Listening: K-pop, March/April 2018
A round-up of K-pop mini albums from the past two months, featuring Heize, Lovelyz, NCT and more
Maybe because the previous two months were so productive, but March felt a little slow and underwhelming for me with K-pop, and I honestly struggled to round up five worthy projects by the end. Fortunately, April turned out to be much better, so I got enough here to combine the two for a more lengthy edition of the column. Bare with me at the end section where I do a quick overview of everything else because it’s going to get long.
Here are some K-pop projects from March and April worth listening beyond just the singles.
April’s signature string-pop gets a slight modern touch-up in “Blue Bird” with squeaky vocals chopped in with other baroque touches. From there, the groups goes more electronic: “Beep” is the most straightforward EDM pop that April has done, and they play with more beeps and bloops in “Hide & Seek.”
Wish & Wind
Heize’s usual boom-bap R&B gets a lush, jazzy makeover in lead single “Jenga,” where she’s once again a mess from her own emotions. She only sinks deeper into her feelings through the rest of the mini album, spilling her heart over rich piano/acoustic ballads as well as washed-out R&B.
While “Timing” sees Highteen tame Twice’s bubbly love roller-coaster pop — not to mention that “love is timing” hook — for their own use, the rest of the romance pop in Teen Love pulls the brakes for a more mellow ride. Other highlight “Tap It,” though, still competes in brightness with the title track.
Lovelyz have consistently kept their solid streak of lush synth-pop records, and the title track “That Day” for Heal delivers once again. The group follows with flashier but nevertheless great B-sides with the slinky disco “Bizarre” and, if you wanted more from Twinkle, the carnival pop “Shining Star.”
The appeal of NCT, or at least the distinction between its three units, made more sense with songs by NCT U, 127 and Dream spread across one project. While it’s mostly occupied by musical center U, my favorite from the album is Dream, who ride a more showy, serpentine electro beat in “Go.”
Do Worry Be Happy
Primary & Anda
For the producer’s collaborative EP with Anda, Primary switches from flowery boom-bap R&B of last year’s Pop album to dusky neon-funk that recalls “Midnight City” or Drive-inspired joyride tunes. Anda, meanwhile, channels the breezier parts of her vocals to let it simmer into the late-night pop.
Like the early years of The 1975, who they molded their mini-album intro from, The Rose plays pretty yet sensitive pop-punk reminiscent of mid-’00s Fueled By Ramen in title track “Baby.” They take on back-to-back starry ballads for the B-sides, and it satisfies a certain emo-pop craving.
Snuper teases a playfulness in title track “Tulips” without crumbling the stylishness behind the dance-pop beat — I mean, that’s a pun, right? The slick production continues, from the more wobbly yet still sensual “You’re in My Eyes” to the bombastic explosion of “Very Very.”
SOMA tucks in her usual moody R&B toward the back end of her latest EP, and she instead fills the first half with quiet guitar tracks, where she aims for an intimacy fit for a bedroom-pop record. Spring Breeze hits a sweet middle in “Home,” a woozy, live-band R&B track bridging both of the strengths in this EP.
Eau de VIXX
Though more contemporary in sound, “Scentist” continues the rich synth work that made last year’s “Shangri-La” so exciting. And from front to back, VIXX’s latest album is loaded with impressive production. The shiny funk of “Odd Sense” and the future-bass R&B of “Silence” is just the start.
Other K-pop from the past two months…
- Berry Good’s Heart Heart subunit (comprised of Taeha, Sehyung and Gowoon) debuted with sultry dance-pop “Crazy, Gone Crazy.” Can we get the full group next?
- BTS dropped some Japanese originals to bundle with a new compilation-of-sorts, Face Yourself, that includes their previously released singles in Japanese. I still got to get to the whole thing because I am still stuck on enjoying just “Blood, Sweat, Tears” in Japanese… And it looks like they’re performing a new song on Billboard Music Awards? ARMY mania continues.
- Speaking of BTS, J-Hope dropped his solo project Hope World in March, where he takes on a range of his talents, mostly on the rapping side of things. The records that sees him find the middle of his pop and rap instincts, like title track “Daydream,” were my favorites.
- Eric Nam hits back to back with solid singles: the heartbroken folk-pop “Honestly” and the reggaeton homage “Potion.” While the latter wins out for me, Nam sticks to the former’s mode of a soft, heartbroken boy in the rest of his mini album, and his openness as well as a lack for pride sounds refreshing to hear in this pop climate.
- EXID returns with the New Jack Swing-channeling “Lady,” baggy retro outfits and all. Do I genuinely enjoy the group’s performance in the single or really into this “Finesse” wave? I’d like to think the former.
- EXO-CBX will be a busy bee satisfying both Korean and Japanese fans in the next month or so. April brought a new Korean mini album, Blooming Days, which I’ve yet not listened, though the title track is a slick, promising dance number. May will bring their first full Japanese album, Magic, and I’m liking most of what I hear on the teaser.
- HA:TFELT goes sort of 180 with her new single, loosening up from the air of seriousness surrounding “I Wander” to the much more casual guitar-pop “Pluhmm.” She turns in an equally smooth lounge-pop in the B-side “Cigar” too.
- Forget the noise: Honey Popcorn delivered a solid single, B-sides and all, with “Bibidi Bobidi Boo.” My favorite is “First Kiss” with its video-game synth speckles in the breakdown after the chorus.
- Hyolyn (not to be confused with DJ Hyo, a.k.a. Hyoyeon of Girls’ Generation, who also dropped a solo single) ditches the calm waters of EDM for more pop in “Dally,” a single in which I can’t un-hear how the claps in the pre-chorus sound like the one from Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry.”
- JBJ came to an end this month, and “Call Your Name” served as a bittersweet goodbye note to fans who made it all possible. For their last outing, they dropped the new release New Moon, a bundle of their first two mini albums plus some new tracks.
- Here are two selections if you want some late-night K-pop tunes: Starship solo singer Jooyoung’s Fountain mini album from March and its title track “Dive”; Kisum’s acoustic-R&B duet “It’s Okay” with Heize.
- MAMAMOO’s B-side “Rude Boy” was better than the two singles made for Yellow Flower; same for “Everyday,” too. The group’s Solar and Whee In both dropped solo singles as well, and I’m really into the latter’s “Easy,” which slides smoothly with Heize’s stuff.
- Oh My Girl’s Banhana subunit has been very fun to follow this past month with their ongoing promotion for the 8-bit bop “Banana Allergy Monkey” — which has surprisingly made headlines for stirring some controversy!
- Finally, the 12th and last LOONA was revealed! Olivia Hye and her future-bass-riffing “Egoist,” featuring LOONA #6 JinSoul, was a great release as usual from the camp. The dozen also announced a new subunit: yyxy, or youth youth by young, comprising of the last four members: Yves, Chuu, Go Won and Olivia Hye.
- One of my top-favorite new finds these couple months was Park Bo Ram’s perfect-for-springtime single “Please, Stop Me.” I partly blame the IU-ness, but I fell hard for the sweet chorus begging for her phone to be taken away so she won’t call up her crush.
- Pentagon comes back with “Shine,” riding on a piano riff reminiscent of iKON’s in “Love Scenario.” That riff took a minute to grow on me, but the shy-prankster perspective of the song gets me as well as those well-paired “na na na”s.
- A very Twice-tastic April! Not only did we see the release of another fine music-and-single combo in “What Is Love,” they were also busy in Japan with new single “Wake Me Up” that got announced via a promo ad for ABC Mart and Nike Air Max. (ABC Mart also recruited Blackpink to sell some Pumas as well.)
- So I barely found out UNB is the name of the boy-group half of final group to come from the idol survival show The Unit. Excuse my dumb self, but I’ll say their debut work Boyhood is a promising project that makes me hopeful for this franchise. UNI.T’s slated for a debut next month, so we shall see what’s next.
Phew! Do you need something to take all this home with you? Here’s a YouTube video playlist.