Taeyang , “Eyes, Nose, Lips” (2014)
Unlike his more flamboyant Bigbang bandmate G-Dragon, Taeyang likes to keep things suave and sensual. Taking influence from North American singers such as Frank Ocean and the Weeknd, he’s considered Korea’s most prominent R&B star thanks to romantic songs such as “Wedding Dress” and this piano ballad, his first number one on the Gaon charts. Even if you can’t understand the lyrics, you can feel the passion in his voice as you stare at his shirtless torso in the video. No wonder he’s been called the Korean Justin Timberlake — he’s bringing sexy back more effortlessly than ever before. f(x), "Four Walls" By far, the most refreshing quality of Korea’s pop industry is its willingness to experiment. Take this breezy, club-ready track from girl band f(x), which somehow preceded the recent tropical house trend by a year and fused it with UK garage. It’s also somewhat of a personal statement: Originally a five-piece group, f(x) nearly broke up in 2014 after one of the members abruptly quit. The remaining quartet persevered, reconvening the following year with this spectacular tune. It’s all in the hook: “Love is four walls.” The four members of f(x) are the walls, and they’re holding up the house. SHINee, "Sherlock (Clue + Note)"
Boy bands are a dime a dozen in the Korean music industry, to the point that labels often convene multiple versions of the same band to sing in different languages. SHINee isn’t one of them, but the band has been recognized as one of the most trendsetting, risk-taking groups in the game. Take this flamboyant, experimental track, with its unconventional rhythm, trumpet hits, and doo-wop harmonies. If “Sherlock” inspires you to search for clues of your own, try this sketch from SNL Korea. If you can understand even a single reference, you’ll be well on your way to understanding K-pop. Blackpink, "Playing With Fire" One of the newest groups burning up the charts is also one of the most intriguing. Of its four members, only one was raised in Korea; the others were plucked from obscurity in Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand. In a milestone for label YG Entertainment, Blackpink features the label’s first non-Korean hire. The group’s relative diversity may have something to do with its international appeal — it recently became the first K-pop group to debut on the Canadian Hot 100, with “Playing With Fire.” Or it could be that Blackpink's music is an extension of what K-pop has always been: extremely fun. BTS, "Blood Sweat & Tears" K-pop’s ugliest moment in the West came earlier this year when boy band BTS won Best Social Artist at the Billboard Music Awards, pulling an upset over the likes of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. As many celebrated what was seen as an achievement for international representation in American music, others engaged in open racism on Twitter, wondering, “Who are these Asians?” When you see something as ambitious as the group’s video for “Blood Sweat & Tears,” of course, you understand how they could have won. It might as well be a message to the American music industry: Korea is here, and it’s here to stay. Bonus: G-Dragon, "Untitled, 2014" G-Dragon's latest single is a simple, spare piano ballad off an album where he uses his own name for the title, Kwon Ji Yong. Upon its release earlier this year, it instantly topped all the charts in Korea, an achievement known as a "Perfect All-Kill." After years in the game, all it takes for this mega-star to soar above the competition is piano and vocal.
G-Dragon 2017 World Tour Act III: M.O.T.T.E.7 p.m. Tuesday, July 25, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; aaarena.com. Tickets cost $65 to $219 via ticketmaster.com.
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Douglas Markowitz is a former music and arts editorial intern for Miami New Times. Born and raised in South Florida, he studied at Sophia University in Tokyo before earning a bachelor's in communications from University of North Florida. He writes freelance about music, art, film, and other subjects.