At this point on the idol side of the J-pop industry, an entire ecosystem of new groups have emerged, spawned from audition series and heavily indebted to K-pop tropes. K-pop and J-pop have often existed in conversation, with the former borrowing from the latter during many points across the past twenty years. But, K-pop’s ability to capture the imagination of global audiences (alongside its considerable infrastructure) has spurred this wave of JO1s and INIs and NiziUs and XGs and Be:Firsts. Even J-pop stalwart Johnny’s & Associates doesn’t seem to be completely immune from the influence.
To me, most of the music emerging from this wave feels a bit superfluous. K-pop is already an overstuffed industry. I’m not sure we need more of it, performed in a different language but often created by the same behind-the-scenes talents and bankrolled by familiar brands. But, every once and a while a Born To Be Wild rears its head and beats K-pop at its own game. NIK’s new single La Vida Loca doesn’t quite reach that level of greatness, but it’s stronger than most K-pop boy group comebacks we’ve heard in 2022.
The song is a hodgepodge of familiar influences – a bit of ATEEZ here, a little ONEUS there. Even the group is a hodgepodge, comprised of both Korean and Japanese members (including former members of a couple familiar idol groups). Their name stands for ‘Nippon (Japan) and Korea,’ and they initially made a K-pop debut with last year’s Santa Monica. In these ways, they might just be the ultimate hybrid.
In any case, La Vida Loca is a ton of fun. It’s a big percussive beast of a dance track, hitting us with energy right out of the gate. Yes, the producers get a slap on the wrist for the perfunctory second-verse tempo shift (we’re seriously still doing this??), but La Vida Loca hits where it counts. And in this case, “where it counts” is the chorus. We’ve got a great one here, and it’s fueled by an equally ferocious arrangement. The guys rattle off a few good power notes as the instrumental plugs along with unrelenting force. Elsewhere, we have atmospheric guitar, exclamatory drums and injections of futuristic synth. But, La Vida Loca will always be about that rush of a centerpiece (with a few celebratory brass flourishes thrown in for good measure).