[KKONNECT FIELD TRIP] U-KISS: The First US Tour @ Club Nokia, Los Angeles (01/14/14)

Over the span of five years, K-Pop group U-KISS has become one of the top acts to come out of the Hallyu scene. Despite various changes in line-up, the boys have enjoyed success both within and outside of Korea, with sub-units, solo efforts, and songs recorded in Korean, Japanese, and English. Members have appeared in various Korean movies and dramas, and more recently, even sported silly suits in their cameo for popular balladeer Lim Chang-jung’s comedic “Open The Door” music video. Needless to say, when K-Konnect found out U-Kiss was coming to Los Angeles on the final night of their first US tour, we weren’t exactly “Standing Still”. (Sorry, that was hard to resist.)

The evening began with a solid stream of popular U-KISS songs – ranging from the R&B-inspired “Stop Girl” to latest single “She’s Mine”. The high energy of attending ‘KissMe’ fans was clearly reflected in the group’s opening performance, the six members quickly moving through some of their most popular choreography as the audience clapped and – not-so-surprisingly – screamed along. Just by looking around the venue, it was evident there were quite a number of diehard fans in attendance, having seemingly waited for the group’s US arrival for some time. Several of which brought along large posters written out in Hangul in support of their favorite U-KISS member. Some fans sitting on the second level even hung streamers over the balcony far before the show started, adding to the welcoming spirit of the crowd.

After a brief introduction by all, Eli and AJ took the stage as sub-unit uBEAT, accompanied by group vocalist Kevin. Their single “Should Have Treated You Better” was the title track on a sub-unit mini album released last year and showcased the lyrical strength of the two rappers. Following uBeat was an impressive duet by two of the group’s main vocalists, Soohyun and Hoon. The live singing was both powerful and controlled as they moved through the song “More Painful Than Pain”, making the news revealed later in the show of an eventual ballad sub-unit worth the anticipation. Wrapping up the segment was “Obsession”, an electro-dance track performed by AJ and Kiseop. Bringing the audience back up to their feet after the previous song, the two even made their way through the crowd to dance along with audience members standing closer to the stage.

Prior to the event, those who purchased select seats to the concert were given the opportunity to submit a question for U-KISS to read and answer on stage during the show. These questions, written out on Post-It notes, were rolled out on a large chalkboard to allow members a chance to review them all before deciding which one they would choose. Some Post-Its – namely “Eli, can you twerk for us?” and “Please give us your abs.” – were quickly disregarded, while others were happily responded to. Within the segment, fans were given a preview of AJ’s latest rap (tentatively titled “She’s Mine”), a brief dance performance of “DoraDora” from Kiseop, and Eli’s exaggerated impression of Kiseop’s choreography made popular during their Japanese tour. Lucky fans were even serenaded by their favorite members, with Soohyun and Kevin singing a capella versions of their solo songs “Snowman” and “My Reason”, respectively.

UKISSStage

Following the Q&A session, U-KISS then went into a performance of their Japanese singles, “Tick Tack” and “Forbidden Love”, before announcing another fan contest planned prior to the show. Fans were invited to submit essays to the group’s label about why they should be chosen as a ‘KissMe’ Super Fan. The winner, one for each stop of the tour, would be able to meet U-KISS on stage and be serenaded by them directly. Excerpts from the Los Angeles winner’s entry were read allowed before she was brought on stage. A self-declared ‘KissMe Mom’, Chauntelle was a 40-year-old writer and motivational speaker who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2008. While in convalescence several years later, during what was described as the lowest point of her life, she discovered U-KISS. Instantly becoming a fan of their music and varied personalities, she was given the motivation to continue toward recovery. Only needing slight assistance from her walker, Chauntelle spoke a few words to the group before they serenaded her with the love song “Mysterious Lady” from their most recent release ‘Moments’.

Later in the show, U-KISS took a moment to thank their American fans for supporting them. As two members were raised in the States (Eli in Washington D.C. and Kevin in Danville, Calif.) and another currently enrolled at Columbia University, having the opportunity to hold a successful tour in the United States was an incredible opportunity for them. As each member individually expressed their gratitude, a giant pull-apart cake purchased by local fans was rolled out for Kiseop as an early birthday present. The surprise was well-received, and while U-KISS led the audience in singing Happy Birthday, Kiseop took a big bite of cake for his fans.

UKISSBirthday

The group returned for a charismatic encore of singles “Without You” and “Man Man Ha Ni”, somehow maintaining that same high energy they began with two hours prior. As the crowd danced as wildly, it was evident that both U-KISS and their ‘KissMe’ fans got exactly what they wanted out of the group’s first solo stop to the United States.

“We can’t wait to come back and do this all over again,” Kevin shouted to the screaming crowd as the group took their final bow. “We’ll make you the proudest fan club in the world.” And as fans raved about the show as the crowd filed out, picking pieces of encore confetti off their clothes, it was apparent U-KISS was well on their way to keeping that promise.

[BIBIMBEATS] 2013 Round-Up: Looking back at the stories that defined the year in K-Pop

Wonder Girls Become Wonder Women

Wonder Girls' Sun posing with JYP labelmate JOO on her wedding day
Wonder Girls’ Sun posing with JYP labelmate JOO on her wedding day

This year, the Wonder Girls proved you don’t need to have a comeback to remain in headlines. These JYP darlings have enjoyed one busy year, both personally and professionally, beginning with leader Sunye’s storybook wedding. After meeting husband James Park in Haiti during a 2011 missionary trip, the two finally tied the knot in January. A long list of celebrities – including the rest of the Wonder Girls – attended, and 2AM’s Jo Kwon officiated the ceremony. In March, rapper Yubin made her series debut as genius hacker Lee Joo-young on medical thriller “The Virus”, while Yenny soon followed with a role in historical drama “Basketball”. Over two years after leaving the group, former member Sunmi finally made her solo debut over the summer. Her single “24 Hours” enjoyed #1 status on a majority of music sales charts. Later, on October 26, Sunye publicly announced the birth of her very own ‘wonder girl’ Hailey. While both the Wonder Girls and JYP Entertainment insist the group is still very much ‘on’, the only thing we know for sure is that newborn Hailey is about to be spoiled by some seriously cool Wonder Aunts.

The ‘Bar Bar Bar’ Heard Around The World

A popular YouTube video of policemen in Busan performing "Bar Bar Bar"
A popular YouTube video of policemen in Busan performing “Bar Bar Bar” and other Crayon Pop hits

By the end of 2013, if you haven’t heard about the criminally cute quintet Crayon Pop, you have successfully been hiding under a rock. With the unconventional outfits and addictively fun choreography of hit single “Bar Bar Bar”, the girls made waves as Korea’s latest viral sensation. To date, “Bar Bar Bar” has enjoyed over 9.3 million views and inspired 1.7 million covers on YouTube from fans all over the world, including Italy, Thailand, Australia, and the United States. Parodied by anyone from remote controlled robots to policemen in Gyeongbuk, the song even got “Thor 2” star Tom Hiddleston bouncing during his SNL Korea appearance. Social media popularity had “Bar Bar Bar” hitting #1 on major music charts several weeks after the song’s initial release, their win on Music Bank coming well over two months into promotions. What will be the big hit of 2014? It might be too soon to make predictions, but if Psy and Crayon Pop are any indication, it’s going to involve a whole lot of jumping.

Where’s The (Rap) Beef?

Supreme Team's Simon D (left) and E-Sens (right)
Supreme Team’s Simon D (left) and E-Sens (right)

In July, Korean hip-hop fans were shocked when it was announced that rap duo Supreme Team was disbanding shortly after the release of their EP ‘Thanx 4 The Wait’. According to official press, hip-hop label Amoeba Culture ended their contract with Supreme Team’s E-Sens due to creative differences. Well wishes were exchanged, both E-Sens and fellow rapper Simon D provided encouraging words for fans, and everything went back to normal – or so we thought. One month later, E-Sens self-released the song “You Can’t Control Me”, attacking Amoeba Culture founder Gaeko, one-half of Dynamic Duo. The song, a twist to New York rapper Kendrick Lamar’s controversial verse on Big Sean’s “Control”, accused Gaeko of industry corruption and extorting E-Sens, someone who had been a younger brother figure to him. A day later, Brand New Music’s Swings brought in “King Swings, Part 2”, a new diss track criticizing Simon D for loyalty to Dynamic Duo and Amoeba Culture over E-Sens. Soon Gaeko and Simon D both recorded their own responses, the former (“I Can Control You”) attacking E-Sens for his ungrateful behavior and drug history. The latter (“Control”) seemed apologetic in content, both rebuking Swings’ attack and expressing conflict over the duo’s disbandment. The series of disses sent the rap world buzzing, enticing more songs to be released from every corner of the genre. In fact, while the battle seemingly ‘ended’ not too soon after, it still remains in constant mention within the Korean hip-hop scene.

Solos, subgroups, and more solos!

 A scene from CL's solo debut "Baddest Female"
A scene from CL’s solo debut “Baddest Female”

2013 was definitely another year for amazing breakout solo and subgroup efforts from members of well-established K-Pop groups. The beginning of the year saw the return of SISTAR19 with the seductive “Gone Not Around Any Longer (있다 없으니까)” and the debut of INFINITE’s hip-hop subgroup, INFINITE-H. 2NE1 fans were treated to CL’s hard-hitting “Baddest Female”, and SM Entertainment made a big reveal when they reintroduced a member of SuperJunior-M as their newest solo artist Henry. As far as solo activities go, however, BIGBANG takes a pretty serious lead with all five members having promoted their own tracks by the end of 2013. Lastly, the year wrapped up with the long-awaited solo debut of SISTAR’s power vocalist Hyorin with the seductive “One Way Love” and lyrical ballad “Lonely”.

2012 and ‘Gangnam Style’ fever was a hard act to follow, but overall, 2013 carried its weight by far. As the year wraps up, more news about what to expect in the beginning of 2014 is emerging. Good news for some – a new boy group for JYP and a new girl group for YG – and bad news for others, as breaking news continues on Cube’s contract with KARA’s Nicole and JYJ’s eventual enlistment. Needless to say, there is a whole lot more music news to come, and BIBIMBEATS will be here to report it. See you next year!

[BIBIMBEATS] Track-By-Track: Block B, ‘Very Good’ – A Comeback We’re Thankful For

Block B started off the year with much uncertainty. Contract disputes resulted in a lengthy legal battle with their former agency, Stardom Entertainment, which put a halt on the group’s activities and a large question mark over their future. Despite only debuting two years ago, their impact has become increasingly tremendous. Their hard-hitting hip-hop style has since reflected greatly in later and similar acts like B.A.P and Bangtan Boys, both of which have cited Block B as major influences and mentors. Now resettling into self-made label Seven Seasons, Block B is finally making their return with a new mini album. ‘Very Good’ offers a brief but varied reassurance to fans that the boys aren’t leaving anytime soon. (In fact, if ‘Very Good’ is any indicator, they’re about to get even better.)

“VERY GOOD”: With the electro-infused and frantic “Very Good” as opening track, Block B makes a confident comeback. The energy makes the single sound almost as if they picked right up where the pirate-punks of “Nilili Mambo” left off. Block B leader Zico’s line of ‘How many fake MCs out there?’ directly challenges the current state of the K-Pop scene, the kitsch of ‘aegyo rapping’ keeping the merits of many in question. The music video concept continues to project this rebellious idea, the ‘bank heist’ setting of the song reminiscent of a strange mixing of Lil Wayne’s “Got Money” and scenes from “The Dark Knight”.

“BE THE LIGHT”: “Be The Light” offers a completely different perspective, contrasting its opener with a striking ballad. Lyrically, the song is from the perspective of a lonely boy wishing to be acknowledged and adored by the girl of his interest again, hoping that being in her ‘light’ will rid her from the ‘darkness’ he has been living in. Still, knowing of the struggles Block B went through, one cannot help but consider this something of a metaphor for how the year’s legal dramas stifled the members’ relationship with their fans. While Block B is not necessarily known for being a ballad group, it is nice to see how well they were able to pull a ballad song off, and I hope to see similar songs from them in future releases.

“WHEN, WHERE, WHAT, HOW” featuring Jo Hyuna of Urban Zakapa: Kyung’s solo song “When, Where, What, How” oozes in an understated cool. Collaborations in K-Pop so commonly misuse the featured artists – for example, SISTAR’s Hyorin on Dynamic Duo’s latest album, but the appearance of Urban Zakapa’s Jo Hyuna on this track is both flawless and complementing. One of our past issue’s ‘Indie Women to Watch’, Hyuna adds a new layer of ‘coffee shop’ credibility to the nature of the song, only augmented further by light piano and mellow bass. “When, Where, What, How” brings a new facet to Park Kyung’s image and role within Block B. His quick vacillations between rhyme and song prove his label as the group’s ‘lead rapper’ to be a bit of an injustice. Kyung’s got a lot more tricks up his sleeve, and he doesn’t seem to mind showing them off.

“NICE DAY”: The final song “Nice Day” rounds the album out with another rap-heavy track, opening up by encouraging listeners back onto their feet. The song starts off by making an energetic shout-out to ‘party people’ and is paired with some hollering from the group’s rappers. However, the track the song is laid over does not seem to match the song as much as it probably should have. With embellished horns, drums, and piano, the accompaniment seems to better fit a jazz lounge than the hip-hop stage the hook and verses seem to have been written for. While exploring new genres and styles is integral to the further evolution of a group’s sound, it would have been nice to see something of a ‘throwback’ effort closing the album out. Last album ‘Blockbuster’ somewhat mastered the use of primal beats and urban sound, making it difficult to adapt to this newer approach.

blockb3

Overall, Block B seems to be developing a new plan of attack with their sound, offering a pretty wide range of genres and styles over a short four-track span. Known as something of the resident ‘hip-hop group’ of K-Pop, ‘Very Good’ shows that there are still more sides to Block B begging to be discovered. It will be exciting to see resurgence in production from the group. Just recently enjoying their first music show win on last month’s Inkigayo, the absence of their talent has been evidentially and greatly missed from the K-Pop scene. It’s good to have you back, boys. Now go back in the studio, and record us a longer album!

[BIBIMBEATS] Why We’re Obsessed: What to love about YG survival showdown “WIN: Who Is Next?”

YGWhoIsNext

I’ve never been a fan of Korean talent shows. Sure, watching JY Park’s all-too-enthusiastic reactions on KPop Star is entertaining. And the fact that The Voice Korea got big names like Kangta and Leessang’s Gil in judges’ chairs is impressive. But the reality is you can only listen to stiff covers of 2NE1’s “Lonely” so many times before it loses its luster, and the one-per-episode elimination pattern gets redundant after a while. Despite producing many more star singers than their American counterparts, Korean talent programs have become something of a dime a dozen. But then YG Entertainment CEO Yang Hyun-suk announced the premise of new boyband competition “WIN: Who Is Next?” and things started looking a little more cutthroat.

“WIN” introduces viewers to two groups of boy trainees – Team A, a group of five with the average age of 20, and Team B, six trainees averaging at around 17 years of age. Some trainees are familiar faces recruited from previous talent programs, while others have trained under YG for years, living apart from their families with the motivation that one day they would finally debut. Both teams had no idea about the competition until CEO Yang revealed it to them in the first episode. At the end of the year, one team will be chosen by viewers to debut under the name ‘WIN’. The other team will be disbanded, some returning to training and others losing their contracts entirely. The trainees that had once practiced alongside each other are now teams put against one another. The stakes are high, and knowing that the YG is preparing to pull the plug on some hard-working trainees’ dreams is as torturous to watch as it is addictive.

What initially drew me into the competition was the sheer talent of YG’s rapping trainees. Surely if you’re sharing a label with the likes of GD&TOP and Epik High, being able to rap and rap well is something of a prerequisite. The most buzzworthy rapper is Team B’s 18 year-old leader B.I. Far before being recruited as a trainee, B.I first got a taste of fame collaborating with MC Mong for the 2009 single “Indian Boy”. Now a teenager, his experience and confidence have given him wisdom enough to lead Team B, both producing tracks and choreographing for the group. Team A leader Song Mino is also a rapper worth watching. At 21 years old, he grew up in the underground hip-hop scene with idol rapper Zico. Like Zico, Mino was originally going to debut with Block B before alleged contract issues. Seeing B.I and Mino battle it out as both talented rappers and disciplined leaders is such a huge element of the show, as it seems like the moment you prefer one, the other does something that resets the bar.

The presence of former talent competition contestants also makes the show exciting. Over the summer, Superstar K2 semifinalist Kang Seung-yoon already enjoyed a solo debut through the company. However, on “WIN”, he trades his acoustic guitar in for a studded snapback and performs as a member of Team A, creating quite the juxtaposition. Seung-yoon could start off an episode preparing for a solo stage on M Countdown only to end it completely failing CEO Yang’s expectations for the month’s group assessment. Team B’s Koo Jun Hoe started off as just another contestant on the first season of KPop Star before being picked up by YG after the ending of the show. Having already faced public rejection on a previous program makes being a part of “WIN” an all-too-familiar scenario for him, something CEO Yang reminds him of throughout the program. In fact, having such past experiences is a constant theme for both trainees, a source of both anxiety and motivation during team challenges.

The changing themes keep the program varied and interesting. In addition to learning about the different trainees’ talents and backgrounds, the show begins each episode with a new challenge for both groups to work on. In one, Yang Hyun-suk brings in Taeyang and G-Dragon as coaches to each team, working with the trainees directly and teaching them a routine to present in competition at the end of the episode. In another, the teams meet with trainees from JYP Entertainment, battling it out through vocal, rap, and dance performances in something of a ‘label war’. The challenges in “WIN” take the otherwise well-honed trainees out of their comfort zone, often resulting in both new highs and new lows for the competing teams.

Personally, I love Team A’s mature image as much as I love Team B’s wild image. When watching an episode, I always envision how great it would be if YG just debuted them as one giant part-B.A.P, part-EXO supergroup. The response so far from viewers seems pretty split down the middle, but with good reason. It’s hard to see such promising talents and know that some of them won’t get a chance to debut. The optimist in me won’t rule out a twist ending, but of course, only time will tell. In the meantime, stay strong, fellow “WIN” viewers. As for Teams A and B, we’ll see you at the finish line.

US Fans: MNET offers full episodes of “WIN: Who Is Next?” on their official YouTube Channel complete with English subtitles. Check them out here.

[BIBIMBEATS] Track-By-Track: G-Dragon, ‘Coup D’etat’ – Why GD’s Most Polarizing Album Is His Most Important Yet

Back in March at a press conference for his ‘One Of A Kind’ promotional tour, G-Dragon created media buzz for his controversial response to a question asking how he’s changed over the past four years. Four years ago, upon the release of debut solo album ‘Heartbreaker’, G-Dragon considered himself an idol – someone with ‘cute, adorable and varied looks’ who still had a lot to learn. Fast-forward to 2013 and he’s very much an artist, putting more thought into the creative process in hopes of reinventing K-Pop as a whole. It’s with this in mind that the title for his second full-length effort ‘Coup D’etat’ is fitting. Pairing a wide variety of genres with a cynical undertone, G-Dragon puts the limitations of Hallyu under a punk sense of scrutiny. And with a list of guest collaborators that reads as something of a ‘Who’s Who’ in rising talent, ‘Coup D’etat’ will easily be the album that takes G-Dragon from a Korean idol to a global music star.

“COUP D’ETAT”: ‘Coup D’etat’ opens up with the greatly anticipated title track of the same name, a thickly layered trap-and-bass created in collaboration with Mad Decent producers Diplo (MIA’s “Paper Planes”, GD&TOP’s “Knockout”) and Baauer (“Harlem Shake”). The overall low-tempo creates a stark and declarative contrast to the steady stream of party anthems GD started with “Crayon” and “One Of A Kind”. While it didn’t fare as well on live music charts as other tracks on ‘Coup D’etat, Pt. 1’, it is by far the most important track in that section of the album. It’s a song that takes G-Dragon out of his safety zone as an idol and projects him directly into artistry. Is it a good K-Pop song? No, not really. But GD seems to have never considered it to be one. Classify it as a bold EDM track, and it introduces the audience to something a bit more challenging and outside of the box. It catches attention and allows the listener to take it from there.

“NILIRIA” featuring Missy Elliott: The next track “Niliria” puts GD and hip-hop veteran Missy Elliott together in something of a Hype Williams dream collaboration. Tribal beats paired with futuristic instrumentation were always something of Missy’s trademark, but throw in G-Dragon’s flair for inflection and the track is taken to a whole new level. During GD’s verse, he announces that “Niliria” is not only just a collaboration but ‘an international diplomacy through rap’, leaving his audience only anticipating more global hip-hop stars to step up next. (Earlier this year, both G-Dragon and rapper Ludacris’ camps confirmed a collaboration single was recorded for future release, although it didn’t make it to the final stages of production.)

“R.O.D” featuring Lydia Paek: Lydia Paek is no new name to YG Entertainment superfans. She’s written songs for a number of artists on the label’s current roster and is responsible in part for hits like 2NE1’s “I Love You” and Lee Hi’s “1 2 3 4”. Her YouTube channel showcases a wide array of vocal and dance covers, her adaptability as both a singer and dancer creating much fan hype for her own debut. While production on her own EP is indefinite, “R.O.D” is the first time Lydia steps into the YG focus as a recording artist, laying down the song’s chorus with almost a dancehall feel despite its choppy dubstep influence. The track also shows a huge growth in the style of YG staple producer Teddy, the stripped down, contemporizing bridge bringing ‘R.O.D’ a sense of hip-hop maturity reminiscent of Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”.

“BLACK” featuring Jennie Kim (KOR.) / featuring Sky Ferreira (ENG.): “Black” stands alone as the album’s only true ballad and showcases the talents of up-and-coming YG trainee Jennie Kim and American indie-pop girl du jour Sky Ferreira in the Korean and English versions, respectively. The two collaborators have two distinctive ways of singing, giving the song almost an entirely different feel depending on which version you’re listening to. Sky’s breathy delivery brings angst to a song that is already somber in nature, while Jennie’s voice provides a layer of vulnerability throughout. While having Sky work with G-Dragon may be toward his image’s advantage, it seems like almost a waste of a collaborator. However, Jennie’s work on “Black” is not only sufficient but brilliant – perhaps enough to even gain her substantial recognition even before her official debut.

“WHO YOU”: “Who You” tells the story of an ex-girlfriend who’s moved on and seems almost thrown in to reassure fans that have been skeptical throughout the album thus far that the ‘old G-Dragon’ is still alive. The poppy synthesizer played throughout matched with the ‘do-do-do’ of the chorus is much more Bruno Mars than it is the ‘MC-eating PacMan’ we found boasting his way through the first few tracks. The aggressive attack of his delivery slows down and softens up, making it sort of a strange fit when paired with the rest of the album, though still a fun and enjoyable track.

“SHAKE THE WORLD”: It’s no wonder that “Shake The World” introduces listeners to the second part of ‘Coup D’etat’. It was chosen as part of the 30-second teaser announcing the new album, as the title song for YG’s new reality show ‘WIN’, and is an all-around strong introduction to the natural progression taking place with G-Dragon as an artist. In fact, one could easily put “Shake The World” next to the first album’s “A Boy” as something of a growth marker. Fidgeting and frantic, the song is far removed from K-Pop, having less in common with PSY and more with Die Antwoord. (Also, pardon my fangirl, but everything past 1:15 should come with smelling salts. It’s hands down the coolest I’ve heard between GD and Choice37.)

“MICHIGO”: Originally released as a promotional single for global messenger app LINE, I wasn’t immediately sold on “MichiGO”. Everything sounded like I had heard it before in “Crayon” – that same ‘hip-hop meets house’ party track now turning into a formula helping both G-Dragon and YG Entertainment make a whole bunch of endorsement money. However, within the context of ‘Coup D’etat’, the song goes from being someone else’s commercial to being a part of GD’s attack. It flows in nicely after “Shake The World” to further solidify that glitchy, futuristic sound that’s evolving. Do I think it’s his most original track? No, but it’s really awesome to bump in my car.

“CROOKED”: Upon first listen, “Crooked” reminded me a lot of BIGBANG’s “Oh My Friend” collaboration with Korean rock outfit No Brain. But both lyrically and musically, the song seems to want to rouse up the same in-your-face rebellion found in “Coup D’etat”. (Is there any wonder why these both became the promoted singles?) I love the ‘Anarchy in the UK’ style of the music video, a continuation on the theme of doing away with the politics of constrained image and sound. The song has shown to be wildly successful both in Korea and internationally – proof that despite all of this artistic overhaul, G-Dragon can still write a hook.

“RUNAWAY”/“I LOVE IT” featuring Zion.T: “Runaway” seems like something of a throw-away track, similar to “What Do You Want?” from the GD&Top album. It just doesn’t fit with the rest of the album. “I Love It” is only slightly better, the way the song builds into full-out cowbell-laden disco track enough to keep the listener from being entirely bored throughout. As a big fan of both Zion.T and German electro-house producer Boys Noize (who also worked with BIGBANG on Alive track “Feeling”), I expected a lot more from “I Love It”, but perhaps knowing what both are capable of when as their best is what so easily let me down.

“YOU DO (OUTRO)”: This song has quickly become my iTunes’ sleeper hit. The very basic hook and stripped down production still remaining very ‘hip-hop’ gives the end of the album a very early 00s Neptunes sound. It’s no wonder that upon releasing the album in full, Neptunes’ own Pharrell Williams is on Twitter begging GD for collaboration.


“No, seriously. Please happen.” – Me and every other N.E.R.D/G-Dragon fan

But if anything, just the fact that ‘Coup D’etat’ has made him a blip on someone like Pharrell Williams’ radar is putting him in a prime location. If ‘Coup D’etat’ is nothing more than a catalyst for breaking out of the ‘aegyo hip-hop’ image K-Pop is known for and being taken more seriously, G-Dragon is well on his way. Will he pull it off? Time only knows. But the buzz he’s created doesn’t seem to be dying down soon.

[BIBIMBEATS] Local Beats: Hanging out with KPOP Star 2’s McKay Kim

This spring, KPOP Star 2, the highly anticipated second season of KPOP Star, brought together rising young talent from around the world. Unlike talent programs here in the United States, the KPOP Star series features performers putting their own twist on both popular Korean and English language songs complete with back-up dancers and pyrotechnics. Making it something of a golden ticket for those trying to make a break in the Korean music industry, KPOP Star is judged by representatives from Korea’s three largest entertainment labels – YG CEO Yang Hyun-suk, JYP CEO Park Jin-young, and SM’s veteran star BoA. Upon winning, the remaining artist gets to choose which label they want to sign with, though all participants can cultivate promising musical careers by simply getting onto the show. In the first season, winner Park Ji-min was brought into JYP Entertainment as a part of pop duo 15&, and her time spent in the competition made runner-up Lee Hi one of YG Entertainment’s strongest debuts. KPOP Star 2 champions, Akdong Musician, have already released their new single “I Love You” for the All About My Romance soundtrack, and YG Entertainment has recently announced their contract with season 2 finalist Bang Ye-dam. Yet despite their elimination in the third round, a strong and loyal fan base remains for season 2 trio, Raccoon Boys. The Raccoon Boys auditioned for KPOP Star 2 separately and were formed by BoA as the rounds progressed. The group consisted of rapper Kim Min-seok of Asan, South Korea and singers Brian Shin from Cupertino, Calif. and San Diego’s own, McKay Kim. KKonnect had the opportunity to interview McKay on one of his first visits back home since the program ended, taking a break before heading back to Korea to continuing working on his budding music career.

Q: What are your career plans for the future?
A: Honestly, I can’t say I have a definite plan so far. In fact, I have no plan – no clue! I haven’t contracted with any company yet, so once I go to Korea, my plans will become more concrete.

Q: What kind of artist do you aspire to be?
A: I want to become a John Mayer or Jason Mraz type of artist. I am into acoustic type songs that I can use my guitar with. Among Korean artists, I would like to sing Zion T types of songs.

Q: If you received an offer to be in an idol group, would you give in?
A: I would be flattered, but I am the stiffest person! I do favor CN Blue types of groups where it is a band rather than an idol group. I sure would love to learn how to dance though!

Q: Why did you choose to expand your music career in Korea?
A: I noticed that most of the music in Korea is pop. I want to start something new – start and become a music layer.

Q: How did you find out about KPOP Star?
A: My mom actually saw a flyer at Convoy Street in San Diego. She and I both did not have high expectations but we thought it would be a good experience.

Q: Did you predict that you would get this far on KPOP Star?
A: No! Every stage was an unexpected yet sweet surprise. The first song that I sang was written by me. I had originally planned to sing Bum Soo-kim’s “I Miss You (보고싶다)”, but I changed it at the last minute. I felt like I was unprepared, so I felt very blessed when I passed.

Q: What drove you choose to sing the song that you wrote?
A: At first I didn’t have the confidence that I could pass with a song that I wrote, but my mom encouraged me and I was glad that others also liked it. I would like to pursue not only singing but songwriting as well. I don’t want to follow by the rules but establish my own color with the music that I write.

Q: If BoA, Yang Hyun-suk, and JYP were to compete in KPOP Star themselves, who do you think would win?
A: I think BoA would win. I think she would be the closest to making it big in America too. She always reminds me of Britney Spears – pretty and talented. While working at the set of KPOP Star, I realized that she is very smart – and she’s good. She has talent, and she’s wise too.

Q: Any shout outs to your friends in San Diego?
A: Though I can’t guarantee a visit soon, hopefully I will be able to see you guys soon. I hope I can come back as a successful artist and make you guys proud!

[BIBIMBEATS] July 2013: K-Indie Women to Watch

This month, Bibimbeats makes guys take the backseat and honors female artists making waves in the music scene. They’re lady lyricists, R&B hooks on our favorite rap songs, and fluid poetry in the ballads the K-Indie genre is known for. Whether they’re up-and-coming or well-established, these girls pack a musical punch. Here are a few women we predict great things from in the next coming months.

As the first female singer to debut from male-dominated hip-hop label Brand New Music, Kang Min-hee’s voice breaks the mold. Musically precocious, a majority of her pre-debut years were spent producing and composing songs, most notably Miss $’s 2009 album S Class. Three years later, she joined the group herself, and a slew of hits – both solo and with Miss $ – followed suit. Her feature on Verbal Jint’s single “Good Start” produced an ‘all-kill’ on music charts and had netizens putting her range and delivery in the same bracket as fellow rookie power vocal Ailee. In fact, when Verbal needs a suitable replacement for live performances of his Ailee duet “If It Ain’t Love”, it’s often Min-hee joining him on stage.

Bibimbeats Recommends: “It’s You”

In her declarative debut “I’m Her” featuring Zion T, KittiB announces her arrival with confidence unseen since underground flow queen Rimi. Her no-nonsense attitude paired with her trademark high heels and cat-eyed makeup makes her a live stage hit, landing her on festival line-ups alongside fellow maestros like Giriboy and Beenzino. Collaborating with Donutman on his Rappin Time 2 mixtape, KittiB has proved she can hold her own as a lady MC. After releasing follow-up single “Leopard Heels” this March, her first EP is rumored to be in the works and set for distribution later this year. Until then, fans can check out self-released songs on her official SoundCloud website, where she samples tracks by anyone from Rihanna to Amy Winehouse.

Bibimbeats Recommends: “I’m Her” with Zion T

Im Yu-jin’s career began as keyboardist for indie act, Black Skirts. It wasn’t until she picked up moniker ‘Neon Bunny’ and released her debut Seoulight that the nation took notice, even beating out popular artists IU and 10CM for Best Pop Album in the 2012 Korean Music Awards. From ethereal ballads to synth heavy dance music, her sound can best be described as a nod to the ever-popular French electro-pop scene with a Hongdae club twist. Together with Black Skirts’ Holiday Cho, she heads Doggyrich Collective, a label for both visual and performing artists. Fun Fact: Before Neon Bunny, Yu-jin was just another student at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where she studied voice alongside future K-Pop icon, 2NE1’s Park Bom.

Bibimbeats Recommends: “Come With Me”

Fans of Urban Zakapa know there is nobody who sings R&B like songstress, Jo Hyun-ah. Since their debut in 2009, Urban Zakapa has created their own niche in the K-Indie scene. But it’s in collaborations and solo efforts where Hyun-ah’s talent seems to really shine, her velvety vocals quickly vacillating between sentimental balladeer and engaging accompaniment. Having worked with some of Korea’s greatest hip-hop artists, her impressive range rings out like a soulful battle cry, adding a new layer of emotion to even the most aggressive track. Lately, Hyun-ah has also been garnering increasing attention for her work as a composer, attracting critics with the slow yet climactic “Sea Child” on ballad singer Younha’s latest album.

Bibimbeats Recommends: “You Made Me” with Kim Jin-pyo

Last but not least, there’s the only woman mentioned who can name legendary producer Quincy Jones as a fan – Yoon Mi-rae, known to many by stage name Tasha. Joined with husband Tiger JK, she is one half of the coolest couple the Korean music scene has to offer. So far in 2013, Mi-rae and Tiger JK, along with fellow MC Bizzy, have been performing all over the world as hip-hop unit MFBTY (My Fans Better Than Yours). Having started her career in 2001 as more of an R&B singer, her rap image has been a slow and steady evolution, though many cite Mi-rae as one of the strongest female lyricists around. With rumors of a new solo album coming out soon, it will be interesting to see her continue to twist and mold the future of Korean music.


Bibimbeats Recommends: “BizzyTigerYoonmirae” with MFBTY