Rapid(ish) Reviews, September 2017: B1A4, B.A.P., GFriend, and More

August was hectic, and October and November are shaping up to be just as wild.  So September provided a nice little breather!  Things were on the lighter side, but there were still plenty of comebacks to enjoy. I’ll admit I spent most of my time fangirling over EXO and BTS, but some of my other favorite groups came back with some quality music.

Table of Contents:

  1. B1A4, “Rollin'”
  2. B.A.P., “Honeymoon”
  3. GFriend, “Summer Rain”
  4. April, “Take My Hand”
  5. Pentagon, “Like This”
  6. MXM, “I’m the One”

B1A4, “Rollin'”

Song: 19/20
Lyrics: 9/10
Line Distribution: 8/10
Choreography: 19/20
Center/Formations: 9/10
Music Video: 17/20
Styling: 8/10
TOTAL90/100

B1A4 are the kings of low-key music. They use catchy melodies and clean vocals to grab your attention, instead of relying on various effects. K-Pop tends to be quite flashy these days, both in music and aesthetic.  This is fine with me, because I’m usually all about dance beats with loud percussion and thudding bass. But sometimes a simpler and more classic sound is a refreshing change of pace. Not to mention that B1A4 have really pleasant and soothing voices.  They’re pretty much the definition of “easy listening.”

“Rollin'” is a really well-balanced song.  It’s catchy, but not annoyingly repetitive.  It highlights their solid vocals, but it also has an insanely addictive instrumental hook (which happens to be one of my weaknesses).  And while it’s definitely a tropical house song, it’s a very subtle one. While Jinyoung was definitely inspired by the genre, he also mixed it with B1A4’s classic style. I think a lot of people are getting tired of the tropical house trend, though I’m not one of them. So I think it’s a nice compromise.

There’s a lot to like here besides the music. I don’t really consider dancing to be one of B1A4’s strong points, but I absolutely love the choreography. It fits the song so well, and it looks so fun and effortless.  The music video is pretty as well (it was shot in Australia, which is generally considered quite picturesque).  I enjoy the small visual references to the lyrics, even if they’re a bit subtle for my tastes. “Rollin'” refers to the feeling of being overwhelmed by falling in love – in a good way! – so it’s cool that the shots of the ocean kind of mirror that.  The rotating shots are also a nice touch.

B1A4 has done pretty well for themselves over the years.  Sure, they might not be one of the “it” groups right now.  But they have a dedicated fandom, and they’re relatively well-known in South Korea.  They come back once a year and still manage to chart well, appear on popular variety shows, and perhaps pick up a music show win or two.  So they still get to live the idol life comfortably and have time to pursue their own individual activities.  And I think a lot of that success is a testament to the quality of their music.  I wish that they got more recognition, but they’re definitely in a solid place right now.

STYLE MVP: Jinyoung.  He looks the same as always (aka handsome), but I also like the outfits that they gave him – specifically, that pink jacket.

B1A4-Jinyoung.gif

***

B.A.P., “Honeymoon”

Song: 17/20
Lyrics: 10/10
Line Distribution: 8/10
Choreography: 17/20
Center/Formations: 9/10
Music Video: 18/20
Styling: 7/10
TOTAL86/100

After the thrilling “Skydive” and the compelling “Wake Me Up,” B.A.P finished out their color trilogy with the mellow yet haunting “Honeymoon.”  It’s apparently supposed to be a fresher image for them, and it’s true that the music video is aesthetically brighter than the other two. However, “Honeymoon” still has that chic and mysterious vibe that runs through the rest of the series. They’ve tried a lot of musical styles over the years, but I really like the Maroon5-esque pop-rock sound they’ve built for this trilogy.  It’s easy to listen to, but it has a bit of an edge to it.

One of B.A.P’s biggest strengths is their lyrics, and it’s a huge part of why I like them.  Perhaps it’s because they’ve had a lot of hardships in their five year career, with their lawsuit and hiatus further complicating the already difficult idol life.  Maybe it’s because Bang Yongguk has openly struggled with mental health issues and puts that into his work.  But whenever I read their lyrics, I feel profoundly moved. Normally, I don’t put much stock in them. But in B.A.P’s case, they really elevate the quality of music that’s already great. They’re beautifully written, but they also portray real and raw emotions.

“Honeymoon” evokes that feeling of when you’re on vacation, relaxing and momentarily escaping all of the stresses of everyday life.  They explain on After School Club: “Our title track ‘HONEYMOON’ has a hopeful feeling, as it talks about breaking free from the pressures of reality and finding our own light.” This is something that’s so relatable, especially the older we get.  I’m the same age as Yongguk and Himchan, which means we’re all in our late twenties. We obviously don’t have the same lifestyle because they’re famous and I’m not. But I can relate to the idea of finding your own way, when you’re at an age when people expect you to have it together.

Honestly, I think B.A.P was at their peak (post-lawsuit) with “Skydive.”  I thought it was a masterpiece in every way, so in my mind it’s hard for them to top it.  I also don’t think they’re trying to – “Skydive” is epic and highly stylized, while “Wake Me Up” and “Honeymoon” are much more personal and intimate.  They’re hard to compare, and me loving “Skydive” is totally my own preference.  But at the same time, I really liked the music that B.A.P put out this year. It shows the mark of a group that’s been through the wringer and knows what life is like.  And though many people flock to K-Pop for light-hearted fun, I think that the industry could use socially conscious groups like B.A.P.

STYLE MVP: Yongguk. He’s just so darn attractive! He’s one of the few men where I can’t be objective.  I literally couldn’t decide what GIF of him to use, which is why he’s also the cover image.

BAP-Yongguk

***

GFriend, “Summer Rain”

Song: 17/20
Lyrics: 9/10
Line Distribution: 8/10
Choreography: 17/20
Center/Formations: 9/10
Music Video: 16/20
Styling: 8/10
TOTAL84/100

I’ve mentioned before that I’m on the fence with GFriend.  Honestly, I’d love to have more positive feelings about their music.  I really want to put them on my list of girl groups that I like unconditionally.  I’ve enjoyed some of their songs and choreographies, and I think they have so much potential. Their popularity is definitely deserved. But at the end of the day, I’m just not a huge fan of innocent and youthful concepts.  And “Summer Rain” is proof that Source Music refusing to budge from this pretty and pristine image.  Since they’re really digging their heels in, I find myself at an impasse.

I won’t go into another rant over “Love Whisper.”  I’ll just say that I didn’t like it – and it’s pretty rare for me to straight up dislike something.  The good news is that “Summer Rain” is better.  It’s no “Rough,” but it’s a nice song with poetic lyrics and a pleasant piano melody.  The dance is very graceful and delicate, and I like how it has some ballet in it.  The music video does absolutely nothing for me, but it’s pretty enough to watch.

The issue is that no matter how nice “Summer Rain” is – and I do think it’s good – it’s almost exactly like nearly everything GFriend has done before it.  When I first heard it, I thought it was basically a sad version of “Love Whisper.” If Gfriend had just released one song, I’d only be mildly grumbling.  But hearing these two songs back to back makes it painfully clear their concept has gotten old. It’s pretty much catering to their male fandom at this point, and that makes me think they’re going to get stuck doing this forever like Apink.  Now I like Apink and they have a solid career, but it’s disheartening watching grown women in their twenties having to act like pure and innocent flowers.

GFriend hit it big with “Rough” right when I got into K-Pop, and I remember how popular they were. It’s really sad to see that novelty fade so quickly.  I’m not saying they need to go the “Fingertip” route and do something dramatic. But there are other low-risk genres that could provide a nice change of pace, like retro or girl crush or even quirky.  Honestly, even something that’s only a tiny bit different will do.

STYLE MVP: SinB.  They all look the same as always, so it’s hard for me to pick. But I think this song fits her best.

GFriend-SinB

***

APRIL, “Take My Hand”

Song: 16/20
Lyrics: 9/10
Line Distribution: 7/10
Choreography: 16/20
Center/Formations: 8/10
Music Video: 17/20
Styling: 10/10
TOTAL83/100

Though April piqued my interest with “Mayday” a while ago, I don’t know a whole lot about them. Back when I was discovering K-Pop, they were really pushing their youthful appearance and teenager status.  So as a fully grown woman, I couldn’t relate and I still don’t. Truthfully, I’ll probably never really get into them. But I’ve been enjoying their latest music, because it’s becoming less youthful and more public-friendly.

April clearly has been taking steps to mature their image.  “Mature” is often synonymous with “sexy” in K-Pop, so I want to be clear that’s not what I mean. It’s more that they look like actual young women rather than children (the fashion is on point, by the way).  Instead of acting cutesy, they play up their more feminine and sophisticated sides.  And their music video deals with something that’s bound to happen in your teens and early twenties: confessing to someone who doesn’t like you back.

“Take My Hand” isn’t really my style, but I think it’s good.  Someone who’s into innocent and feminine concepts would love it.  And the overall production value is a huge step up from “Mayday.” The issue, as it always seems to be, is that April doesn’t have a lot of popularity and isn’t that well known.  Which is sad, because their labelmate K.A.R.D is literally sweeping the international K-pop market as we speak.  But K.A.R.D has an advantage because their music is super accessible and trendy, while April’s is very niche.  Pure and innocent songs are soft and gentle by nature, so it’s harder to burst onto the scene with a delicate sounding tune.

Though April has been releasing solid music, I’m not really sure what DSP Media can do fto get them notoriety.  They won’t be rookies for much longer, so it’s kind of do or die time. They have nice visuals that should land them some CFs, which is truthfully the best way for a girl group to make money.  Perhaps they should push Chaekyung more, or have them go on more variety shows. The Unit or Mix Nine would definitely be a good opportunity for them. In any case, I hope it works out.

STYLE MVP: Chaewon.  She looks so cute, and I’m pretty sure I had that exact outfit when I was a student.

April-Chaewon

***

PENTAGON, “Like This”

Song: 17/20
Lyrics: 10/10
Line Distribution: 9/10
Choreography: 19/20
Center/Formations: 10/10
Music Video: 16/20
Styling: 9/10
TOTAL: 90/100

Last year, Pentagon debuted at a moment where there was an influx of rookie boy group activity.  As a result, I couldn’t really get into them for a while.  I liked their first two singles fine, but I also thought they weren’t different enough from the competition.  This year, they’ve been slowly but surely setting themselves apart – somewhat aesthetically, but especially musically. Hui’s work for Produce 101 and Wanna One has really put him on the map recently. I personally love “Never,” so I was really excited when I found out he helped compose Pentagon’s latest track.

“Like This” is super unique, unlike anything I’ve ever really heard.  I’m actually not quite sure what genre it is, but some articles I read call it a dream-pop sound.   In any case, it’s really good. A lot of pop songs rely on the arrangement over the vocals. It’s obviously flatter if you take out the singing, but it essentially sounds the same. But “Like This” has a nice balance between the music and the vocals.  The arrangement is trendy and appealing to the ear, while the vocals pull at your emotions. “Never” and “Energetic” are very similar in that respect.  So while “Like This” is quite different stylistically, I think fans of those songs will still enjoy it.

The other aspects of this comeback are also solid. I’m personally a huge fan of Pentagon’s dancing.  Main dancer Kino apparently choreographed “Like This,” and he has an amazing sense of musicality.  The moves are often sharp and hit all the beats they’re supposed to, but sometimes they also have this softness and vulnerability. It also helps that Pentagon knows how to use their large number of members to create some interesting formations.

I’m not into the music video as much as the dance. It starts out with some kind of narrative, but quickly sacrifices it to push the aesthetic (which is one of my film school student pet peeves). Pentagon’s current weakness is their music videos – precisely because they’re all style and no substance. I personally need a little more besides shots of attractive people, so my attention naturally wanders.  Also, “Like This” has this beautiful message of coping and persevering in your twenties that is not addressed at all here.  It’s such a missed opportunity! But I admit that it’s very pretty to look at and it does accomplish that dreamy feeling the song has.

There are a lot of K-Pop fans out there who think self-producing idols are on a different (read: better) level from the rest.  I don’t agree, but I will concede it’s easier to relate to groups who help write and compose their own music.  It gives them more control over their identity and brand, so they have an image and sound they’re comfortable with. And it’s more likely that they’ll draw inspiration from their own experiences, which means that fans will resonate with their songs more. There’s not a whole lot of experimentation in K-Pop, so Pentagon’s unconventional music is a huge asset for them.  They should take full advantage of that and make it their identity going forward.

STYLE MVP: Kino. I don’t have a particular reason this time; he just drew my eye a lot.

Pentagon-Kino

***

MXM, “I’m the One”

Song: 17/20
Lyrics: 9/10
Line Distribution: 8/10
Choreography: 18/20
Center/Formations: 9/10
Music Video: 16/20
Styling: 8/10
TOTAL85/100

I try to keep up with all Produce 101 alumni, and I’m so happy that so many of the former trainees are going on to debut so quickly.  But I was especially excited to hear that Youngmin and Donghyun were going to be a subunit.  I really liked the Brand New Music boys, and at the time I was worried about both Daehwi and Woojin making it into Wanna One.  I thought that it meant the other two would be stuck as trainees for a year and a half, but luckily I was wrong! It’s a shame their debut was a little under the radar compared to some of the others, because I thought it was really good.

“I’m the One” sounds very much like the music I thought Wanna One would make – trendy, upbeat and fun. While it’s not so different from most pop songs you’ll hear these days, it’s pretty on-point when it comes to what’s popular. It’s not my favorite style, but I did enjoy listening to it for a few weeks. It’s also a terrific vehicle for Donghyun, who I always thought was severely slept on throughout the show.  I’ll seriously never understand why people didn’t vote for him like the other three.

The song and the music video are perfectly fine, but MXM’s strongest point is their dance. Boy group routines tend to be either super easy or super difficult. “I’m the One” is a rare one that falls in between. It’s not exactly something just anyone could do – there’s some low-key breakdancing, and the chorus has some tricky jumps. But at the same, it doesn’t look impossible.  It feels very relaxed, like two kids showing off their moves from dance class.  And it’s also pretty fun.  When I watch it, I can’t help smiling.

I’m not quite sure what MXM will be up to in the future, or how many times they’ll promote before Daehwi and Woojin return to the agency.  But they had a solid debut, and I’m pretty optimistic about any music they release in the next year or so.  Hopefully we’ll get to see more of their songwriting and composing skills, too!

STYLE MVP: Youngmin.  His new hairstyle is so much better than his Produce 101 days.

MXM-Youngmin

***

VIDEO SOURCES: Youtube, Arirang (After School Club, Episode 281), Brand New Music Entertainment (MXM), Cube Entertainment (Pentagon), DSP Media (April), Source Music (GFriend), TS Entertainment (B.A.P.), and WM Entertainment (B1A4)

OTHER SOURCES: Soompi, Seoul Beats

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