K-pop tends to latch onto certain trends and drive them into the ground, whether they’re applicable to a song or not. But, global music is wide and varied, and the industry is at its best and most creative when it embraces that buffet of choices — both old and new.
(* the content of this feature has been edited from the original, which made needless, negative generalizations)
1. Techno Rock
I’ve been calling for this one for years. Techno was never very mainstream in the States, but it made a huge impact in Japan during the mid-to-late 90’s, often accompanied by rock guitar to craft a compelling, bombastic brew. Korea also embraced techno in the 90’s, though the “rock” part of the equation was often lacking. Outside of Japan and several European markets, this genre’s never really gotten its due. Too often it was regarded as the sound of novelty acts. But, techno is ready for a reinvention, and K-pop could use the jolt of high-energy arrangements and stadium-ready choruses.
2. 80’s Pop
I don’t care whether you want to call it synthpop, synthwave, new wave, post-disco, or just straight-forward 80’s nostalgia. I’ll gladly take it all! The beauty of 80’s synths is their texture – bright and colorful and exciting. Too often, K-pop is relying on darker sounds, which may result in striking visual concepts but rarely crafts songs that bring joy to the listener. Of all the genres mentioned in this feature, I really do think 80’s synth/retro is where we’re heading. Global trends bear this out, and this summer in K-pop has already seen its share of retro fare.
3. Jackson-style Funk
I’m a little biased because my music taste spawned largely from Michael and Janet Jackson. I consider their work to be the pinnacle of pop in every way. It’s long been a strong influence on K-pop, particularly for SM Entertainment. But, that influence has waned over the past few years. I’d love to hear more echoes of the work they (and their contemporaries) helped popularize. Some New Jack Swing here, a burst of funk there — layers upon layers of rhythm, all anchored by an insistent snare that never drops out for some jarring half-time breakdown. But what really made the work of the Jacksons incredible was their ability to live within the music. Every vocal tic and flourish added to the groove. I want more idols to attack their music like this. It’s what made groups like SHINee so excellent.
Trance is one of my favorite EDM sub-genres, mostly because I love its euphoric nature. “Euphoric” isn’t a word I get to use nearly often enough when it comes to K-pop anymore. With trance, the key is layering sounds on top of each other, repeated like waves in a hypnotic structure that creates a sense of build and suspense. Tether this to a more traditional pop structure and you’ve got the ingredients for something quite compelling. With all the emphasis on stop/start arrangements and musical diversions, this generation of K-pop rarely lets a song build unencumbered. An influx of trance inspiration would help make that a more common approach.
If we must go down a darker path, let’s do it in style. Industrial music has so much potential to capitalize on K-pop’s concept-heavy style. And, its lurching grooves even compliment what’s happening in so many idol tracks nowadays. But, I think it draws from a more interesting sound palette. Industrial’s heavy electronic backbeat is also a great support for robust melody and choruses. Sprinkle in some rap over the top, and you’ve got the seeds for really interesting, inventive material.