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.