After several years, I’ve decided to bring back my reviews! But this time, I’ve decided to switch things up a bit. My tastes in K-pop have changed a little over time – not so much in terms of the music itself, but how I consume it overall. Back in 2017, I was jobless and new to K-pop… so I had plenty of time to watch tons of videos all day every day. I just wanted to explore everything and learn as much as possible. In 2021, I have a job, a hectic schedule, and a better idea of what interests me. So outside of working on my blog, I mostly interact with K-pop by listening to the music and watching performances and music videos that really catch my attention. I’ve altered my criteria to reflect this, so my reviews will be a lot more subjective going forward.
Some Important Notes
- Everything in my reviews is 100% my own opinion. I also want to emphasize that I’m not a hater of any group or any specific idol. I don’t dislike anyone, and I’m ambivalent at most. If I’m not into a group, it’s not because of them personally; it’s probably more because the music is not my style. Although these reviews contain critiques, I really do want all groups and idols to succeed.
- I’m by no means any expert on all things K-pop or music related; I’m just someone who is highly interested. So these reviews are coming from the perspective of a general listener and/or fan. (Although I will admit that sometimes I can be a “dance snob” or a “film school snob,” because I do know a little bit about those fields.) The scoring isn’t so much how “good” or “bad” something I think it is; it’s more about how it answers the questions that I’ll outline below. And depending on the question, “yes” is not always positive and “no” is not always negative!
- I currently live in South Korea. So if I write something like “Koreans love [insert song here]” or make a comment about the Korean general public, it’s coming from personal experience and is not a sweeping general statement. I think it’s also worth mentioning that I don’t live in Seoul, where the general public seems a lot more clued into the industry in general. (It is the epicenter of K-pop, after all). My city is far away from Seoul, and I’ve noticed there’s a different level of awareness of certain groups outside of the mega-successful ones. So if something is popular in my city, that means it’s pretty darn popular.
My system is still out of 100 points, but the point values and the categories are a little different this time. I’ve made a table for a brief overview, and then I will go into detail about each category below.
|Main Category||Sub-Category||Amount of Points|
|FAIRNESS||Line and Center Distribution||10|
|ARTISTRY AND IMAGE||Concept||10|
|Personal Interest Level||10|
Please note that these are only some of the questions I could explore in a review. Depending on the song and situation, I could talk about something else that stands out to me.
- Song: I know very little about vocal technique and music composition, so these questions are more from a casual listener standpoint. Do I like the song? Does it have a natural flow and progression, or does it have song-within-a-song syndrome or any elements that make it jarring? How are the vocals and the rapping? Does the rap section fit in with the rest of the song? Does the overall song fit in well with the group’s signature sound?
- I originally had a separate category for lyrics, but I removed it because I don’t actually put a huge emphasis on them. I’m much more into the music than the words, and I’m happy to listen to something regardless of what it means or whether I completely understand it. That being said, I might add 1 or 2 bonus points if I feel like the lyrics are particularly well-written or relatable.
- Replay Factor: This is a one of the biggest changes to my criteria, and it’s perhaps the most important. Now that I’m a much busier person, I primarily consume K-pop by listening to the music. Which means that although there are many aspects of K-pop that I enjoy, the music itself has become more of my personal focus. So, how much do I enjoy listening to this song? Would I listen to it more than a few times or put it on repeat? How long would I put it on repeat – a week? A month? Longer? Can I see myself listening to it all year long? Or will I get tired of it after the promotion cycle?
- Choreography: This category focuses specifically on the dancing and movements. Does the choreography match the song’s rhythm and mood? Does it suit the group and the level of previous choreographies that they’ve shown us? Are the key points fun and interesting? Is there a lot of filler and unnecessary movement? Is this a dance that I would want to take the time to teach myself?
- Performance: This looks at the overall image that the dance creates, notably the formations and how the members are used. How does it look? Is it entertaining? Is it effective, or is it just complicated and made to look fancy for the sake of it? Are all of the members used effectively? If there are backup dancers, are they used efficiently?
I know that every group has a different level of choreography, so I won’t critique performances according to difficulty. Harder routines won’t automatically get better scores, unless the dance is extremely difficult and requires a lot of effort. Similarly, easier routines won’t automatically get lower scores, unless I feel like the choreography is really phoning it in. I also know a 5 person group’s choreography won’t be the same as a 10 person group’s choreography – so I won’t put them on the same scale. I’m not expecting Queendom/Kingdom level performances from everyone. What I’m considering is how entertaining and engaging the performance is, and how the choreography helps the group pull that off.
- Line and Center Distribution: Using all the members in a group to their full potential is a big thing for me. What is the point of having people in the group if they don’t get any lines or center/screen time? It’s true that we can’t expect everyone to get equal lines in a song – especially if there are more than 5 or 6 people – but there should still be a natural way things turn out. Given the dynamic of the group, is this line distribution fair? Is there one person that carries the song too much? Is it “_______ and the backup dancers?” Does whoever get the most lines deserve it? Who has the center parts in the choreography? Do they do the job well? Are the vocalists and the dancers being showcased properly? Does someone get unfairly shut out in either area?
- For me, line distribution and center distribution go hand in hand. I won’t take away points if a member suffers in one category but benefits from another: for example, if someone doesn’t have a lot of lines but is in the center for much of the dance. Basically, I use these two areas together to evaluate if all members are treated fairly.
- I do also consider screen time in music videos, but not as much. This is because I generally watch music videos once or twice, and I personally think the distributions for songs and choreography are more indicative of the group’s dynamic.
- Music Video: Does the music video fit the concept and overall look that the group is going for? Is it too little, too much, or just right? How is the aesthetic? The composition? The editing? Is there a story that’s being told? If there is, is it done in a way that the viewer understands? Is there enough balance between different types of shots (stylistic/story-telling, close-ups of members singing, dance shots)? Is it interesting? How engaging is it?
- Styling: How does it fit the concept and aesthetic? Is it too little, too much, or just right? Is the clothing appropriate for the members? Does the hair and makeup suit them? If they are pulling from a different culture, is it done so thoughtfully and respectfully?
- I also like to pick what I call the “Style MVP,” which in general is the idol whose overall look catches my attention the most for that particular comeback. This is strictly in terms of styling, aka hair, makeup and clothing. I try to avoid picking my biases all the time, but that doesn’t always work.
My general statement regarding examples of cultural appropriation: (Mostly in styling, but also sometimes in production design) Even as K-pop becomes more global, cultural appropriation sadly still crops up more often than most of us would like. It’s a highly sensitive topic that can be nuanced, and I know that many people feel differently about it. And while it’s important to point out and educate, I don’t want to make it the focus of a review that’s supposed to be looking at the big picture. So, I will probably avoid discussing cultural appropriation at length at my reviews – hence why I have made this general statement. That being said, I will subtract a point for anything that can be considered cultural appropriation by people who belong to the culture that is being appropriated from. In other words, it’s not based on what I might personally think – I will subtract the point if I see that a large amount of fans or people from the culture consider it to be offensive or problematic (on social media, in K-pop news, if the issue is large enough that the agency/group responds, etc.). Since I am not from the cultures that are generally appropriated by K-pop, I feel that this is the best way to handle any potential situations.
Artistry and Image
- Concept: What is the overall concept that the group is trying to sell? Does it fit them? Do they pull it off effectively? Is it consistent with what they’ve done in the past? If it is a departure from their “norm,” is it a welcome one? Or is it just completely out of left field and inconsistent?
- Impact: I want to emphasize that this category is NOT directly related to the actual financial or commercial impact that a group has (though I may mention it). In other words, I’m not giving a high score because the comeback had good album sales/good chart results/music show wins, etc. And I’m not subtracting points for comebacks that didn’t. Those are generally things that are determined by the size of the fandom and not the general public, which is not necessarily within a group’s control and therefore is something that shouldn’t be evaluated. Instead, I’m talking about what kind of impact this comeback has on this group in terms of creativity and the image they’re trying to build, plus how well I think it fits into their career so far. Is this comeback memorable? Do I think it will bring in new fans? Do I think it satisfied the fans they already had? Although it’s hard for most K-pop to appeal to the general Korean public, is it possible? How does this comeback compare to others the group has done?
- Personal Interest Level: This is a 100% subjective category where I really exercise my opinion. As I said, I hardly watch videos anymore outside of blog work. I check out the music video, maybe a dance video or two, and then just listen to the song a bunch. So this is kind of like the song replay factor category, but for the WHOLE comeback. How much do I want to participate in this comeback as a fan or casual listener? Do I want to watch the music video more than once? Do I want to watch multiple performances? How does it change how I feel about the group?