Yes, once again it’s back, as reliable as Sulli’s menstrual cycle! Welcome to another edition of:
It’s time to take a look at some more nugus!
K-pop is typically musically regressive and conservative. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just how it is. Companies running on tight profit margins are naturally extremely adverse to risk-taking, so most of the time they’ll go for what is previously shown to work well, rather than venturing off in a bold new direction. However when everybody is conservative and starts doing exactly the same thing musically, it becomes hard to stick out amongst the crowd, so creeping in just a little unusual sound or unpredictability to make something stand out, but not too much so as to alienate audiences, is how k-pop typically edges its way forward to new musical places. A good example of successful experimentation-by-increments would be “Red Light” from f(x), which combines a lot of known established k-pop sonics with an unusual rhythmic treatment more associated with other genres. It’s not very experimental by the standards of “experimental music” generally speaking, but for a Korean pop song it’s about as far left-of-centre as the standard SM-style song format will allow. Pop music wants above all to remain popular, so it evolves in small steps, not massive leaps.
However it’s not just the big labels that try to stick out. Sometimes nugus will also get the “slightly different” treatment. Maybe in the case of the below nugu videos it’s an intentional strategy, or maybe it’s the producers just being so idiosyncratic that they honestly didn’t think what they were doing would sound weird to someone else’s ears. Whatever the case, this episode’s theme is k-pop songs that stuck out to me because of odd musical choices. It was the sound of these songs that made me cluster them all together for your entertainment, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on.
The usual Nugu Alert rules apply:
- Less than 20,000 views
- Nobody outside Korea cares
- Well, nobody but Kpopalypse and avid nugu hunters, anyway
Let’s get it started!
ANDS – Oppa, Where Are You?
This group came to my attention again recently because someone linked to me their quite solid second single, but “Oppa, Where Are You?” was the group’s debut and damn it’s strange. The weirdness of this song isn’t immediately apparent, at first it sounds like your average k-pop girl minor key electro thing. Then at 1:06 the song does something really bizarre by kicking into the four-chords style chorus with a minor-to-major modulation that makes everything sound kind of odd as shit for a few seconds. Then once your brain has finally adjusted to the new key, the oddness is then repeated when the chorus leaves at 1:21 and we’re back to minor key for the verse. Without wanting to get heavily into the music theory detail of it (another post maybe), modulation from a minor key verse to a major key chorus is really common thing in pop music, but usually the songs modulate to the “relative key“, which means that the actual notes of the scale don’t change, just the starting point of the chords. This gives the chorus a different mood to the verse but without actually changing the tonal structure, keeping everything nice and seamless. “Oppa, Where Are You?” doesn’t do that however, it just goes “fuck it, we’re in a major key now, deal with it”. Other examples in k-pop of this kind of “root modulation” are GLAM’s “I Like That” and H.A.M’s “TT Dance” which both sound just as teeth-clenchingly jarring when they enter the chorus as this song does. It’s got that sudden sensory jolt like trying to smoothly shift from first gear straight to fifth gear in a manual car without changing through any of the gears in between.
YouTube views at time of writing: 9843
Notable attribute: Roly Poly In Copacabana 60s style school uniform cosplay in full effect for no apparent reason
Nugu Alert Rating: average
LIVE – Til I Die
It seems some of my pathological haters were reading this comment, and decided to take the next plane over to Korea and try and ruin hip-hop music for me even more, because “Til I Die” by the stupidly-titled LIVE from the excellently-titled DPRegime combines the aforementioned two things that I hate about modern rap music that I thought I’d never see anybody actually try to combine – soft pussy shit and SWIGSWEGSWAGitude. I used to actually like smooth Fender Rhodes keys in rap music when groups like The Roots were doing it because at least they would usually put a solid beat behind it but these days beats have softened so much that as soon as I hear that rotary keyboard sound I know it’s almost always a one-way ticket straight to Snoozeville. As the Rhodes sound is firmly the domain of smooth hip-hop balladeers in 2015 I never thought I’d hear that same sound feature strongly on a track with the typical cookie-cutter stuttery stodgy groove-less funk-less sixteenth-beat drum machine nonsense that typifies the trash that passes for “hard beats” in today’s decrepit hip-hop landscape. So that’s something different I guess, certainly threw me for a curveball but damn it sure isn’t a good mix, this is Korean hip-hop’s vegemite chocolate. Come back Primary, all is forgiven!
YouTube views at time of writing: 3646
Nugu Alert Rating: high
CO2 – Phone, Wallet, Keys, Tobacco
Sometimes I listen to producers who I know are really genuinely talented constantly churn out shitty songs lately, and I really start to wonder what the fuck’s actually going on. When trying to answer that question to myself, I tend to imagine some guy sitting at the mixing console with really bad posture, totally spaced out on too many of Bom’s jelly snacks, just sort of lying there waving his arms about, semi-distracted by nothing in particular and just smiling and going “hey man wassup yo, I’m da bes producer maaaan”. The video to this song perfectly represents the kind of mental image I have in my head when I think of the inner workings of the SWIGSWEGSWAG end of k-pop’s music machine, I’m pretty sure this video is trying to be a reenactment of the last two years of studio hustle over at some of the bigger k-pop labels. Odd then that the song actually sounds like some kind of weird mumbly trip-hop thing, which while certainly dull and meandering is yet-unexplored territory for the most part in Korea and probably puts this in the top 10% of rap music released this year globally (rap being in that much of a sorry state lately). I’m not sure if that’s a deliberate decision on his part to bring back trip-hop but I doubt it, I suspect that this guy just kind of fell into trip-hop by accident simply because he didn’t know how to write yoloswag, in the same way that the Ramones fell into punk by accident because they didn’t know how to make a pop record. Hell, there’s a fair-to-good chance that he doesn’t even know what trip-hop is. I’m also pretty sure that this guy is affiliated with GAPP somehow who was in the previous Nugu Alert and certainly is at least equally bizarre like the Korean version of Bangs so if these two are getting together there’s going to be some fucked up shit ensuing and I’m looking forward to it in a “let’s look up journalists being attacked by animals on the Internet” kind of way.
YouTube views at time of writing: 118
Notable attribute: He must really be drug-fucked if he needs to turn his leaving-the-house checklist into a song just so he doesn’t lose his shit anywhere
Nugu Alert Rating: extreme
That’s it for another episode of Kpopalypse Nugu Alert, thanks for reading my trash! More nugus will be forthcoming at a future date!