Modern K-pop has always felt the need to position its male groups as edgy and badass, but the moodiness has seemed to kick into overdrive this year. Call it the BTS-effect, or the mirroring of current trends in Western pop, but for a lover of upbeat production and colorful melodies, this trend has resulted in quite a bit of frustration.
When it comes to fun boy group K-pop, acts like Golden Child and ONF have gotten me through the year. But more and more, they seem to be the exception to an increasingly dark, downtempo rule. The pop-lover in me gets defensive whenever a bright act like Astro or Snuper defects to a serious-minded comeback, no matter how good (or bad) the actual song might be. In the current K-pop landscape, we just can’t afford to lose any of these reliably fun acts to the “dark side.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve loved more than a few of these darker concepts, and am always a proponent of K-pop pushing itself forward in new and exciting directions. But, we begin to have a problem when songs and groups start sounding so much alike that they become interchangeable.
Looking back five or six years, the stable of bright boy group pop was practically overflowing. Groups like B1A4, Infinite, Boyfriend and Teen Top built their fanbases on poppier sounds, not to mention established SM Entertainment groups SHINee and Super Junior. Even more recently, an act like GOT7 first gained traction with a more carefree sound. Nowadays, the only big name carrying on this upbeat style is Seventeen, but even they’ve begun exploring darker territories. Barring the occasional NCT Dream comeback, SM has seen itself lodged in a continuous cycle of deep house, EDM and hip-hop for the past few years, often neglecting the classic pop touch that crafted so much of their iconic material.
As with pop music in general, K-pop’s trends tend to be cyclical. I don’t think bright boy group fare is down for the count permanently, but it feels like we’ve been swimming around this particular set of trends for longer than normal. It’s going to take a few of the industry’s biggest acts (BTS, EXO) to steer the course in a different direction, and I’m not sure I see that happening any time soon.
Boy group fans, what do you think? Are you as burnt out with all the serious-minded moodiness as I am? Or, do you think we’re just getting started with a sound that will eventually become K-pop’s new identity?