Yeah, yeah, I know. This article’s title is problematic in all sorts of ways. But, hear me out. Obviously, Lady Gaga isn’t a K-pop idol, nor does her career follow the traditional K-pop process. But, I would argue that her ascendance influenced the idol industry to a great degree.
Back in the mid-2000’s, pop music was in dire straits – similar in some ways to the situation we’re in today. And whether accurate or not, I largely credit Gaga for resurrecting the kind of widescreen, high-concept pop that had been absent for several years prior to her debut.
This energy filtered down to K-pop a year or so later, helping to spawn the 2009-16 pop peak we saw within the idol industry. That’s not to dismiss K-pop itself. Though it often takes Western trends and reinvents them, I’d argue that the source material is almost always improved upon. However, with years of trap and tropical house flooding the Western charts, K-pop hasn’t really had much inspiration to draw from.
With Chromatica, Lady Gaga has returned to the big, bombastic pop she made her name on. The music is more EDM and loops-based this time around, but it’s still driven by anthemic melodies and powerful, charismatic vocals. The album’s very good, and often reminds me of the K-pop sound I first fell in love with. The songs are high-concept, the production is trendy but engaging, and there’s a crackle of dancefloor energy that ties everything together. I could see so many top-tier K-pop acts performing the hell out of these tracks. Ah, to be free from the incessant trap breakdowns.
Sour Candy has garnered much attention in the K-pop community because of its BLACKPINK feature. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the song itself succumbs to many of the issues I’ve had with K-pop lately. Of the three duets on Chromatica, it’s easily the weakest. It lacks the kind of strong melody that characterizes most of the album, favoring vibe and production over fleshed-out songwriting. Sound familiar, longtime readers?
This has nothing to do with BLACKPINK themselves, though I feel like their performance style is a bit too similar to Gaga’s to act as a compelling foil. Within the context of Chromatica, Sour Candy’s sing-talk delivery made me realize how refreshing it was to hear melody take the lead for the vast majority of the album. It’s a critical element that has played second fiddle in both K-pop and mainstream Western pop music for some time. A killer melody really allows for a more diverse appeal – even within a project as streamlined and genre-specific as Chromatica.
Chromatica may not be K-pop, but its unabashed theatricality feels like the fuel for many a big K-pop comeback. I’m looking forward to seeing how it, and like-minded albums such as Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, will impact the industry. Though still in an emergent phase, it feels like pop music is beginning to make a return to the western charts. Could we hear K-pop’s answer to Rain On Me or Physical before the year’s end? I sure hope so, because we’re more than ready for a jolt of new energy – even if it’s inspired by old, retro sounds.