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.
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