Song Review: BOL4 (Bolbbalgan4) – Workaholic

When it comes to music, the Korean public and I rarely agree. Glance at the digital charts during any time of the year and you’re likely to see a glut of ballads, some subdued indie pop or r&b, and very few dance tracks. I guess this is streaming culture in a nutshell. The less polarizing a song is, the greater chance it has of ending up on multiple playlists from a wide variety of listeners. This accessibility is a likely contributor to the immense success that Bolbbalgan4 (BOL4) have enjoyed since their 2016 breakthrough.

As you might have guessed, BOL4’s style of quirky indie pop is not for me. Apart from their most iconic works (Travel, Galaxy), I find it difficult to spark any real interest in their music. Much of the public appeal rests in Ahn Jiyoung’s vocals. Whether her trademark timbre is authentic or affected (my jaded opinion leans toward the latter), I can’t help but feel that her performance comes across as identical to so many other international indie pop girls. Over the past few years, these kinds of vocal inflections have almost become synonymous with “musical authenticity” — whatever that is. You all know I prefer artifice over authenticity — especially when it’s packaged in such a predictable way.

The most interesting aspect of BOL4’s single Workaholic (워커홀릭) is its daring instrumental. The song’s melody is the same meandering, over-phrased template we often get from their discography, but the production brings in new elements to their singles run. I like the groovy bass line, accentuated with splashes of organ. The percussive breakdown at Workaholic’s climax is also an unexpected treat. I just wish it served a more compelling track. Melodically, it feels very similar to Heize’s We Don’t Talk Together from earlier in the summer. Like that song, Workaholic has already lodged itself at the top of Korea’s charts. It’s a story that’s been repeated ad nauseam over the past few years, almost to the point where the song itself doesn’t matter any more.

 Hooks 7
 Production 8
 Longevity 7
 Bias 6

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5 thoughts on “Song Review: BOL4 (Bolbbalgan4) – Workaholic

  1. Now, Nick, there are many positives about Bolbaggan. They write and play their own songs. They are (or were) still in college while doing so. (No Scandinavian song camps here!) They appear on no ones crazy stan or anti list, and yet are ridiculously popular. No one angry tweet storms if they get a PAK. They follow no trends but their own. Their songs do not require any highly synchronized interpretive dance, or grand concept stylized video with an expensive costume change every 5 seconds. They just write and play their songs.

    Frankly, I think they are the late 2010’s Korean version of Simon and Garfunkel as sung by a soprano version of Marianne Faithfull. (60’s folk Marianne, not late Marianne) Or for the cynical, maybe Akdong Musician as covered by Heize.

    I usually wind up buying about every other Bol4 song, and I think this one will be one to get. I find the instrumental track surprisingly sophisticated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • (I had to look it up – about 3 years in at this point (depending on how you count Tom & Jerry days), Simon is just back from England and they just released their 2nd album Sounds of Silence. We usually think of S&G from the perspective of their greatest hits which represents some 12-14 years of work.)


    • They’re a cute duo and I respect what they bring to the scene but if the music leaves you cold, it leaves you cold. Writing/playing your own music is only really an asset if you’re doing it well and offering something different/better than the people who don’t. There’s tons of classic music that came out of song factories just like there’s tons of bad music from singer songwriters.

      Plus to say a song doesn’t “require” choreography is misleading. They don’t make dance music, so of course there’s no dancing. Their music/visuals do have a stylized concept, it’s just that their concept is to appear authentic. “Coffee shop” is as much an aesthetic as anything else.


  2. And its a PAK! The only PAK of the year besides Boy With Luv.
    Previous years there was about 1 PAK on average each month.

    Hours later, a mere 3 comments on allkpop, all positive. (That site is so bad, one would only have to post a single word, perhaps “Jungkook”, and the comments would be a frenzied flood of keyboard warriors.)


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