A K-pop Starter Kit

So I didn’t notice that my second year in the K-pop fandom has passed by! Time flies when you’re constantly being bombarded by comebacks. My iTunes has come a long way from being stuck in an aging hipster rut, and I’m far from being through with K-pop!

I’ve come up with a short and sweet little playlist for those who like me, have grown bored listening to white guys on guitars. Maybe your musical palate is looking for tunes that are a lot more adventurous and a lot less cynical but don’t know where to start. The K-pop universe is vast and varied, and without the right key, it can quickly get confusing and overwhelming. The tracks I’ve included in this little mix are those that helped pull me in when I was just an agi in K-pop 🙂

“Sorry, Sorry” – Super Junior 

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The year was 2007, and I was in an editing house getting a project done. My editor, Joe was into K-pop girl groups in a huge way. His love for K-pop was baffling – he was fully aware that the music was 100% manufactured but to him, manufactured didn’t automatically mean that the music was bad. He thought I might like Super Junior, which was made up of thirteen guys (so that there was bound to be one I liked.) “There’s a fat guy, there’s a ‘gay’ guy…” he said, hipping me to one of their more famous videos, “Sorry, Sorry.” Unfortunately, SJ was not the key that would unlock K-pop for me, but this song eventually rolled out the red carpet when I finally let myself in a few years later.

“Mirotic” – DBSK

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More often than not, your bias group will give away when you got into K-pop. So when you come across someone who is very much a fan of Dong Bang Shin Ki, you know you’re talking to a veteran in the K-pop fandom. These guys weren’t called The Rising Gods of the East for nothing. The original lineup doesn’t exist anymore, but their influence is everywhere in K-pop. in fact, many of the current groups grew up listening to DBSK.

“Fantastic Baby” – BigBang

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My true key turned out to be G-Dragon, after all. The thing about BigBang is that their music sounded closest to what my ears were accustomed to accepting as “real music” as far as manufactured pop music was concerned. Structurally, their songs were easier to digest because their r&b influences were accessible and the songs somehow sounded less embarrassing compared to K-pop tracks that liberally utilized EDM effects. Ironically, “Fantastic Baby”  is the exact opposite of being accessible and unembarrassing, but this track makes no bones about its own flamboyance, and that’s why it is nothing short of anthemic.

“Lucifer”- SHINee

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What pulled me away from fully stanning BigBang was this five member boyband from BB’s rival company, SM Entertainment. SHINee drew me in because they were all so cute, charming, glossy and well, shiny. I discovered that aside from being required to dance, sing and look fabulously airbrushed, K-pop idols were also expected to be charming, witty, and relatable whenever they appeared in public. SHINee had all these in spades, and they won me over through their on-screen antics on their reality show “One Fine Day.”

“Gee” – SNSD

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I didn’t like a lot of girl groups when I first got into K-pop, and in fact I don’t like Girls’ Generation. However, they have some tracks that I really like, and this is one of them.

“Electric Shock” – f(x)

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f(x) were those cool girls from the now classic “Funny Or Die” clip with Anna Kendrick. You know how the talent manager character at the beginning of the clip had her eyes glazing over at the music video she was watching on her tablet? That’s not uncommon for someone with early onset K-pop addiction.

“I Am The Best” – 2NE1

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If I had to pick between GG and 2NE1, SM baby that I am – I will pick 2NE1. Brash, loud, and feisty, it’s easy to peg 2NE1 as the girl version of BigBang. To me, 2NE1 has always felt more empowered and empowering – a group of females who are as unafraid of being fierce as they are of being vulnerable.

“Nilili Mambo” – Block B

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Block B broke the boyband mold in that they seemed the least concerned about looking slick, handsome and unthreatening. In fact, they looked downright ugly in their music video for “Nilili Mambo.” Even their vocal style goes against typical flower boy tropes – they sound rough and dirty and ready for a fight. Leader Zico is one of the most talented young artists working in the Korean music industry today, and the stuff he does for Block B doesn’t even cover what he’s capable of music-wise.

“Growl” EXO

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These guys are my Patronus.

“One Shot” – B.A.P

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“One Shot” was the first music video that I seriously watched. It had an amazing narrative that attempted to do in less than four minutes  what “Infernal Affairs” has achieved in a trilogy. Two years into the K-pop fandom and I still don’t understand it.

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