There was a period when Jay Park released lighthearted, throwback r&b pop that resulted in at least two singles (the incredible Joah and So Good) that have only grown better with age. But that Jay Park has been replaced with someone much more predictable. In fact, I’ve hesitated more than once to review his prolific output of late, because I fear that my commentary will devolve into something closer to an op-ed on the state of hip-hop in Korean music.
But to hell with it. Jay Park has millions of fans, and they love what he’s doing now. More power to them. I don’t begrudge anyone for the music they like. I know my own preferences don’t always align with the majority of k-pop fandom (especially when it comes to international listeners). But here’s the problem I have with Drive, and almost every single Jay Park has released over the past year or two. He’s settled into a very westernized formula, to the point where each new track sounds nearly interchangeable with the last. They’ve all got that trademark electro AOMG beat, which just kind of repeats endlessly without any real peaks or valleys. And the melodies are similarly one note — more of a continual ad-lib than a well-structured melodic storyline. This is very much a style unto itself, but it’s not one that captures my imagination. It gives off the impression that the vibe surrounding the track is more important than the actual song.
And this is where I hop on my soapbox. I have no problem with hip-hop. Much of the k-pop repertoire is built heavily upon it. What I do have a problem with is swag over substance. Jay Park’s more recent music seems overly concerned with cementing his image as some bad boy lethario. It uses tropes that may feel fresh and boundary-pushing in Korea, but seem quite tired by Western standards. I get that Park’s influences (and upbringing) are more strongly rooted in America than Korea, and I applaud his attempt to bridge the two musical cultures. But as pleasant as tracks like Drive are, they carry with them a feeling of imitation that causes his music to feel increasingly like an act rather than a dynamic burst of the creativity and charisma he’s shown us in the past.