung and the dynamic between the two of them. I’m pretty sure there isn’t really a narrative, because there aren’t actions in the shots to support one. But there was still a twinge in my heart at the end when they separated and Jinyoung looked back.
*Favorite Concept Music Video: EXO, “Ko Ko Bop” (see above for video)
(My definition of a concept MV: A music video that is somewhere in between an aesthetic music video and a story music video. There is a definite concept, and everything in the video helps to visually solidify it. There is usually some kind of story, but it’s more of a situation. There generally isn’t an ending or resolution, or if there is it’s ambiguous. Or in some cases, the story is put aside in favor of the visual elements.)
The superpowers strike again! According to Baekhyun, this is about the alien EXO adjusting to life on Earth and becoming normal. (Apparently, videos like “Mama” and “Lucky One” were not Earth-based) I feel like their powers are more of a running joke than anything else at this point, but I like how they incorporated them into the music video. There were obvious things that look cool, like Xiumin creating ice for his drink or Kai floating in a cloud. But I also appreciated the little touches, like water dripping from Suho’s robe or Chanyeol throwing a ball into the air that became fireworks.
*Favorite Story Music Video: Akdong Musician, “Dinosaur”
(My definition of a story MV: A music video that 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. 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.)
Akdong Musician has always had interesting stories for their music videos. “Dinosaur” is filled with interesting cinematic references, and it’s visually reminiscent of films like Jurassic Park. But it’s also very touching on an emotional level. The brother-sister duo are portrayed as bullied (Chanhyuk) and lonely (Soohyun), and Chanhyuk has mentioned that the dinosaur represents his childhood fears. In the song, they look to conquer those fears. In the music video, these bonding nighttime adventures looking for said dinosaur help them move behind those daytime worries. It’s a heartwarming idea that’s very relatable. Even if we’re no longer afraid of monsters in the dark, we all have our fears and worries that we need to stand up to.
Most Impressive Moves
This dance is absolutely gorgeous. I’m a sucker for prop dances, but they can get a little gimmicky at times. So the way they use umbrellas is genius, because it’s such an integral part of the choreography. I also love all of the little touches that they put in, like when two members walk towards the one who’s singing and bump him into changing directions. Or the part towards the end where the umbrellas keep covering the members and then revealing them one by one. The choreography is so intricate that so many things could go wrong, but they nail it.
K.A.R.D., “Hola Hola”
K.A.R.D. dances have a pretty high level of difficulty. The moves themselves are tough, but the choreography’s natural and flowing style is also hard to capture. You really have to ride the rhythm of the music and let the beat guide you. I know that’s like the definition of dance, but it’s harder than you think. A choreography like this looks its best when it looks like freestyle, which means you can’t be in your head too much.
Choreography I Want to Learn
Red Velvet, “Red Flavor”
I always love Red Velvet dances, and this one is great. It’s bright and bubbly, and it fits with the song so perfectly because you just want to bounce along anyway. The chorus is especially catchy and fun to dance to. And it has a strong girl crush vibe, which is my favorite kind of girl group dance.
Laboum, “Only U”
This is a very stereotypical girl group dance. It has all the basic staples: aegyo, girly hand gestures, hip swivels, power posing, etc. That’s not a bad thing at all; it just means that the choreographer knows what works. Like “Red Flavor,” this one is a lot of fun and I really like the key point. Honestly, it kind of reminds me of Sistar’s summer jams like “Shake It” or “Touch My Body” – both of which I adore. So if you like classic girl group choreography and certified bops, this one is for you!
*EXO, “Diamond” and “Touch It“ : The War has a lot of quality tracks, but these two are my personal favorites. “Diamond” is totally a bragging song (spoiler: EXO is the diamond), but the beat and the melody are so interesting. It sounds very different from the music I’ve heard from them before. On the other hand, “Touch It” is a more conventional funky dance track about how a girl’s small gestures drive them crazy. Apparently Chen thought of what fans go through when they watch EXO while he was writing it, so the lyrics are super accurate. Both songs also have pretty sexy undertones, but maybe that’s because they’re my ultimate group.
*JJ Project, “On&On“ : As diverse as I try to appear, I really have a hard time automatically liking anything that isn’t a dance track. So although Verse 2 is really good, a lot of the songs sound the same to me. “On&On” really stands out to me because it’s more mid-tempo, but I also really like the melody and the harmonizations. It reminds me of some of GOT7’s B-sides.
*Red Velvet, “Zoo“ : There are a lot of metaphors for love, but I’d never thought of a zoo before. The way that they describe it, it kind of works. Red Velvet always has quality B-sides, and I’m digging this upbeat and addictive dance track. They’re at their best when they throw in a bit of their quirkiness, so I like the animal noises in the background and that somewhat random Tarzan yell.
*Dreamcatcher, “Sleep Walking“ : This techno sounding track fits right in with the rest of Dreamcatcher’s dark and creepy sounding music. It’s not as intense as some of their other songs, but there’s definitely a dramatic and mysterious edge to it. It sounds like it would fit really well with an action movie or a video game. I also like the lyrics about how they want the object of their affections to stay with them in their dreams, even as the day is drawing to an end.
FAVORITE ALBUM: K.A.R.D, Hola Hola
If you’ve been following K.A.R.D. since last December, you’ll know that most of these tracks aren’t actually new. But when you put those three pre-releases with “Hola Hola,” they all come together to form one cohesive album. And it shows that K.A.R.D. knows exactly where their strengths lie. While those songs all share the same musical foundation, they also have their own unique flavor. The two other new songs are a little different, but very interesting. “Don’t Stop” is more techno-influenced, and it’s a great showcase for Jiwoo – who in my opinion is not as promoted as the rest. And “Living Good” is a lighthearted thank you to all of the people that got them this far. I expect great things for K.A.R.D., and this debut confirms that they’ve got what it takes.
And with this post, I’m all caught up on my favorites lists! Just in time for the insanity that will be August…it’s only the 4th, but there’s already been a wave of comebacks. It’s a lot, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the summer holds!
NOTE – All songs and videos are from: DSP Media (K.A.R.D.), Happyface Entertainment (Dreamcatcher), JYP Entertainment (JJ Project), NH Media (Laboum), Pledis Entertainment (NU’EST W), SM Entertainment (EXO and Red Velvet), YG Entertainment (Akdong Musician), YNB Entertainment (KNK)
Additional Sources: Soompi, Seoulbeats, MBC Music Core (Red Velvet’s fancam)