By Reese Umbaugh
For the Northwest Asian Weekly
When South Korean artist Psy’s song “Gangnam Style” became a worldwide phenomenon this year, the formerly niche genre known as K-pop (short for Korean pop) finally hit the mainstream. However, several other artists made advances into the international market, and Asian pop is churning out some of the world’s catchiest, most danceable music on the planet. At JKPOP!, we spotlight the most cutting-edge sounds coming out of Japan and South Korea every first Thursday at BARBOZA on Capitol Hill. Check out a selection of the amazing J/K-pop groups and songs that you may have missed in 2012:
10. JJ Project – “Bounce”
A rookie group that made their debut in May 2012, JJ Project’s “Bounce” combines rock, hip hop, and electronic elements to create a dance floor stormer. The duo, consisting of JB and Jr., were already familiar to the Korean public through their stint on Dream High 2, a Korean drama that features members of other popular K-pop groups, including 2AM, SISTAR, and T-ara. “Bounce” will have you butt shaking and head bobbing uncontrollably. Be prepared to be possessed!
9. After School – “Flashback”
After School brings the “graduation” concept that has been popularized in the Japanese and South Korean music market. Members are occasionally added and “graduated” between song promotions to either pursue other talents or to begin solo careers. The ladies of After School, currently consisting of eight members, are generally known as being K-pop’s sexiest girl group. With a musical concept influenced by The Pussycat Dolls, After School has sometimes been noted as being too sexy for Korean television, with a handful of songs and performances banned from Korean broadcast stations. “Flashback” is a fun, exciting single with polished production and an infectious chorus.
8. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – “CANDY CANDY”
19-year-old Kyary Pamyu Pamyu burst onto the J-pop scene in 2011 with her first promotional single “PonPonPon.” The song’s colorful music video, featuring psychedelic giant eyeballs and floating slices of bread, went viral and fashion blogger-turned-pop star Pamyu became Japan’s resident pop princess. The repetitive, sugary sweet lyrics of “CANDY CANDY” are guaranteed to stick in your brain after your first listen. Definitely look out for more from Kyary in 2013 — she recently announced her first world tour that includes stops in Los Angeles and New York.
7. SHINee – “Sherlock”
The moment Sherlock’s intro reverberates out of the speakers, you know it’s time to report to the dance floor. Lifted from the mini-album of the same name and released as their Korean comeback single after a lengthy absence, “Sherlock” stormed the charts. The video features choreography from Tony Testa, who has previously worked with Michael Jackson and Kylie Minogue. Promoted by their record label as a “Hybrid Remix,” Sherlock is the fusing of the songs “Clue” and “Note” that ultimately creates a club stomper of a song. Sherlock proves that the band has perfected a flawless approach to all its performances and overall presentation.
6. 4Minute – “Volume Up”
Don’t let the saxophone-heavy intro fool you — Volume Up is one of the most modern, addictive K-pop tracks in recent memory. The club anthem, with its bouncy dance-pop beat and a fist-pumping chorus, makes the room completely shake. The most recognizable member of 4Minute, HyunA, has already achieved chart success for her solo songs “Bubble Pop!” and “Ice Cream,” not to mention her cameo appearance in Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and its sister-song “Oppa Is Just My Style.”
5. Perfume – “Spending All My Time”
The members of Perfume are living legends of J-pop. From humble beginnings to major label stars, Perfume has released three album and over 20 singles, all to commercial and critical acclaim. A departure from their previous work, while keeping with their signature style, “Spending All My Time” is the first Perfume song to be performed entirely in English. The result is a David Guetta-style dance song that would sound right at home on American charts, featuring some of the strangest and coolest choreography in recent memory. “Spending All My Time” is an experimental single for Perfume, and with rumors of a potential world tour on the horizon, 2013 will no doubt be another exciting year for Perfume fans.
4. T-ara – “Lovey-Dovey”
T-ara is perhaps K-pop’s best singles group. They’ve released some truly iconic K-pop singles since their debut in 2009 (see “Bo Peep Bo Peep,” “Roly-Poly,” and “Sexy Love,” among others), but it was January’s “Lovey-Dovey” that cemented the group as a serious contender for the title of K-pop’s leading girl group. K-pop has a knack for fusing infectious sounds with irresistible choreography. The “Lovey-Dovey” shuffle dance put fans in awe, as did the three music videos to promote the song.
3. TVXQ! – “Android”
South Korean duo TVXQ! (formally a five-piece group) released this Japanese single, which was their 34th, in July. “Android” instantly became the group’s 11th Oricon Weekly chart topper (breaking their own record). It’s easy to see why this song was such a smash — the hook is catchy and singable, and the synths and percussion give the song a unique kick, especially when married to the smooth, immaculate production. TXVQ! has just announced plans for a 2013 world tour, with rumored dates in the United States, UK, France, Australia, Russia, and China, as well as confirmed plans for a dome tour in Japan, held in the five major concert venues of Sapporo, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka. TVXQ is only the fourth foreign artist to have a five-dome tour after Bon Jovi, the Eagles, and Billy Joel.
2. Girls’ Generation – “Paparazzi”
Releasing songs in Korean, English, and, like this track, Japanese, Girls’ Generation is a force to be reckoned with in the worldwide pop game. Perhaps their biggest career highlight was in early 2012 when the girls performed on The Late Show with David Letterman and Live with Kelly!, becoming the first Korean musical act to do so. Girls’ Generation-TTS, a trio of Girls’ Generation’s otherwise nine members, also released the Twinkle EP in April 2012, which currently holds the U.S. Billboard record for the highest charting Korean album. Paparazzi is an electro-pop jam whose “life is a party!” chorus created the biggest hands-in-the-air moment of any J/K-pop song of 2012.
Look for more Girls’ Generation in 2013, as the girls are scheduled to release a new Korean album, embark on their second Japanese arena tour, and begin promoting an album of all English-language material.
1. Big Bang – “Fantastic Baby”
Besides “Gangnam Style,” this is the song that will hands down fill the dance floor at every JKPOP! night. Taken from the wildly successful Alive EP, South Korean five-member boy group Big Bang has seen their fandom go worldwide, playing sold-out arena concerts in the United States, England, Peru, and multiple countries across Asia. Big Bang and “Fantastic Baby” encompasses all that there is so love about K-pop — heavy beats, futuristic style, colorful visuals, aggressive swag, and wraps it all up into the best dance song of the year. The members’ solo material is equally as infectious. G-Dragon’s “One of a Kind” album and its stand-out single “Crayon” is absolutely worth your time. (end)
Reese Umbaugh a.k.a DJ Bishie is the curator/DJ of JKPOP!, Seattle’s monthly Japanese & Korean pop music dance night. More on JKPOP! at JKPOPNIGHT.com.
Reese Umbaugh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.