I’ve not been shy when it comes to criticizing many aspects of Mnet’s Road to Kingdom, but I’ll be forever in its debt for gifting us ONF’s incredible remix of Rain’s classic mid-00’s track It’s Raining. This particular mix arrives at the perfect time. Its various pieces and approaches perfectly illustrate where I wish the K-pop industry was heading when it comes to boy groups.
Take a listen to the track first, and then we’ll see what we can learn from it:
1. There’s a massive gap in the market for hard-hitting electro-funk.
I’m a little biased because this is one of my favorite genres. And, K-pop used to supply it pretty regularly. For a long time, SHINee had all-but cornered the market on this kind of high-octane, MJ-esque dance pop — especially from 2012-13. I assumed they’d pass the mantle on to a younger group, like NCT Dream. Instead, all of the NCT units have essentially blended into the same sound.
Elsewhere, TXT used to flirt with this style on their b-sides. However, Big Hit seems intent on nudging them in an angstier direction, even though they excel at funkier concepts. Other upbeat groups capable of unleashing electro-funk masterpieces (Seventeen, Golden Child, Astro, The Boyz… even ONF themselves) have since retreated to darker sounds. So, we’re left with a big, massive hole. There is no group who is consistently challenging this genre. And for a huge fan like me, that’s unbelievably disappointing.
ONF’s It’s Raining mix shows just how potent this style can be. I mean, listen to those verses! Listen to that final chorus! It crackles with the kind of energy we’ve rarely heard in 2020. Why aren’t you bringing more of this to the table, K-pop? You’re clearly capable of doing it well. Are you just too lazy?
2. Incorporate electric guitar. Liberally.
I’ve been listening to a lot of 90’s J-pop lately, and no matter the genre, electric guitar seemed to be a staple.
And you know what? It’s a surefire way to add a robust sense of texture to any track. One of the (many) reasons I complain about trap music is that it lacks this sense of musical depth. I often call it skeletal, because that’s exactly what it sounds like to me – bones, devoid of the meat that makes a song worth loving. It’s a cheap, flimsy sound.
So… K-pop industry, don’t be stingy with the guitar! And don’t just relegate it to a gimmicky dance breakdown or all-too-brief post-chorus flourish. Weave it directly into your song like this remix does during its opening verse. After all, your idols trained hard! Let them show off. They’re not some mopey sad-sacks who can only stare longingly at fancy set dressing. Give them a guitar chugging rhythm. Up the energy! Put some meat on those dusty old trap bones.
3. Adopt a brighter sound palette.
I have a feeling that my call for brighter boy group concepts is often misunderstood. When many hear the word “bright,” they think overalls and sailor costumes… infantile facial expressions and aegyo. That has its place, and can be enjoyable, but this It’s Raining remix is what I really mean by “bright.” It’s not forced fun. It’s not overly affected. It’s just a galvanizing burst of energy.
This kind of song doesn’t seek to prove how badass or “deep” an artist is, but it’s pretty badass and has a depth of musicality missing in most of the trap-rap bops that litter the marketplace. It’s a song to genuinely have fun to. Imagine that? Having fun while listening to music?! What an incredible concept!
Nowadays, I swear that every K-pop producer is drawing from the same small suite of loops and samples and patches. Every song has to feature the same moody synths, the same plodding EDM beats, the same canned strings samples. Find a new palette of sounds, producers! Brighten up those synths! Play around a little!
Can we just channel the awesomeness of this remix into some original material? I know you have it in you, K-pop. 2020’s a rough year for everyone. We could all use a little excitement.
Even without the trap, I have to admit, it goes hard. And this literally better than everything I’ve listened to in the past year! Gosh I need ONF to win Kingdom so I can get more music like this.
From your blog to the kpop industry’s ears, honestly. The sooner the better, but I have a feeling it may be a couple more years until we arrive at a real shift in the styles of music groups try out. Just have to remind ourselves that these things come and go in waves. Surely at SOME point, “fun” has to come back in fashion, right? Right???
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I keep trying to tell myself this too, but it’s been one looooooong ass wave.
I hear you and 100% agree. Young songwriters/producers have a good ear for what’s trendy and commercial today, but few seem to have the appreciation or even awareness of pop music before they were born. There’s so much more to creating a good song than eight kids at a song camp in Oslo throwing a bunch of four-bar Splice loops into a DAW, whilst simultaneously documenting it on Instagram. Musical progress can only be built on the foundations of those who came before.
Now having said that, K-pop has always had a very specific problem. K-pop is intended to be ephemeral, music for now, forgotten tomorrow. It’s ear candy. It’s cheap. It’s mass produced. It’s bubblegum. It’s not challenging. It’s uncontroversial. It’s consumable by the broadest possible audience. And that’s unlikely to change, it’s just a part of the K-pop DNA.
From what I’ve observed, K-pop has always evolved in fits and starts. A new song or new act breaks through, everyone re-calibrates, then jumps on the bandwagon. The memorable (though not necessarily successful) acts are the ones who carry on and just do their own thing, with one eye on the current trends of course, but another eye trained on something new. And those musical surprises are what still keeps me interested in K-pop.
My thing with trap is that I can enjoy it in the context of hip hop because I think the bare bones aspect of it can serve a musical purpose there – but it serves virtually no purpose in pop music other than to make a track sound empty and monotonous.
The fun thing about pop music is how wild and multilayered and unexpected it can be, because “pop” isn’t exactly a genre. You can do so many things in pop music and can pull in sounds from so many different genres to make something really multifaceted and sonically exciting… so why dress it down and take all the energy out? I am not a fan of pop-trap.
Tracks like this are really what made me a kpop fan back when I was young and we were WELL fed with it during the 2nd gen and early 3rd gen. I truly hope electrofunk makes a resurgence soon because it truly has the COLOR and VIBRANCE that kpop is lacking right now.
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Whenever I read your blogs about wanting brighter boy group concepts, I always thought that you meant sailor costumes and aegyo lol. I feel like you totally read my mind in addressing that. Even thought I love my angsty boy group concepts more than bright ones, I agree that it would be nice to have more variety in terms of title tracks and concepts.
How about simply writing actual melodies.
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Well, that would certainly be a start!
Man how I miss Shinee. They’re the only boy group I ever really became a fan of and with concepts like Married to the Music and Sherlock it’s hard NOT to! I just want something seriously memorable when it comes to songs and concepts but because of the trends boy groups can blend together lately for me (some girl groups have this problem too tbh)