Like many k-pop fans, I was highly entertained by season one of rap “survival” show Unpretty Rapstar. Even so, I was never interested enough in Kisum as a performer to check out her post-show music. Blame it on Rapstar‘s bigger personalities sucking all the oxygen out of the room, I guess. Whatever the reason, I’m beginning to regret it now. No Jam has instantly made me a fan.
A large part of mainstream k-pop’s appeal is its precision. Enormous groups dance in sync, nail every note and ad-lib, and tag-team a song’s myriad refrains with perfectly honed fluidity. It’s professionalism blown up to a near unreachable standard. No Jam is so wonderful because it’s none of this. The song has a palpable sense of loose, freewheeling improvisation to it. It feels thrillingly messy, though I’m sure it has been fine-tuned as much as any k-pop single. Some of this is due to the track’s mix of live instrumentation, but a great deal comes down to the bursts of screaming and shouting that bubble up every few bars, pushing delightful exclamation marks under the song’s more tightly structured segments.
Then there’s the chorus, which thunders in as if it sprung to life without any thought at all. I mean this in the best way possible, as a hook this organic isn’t easy to write. The fact that it feels so in-the-moment is a testament to the personality on display, as well as the production choice to give it a relaxed, chant-like layering. But above all, it’s supremely catchy. Can’t ask for more than that.