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Is K-Pop Losing its Sense of Imagination?

When I first got into K-pop years ago, I was so bothered by criticisms from people who knew nothing about the industry. I can’t even tell you the amount of times I endured comments like “it’s so manufactured” or “it all sounds the same,” as if the basis of any country’s pop music is all that different when it comes down to it. And honestly, an industry that was regularly churning out tracks like The Chaser, Mama, I Am The Best and Sherlock hardly lacked inspiration or ambition. In fact, as Western pop music was moving toward a more generic template, K-pop continually pushed the envelope when it came to structure, sound and genre.

Despite what some might say, K-pop itself isn’t a genre. But, the world’s expectations seem to want it to become one. In the past few years – and especially in 2020 – it feels like K-pop has successfully been defined by a narrow collection of audio ingredients. Producers now have the foolproof recipe for making a “K-pop song,” and this has encouraged a huge influx of foreign creators to enter the industry carrying the exact same roadmap.

This formula has become increasingly easy to spot, involving trap breakdowns, moody pseudo-melody and angsty hip-hop for the boys and chirpy aegyo vocals, playground taunt choruses and girl crush posturing for the ladies. Listening to one example of this framework might prove exciting, but a steady stream of sound-alike songs does not make for an industry that’s functioning at its creative peak.

Now, as much as I love K-pop idols, in some respects they’re conduits for behind-the-scenes talent like producers. Even a year or two ago, I was able to look at a K-pop album tracklist and identify a handful of producer credits that gave me an idea of what a song might sound like or attempt to do. These days, tracklists read like a revolving door of composers and creators. Any industry improves from a wealth of diverse voices, but not if all of those voices are saying the same thing.

Past K-pop generations were bolstered by the singular vision of producers like Yoo Young-Jin, Sweetune, Brave Brothers and Shinsadong Tiger. You might not have enjoyed everything these teams created, but you can look back at their catalog of work and hear a personality and perspective. Apart from a few promising new talents, too many new-gen producers (both foreign and domestic) seem to lack their own musical identity. Or, maybe that identity is being stifled by agencies content to coast on proven formulas over ballsy innovation.

I think it’s a little of both. As K-pop has gained western prominence, expectations around the industry have changed. It’s no longer enough to cater to your own niche fanbase. Agencies’ ambitions are global. The net is cast wide and shallow, rather than narrow and deep.

Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of J-pop, and the contrast between the Japanese and Korean approaches has been even more striking than normal. By and large, J-pop relies on the “narrow and deep” approach, rarely making concessions to Western audiences (though that is changing somewhat). There’s a fair amount of crossover between these two industries when it comes to producers, yet lately J-pop is getting all the songs, while K-pop is essentially getting the same song over and over. You’d think a larger audience would necessitate more musical diversity, but the result has actually been the opposite.

None of this is particularly surprising. I’ve been tracing this general trend for years now, and have even tried to understand some of the reasons this shift might be happening. But, it feels like we’re at an inflection point.

This year has been unusual and unprecedented in a number of ways, and I hardly fault any creative industry for falling back on known successes at a time when the world is in such disarray. Hell, given the shutdowns all around the globe, I’m grateful that we’re getting new music at all! However, I can’t remember a year when K-pop has felt more underwhelming and – dare I say it? – boring. It’s time for another visionary. It’s time for the powers-that-be to realize that the same tricks aren’t going to work forever. Longevity demands innovation. Satisfying music demands a certain level of risk-taking.

I hate the word “authentic” when it comes to pop music, because it’s so often used to tear down the genre by “serious” music critics. But, I do like the word “identity.” I want to know that there’s a beating heart behind a song. I want to know that this piece of music was somebody’s baby that they can’t wait to share with the world, not the product of an assembly-line song camp forced to churn out a track that checks off certain trends. The transcendent joy that my very favorite K-pop songs give me feels very personal and unique to each one. That simply can’t be replicated from a guidebook or formula. It requires more. And at least so far, 2020 just hasn’t lived up to the promise of K-pop’s illustrious past.

79 thoughts on “Is K-Pop Losing its Sense of Imagination?

    • And which recent song, may I ask, resembles anything that sounds remotely like what the Chainsmokers have released? A reach here.

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      • I agree with ur comments.this man thinks he is saying something new about how kpop is not good anymore.well i doubt that he ever liked it.his article sounds like so many other western media from old men who need to just listen to who ever they listened to in the 60’s and 70’s and talk about the good ole days but for me ,a 64y who loves some kpop but not all .just like ,I enjoy some western music but not a lot of the same old stuff we hear year after year .so if u really want to complain about a stagnant Music industry then look no further then our own back yard

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        • You doubt that I ever liked K-pop?!?

          Why yes, I’ve voluntarily written about K-pop for four-and-a-half years, every day, because I hate it so much. I go to KCON every year because I hate it so much. I gush over “legendary songs” and “buried treasures” because I hate it so much.

          I’m sorry, but this comment is just ignorant. You clearly know nothing about me or this site.

          Liked by 4 people

  1. First time commenting. But, you’re pushing 30, sir, I think it’s time to wrap up this 4 year long career you’ve taken of shitting on kids. Leave Elris alone, for one thing, they’re in a different world of visionary – consider the fact that you’re a white man who has taken the initiative to write on a KOREAN industry, that you have no say in the conversation of “manufactured idols” and whatnot. You demand fruitful energy from an industry that was, for a long period of time, enduring a deathly pandemic that left artists who relied majorly on fansigns/meets to come up with a revenue, to scrape something together in order to stay alive. And guess what – the industry’s always been oversaturated, it’s not the problem of some hardworking Asian teens and adults that you’re just happening to listen to EVERY work now. I’ve been a longtime reader of this site, even garnered inspiration to open up my own page in the future, but recently I’ve noticed your longing to whine at even the better songs, those with longevity and fruitfulness that the majority of Twitter will be raving about. Times change. Trends change with that, too. Complaining about how an industry you’re not in is not performing at the caliber YOU would prefer, in an era where so many more eyes are cast upon the K-Pop scene (note the amount of conservatives and Right Wingers thinking the genre should be abolished as a whole), the idols and their producers have legions of new crowds to please… it’s unrealistic, and nothing’s going to change that way. Not that I’d expect you to know – it’s been pointed out that you boldly dismissed Sulli’s passing to not even take a day of rest from shitting on hard workers, as well as made the COVID-19 pandemic (of which Korea was the epicenter, at the time) about your “waning enjoyment of K-Pop.” Really lacking a visionary here? Just stop reviewing, stop hurting your ears that badly, stop making the hard work of these kids an unpaid chore for yourself, and come back in 2021, when the scene will have been inevitably taken over by the 80s influence quickly sweeping Western music. You’re bound to find SOMETHING you like, that way. For now, though, step off. This post sounds like just another boomer that has to complain of all the “joys” 2020 has to bring…let the music be, perhaps? It’s a trying time.

    Best.

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    • Dude, I think your animus is misdirected. Nick has always been polite and fair towards every act he reviews. His preferences and biases are his own. His write ups are never filled with invectives or stereotypes, and they are never intended to demean the performers. If this site is too cutting for you, go back to whatever safe space on the internet you call home.

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      • I’m just flattered that they thought I was pushing 30! That milestone got pushed years ago, but I’ve been told I still have the face of a 20-year-old. So, there’s that…

        Seriously, though, this recurring theme of “the bias list loves demeaning kids” needs to stop now. I’ve always made a point to honor the hard work that idols put in. That’s why you’ll never see me resort to personal attacks — neither toward artists nor commenters. Criticism — even repeated criticism that drives some readers crazy — is its own thing. If you disagree with me, that’s fine. Let’s just be civil and not pretend that either of us is “right” or “wrong.”

        Anonymous, I hope you don’t give up on this site. It sounds like you and I have very different opinions and that’s okay. I’m sorry that mine seem to upset you so much. Just know that I try to come from a place of honesty and I hope that makes the Bias List feel more authentic, even if it doesn’t line up with your way of thinking. If you’re looking for positive posts, I’d urge you to explore the “buried treasures” section of the website, or my recent J-pop round-up. Or, you can use the tags to filter out songs that fall below a certain rating. Admittedly, 2020 has been a grumpier-than-normal year because I just don’t think the music quality has been up to snuff. Even so, there’s plenty of positivity to be found if you seek it out.

        Liked by 11 people

    • First of all, Nick does not shit on kids. Every single review he’s done has always been critical of the music more than anything. And in a world where majority of the music comes from behind the scenes, the kids got nothing to do with it. I believe you’re being overly defensive of your faves.

      Second of all, let’s say Nick is criticizing music made by kids who directly dipped their hands in the mixing bowl. What’s the problem? People like G-Dragon, Jinyoung, Soyeon, Junhyung, they put out their music, knowing that it will receive comments of all kinds. That’s the cost of releasing it to the public in order to make some dough. They will know more than anyone, that there will be people who like and don’t like it and they will be prepared for it. They aren’t snowflakes. Stop coddling them. Music is subjective, people have the right to say their stance on the music whether or not they are “white” or “KOREAN”. Every person has a say in the “conversation of “manufactured idols” and whatnot”. Why? Because it’s a two way relationship. Producers and Consumers.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe Nick is demanding “fruitful energy”. In fact his very quote of casting the net deep and narrow is opposite to that. He and me and other people want diversity, we don’t want quantity, we want diversity hence the fishing net anecdote. The deeper you go the more variety of sealife you’re gonna find.

      The industry hasn’t always been oversaturated. Where are you getting that idea? Do you understand what oversaturation means? Try and honestly compare the industry of say… 2011 and now?

      You’ve got to understand not everyone is the same. Yes, the producers have got legions of crowds to please. Has that been new? No it has been around since the old days. Admittedly there’s more international involvement but why should that be any different? The problem is that there’s not enough diversity. If you’re limiting yourself to the same set of musical genres then you’ll only be appealing to those people that like it. The very reason that there’s legions of crowds and more and more people being interested in kpop, warrants that producers should make an effort to try and reach all of them. You might not think that’s not possible, but IT IS! Why do you think there was such a variety back in the old days?

      As for the rest of your argument about Sulli and COVID-19, that’s uncalled for. That was disrespectful to both Nick and both parties, irrevelant and honestly sounded like some kid rant.

      Class dismissed.

      Liked by 9 people

    • Well, I’m no expert on the k-pop industry either, but if you wanted to criticise this post couldn’t you have stuck to that? I don’t understand why you had to bring age, race, energy, politics, Sulli, Covid-19 and healthcare workers into this? Next time maybe note your frustrations on the post only into the comment in a respectful manner and channel your frustrations on every other thing elsewhere

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      • This.

        I’m very willing (even excited) to engage in productive and interesting conversation, but when certain commenters come out guns blazing with insults and accusations, it totally discounts any valid point they might be trying to make.

        This ain’t twitter. Let’s try to maintain a sense of mutual respect.

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  2. 2020 has been a terrible year for idol music. I understand your pessimism, but looking at the recent past, I think 2019 was an encouraging year for the industry. JYP has resorted to a song camp style for many of their acts (definitely for Itzy), and in doing so, have churned out possibly their most consistent and diverse set of comebacks. SM continued the song camp style, and while they didn’t set the world on fire, we got what I’d consider a solid year of music from Red Velvet, NCT, Super Junior and Taeyeon. Hell, even Big Hit used a wide variety of composers to launch TXT to great success. I guess what I’m getting at is that the big labels didn’t loose their fastball, with the exception of the wild embarrassment that is YG Entertainment. And none of this accounts for the promise of a group like ATEEZ or the return of Golden Child. I think the biggest drag on the industry has been the influx of middling companies and acts, many of which are playing it as safe and trendy as possible.

    However, I will agree with you. The musical influences in idol music have shifted. I don’t know if we’ll ever get a punchy trot or Yoo Young-Jinesque idol group again. For example, I don’t know how a group like T-ara would come to be today. I guess it’s to be expected. Why rely on trot in a world filled with EDM? Why make the aggressive, bombastic music of early Super Junior or TVXQ! when you can rely on the braggadocio of hip hop and trap? To be frank, hip hop and EDM are more quickly understood and probably more widely enjoyed than the later genres. And if you are a music producer, using the software, samples and styling of these tracks is probably easiest and cheapest. Heck, it might be all you know to do.

    I probably sound like I’m bagging on EDM and hip hop. I think they’re both great genres when written by the right folks and performed by great talent (like all things). The old dynamics of K-pop couldn’t last forever. Some of my favorite groups probably benefitted form embracing EDM, funk or even dub step (I see you SHINee). I just wish, probably like you, that the older styles weren’t left in the dust bin, but rather, celebrated from time to time. I guess you have to embrace a track like BAAM or Bboom Bboom when it comes around.

    I still have a lot of faith that Korea is going to churn out great music in the future. I see too much talent, money and prior success to feel blue. I hope the second coming of The Chaser is around the corner for you. Sometimes we all need a reminder of why we first fell in love.

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    • I have faith, too. It just feels that we’ve been stuck in this trap/EDM loop for SO long now.

      I agree that 2019 was very promising, even if its best moments tended to be in spurts rather than spread equally throughout the whole year. And given everything that’s going on right now, it’s not really fair to judge 2020 as you would a typical year.

      Even so, I can’t help but long for the recent past. By this time last year, we’d already heard Miroh and Crown. By this time in 2018, we’d had Lady and Heroine and District 9. 2017 gave us My First And Last, with Back:Hug just days away. I’m not sure that there’s been any 2020 track that measures up… at least for me. Still, Covid’s put a big, nasty shadow over everything. K-pop’s the least of our worries. But… this is a K-pop blog so of course that’s what I’m going to talk about here.

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    • This! I second your opinion that it’s actually the smaller companies debuting bands left and right that are creating this flood of trap songs you can’t remember the moment you turn them off. And certainly fads always die, even if they seem to last somewhat longer in K-pop. I mean, the trend that wouldn’t go away finally breathed its last and now we’re even allowing ourselves to miss it a little bit (looking at you, ONEUS).

      While I still don’t know exactly how important the Western market is to K-pop, I have this feeling that they’re pandering to what’d seem are “Western” tastes, in the sense that they’ve been the more extravagant side of K-pop both in their music and in visual aesthetics in favor of what I prefer to call “excessive self seriousness” instead of just “dark and moody”. Watching some MVs like Golcha’s Wannabe and The Boyz’ Reveal I’ve noticed this darker aesthetic used even when it seems somewhat misplaced considering what the songs are actually like. It’s like they’re answering to the typical “ugh, K-pop is so cloying, what with all those candy-coloured hairstyles and chirpy songs and Power Ranger suits” with an overdose of black suits and dark pseudo-military uniforms and trap beats. The Japanese have kept themselves more “authentic” in that sense since they’re not really pandering to the Western market, and never did, as far as I’m aware. J-pop is still proudly cringe-inducing xD. Whenever I show (favorably predisposed) friends Korean pop they’re always more attracted to the more traditional (in a Western sense) looks and sounds of something like NCT, Mirotic or GOT7’s If You Do (a German girl friend told me she liked the fact the guys “sound manly” in If You Do), perhaps 2pm songs too, while they’re somewhat put off by things like Lucifer or Bigbang, or even Block B. (I’ve been having a blast getting to know Block B these days 🙂 )
      I also think we have the BTS phenomenon to blame for it to a large degree, too, since they made their big jump on the back of the more serious and restrained songs in their discography, and with them being the most visible face of K-pop right now everyone was obviously going to jump in the bandwagon. And I think their lackadaisical latest release is the epitome of the trend. (I admit I was quite surprised by that, coming after Boy With Luv.)

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      • Seeing how k-pop groups (even the new ones) these day are having tours in the US and Europe, I think it’s a prove that western market is very important. In the past, many groups can’t have tours except they debut in Japan.

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    • As much as there is a negative perception of EDM as “trashy” I really enjoy deep house. It’s really energetic and typically has some bass underneath. If there’s is a subset of EDM producers should be utilizing, it’s deep house.

      Or even better, Disco.

      P.S: Looks like Nick needs some cheering up! Try ‘Villain’ by Stella Jang which is practically a fresh breath of oxygen in the stuffy atmosphere of trap and hip hop.

      Hope this makes you feel a bit better about the hate comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Don’t be disheartened! Trends pass over time. That’s the definition of a trend. It has a rising and setting sun. The question is when… And yknow when all this trap-rap, moody grunting and groaning business passes, there will be people complaining about how they miss those times and wish they came back. Musical tastes… is such a subjective fickle business… you can’t please everyone.

    I started listening to Kpop since I was 2011. I know, crazy. My first song I listened to was INFINITE’s Be Mine. I saw them perform it on TV and loved it so much that I had to grab my tape recorder and record the audio that was coming out of the TV so that I could listen to it later. At that time I didn’t know what the song was called so yeah, there’s little 11 year old me getting excited.

    It was great back then… Like you said diversity. No song sounded the same. I didn’t realize it until now how much the variety has narrowed down in the industry. You can only appreciate things once they’re gone.

    The current state of the industry has led me to go back in time and dig up songs that I didn’t like but now I do like. At least those songs are better than half of the stuff that’s coming out these days. I didn’t used to like Love Me Right. Now I do, I love it’s freewheeling nature, and it’s constant generous serving of energy. I didn’t like Sherlock but not anymore. It’s bold, it’s exciting, it’s one of a kind, it’s chorus makes me wanna jump up and do the crossed arms and stomping dance thing that they do.

    Anyway that’s my two cents.

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    • I think one of the reasons I’m having such a hard time with these current trends (besides the fact that they’ve stuck around forever!), is that trap, hip-hop and EDM don’t usually put a lot of focus on melody. They’re more about the instrumental and vibe.

      With other genres, even if there’s an over-saturation of music, a diversity of melody doesn’t make the songs sound as samey as they might be. Of course, this could also just be entirely subjective on my part. I’m sure a trap/EDM fan would have a good counterpoint.

      One thing’s for sure… the classics never go out of style!

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    • I agree about listening to past music (and just about everything else in your post.). Hopefully you’re right about trends passing.

      And Be Mine is one of my favourite k-pop songs!

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  4. Um… Something to be said I think.

    “Distinctive music identity”… If we actually looked, “Lucifer” and “The Boys” are basically the same song, and Shisadon Tiger famously has LITERALLY ONE SONG FORM, with hardly any variations. I don’t know. Granted Yoo Young-Jin has been shifting away from his old work while still maintaining the insane chart magic, although might not quite up to your taste especially his work for female artists.

    We don’t have easy answers here.

    Maybe it is just not a good time for music, especially idol music. Maybe “idols” should find some other justification for existence instead of a substitute for one’s personal life. Maybe…?

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    • I’m glad you brought this up, because I think this is an important distinction. The producers you and I mentioned each have their own brand of sorts, and all of their songs do follow a pretty similar form and style (VERY similar, in the case of Shinsadong Tiger!).

      BUT, in a landscape where they’re all working at once, you’re getting at least four distinct voices in the industry. I’d rather follow a composer who has their own flair and sticks to it than a ton of producers who work by the guidebook of what’s trendy at the time.

      And yep, no easy answers. But I think this is all worth talking about, even if it ruffles some feathers.

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      • Yes one thing that I do think of: “So What” was the long time songwriter who worked with LOONA told by BBC to do this *some other not singing girl group style* song (personal attack here) and got picked. I am still happy with what they achieved with this thing and the objective quality of it but one can only imagine the alternative.

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  5. I imagine trying to capture the attention of international fans combined with the availability of Western producers/production is making it easier for labels to just take this easy route. Why make something different when you know dedicated fans will buy anything but you can also reel in new fans from all over the world with a modern/trendy sound?

    Also I’m curious what your listening habits are like, just in terms of how much time you have to devote daily to listening to music specifically for the site. Since I’m not running a blog, I’m free to just hop around to whatever music I like, so I can just listen to The Boyz for part of my work day, then change things up and listen to The Zombies later on; I have preferences and opinions (and love making my year-end-lists), but I don’t have to think about turning that into written content. Does it ever take away from the music listening experience when you have to think about it objectively instead of just “eh, this will be okay background music later”?

    I agree that a lot of K-pop lately just blends together, so it must be frustrating to have to write about something that’s become somewhat static.

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    • Yes, you captured this all very well.

      New songs get at least 3-4 listens from me before and during the writing of a post. First listen is just for enjoyment/curiosity. Subsequent listens are for more critical thought. But I’m not gonna lie… there are many new songs that lose me about halfway through that first listen. These are the hardest to write about, because I want to give them the benefit of the doubt but I’m already not all that excited about them. Some turn out to be quick growers and garner a better-than-expected review. A few grow stronger long after I’ve assigned them a rating (the OCD in me kinda hates this!).

      I don’t think working on this site negatively affects my enjoyment of K-pop, but it’s definitely irritating to feel like you’re writing the same thing over and over again. That’s why the sameness of recent releases affects me so much. It’s hard to find new ways to describe essentially the same thing. I’m most excited to post new reviews when the releases are diverse, interesting and give me plenty to chew on. The absolute best moments are when I connect with a song so strongly that I can’t wait to put my feelings down in words and recommend it to as many people as possible. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t happened all that often in 2020. Lately, it’s been happening more with J-pop than K-pop. But, these things move in phases.

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      • Haha, I can’t imagine having to keep replaying something you’re already not feeling. The willpower! Whenever a new K-pop music video pops up, if the song itself bores or irritates me, I might stick around past the first chorus, but just for the eye candy, pretty lighting, etc.

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      • I had been wondering about your listening habits too.

        Also, do you always listen to the whole release, as in the whole album/mini album/whatever? I feel somewhat ignorant since I rarely listen to whole releases, even the short ones, and so know almost zilch about B-sides and such, even though a few, like Stray Kids’ ones, are totally worth it.

        These days I try to listen to a song at least twice before judging it. I used to dismiss songs if they didn’t call my attention at first listening, but now I know I’ve missed on a lot of amazing songs and even albums, and not only K-pop, by doing that. Can you imagine I didn’t like Everybody, Miroh or Rising Sun the first times! Now I’m hyped for RtK just to listen to the guys who are singing Rising Sun.

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        • I try to listen to every K-pop album I can, at least once. That’s the completest in me, but I also just really love the album format. So many great songs are relegated to b-sides.

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  6. Agree , ATEEZ is the only group who I think is original with STRAY KIDS , TXT and NCT ( I would have added GOLDEN CHILD and ONF but we sadly know where they have gone off) . I think K-pop needs a dose of Big, Unique Melodies and Great Endings just like ATEEZ. they need to be experimental just like STRAY KIDS. They need to make healing concepts just like TXT . They also need to do various concepts like NCT. but K-pop is doing one concept over and over again. We need more innovative conepts and Productions and some uptempo and energetic Dance Tracks but they are just mid-tempo sexy dark concepts trying to pass off a romantic streak or trying to be intense. They care about Performance and Posture more than Music and Identity.

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    • and at least if you’re gonna make a dark concept make it like how VIXX makes it like, WTF. oh also , I forgot to add that Oh My Girl is also Original.

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      • Yep, all those groups you pointed to have their own personality, even if their sound changes occasionally. They — and several others — give me hope.

        And yes to uptempo and energetic dance tracks! Where have they all gone? Don’t people want music to be fun anymore? Especially at this time, we could all use a good audio pick-me-up.

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  7. I generally agree with you, Nick, k-pop is in a bit of a rut. However, we’ve seen k-pop do this a couple times before in the last 10 years and I’m confident k-pop will evolve out of it eventually. I am growing impatient too, it’s been a rough year.

    There is one new factor which is complicating things – k-pop is trying too hard to reach a global audience, and in doing so has almost completely lost sight of what made it quirky and fun and innovative. Agencies and producers are aiming right down the middle of the road instead of blazing new paths. This is precisely what makes mainstream western music so bland.

    With K-pop, the worst of it mostly originates from the myriad song-camps, with a few exceptions. As you stated, the quest for a “singular vision” has been lost, and has instead been replaced with “increasing shareholder value”. JYP and SM attract the best talent and hold the majority of the market, but I look elsewhere these days for something novel and exciting.

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  8. I can’t fully and completely contribute to this conversation without going into an exhaustive diatribe, so I’ll just say this: “The Korean music industry finally got its wish; it is now westernized.”

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  9. this is a mood. i was listening to old t ara/nine muses/girl’s day the other day and i just thought that, at the time, the songs themselves didn’t seem all that creative/innovative, they just seemed like good, catchy songs, but somehow now they seem so much more robust and complete than songs released recently do.
    that being said, i think there are still some great bsides being released. most of the kpop i listen to these days is red velvet/loona/gfriend bsides

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    • I hear you! It’s crazy to think that, back in the day, I took all these instant-classic songs for granted. Even going back as recent as 2016 when I started this site, I’m sometimes amazed by how low I rated a song that — if released today — would have been a total standout.

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  10. Honestly I think your problem is just different musical preferences. K-pop is still pretty different than Western Pop, I mean what’s song from Western Pop that go ballsy and bombastic with their production like So What, Wannabe, SSFWL, Run Away, Joppin and many other examples ?

    K-pop is always copying and bringing many Western Pop elements since its advent, even the examples you provide as counter argument draws so many Western Pop elements. Brave Brothers and Shinsadong use Eurodance influence deliberately, even attempt at Trap recently. Heck, they even plagued with plagiarism controversy (Bboom Bboom anyone ?).

    If “art and authenticity” is things that you valued, idols are have greater chance to contribute now than before. Bang Chan, Soyeon, BTS members, etc (although the results are….sometimes not great). Many new producers are start to find their signature identity, just like our past favorite producers. e.one with the orchestral paired production and unique melody, Full8bloom with their ethereal synth-driven production. Many groups are also able to craft their own identity, Lovelyz, Dreamcatcher and ITZY for example.

    You want to argue about the “sameness”, I will also bring you counterargument when every group in 2009-2011 sounds robotic with excessive autotune and Eurodance music , 2013-2014 with dubsteps plague, and almost every group want their own Brave Brothers sound and sexual songs in 2014-2015 ?

    It’s just usual K-pop cycles. Trends are always come and go. Personally 2019-2020 has been really great so far compared to 2017-2018.

    Take a rest if you needed, I think you suffer some fatigue with K-pop.

    Liked by 2 people

    • To some extent, guilty as charged. I’ve never liked trap music, for example. There are very few tracks that can make it tolerable to me, which is hard when it has become such an integral ingredient to so many modern K-pop songs.

      And you’re right about the sameness of past generations. The distinction for me is that genres like Eurodance place a heavier emphasis on melodic hooks than current trends like trap and EDM. So, even though so many tracks of 2010-12 had a similar chugging dance beat, the diversity of melody helped make it feel like each song still had its own identity. When you take melody out of the equation — even to some extent — it’s much easier for tracks to blend together. Obviously, this is a generalization, but I think it helps to explain some of the reasoning behind my thinking.

      And yes, there are still so many great groups and producers out there right now. Kudos to them! They’re keeping my interest in K-pop going 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I became a fan of K-pop in October 2018 when I saw the Boombayah MV randomly pop up in my YouTube feed. After I listened to it I immediately fell in love not only with BLACKPINK but also with K-pop in general. I soaked everything up like a sponge, discovered many awesome groups and over time became more familiar with the industry in general. During my journey I not only listened to newer releases but also to older classics. Now, over 1 year later just let me say that it feels like you basically spoke right of my soul. Although your K-pop journey started way earlier even I already noticed that K-pop slowly but surely shifted towards a more generic template. Luckily there are still groups like GFRIEND who still deliver their signature sound or groups like Dreamcatcher whose music is pretty much unique in K-pop but it is often times the case that my favorite releases of my favorite artists are not from 2019 or 2020.
    Then there’s the problem that there are certain concepts that almost seem extinct these days. Most of the groups nowadays opt for a teen crush or girl crush concept. Don’t get me wrong, I really like these concepts and of course that’s the concept that sells well at the moment. But when I look back e. g. at Secret‘s „Madonna“ I can’t help but get sad because this elegant, sexy concept is something that seems pretty much eradicated. Since Orange Caramel’s hiatus there’s also a huge empty quirky concept hole to fill. I would also love to see more trot girl groups. As far as I know there’s only Venus at the moment. That’s why I’m super excited for Byeolmuri to debut.
    Long story short I really hope that we see a shift towards concepts again that offer something new or at least offer something that we once had but no one seems to be doing at the moment.
    I‘m actually an active reader of your blog just not someone that writes comments usually. But this time I just had to because I’m also sharing your sentiments and you really hit the nail on the head with this article. Keep up the awesome work and stay safe 🙂

    Like

  12. It seems I am late to the party. “Is K-Pop Losing its Sense of Imagination?”
    Yes, most of the time. So much chaff, so little wheat. A couple exceptions.

    Like

      • Go off the point of this post a little bit, but leaving space for vocal performance in the choreo (holding headset and sing all sorts of stuff) is something long lost. Who’s to blame though.

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        • Mmm, yes. Or even better: practicing the choreo while actually singing live to get better at, yanno, doing the choreo while actually singing live.

          SuJu “Bonamana” choreo is a real aerobics workout. Do they manage to sing live while dancing? You betcha! Hand held mics, headset mics, all types. Sometimes they didn’t even have enough hand mics for all of them, like 6 mics for 10 on stage, so there was even a pass-ee-off-ee thing going on that they _practice_.

          Sheesh, I don’t ask for much.

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          • I saw interviews with LOONA saying they actually do this kind of practice. Whelp, it didn’t show *that* well. Old groups tend to have those choreos like although demanding, when some member sings the moves will compliment the idea of the person singing (whether it is loudly or airy) to the audience even if it is not just standing and touching mics. This really makes the performance organic. I doubt people from 1 million or Kyle Hanagami gets it though, probably why his work with f(x) are so epic but not that great with Red Velvet. Also I genuinely think this field is under researched in academia.

            Like

          • OK I’m gonna let off some steam. I listened to this this morning:

            And saw all the comments about “these low notes are amazing”

            (she barely hit them…)

            Saw something about vocal being her college major really makes me think that SK vocal education is every bit as terrible as what it is in mainland China. Like there is really little thoughts on lyricism, generic safe technique with lots of tongue tension almost entirely dictated by the range the note is in.

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            • I didnt realize I should have put a trigger warning on my one sentence post. That said, it doesnt matter what the example is, kpop girls and low notes do not compute. Gaho, low notes, yes sir, A2, “Stay” verses.

              Like

  13. First of all: congratulations. Your looks at the landscape – whether one can agree or not with you – are always SO sharp and rational, and you are a great writer and storyteller.
    This post seems a kind of sequel to last year’s takeouts and learnings about the “Post-Produce 101 Phenomenon”, and to my eyes it’s even more dramatic because, one year later, the situation is getting worse and worse. I think 2020 is so far the worst year in KPop History, and (to my ears) it’s just hardly listenable when it comes to debuts. I barely remember so many awful, annoying and disturbing – not to say equal one to each other – debut tracks and/or eps, with absolutely 0 degrees of freshness and identity (other than imagination and creativity).

    And it’s almost 30 years I’ve been thinking – because it’s also my job, not just my passion – that everything which involves A STRATEGY is “artificial” by default. Truth is: if you speak about “strategy” in marketing (or even war) it’s always intended to be good, if you speak about “strategy” in art it’s always intended to be bad. Critics don’t accept that art, and music in particular, is business and business HAS TO BE STRATEGIC. Even if you are composing a song instead of leading a global brand (or an army).

    BUT.
    There’s just one thing that, at the moment, is driving the situation you describe to such a deadly continuum: numbers.
    All those awful, annoying and disturbing productions – not to say equal one to each other – are making agencies earn much more and spend much less. Count the sales, count the views, count the streams, count the likes, count and read the comments (event some to this post itself): someone could say that *this* is the right way, hinc et nunc.
    Oh, yes: INFINITE & Sweetune was a great match, I absolutely love(d) them, but how many average views did their most MVs reach compared to last 2-3 years grape of anonymous productions? How many average copies did their albums sell?
    Starship disbanded Boyfriend, who were produced by Sweetune as well, and created Cravity, whose debut track is composed by Gionata Caracciolo (LOLOLOL): the result is that Cravity marked 3,6MLN views in 24 hours. So, how could they even think about being wrong?

    This “dark-trap-emo-hip hop-meh-soup” boosted KPop awareness all over the world, and this is the only reason why latest productions lost all their previous imagination: because it works. Apart from ATEEZ and TXT, no other act or concept who tries (or tried) to follow a different path is working as well, or is working at all.
    KPop is definitely becoming a trend itself. And as long as it works, its destiny is to go on this way.
    Don’t we like it (and sadly we don’t)?
    Of course it won’t last forever. But to be honest I don’t know if it’s exactly what I’d rather happen.

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  14. “The transcendent joy that my very favorite K-pop songs give me feels very personal and unique to each one.”
    Can you share them? Is there already a list of your favorite K-pop songs that you enjoy the most? I’m just curious.

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  15. It feels like the people who hate this site are the ones who go straight to the ratings and skip the paragraphs explaining why the song got such a rating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The thing that baffles me is that these specific commenters, more often that not, start off by saying that they “used to love this site” or they’ve “been reading for years.”

      I have to question this because, honestly, I don’t think my writing has changed all that much since 2016. Granted, I’m a little too close to the subject to be objective, but when I look back at reviews from 2016 they certainly weren’t all glowing. In fact, a lot of the things I complain about now, I complained about then (just substitute “tropical” for “trap”). And somehow, my average rating has actually increased over the years!

      Like

      • It feels like over time this site has become more and more popular over the years with more viewer interactions taking place, good and bad. That means that long time follower either connect with the good stuff and stay or connect with the bad comments and the ignorant narratives. With so many people thinking in one direction, its hard not to join them therefore more of your long time followers will get tired of your blog or gain negative feelings. For me personally my love for this blog has grown over time as there’s so much to love. From the personal and descriptive writing and the honest reviews when you talk about a song I’ve listened to its as if I can hear the song directly in my head as your describe it. Personally I think this blog is great and I am looking forward to the future of k-pop while anxiously waiting for either ateez, txt, and stray kids to comeback. In addition I would love for Seventeen to come back only if they stray away from going sad and HARD.

        Side Note: I listened to Yunho and Max’s albums an boy were they great. They weren’t perfect but on repeated listens I just found so much to enjoy. In addition to that I’ve listened to The War and Countdown and they were phenomenal records! Though I might prefer The War. To finish it off I just listened to future nostalgia and would love if some of some of the new k-pop releases were influenced by those tracks. Before I leave I must ask, what the best k-pop album you’re listened to.

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        • That’s a tough question, and would probably change depending on which mood you caught me in. If we’re talking full albums, I have a shortlist of:

          1. Infinite – Be Back
          2. Wonder Girls – Reboot
          3. SHINee – Misconceptions of Us

          …plus a ton more. Mini albums would be much harder. Too many to choose from.

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  16. It has lost its kpop feel due to the influx of western influence. However it’s just a trend to do so just like every time a song gets popular every group try to emulate the same thing with occasional unique sounds here and there. This is not a new thing. When I started listening around the time snsd Big Bang suju or any popular song I felt like could listen to them and not bother about the others cz it sounded the same to me most of the time. So when a new group or a old one make an experimental piece and it get attention the cycle begins again.
    Maybe a unpopular opinion but old songs seem better to us bcz it has nostalgia attached to it and that’s a major factor. New fans are loving the new shit new groups are making it seems. It’s all new to them just like how it was for us.
    Personally I don’t look too much into details and if it’s catchy or I love the tune it’s in my playlist no matter how many time they recycle that shit.

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  17. I kinda had a feeling this post would attract colorful comments when I read it a few days ago. I just wanted to drop a note and say that I totally agree with your opinions; and I’m so glad you share most of my music tastes and preferences. I’m also always happy to see fellow long-time kpop fans. I’ve actually been around the kpop community ever since H.O.T., so I always feel old-school nowadays. And if it makes you feel better, I don’t think the dissatisfaction with the current kpop landscape and sounds is purely nostalgia, as has been suggested by several commenters here. I still always look back with nostalgic rose-colored glasses at my time writing H.O.T. fanfics, running a Click-B and an SS501 forums (yes, they were a thing), and still listen to some songs from back then with fondness. But, I objectively think that kpop music of the 2nd generation groups are the best in terms of diversity and quality. If I were to name some of the best, most iconic kpop songs, they would definitely be from the 2nd generation period, even though 1st gen songs might have more nostalgic value and are more meaningful to me personally.

    -Rina

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    • Wow, a fan since the H.O.T days! RESPECT! I’ve often wondered what it was like to be a K-pop fan back then (…what little I’ve gleaned has been through watching Reply 1997), and to see the industry grow across the decades.

      Nostalgia’s definitely a factor when it comes to any music, but the overall sound/genre trends play a much bigger part in my personal enjoyment.

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      • Hahaha…..it was a very different time when someone nowhere near fluent in Korean like me even translated articles, videos and such for the very small international kpop community. A lot of kpop fans just knew each other and made friends offline and online through the handful of forums that were available then. But mostly the experience involved hoping that the dial up internet won’t disconnect in the 5 hours that was needed to download a 5-min performance; and then squinting our eyes so hard to spot our fav. member in said video because the quality was so grainy. LOL==

        We are all so lucky today!~ Kpop acts are even regularly touring in the US and such <== this makes me sound so old.

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  18. I have been more and more straying away from core kpop. Only groups that keep my interest are VIXX (when they will come back as a full unit), Stray Kids and MONT (mainly because of the company’s vision on trainees). My likes are now mostly underground artists that still need to blow up or slowly are.

    For example, Xydo. Guy has so much potential and him being recruited into Ravi’s company was a boost.
    (Also quick question and I know and somewhat agree with your Still Nirvana review, but have u giving Limitless & Rockstar a chance?)

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    • I got Xydo on my best of March list! “Betting” … oh, except the unnecessary rap verse.
      Now, current Ravi. hmm. I don’t want to speak for Nick, but I think Ravi tries his patience more than copy cat boy band debuts do.

      Like

  19. I’ve read through most of the vitriolic posts and I just don’t get it. This is a blog, not Wikipedia. While some facts will be written here, 90% of Nick’s content is sentiment and opinion, and that CAN’T be disputed as incorrect. You may not agree with him, but that just means you have a differing opinion; not that one of you is right and the other is wrong.

    I wonder if any of the individuals making the “Nick is a no good dumbo nothing” posts even bother to realize the title of this site is “THE BIAS LIST”. That title should clearly inform you that you are entering a site where the posts are going to be idiocentric.

    For the most part, Nick tries to keep things in a positive light because nothing good ever comes from dwelling on the negative. But here’s the thing.. ..opinions are highly vulnerable to moods. Moods develop from periods of activity that produce either good or bad emotions. Yes, people, we have definitive proof that Nick is, in fact, a human being! I know.. ..I was shocked too!

    So, if you’re here to post crap like, “yo, this site is stoopid” or “Nick needs to be edumacated” then please realize that your cries for attention and/or help have been recognized. Some might read your posts and think, “If this person’s IQ was any lower, we’d need to water them.”, but I get it.

    This world can be harsh and lonely if your mentally firing on only half your cylinders. But, buck up! Great advances are being made every day by some of the best minds on Earth to locate a neighboring “Goldilocks” planet. Just think.. ..in a couple of decades you could one of the lucky people that we don’t take with us to that brave new world. OR.. ..if you’re REALLY lucky, we’ll get you a seat on the Golgafrinchan Ark Fleet Ship B. So there’s that.

    Like

  20. Yes. Wonderland is a case in point. Although their songs are relatively upbeat for dark concepts. I always think of them as football stadium chants.

    Like

  21. Hello, Nick. I’m an avid Kpopalypse reader (Oh no, guys, run!), but I occasionally visit your blog whenever I need to sate my need for more coherent and eloquent babbling about K-pop releases. As much as I share a lot of Kpopalypse’s tastes in music, he does get frustrating to read because he’s often cagey about discussing the technical details of what makes his favorites work so well (uncommon examples of him doing so are a few of his write-ups for songs on his year-end lists and the stalled “Things Kpopalypse likes in music” series), and it’s that capacity for shrewd analysis that mostly intrigues me about his blog (these days I could do without his sardonic/satirical posts). So I turn to you because even though I vehemently disagree with some of your top picks⁠—giving many an early EXO release a full 10 is…interesting, to say the least⁠—you elaborate your stance on them quite fluently while refraining from any offhand remarks. That’s definitely what I want to read more from dedicated K-pop bloggers.

    Having written that, I do think this post is a bit of an overreaction. KEVIN JONES SINAGA is right ⁠— musical trends simply come and go in cycles, and you seem to just be a bit jaded about K-pop in general and, like, aren’t we all? I don’t expect much innovation from K-pop anyway, my favorite K-pop songs ever are blatant rehashes of sounds from past eras (Year 7 Class 1’s “Oppa Virus” and F-ve Dolls’ “Can You Love Me?” are forever my Top 2). I do share your frustration with Korea’s obsession with trap and mumble-rap, however, and K-pop is at its best when pilfering musical ideas from genres that focus more on robust melodies, harmonies, and hooks rather than trappy breakdowns and some other insipid beat drops.

    Like

  22. Hey, Nick, I have an idea: I know for ‘Buried Treasures’ it refers to b-sides. But why not write about songs that don’t receive the attention they deserve? For instance, Hajin’s ‘Daydream’ only has 9k views despite being a good song.

    The truth is, if you want to hear less mainstream sounds that’s exactly where you have to search. If you want retro influence K-Pop you’re gonna have to specifically search for an artist that makes such music. And there probably are! I would love to see underrated artists being highlighted.

    Here’s some to start with:
    1. ‘Who You’ Kim Minseo
    2. ‘Villain’ Stella Jang
    3. ‘Neon’ Yukika
    4. ‘Daydream’ Hajin

    Liked by 2 people

    • Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater. I too am tired of mainstream K-Pop which is why I think it’s time to look for better songs in different sectors of the industry

      Like

    • At the risk of sounding like a grump, the problem is that I don’t really like any of those songs you listed. If there’s an underrated single that totally connects with me, rest assured that it will appear as a “song review” post at some point.

      But, I can’t imagine many of you want to hear me offer faint praise or discontent with songs few people have heard of. You already get enough of that with the big releases! 🙂

      Like

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