With over 2,600 songs on my iPhone’s “K-Pop Singles” playlist, I thought it would be fun to add a bit of unpredictability to my song review posts. So as a result, we have the “Random Shuffle Review” feature.
The rules are simple. I fire up my playlist, press “shuffle,” and whatever song plays first gets the full Bias List treatment!
Year Released: 2012
Bigbang’s discography can often be divided into two parts. You’ve got their high-energy, hip-hop informed party tracks (Fantastic Baby, Bang Bang Bang, etc), and at the opposite end of the spectrum is a series of more downbeat, emotional mid-tempos (Bad Boy, Loser, etc.). For me, the group is at their most transcendent when they bring these two moods together. Though it may not be as well-known as other title tracks, Monster is the pinnacle of what this iconic group is capable of.
Opening with haunting piano, Monster is quickly joined by a spoken-word intro courtesy of deep-voiced rapper T.O.P. It’s a fittingly dramatic foreword to what will soon become an explosion of anthemic melody and cathartic production. Monster’s first verse begins with a steady beat, as G-Dragon and T.O.P trade lines in an ever ascending, tense arrangement. Vocalist Taeyang joins for a striking pre-chorus that culminates in one of K-pop’s most note-perfect hooks. Monster’s chorus manages to be at once rousing and melancholic, underlined by errant strings and a discordant strike of piano during the song’s climax.
I’m often critical of K-pop’s use of English, but Monster gets its point across to international listeners with simple, resonant phrases like “I love you, baby I’m not a monster” and “I think I’m sick.” It’s a convincing blend of cultures and influences, created at a time when YG Entertainment didn’t feel a constant need to put swag and style over good songwriting. Monster is the underappreciated magnum opus of one of K-pop’s most versatile groups, and still gives me chills to this day.
Be sure to add your own rating by participating in the poll below!
This was the song that solidified BIGBANG with me. I really liked “Fantastic Baby”, but I wasn’t completely on board with the group till I heard this.
I’m a big fan of ambient music (e.g., Brian Eno, Hiroshi Yoshimura, etc.) because it’s an aural tranquilizer for me. If I’m having a bad day, mentally scrambled, or just feeling a little lost, then ambient music helps me reset by taking me down to ground level. For those that don’t know, ambient is extremely subtle and glacial. Spartan tones sans percussion or vocals.
Now, while I like ambient, I’m not a big fan of slow/ballad songs. I like music that gets my mood up. Most slow songs tend to be overly sweet or tragically sad. If I’m in a good mood, this will bring me down. If I’m in a down mood, this will take me lower. However, some slow songs introduce another element.. ..ART. I love music. I love melodies, harmonies, chord progressions, cohesion, fluidity, balance, precision, and.. ..magic. While I don’t lean towards slow music, there are some slow songs that are art; plain and simple.
This is the area where BIGBANG truly sets themselves apart from many groups in K-Pop; for me, at least. They make really awesome slow songs. “Monster”, “Last Dance”, “Loser”, and “If You” really click with me and are just as much a part of why this group is one of my faves.
O.T. in ..3, ..2, ..:
I am so pissed at Seungri. Why? Why? WHY? Was it worth it? A glowing legacy shrouded by your complete stupidity. I’ll always love BIGBANG’s music, but Seungri’s actions are like spending a fantastic day at an amusement park having the time of your life and on the final roller coaster ride, your sister barfs all over you. #truestory #reallynotreally
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Ah, Brian Eno. Eno and Lanois.
The Cliff notes version: The first minute or three of U2’s “Where the street have no name” is all fingerprints of Brian Eno ambient music. Also that ringing pinging singing reverb guitar classic sound that the Edge produces has Eno fingerprints all over it. Also the 10 gazillion minute version of U2’s Bad has Brian Eno’s fingerprints all over it. And “A Sort of Homecoming” is always one of my favorites.
Clannad is my go to background music to calm the nerves. Or Ennio Morricone.
Back to topic.
Somehow this song isn’t on my Big Bang playlist, though I have a wholotta other Big Bang songs. They had a couple years of really solid songs, with or without the “k” prefix. Solid construction, and solid performance. tbh I think the emo backbone of Big Bang is Daesung – his voice is the atmospheric grounding. More than most these days, Big Bang really used the strengths of their different members to make really interesting yet wholistic songs that is more than the sum of the parts.
Other than Seungri. Jerk. I could do without Seungri then, now, any time.
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Wow! I never thought I’d see Ennio’s name drop in a K-Pop setting, but there it is. I am a big fan of his. I was aware of his western wares as I’m a big spaghetti western fan, but I didn’t realize the scope of his genius until I saw the movie “The Mission”. I was so enamored with the music that I scoured the credits for the composer and was slack-jawed to see his name. I had the vinyl O.S.T. the next day. I still listen to “Gabriel’s Oboe” to this day (33 years later).
If you are a fan of “Gabriel’s Oboe” then I’d like to suggest a couple of other tracks that are in my “Rainy Day” playlist. I won’t bother with the entire list (too exhaustive), but these may pique your interest:
The Visit to the Estate – Edward Artemiev – Doctor Zhivago Soundtrack (2006)
Cobalt – Øystein Sevåg – Bridge Album (1997)
Ivy and Neet – This Mortal Coil – Filigree & Shadow Album (1986)
Rainy – Taru – Blind EP (2013) (The only South Korean song in the playlist)
I will listen to your suggestions tomorrow. In the meantime may I suggest back “Yoyo ma plays ennio morricone”. Gabriel’s oboe on a cello.
OK, I get the idea. I can almost imagine the lighting levels at your desk.
One more recommendation back: Douglas Morton “Music from the Monterey Bay Aquarium”. It is on amazon and iTunes. It is what it says on the tin: all the ambient background music as you walk around the aquarium oohing and aahhing at the moon jellies and giant kelp forest.
I’m not an easily pigeonholed individual. I’ve spent large sections of my life immersed in widely disparate genres of music. For example, my early 20’s were spent spinning discs by Einsturzende Neubauten, Zoviet France, Test Dept, et al, or my Lords of Acid phase, or years spent voraciously hunting down various forms of world music (e.g., Japanese court music, African percussion, Indian and Asian string works).
Which makes my 10 years (and still going) K-Pop craze either a logical evolution or a sign that my internal circuitry completely fried out. The jury is still out on that.
P.S. The Morton suggestion was nice. Once the groundwork for ambient was laid, the genre became flooded with very similar sounding pieces from a collection of artists. Still, a few have managed to creatively enrich the scene.
Ambience music definitely describes big bang’s emo style very well.
And well, i don’t think big bang is coming back after all the shitstorm this year so we might never see this style again
I do like this song a lot. Although I’m not on a perfect 10, I sense a strong 9 for me. I think the chorus just surprised me a bit. It’s an outstanding chorus nonetheless, and I love the emotional production the group had in this. I guess what’s keeping me from giving it a 10 is the fact that BIGBANG tackled this kind of style in the past (i.e. Lies and Haru Haru; both of which are my top 2 singles from this group). Lies and Haru Haru seems to be the 2 older brothers to Monster, thus allowing me to not rate Monster that high. Though another solid single from BIGBANG.
Love Haru Haru and Lies. They’re both strong 9’s for me (well, Haru might be a 10…).
But, Monster feels more potent, with tighter song construction and a theme that runs through even the smallest musical touches. It’s like the full realization of what those songs were hinting at… at least for me.
I feel like I might be in the minority with that comparison, though — especially since both of those songs were iconic hits for the group.
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Thanks for the reply! Our taste will differ obviously. I think Lies and Haru Haru being iconic factors into my rating lol. I do sense why you said Monster feels more potent though. Well, we can agree that these 3 songs are strong singles.
You said that you’re often critical of K-pop’s use of English. Could you perhaps explain that a bit further. Are you saying you don’t want English in Kpop or any English used in Kpop seems to be inappropriate?
Also, a little sidenote, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Kpop songs that have been released recently seem to containing more and more English sometimes to the point where it’s like 50/50 or even 60/40. It’s rare to find a proper Korean song by an idol. The most Korean song that has been released this year would be iKON’s I’m OK or the more recent Oh My Girl’s SSFWL.
I think it’s becoming more common in the past years. I assume that’s because the market for K-pop is still growing tremendously in English-speaking parts of the world. But I think there are some exceptions, too- Kim Jaehwan’s Begin Again is almost completely Korean, as is most of Chen’s solo album. If you include b-sides, there are songs like NCT 127’s Paper Plane that are all Korean.
It’s more that it just rarely resonates with me.
I’m a stickler for English-language lyrics (part of why I rarely listen to U.S. pop music any more) and too often in K-pop it’s either clichéd, meaningless or catchphrasey in a way that makes me roll my eyes.
In Monster, there’s just enough English to encapsulate the song’s emotion for international listeners, and it’s placed effectively throughout the song for maximum impact.
I don’t know if I’ve ever commented about this in particular, but I absolutely love “Monster.” I know that this is #1 on your personal Big Bang countdown – so I was expecting a perfect 10 from this review! – and it’s definitely #1 for me too. I’d go as far as saying that it’s one of the best pop songs ever written (hot take; I know, but I’ll stand by it).
I think what makes “Monster” so good is that it’s just so impeccably put together. There’s the small details: like how at the end of the first section the piano phrase doesn’t finish and kind of leaves the listener hanging; that piano smash before the final chorus; the strings melody added to the final chorus in lieu of a key change or high note; the way the vocals are phrased to pulse along with the bass-line during the verses while the other elements of the instrumental swirl around it. I get excited! My favorite bit – which reminds me a lot of the reasons why I love Infinite’s “Back” – is the way that the piano is cleverly utilized both for mood and texture (note for the k-pop producers of 2019: arpeggiated chords telegraph “moody” and “hot emo sad boy” better than trap breakdowns), but also as a melodic through-line through the voiced top note. In particular, the counterpoint piano in the choruses is just absolutely stunning.
I could go on and on, but I’ll end with this the following: even in 2012 when G-Dragon was beginning k-pop’s trap imperial phase and Big Bang was heavily GD-centric, this song is great in large part because it is un-selfish. It relies on its performers more as instrumentalists more than centerpieces in and of themselves. The voices are evocative in the way they create dynamic contrast, variance in timbre, but also because they work in tandem with the instrumental to make something really cool. There’s no sense of “look at me be cool” swag or “omg amazing vocal talent” high notes and half-time R&B breakdowns – the song is just written to be a good song, and the effectiveness of the performance speaks on its own. Not to sound too much like a salty second gen stan, but the K-pop of today could REALLY learn a lesson from “Monster.”
I – on purpose – don’t listen to my “holy grail” k-pop songs very often, because part of me wants to preserve them as “special” or something, which I understand is kind of irrational and weird. Anyways, for this reason, writing this comment is the first time I’ve listened closely to “Monster” in a long time, and what you said is right: even to this day it gives me *chills*- the perfect culmination of the “crying on the dance floor” style that characterizes the majority of my favorite songs.
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I like your review and how you avoided mentioning Daesung and SR.
Bigbang ot3 for the win, right?
Wonder what will happen to Bigbang now that wokes like you have “cancelled” Daesung too, who btw was the strong voice behind “I love you, baby I’m not a monster”.
Why am I never surprised at how hypocritical you kpop “critics” can become. 😒
Hey, I mentioned Daesung as the atmosphere for Big Bang! “Koewokikasete” is all about Daesung’s vocals.
As far as the controversies go, in my humble opinion I don’t think it really matters what anyone outside of Korea does says thinks feels blogs comments on any of them. It will change nothing. I am a huge Super Junior fan, and I still don’t understand the whole Sungmin controversy – all he did was get married at an inconvenient time, with no illegal or shady conduct there.
Also, this blog isn’t the place for fan wars. There are plenty of other kpop sites for that.
Though I’m sure you won’t believe it, the absence of those names was entirely coincidental.
I do, however, like how you’ve managed to find some sort of conspiracy theory within what’s essentially a glowing review. Kudos.
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