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K-Pop has been rapidly taking over Western popular culture. With BTS breaking through to the American music industry while still maintaining their own style, and most importantly their own language, Western pop culture has been opening its eyes and ears to Korean music. That being said, there are a lot of people jumping onto the bandwagon. Well, the fans who have long-since been apart of the K-Pop world are here to help. Here, I offer you my top five song suggestions from Korean boybands to help you break into the K-Pop world. I've offered a wide selection of different genres, and styles from different backgrounds in the Korean music industry.
I hope you enjoy!
1. "Dope" by BTS
As I mentioned, BTS has successfully broken through to the American music scene, and they are taking Western pop culture by storm. Boy Band frenzy has hit America once again and the fans who have long-since been hiding in the shadows have shown up in full force to support these boys. BTS has accomplished a lot in the sparse time they've had on the American market, having even performed a comeback song on an American awards show. BTS has 7 members, 3 rappers and 4 vocalists; all of which have had a hand in creating their music.
Having debuted in 2013, one can imagine that BTS has a giant archive of music to choose from. When deciding on a song for this list, I took many things into consideration, including their debut music, their shifts in music influences since debut, as well as their various eras and which one was their most prominent, in order to choose something that appropriately demonstrates the essence of BTS. It was a hard choice, to say the least.
However, I managed to narrow it down to "Dope" from their Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Part 1 album. It's fun, upbeat, and, just like a lot of BTS' top hits, just a little bit rebellious. The MV also begins with the iconic line, "Welcome. First time to BTS?" If that doesn't invite a good place to start, I don't know what does. Also, if you pay close attention to not only the lyrics (make sure you click that CC button!) but also the cultural connections that BTS draws upon in this piece, you'll find a long struggle of the current generation to fight and defy the pressure to work traditional career paths. By now, BTS is well-known for creating anthems that challenge oppressing traditions that limit the dreams of the current youth, which may lend a hand in their outstanding popularity. As for their choreography, "Dope" doesn't include their most intense choreography by far, but it is still one of their most expressive and fun.
I hope "Dope" will spur you to check out the rest of BTS' variety and immense diversity!
2. "Teenager" by GOT7
GOT7 is a band that has also been growing in popularity overseas. GOT7 debuted in 2014 and, much like the status quo, has seven members with three rappers and four vocalists. Much like BTS, they debuted with music that was influenced by hardcore, grungey, hip-hop and trap styles. However, their style has transitioned into smoother, R&B, and electronic sounds; which, I think suits the harmonization of their voices very well.
Among the many facts that set GOT7 aside from the status quo, many of the members are foreign (Chinese, Thai, and Korean-American). A few members have also released their own solo music, including the band's leader, JB, and one of the main rappers, Jackson. On their most recent album, "Present: You," each member even had the opportunity to create their own solo songs to be released on the official album. Because of these variations and backgrounds, you will find that each member has a very specific style that they favor; and yet, you will also find a perfectly blended concoction of all of their styles and voices within their group music.
When considering a song for this list, I wanted to make sure to find one that appropriately exhibits their excellent blend of styles, and I could only find myself choosing "Teenager" from their 7 for 7 album. Aside from the catchy chorus, "Teenager" has a smooth R&B influence but with a heavy synthetic beat. It makes use of the group's rappers' talent for lyrical rapping, and excellent use of using vocals to drive listeners forward. Every beat drop is a climax, from beginning to end.
While I believe "Teenager" encapsulates a great mix of their hip-hop origins from debut and the electronic R&B styles they've transitioned into, I hope it inspires you to check out their past and present music, as well as everything in between.
3. "Call Me Baby" by EXO
Unlike the previous bands I have suggested, EXO has been around for a bit longer. Debuting in 2012 with 12 members, EXO covers a variety of music styles, including (but not limited to) pop, hip-hop, R&B, as well as some electronic dance genres like trap and synth pop. EXO is also well-known for being a band with a diverse population of members, and because of this, they have officially released music in Korean, Mandarin, and Japanese. The original 12 members were split into two sub-groups, EXO-K, which included the Korean members, and EXO-M, which included the Chinese members. The sub-groups released music individually in Korean and Chinese respectively, as well as music in Korean as the whole group EXO.
According to Wikipedia, EXO was a hit from the debut of their very first albums, selling millions of album copies, winning multiple awards, and have only grown in popularity since—efficiently earning their titles as the "Kings of k-pop." Aside from being known as extraordinary vocal powerhouses, EXO's members are known and highly praised for their overwhelming talent in other areas of the entertainment, such as acting. Even their Chinese members have found fame in not only their home countries but also abroad. EXO also had the opportunity to be a main performer at the 2018 winter Olympics, which were held in South Korea. To say the least, EXO has seemingly always had a lot running for them. And not much has changed.
"Call Me Baby" isn't their most recent, but I chose it for this list because I believe it marks a critical point in the group's development. As I mentioned before, the group debuted with 12 members; however, now they only have nine. "Call Me Baby" was the first released single after the final two of the three previous members left the band. Most fans would consider it to be a pretty big step away from the previous style they had been producing. Their previous songs, like "Growl" from their debut album, had much darker themes and harsher hip-hop sounds to them. "Call Me Baby" takes a more upbeat R&B sound, which was a stepping stone for their transition into their more current music. A variety of different harmonizations and dramatic beat changes were also played with.
EXO has a lot of history, but I sincerely hope "Call Me Baby" can inspire you to explore their vast variety, and enjoy it as much as I do.
4. "Don't Wanna Cry" by Seventeen
Oh, my dear Seventeen. How there are so many of you. With a whopping 13 members, Seventeen is by far one the bands with the most members. It can be intimidating. The 13 members have divided themselves into 3 units: Hip Hop with four rappers, Vocal with five vocalists, and performance with four dancers. Among these units, there is one member who serves as the Unit Leader for each unit.
Yes, it's a lot to take in.
However, what intrigues me the most about Seventeen is that they have made a name for themselves as being self-producing - meaning that even from before debut they have a hand in composing, producing, and recording their own music. If you scroll through the credits of their songs, you will see at least one, if not multiple, of the members' names listed. The leader of the Vocal Unit, Woozi, works on composing, writing, and even producing nearly every single song the group produces. On top of their music, they also have a very heavy hand in designing their own choreography. The leader of the Performance Unit, Hoshi, has been credited for many of the group's intricate, extremely detailed choreography. They deserve majestic awards for their work alone, having to incorporate 13 voices and bodies into one 4-minute song.
Even so, Seventeen was not immune to having their styles change since debut. Such is growth. They have dabbled in a variety of different music styles, from pop to rock to heavy EDM and hip-hop, all while still maintaining a very unique sound that many fans and critics can only attribute to them.
All of the incredible traits and accomplishments I have mentioned so far are fully demonstrated and exploited in "Don't Wanna Cry" from their Al1 mini album. The choreography, which gracefully moves between very slow, paced movements to sharp, angled ones, is simply breath-taking. You find yourself being so stunned by it that you have to go back and watch it a few more times to make sure their bodies were actually moving like that. Another accomplishment that Seventeen must take the crown for is line distribution, which doesn't sound like much of an accomplishment at all. But, when you figure 13 voices into one four minute song, it becomes quite the ordeal; and Seventeen tackles it wonderfully.
I hope you find as much satisfaction in their beautifully composed music as I do.
5. "Shoot Me" by Day6
Our first band-band! Day6 is one of the growing groups that were formed as a traditional, Western-style band. And yes, they play their own instruments. Day6 debuted in 2015. There used to be 6 members, and now there are only five: a drummer, a keyboardist, a bassist, and two lead guitarists. The members provide vocals for their songs, as well as having a hand in writing and arranging their music. While still being categorized as k-pop, Day6 produces alternative rock styled, music - which, if I may say, made my tiny, middle-school punk rock heart remember how much I absolutely love it.
"Shoot Me" is Day6's title song from their most recently released album, Shoot Me: Youth Part 1. Day6 has a history of producing songs that are inspired by their own experiences. Their previous albums have all been connected in a subtle way by a series of romantically-themed singles. "Shoot Me" is no exception. With their own unique take on a reggae-styled rock song, Day6 has a knack for pushing the listener forward, building solidly toward the climax of the song. The choral chants during the bridge sucks you into a groove, then the melody that is sung over the choral enchants you, pulls you further, up, up, up—before the music cuts out, leaving you with a strong vocal line before the deep beat of the drums brings you back in for the finale.
Standing apart from the rest of the k-pop world, lacking in those chaotic choreographed pieces as a full-fledged alternative rock band, Day6 deserves as much support as the rest. I hope they inspire you as much as do for me!
Well, there you have it! I hope the information I've provided has been helpful for you and that it has been an inspiration to begin your k-pop journey!
See you soon!