More Korean music articles here.
After a long hiatus (because university life is tough, man), I’m back with fresh recommendations that I think you would enjoy. Each month is tied to a particular genre so read through to find out what tickles your fancy.
April » K-Pop | May » R&B | June » Rap
TWICE (트와이스) – FANCY YOU
Released: 22 / 4 / 2019
FANCY YOU is pure, unfiltered joy condensed into musical soundbites. The 9-woman group floats over the breezy pop production, filling the project with irresistibly catchy hooks and performances. Every song on here is built to be soaked under the warm the summer sun. Like their dazzling music videos, TWICE is able to convey their bright and buoyant visuals perfectly into their music, backing themselves up with talent that’s on par with their intricately crafted aesthetic.
Released: 21 / 4 / 2017
One of Korea’s biggest solo stars, IU is K-pop royalty whose music is more in tune with R&B and soft pop than common K-pop tropes. Palette sees her exploring tried-and-true formulas like the sentimental ballad, upbeat dance grooves and lo-fi croons. Although the record doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it does excel at perfecting the familiar, creating a string of earworm after earworm.
Mamamoo (마마무) – White Wind
Released: 14 / 3 / 2019
Unlike the other two entries on this list, Mamamoo’s music is decidedly less energetic as TWICE’S but a lot more upbeat than IU’s. They exist within a middle ground of the two that highlights the versatility of the 4-women group. From sultry dance tracks (“gogobebe”) to refreshing pop tunes (“Waggy”) to slowed down ballads (“Bad bye”), White Wind sees them tackling an assortment of styles within the project’s brief 22-minute runtime. Yet even with its scattershot aesthetic, Mamamoo still manages to deliver a compelling bag of tracks that can appeal to all kinds of K-pop fans.
OOHYO (우효) – Far From the Madding City (성난 도시로부터 멀리)
Released: 8 / 4 / 2019
OOHYO used to live in the US before returning to Korea to further her music career, as evidenced by her penchant to perform in both Korean and English. Much more folk and acoustic influenced than her other R&B contemporaries, OOHYO’s music is a perfect soundtrack to warm, quiet afternoons. Far From the Madding City owns its lowkey aesthetic, as she oozes confidence over these stripped back instrumentals allowing her soft vocals to steal the show.
BIGBANG – MADE
Released: 12 / 12 / 2016
Recent scandals aside, one cannot deny the impact that Big Bang has left on the Korean music industry as a whole. Combining elements of hip-hop and dance into their R&B inspired music, the legendary boy band proved that there was more to K-pop than just manufactured bubblegum pop. On their final studio album MADE, every song is exquisitely crafted to have the right amount of allure and charm, as not a single weak link exists on the latest and best album of their collective career.
Colde (콜드) – Love Part 1
Released: 31 / 5 / 2019
A former member of offonoff, Colde has enjoyed a fairly successful career since his departure with his debut album Wave being quickly released in 2018. The album was a more hip-hop inspired affair, then less than a year later, he came back swinging with his follow-up record Love Part 1. This time around Colde embraces the sound that he excelled in while under offonoff, settling for smooth and sensual R&B over upbeat hip-hop. Though experimentation by artists is thoroughly welcomed, sometimes seeing them return to their roots just produces much more appealing results.
BOiTELLO – TELL U WHAT
Released: 25 / 6 / 2018
Dance-centric hip hop has lost its place within American rap (unless you go by the name of Goldlink), but in Korea, that’s a whole different story. BOiTELLO’s music can almost be described as K-pop with hip-hop vocals, as the bouncy production is supported by equally playful performances from BOiTELLO himself and the featured guests. It’s the kind of hip-hop that can only be found outside of the usual American channels, and its uniqueness only works to its favour within the Korean music landscape.
Drunken Tiger – Drunken Tiger X: Rebirth of Tiger Jk
Released: 14 / 11 / 2018
First debuting in 1999, Drunken Tiger is a legendary rap group that was instrumental as trailblazers of Korea’s hip hop scene. 19 years later, they reunited for a final studio album and went out in a blaze of glory. A 30-song double album, Rebirth of Tiger JK can be very intimidating just in terms of the sheer scope of the project. Yet putting the length aside, every track on here is an outright banger. Seemingly inspired by the growth that Korean rap has seen and also the plethora of sounds that American hip-hop has to offer, Drunken Tiger proves that it’s still possible to age like fine wine within a young man’s game.
pH-1 – HALO
Released: 28 / 3 / 2019
On his debut album, it’s clear that pH-1 is an artist that wears his influences on his sleeve. With hints of Higher Brothers, G-Dragon and general American rap inspiration heard throughout the record, pH-1 is in the midst of finding his own sound but at the same time shows the incredible amount of potential that he possesses in his craft. HALO is much more trap-inspired than most Korean rap albums I’ve heard, while at the same time also has the smooth R&B-tinged sound that the genre is known for. Performing in both Korean and English, pH-1’s music succeeds at carving out a path for Korean rappers within a sound that has been long dominated by American artists.