Most of the time, a k-pop group’s title track is the best song on their album. But, sometimes b-sides deserve recognition too. In the singles-oriented world of k-pop, I wanted to spotlight some of these buried treasures and give them the props they deserve.
As usual, I prefer Monsta X’s new album to its title track. Alligator is fine, but ultimately feels like a retread of better material. We Are Here is more varied that that track might suggest. It’s not nearly as strong as last year’s Are You There, but its relentlessly uptempo b-sides keep the energy moving. Songs like Stealer, Give Me Dat and Rodeo do a good job twisting the Monsta X sound just enough to stand out, but it’s the buzzy Play It Cool that marks an evolution for the group.
Sometimes I feel like a wet blanket within K-pop fandom, because while everyone else seems excited about international collaborations from their favorite groups, I usually have the opposite reaction. I think this stems from my dissatisfaction with (and at this point, alienation from) the current state of Western pop music. Reading that Play It Cool was produced by popular US DJ Steve Aoki meant very little to me. But thankfully, the song itself is quite strong. It borrows liberally from the now-ubiquitous deep house trend, but is bolstered by an incredibly potent hook. The melody is more simplistic and repetitive than I usually like, but this single-mindedness actually works in its favor. It helps that the group’s performance is streamlined and smooth, sidestepping the usual bombast (ie: posturing) that can sometimes make their music feel cumbersome. Honestly, I wish this was the title track — if only to see how the general public would react.
I guess I’m a wet blanket too? Honestly, I sighed when I saw “Steve Aoki” in the title, there. It’s not that I mind Western production teams in my kpop – after all, quite a few of my favorite songs of last year had foreign producers to their name. Kpop is built on Western theory and production; it’s not, in general, musically different – besides the odd banghra breakdown – or even collective enough to be what I would classify as a “music genre.” The problem I have with crossovers is that the pop music coming out of America right now is… disappointing? Teams that are strictly songwriting/production often tend to write for what the company asks for, while a big name artist like Steve Aoki will inevitably bring their own sound to the collaboration. And, like, that’s not something I really want – if I did, I would listen to more Steve Aoki. We may complain about the ubiquity of trop house, but at least we have the Gfriend/April/Dreamcatcher type groups who, for better or for worse, rarely take that route. Right now, for whatever reason, the American pop market is producing impressively samey songs – all of which happen to be in dull genres that I hate. It’s not exactly a future for kpop that I would look forward to!
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I also hate how it’s become yet another barometer for fans to use when trying to pump up their groups in comparison to others. Like, it doesn’t matter if the song is any good. It’s just… my group collaborated with so and so, my group performed on such and such tv show, my group got twitter recognition from an American artist. I just couldn’t care less.
I think that’s why I love agencies like Woollim and WM. It still feels like their music and concepts are pitched primarily at Korean audiences. And until U.S. pop music rediscovers its creativity, that’s my preference.
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I listen to K-pop precisely because I do not want to listen to contemporary western pop. The best K-pop has cutting edge production, world class songwriting, and spectacular vocal talents. Some of the best pop songs released in recent years, anywhere, have been K-pop.
I usually agree with your reviews, but I have to strongly disagree with your assessment of this particular track, it’s forgettable, generic, rubbish IMO. I have no idea who Steve Aoki is, but you can’t polish a turd.
I believe K-pop’s very recent infatuation with teaming with big-name western producers is due to an inferiority complex – artists/management are looking at big rewards in the global music market but feel that without a familiar name attached to their track it will fail. Likewise, they believe that adding a big western name to a track will give it an edge in the Korean market.
I really hope this is merely a trend and will blow over, because none of these collaborations I’ve heard so far have been any good. The best (and most successful) K-pop doesn’t try to sound like anyone else, and sounds new and fresh. This has always been the case.
If this trend continues, are K-pop and western pop going to merge completely into some horrendous amalgamation of sonic ear poison? Should we expect to see Ed Sheeran and Sia writing K-pop soon? Is K-pop getting perilously close to jumping the shark? It’s a worrying trend.
I agree 1000%, except for the fact that I obviously think this song is pretty solid either way.
I must admit, you sent a shiver of terror down my spine at the mention of Ed Sheeran…
I feel the same about western collabs. I also agree with your opinion on the song itself, I really enjoy it which came as a pleasant surprise to me. However, to me it does not fit with Monsta X’s usual image and style, and I guess that’s why it felt a bit generic to me? Or kindof out of place? I don’t know quite how to explain it, but it felt like a song that could have been on a BTS album, or any group really, without a distinct identity to it. Im not very good at explaining this haha, just putting my thoughts out there :”
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