Friday K-Pop Fiesta - April 5th, 2024

This week's selections are comfort food for my throwback sensibilities.

Friday K-Pop Fiesta - April 5th, 2024
QWER takes aim at the crossover jpop/kpop audience in "T.B.H". Source: QWER

For all the innovation and new stuff that I hear in K-Pop pretty much every week, I'm sometimes in the mood to play something that's a bit old school or which reflects what I used to like back in the day. I may be dating myself, but that means heading back to my younger days, when anime, J-pop, and bubblegum pop dominated my burned CD mixes and Winamp playlists. Coincidentally enough, the K-Pop industry seemed to feed into that throwback desire this week (and make me feel old at the same time), so here's what I've been jamming to.

KISS OF LIFE - "Midas Touch"

Kiss of Life's company S2 Entertainment may have fumbled a bit with their last foray into girl group territory with the ill-fated Hot Issue but they appear to have learned from their mistakes with rookie group Kiss of Life, who they've positioned as a group with an edgier take on the traditional girl crush concept.

This time around though, they've dropped a track in "Midas Touch" that hearkens back to the days of aggressively confident female pop artists. And it isn't just the song, with is simple backing instrumental, catchy chorus beat, and fun choreography that's a throwback - the music video itself has the kind of thin and implausible-yet-charming storyline and setpieces (like dancing in front the giant sign with the song name on it) that remind me of "Crazy" by Britney Spears or "Spice Up Your Life" by the Spice Girls. Yeah, we'll never know why the members have the ability to turn to stone with a touch or why their unfortunate handsome victim with the blank look and impeccably flowing hair keeps falling into their traps, but really, it doesn't matter if the song is a banger, which this absolutely is.

(G)I-DLE Yuqi - "Could It Be"

I've been waiting for another Yuqi solo endeavor for a while. The last one that I remember, dance pop tune "Bonnie & Clyde") reminded me that not only is Yuqi a great singer with a distinctly low-toned rich vocal, but that from a presentation standpoint she's very versatile.

With "Could It Be", Yuqi turns in her simple apartment and thief moonlighting gig for a more carefree (and more lucrative, given the mansion) life, with a daydream of a wandering musician taking in the sights on a road trip. I get the sense that the solo simplicity of a musician trying to make it in the wide world is probably the life that Yuqi may have picked for herself if she wasn't locked into the tightly scheduled and frantic world of K-Pop, and it shows in the style of the song and video. I was very much reminded of that sort of 00's energy where you felt (mostly) invincible and if you could, you'd just enjoy the simple things Yuqi sings about, like good music and the small spark of connection that might lead into something more. A nice break for sure.

QWER - "T.B.H"

I have a lot of respect for groups that know their music and target audience and lean into it even if it means they aren't more widely popular, and QWER's tenure so far has been filled with these types of songs. The rookie pop band has always seemingly blended J-Pop vibes and atmosphere with K-Pop vocals and musical structure, and "T.B.H" is more of the same in that vein.

From the setting to the unnoticed and potentially unrequited crush to the auditorium shots of the group playing that remind me of Haruhi Suzumiya's famous "God Knows" performance, this is very much anime and knows it to a tee. That's not a bad thing, by the way - I have a ton of difficulty keeping up with anime these days mostly due to how wildly varied and complex it is, and long in part for the more surface-level action and trope-ness of a high school story. The only thing that was missing was the "running out of the house late with toast in your mouth" shot, but I can't complain. Make no mistake about it though - this is very much a K-Pop band's song, with the vocal talent and disciplined instrumentals that go with it, and if they keep up this hybridized formula, I think QWER will make a nice and sustainable name for itself.

Dreamcatcher Handong - "11:11" (orig. by Taeyeon)

I said this back when "11:11" came out back in 2016 but I really felt like this was one of those light and cozy songs that you'd be used to hearing on an "easy listening" station back in the day. Taeyeon, of course, has a unique vocal color that makes it easy to feel relaxed, and the original video's melancholy breakup presentation accompanying the lyrics added a layer to the song that made it even better.

This isn't the first time Handong has covered a Taeyeon song (she did "Nights Into Days" back in 2023) but she proves here, as she did back then, that fans' comparisons to how mildly similar she looks to Taeyeon go a bit beyond the visual. Handong has always been benefitted from light ballad-like songs with emotion. While there isn't any of the relationship-ending sadness in the video for this cover that there was in the original, that doesn't mean the song wasn't done justice. Part of the message of "11:11" is being able to move on and be secure in yourself getting over someone. All the scenes and shots of Handong taking in scenery filmed during the group's EU tour exude someone who's enjoying being themselves and experiencing life without worrying about someone else's feelings. In today's often-complex interpersonal dynamics, that kind of approach from the 10's might seem antiquated, but it works here, both for the song and the cover.

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