An Album a Day is my exploration into the Korean music scene. This podcast will cover mainstream, indie and some underground artists within the scene and provide both factual and opinionated commentary. The biggest benefit to sharing my thoughts this way is that it will hopefully expose you to more great music and exploration of your own.
Happy new year, listeners! 2021 is here and if you’re on the show’s newsletter email list, then you know I was so over 2020 that I mistakenly put 2019 as the Rookie Roundup year. Whew boy, I’m glad it’s over and strongly encourage you to continue wearing a mask, keeping your body and surroundings as clean as possible, and respecting the boundaries that others have while we move into more months in the pandemic. It’s not over, listeners… be safe. Today not only marks the start of Season 5, but the first overview of 2020 rookie groups. These are not deep discography dives, but a sampling of what I experienced and potentially something might spark your interest. Aespa, B.O.Y. [B-Of-You], BAE173, Blackswan, and Botopass, right after the drop.
You’re tuned into An Album a Day. Show start.
Hey y’all, if you still have not heard the final two episodes from Season 4, please continue to keep an eye out for when they publicly post. As previously mentioned, some podcasts experienced delays in publishing and distribution on various platforms over the holidays. It could very well impact this episode, too, but I at least have peace of mind that schedules were maintained nonetheless. I’m happy to inform you that this and several upcoming episodes are sponsored by Melophile Candles, a brand creating ambiance for music lovers with candles and accompaniments. Visit www.melophilecandles.com to join the mailing list and follow the Instagram account at melophilecandles for updates. Let’s traverse today’s new groups, first with SM Entertainment girl group Aespa.
Aespa’s debut was November 17, 2020, and caused quite a stir with their pre-debut teasers. You see, the four-member group aren’t just living, breathing new artists. The “ae” in the group name stands for “avatar experience,” as members Karina, Giselle, Winter and Ningning also exist virtually. Thus, “aespa” is to reflect the avatar experience and “aspect” of existing in two worlds. Beyond the interesting band name, the individual member’s names detract from their origin, so to speak. In recent years, Korean families have named their children with shorter names, but to fully omit traditional or modern Korean names for this group -- I mean, for what? International appeal has clearly been proven to not matter too much when it comes to member’s names since at least 2014, when Aespa’s senior labelmates Red Velvet came onto the scene. This choice sticks out more to me with girl groups than the guys. Why not use the Korean, Chinese, and Japanese names of these young women, versus perpetuating imperialism? I digress. Let’s talk about the music.
Aespa’s debut single, “Black Mamba,” was over-the-top, visibly expensive, and freaked me out because there was a giant virtual black mamba in it. I hate snakes, all reptiles, actually. So I’m grateful that I don’t take videos into consideration for this podcast because this would have a fat F for FREAKED OUT. As a fan of the League of Legends virtual group K/DA, there were noticeable thematic similarities but the songs are very different. And much like Red Velvet, the debut song is one I’m fine with skipping. The choreography was dynamic while the costuming was -- you know what? They’re 22nd century edgy Red Velvet. I’m saying it now, based on vocal strength and diverting from the experimental vibes of disbanded SM group F(x). The song doesn’t tell you much about how well the ladies sing, but SM Entertainment’s free online concert at the end and start of both years showed group member Winter blowing with the lung capacity of a seasoned vocalist. I am eager to hear more about this group. I’ll either be spot-on about their concept vibe or severely off, based on what can be heard and seen now.
In Korean entertainment group naming fashion, B.O.Y. is not intended to be pronounced as written. I don’t even know why I poke fun at it anymore, it’s creativity I simply couldn’t have fathomed. B-of-You, is a duo that used to have a much easier name to comprehend -- that of its member’s names. What made The Music Works, their label, shift from calling them their government names to this?! It was to please their fanbase, Michu/Meet You, and have their name stand for “Best of You'' and “Both of You.” Nice way to tie in the fans immediately, especially given their history. You see, prior to their January 7, 2020 re-debut, members Kim Kooheon and Song Yuvin aren’t technically new to the K-pop group scene, as they were members of disbanded group MYTEEN. They know the expectations for survival, per se, and had a single in 2019 before they became an official, non-MYTEEN associated act. In 2020, they released two EPs, “Phase One: YOU,” and “Phase Two: WE.” As I passively listened to their EPs (yes, passively, because their group name begins with the letter B so they’ll likely be explored in depth by the fall of 2021), I could see myself sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops in the downtown area of my old Daegu neighborhood. We aren’t hip-hopping around, we’re in a pleasing R&B pocket as cafe background music! They’re definitely a group that will appeal to listeners who seek a mellow listening experience.
Moving from the cafe experience and into BAE173 territory, this nine-member boy band on MBK Entertainment subsidiary label Pocketdol Studio are begging for me and many others to incorrectly call them “bae-173.” Instead of allowing “Before Anyone Else” to be pronounced how everyone else who knows the word says it, they want to be called B-A-E 1-7-3. Ah yes, the 1 is for perfection and the 73 is a perfect lucky number. Run me over. Their debut is November 19, 2020, and they sound very youthful. Not cavity-inducing young, but there’s a freshness to their sound that feels like summer. It’s a smart approach honestly, releasing something that has longevity in mind. They don’t necessarily sound like groups before them yet they aren’t distinct. By the time the podcast dives deep into their discography later this year, perhaps this will evolve? They’re worth a listen regardless of this.
I’d be lying if I said that I’m not ready to dismantle Blackswan’s existence but this isn’t about its colorful history. This is the little concept that could, because they are originally Rania, a girl group developed by American music multi-hyphenate Teddy Riley; and this is not their first walk in the park with a multicultural group. That being said, this might be the only moment we have to discuss Blackswan, as they’re already on hiatus! Blackswan is at least the sixth iteration of Rania and even though their debut album, “Goodbye Rania,” was released October 16, 2020, they possibly cannot shake the foundation’s history.
Blackswan consisted of five members, with three being of Korean descent and the other two of Senegalese and Brazil-Japanese descent. Multicultural groups are not a new concept but Rania is the only in Korea to attempt having a Black member more than once. “Goodbye Rania'' sounds like a Rania album -- dance pop and nice vocal compositions. One thing I will never say is that Rania didn’t have enjoyable music. Blackswan continues that legacy, for sure. And since “Goodbye Rania” is a studio album, there was enough time and tracks to even remix some of the group’s earlier work. I recommend you check it out for a dose of girl power and anticipate me going in detail later. There’s a high probability that Rania might be a special episode, their history and attempts are just too worthwhile to wait on.
Our final group today, Born To Passion, or Botopass, made their debut on August 26, 2020, with a song called “Flamengo.” The eight-member girl group are on labels WKS ENE and JMG, both of which I’ve never heard of. Predominantly a Korean female group, there’s a Chinese and Japanese member. Again, multiculturalism isn’t a new concept to the scene! Their debut song got a bit of in-house JYP Entertainment magic (along with B.O.Y.) from writer and producer Hotsauce, so the song is well put together in terms of lyrics but it’s not particularly memorable. If anything, it’ll stick in your head because of the reggaetón influence. To get an idea of what you’re listening to, it’s best as a warm-up song in an aerobics class or dance class. There’s a consistency to it that warrants swaying hips and an elevated BPM.
There you have it, a very general introduction to a few of the new kids on the scene. None are added to the respective playlists, keeping in fairness with providing them time to gain albums under their belts. Check in tomorrow for more Rookie Roundup! I’ll catch you in the next episode, bye y’all.
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