Thursday, April 12, 2018

Gritty KPop: 4 Things to Like About 5 Groups

Monsta X Facebook

Everyone needs some inspiration to keep them going. While groups like BIGBANG and BTS are still prominent, my Kpop running and workout soundtrack has become heavily weighted over the last 12 months with this roster of artists:

Monsta X
Stray Kids
Block B

Their birth years may span 12 years (from 1990 to 2002) and they all come from different management companies, but these groups have one important thing in common: a rough, dark, and intense energy. While some groups dabble in it, these groups seem to thrive on the frayed edges. I’ve been thinking about what characteristics they share that set them apart in a separate category that works well with working out.


Sometimes, you need a sassy, arrogant soundtrack in your life. NCT 127 tells us they are the “biggest hit on the stage” in Cherry Bomb and NCT U is the boss in Boss and the Stray Kids guys sing that they are mad, biting dogs not to be played with in Grrr Law Of Total Madness. Key to me is that their posturing, lyrically or in their performances, isn’t at the expense of some other group’s sense of self-worth. That’s critical. Block B, the oldest in this group, had some controversies when they began in 2012. They sneered at, instead of with, people and therefore erred.

Vocal Layering

Harmonizing is a normal part of Kpop, but how these groups handle theirs is what makes them stand together, and apart, in my mind. Monsta X’s Dramarama is a good example. These groups all have rich lower registers, including at least one darker, growl-laced voice, that create a solid base for the upper registers to soar over and around. Their producers do a great job painting audio pictures of sensuality, pain, struggle, anger, redemption and comradery. Goosebumps are a regular result.


NCT Black on Black
There are definitely other acts with just as good, if not better, choreo. However, Monsta X and NCT U both were on the 2016 Soompi Top 15 Choreographies list and the 2018 music videos from Stray Kids and NCT are getting rave reviews on top of their successes in 2017. In all cases, these groups jam intensely to their own raw music, heavily influenced by both hiphop and rap, and it’s a sight to see and experience. You can't help but start following their lead.


In December, I wrote that B.A.P’s Wake Me Up was my favorite song of 2017 for several reasons, including how they spoke out on social issues.  They stand out in this area but are not alone. Stray Kids’s Hellevator is a poignant look at loneliness and the effort it takes to not give up on dreams while their District 9 feels like a chapter out of a dystopia like The Hunger Games, as they discuss power and control. Life's madness must be acknowledged even as we seek to make things better with our own actions.

Kpop is many things- both good and bad. For something a bit darker, but highly energizing, all of these groups are definitely worth a look. It’s also extra exciting to contemplate what the future holds for the younger ones who are just starting out.

Is music important to you? I’d love to hear what songs you’re listening to lately and why. I look forward to reading your comments!

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