IRIS GETS T.O.P. TREATMENT FROM 88 FILMS!
IRIS GETS T.O.P. TREATMENT FROM 88 FILMS!
By Calum Waddell
K-pop is the music revolution that, for yours truly, provided the sort of sounds that I could only have dreamed about whilst listening to largely humdrum indie ‘tunes’. An experimental mash-up of various genres, the form may have reached international prominence with ‘Gangnam Style’ and more recently BTS (who are actually a less exciting version of K-rock mainstay B.A.P.) but there is so much to discover. ‘Ah’, you might be saying. ‘But what does K-pop have to do with 88 Films?’ Good question my blog-reading friend. The reason, however, is simple. On 13th August, 88 Films will be releasing IRIS on Blu-Ray (although the action classic will begin shipping from July 28th to early bird customers on our web site!). For those who do not know, K-drama, that is small screen televised serials that are broadcast all across the country (and which are insanely popular throughout the Orient) are just as huge as South Korean music and movies. IRIS was a prime time sensation when it aired in October 2009, so much so that a motion picture version – edited from the serial itself – was in-demand from numerous Asian nations who saw theatrical potential in the glossy and fast-moving franchise. And the fact that IRIS not only starred Lee Byung-hun (the megastar leading man of A BITTERSWEET LIFE) but the icon that is T.O.P only led to its celebrity…
Okay, so who is T.O.P? Only the rapper from Big Bang. And Big Bang, until mandatory military said otherwise (20 months in South Korea) were the biggest thing to happen to K-pop. Known to his mum and dad as Choi Seung-hyun, T.O.P. is widely regarded as one of the most naturally beautiful men in South Korea – and although controversy has recently hogged him (he was caught smoking a joint – a big no-no in his country… and so potentially career-wrecking that the young pop sensation attempted suicide. Yes, cultural differences and all that) there is no doubt that once his army time expires our man will return to his rightful place a pop culture fixture. T.O.P. (and given the death of the supremely talented Jonghyun from SHINee last December, suicide among South Korea’s talented but hugely pressurised twenty-something musicians, wherein training regimes and comebacks are often inhumane, is nothing to take lightly).
As such, for this very special and unique 88 Blog, I offer you the top ten K-pop albums to date. My choice, all of them, and an introduction to the greatest movement of music possibly ever. Yes, you can disagree, that’s the wonderful thing – horses for courses and everything – but if your ears have only recently experienced Ed Sheeran or Coldplay then we would wager at least some of the material below might well melt your mind…
TAEYEON – MY VOICE (Released: 2017)
The highest achievement of K-pop date is surely this multi-layered and remarkably varied 17-track album that exhibits the outrageously awesome range of former Girls’ Generation lead vocalist Kim Taeyeon. The album was previewed with the seductive thump of urban trap meets R&B single ‘I Got Love’ but it was the fuck-me-senseless soar of power ballad ‘Fine’ that really took the breath from fans (heard live it is a tear-jerking masterwork that no record can aptly capture). Add to this the rock of ‘Erasure’, the delicacy of hit short-play ’11:11’ and album centrepiece ‘Time Lapse’ and you have the best LP in history. Probably. Soul-searching and frequently moving, this is Taeyeon finding her voice and then some.
Hit single: FINE (YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHXUM-6a3dU)
F/X – RED LIGHT (Released: 2014)
One of the most experimental albums of recent memory (even going so far as to re-appropriate the sound of Madchester baggy for the track ‘Butterfly’) F/X hit an all time high with this amazing long-play. The title track is actually about the Sewol ferry disaster (look up the lyrics) making its nightmarish and jagged dance beats and hysterical chorus all the more disturbing (and yet strangely beautiful). SM (the home of EXO and GIRLS’ GENERATION too) seem to have disbanded F/X at this stage which is a damn shame. They really are the sort of band that only comes along once in a lifetime. Except in K-pop. Maybe.
Hit single: RED LIGHT (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iv-8-EgPEY0)
TAEYANG – RISE (Released: 2014)
Big Bang member Taeyang came into his own with this sophomore album that bred the continent-wide smash ‘Eyes Nose Lips’ – a ballad powerful enough to bring grown men to tears. Yet, there was a wealth to love in this LP: the gospel infused introspection of the goosebump-raising ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Let Go’, whilst ‘Let Go’ does ‘indie’ better than any indie band around at the moment with a fucking enormous chorus. Dancefloor favourite ‘Ringa Linga’ became an instant-classic but there is so much to love here it is difficult to know what to even single out. Taeyang had hinted at a mega-sized solo talent before this (search: ‘Superstar’) but this… this was something else. A perfect example of self-depreciating K-pop for those who like a little bit of ‘feel bad’ with their glam.
Hit single: RINGA LINGA (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJfZ69MSlvY)
BIG BANG – STILL ALIVE (Released: 2013)
One of the flagship and biggest South Korean pop album is still a delightful listen half a decade later (and that is an eternity in K-pop). Where to start? The continent conquering dance growl of ‘Fantastic Baby’ was the biggest thing in the Far East since boiled rice – and that is just the tip of the iceberg (being in Seoul when the song was at its chart peak was more exciting than anything that took place during the Britpop era. A real feeling of a zeitgeist moment in foreign soft power). The sombre ‘Blue’ is a personal standout, with its dreamy harmonious chorus, but the hip-hop of ‘Bad Boy’ and the electric snarl of the title track also hold-up as five-star efforts within a five-star album. Follow-up LP ‘Made’ is almost equally awesome – but I have limited myself to one band, one album for this top ten. It is also worth mentioning that YG Entertainment, home of Big Bang, were once one of the ‘big two’ (rivalled only by SM) and also the label behind Gangnam Style. Today their stock has slipped, but do not let that stop you from seeking out their latest investment – the mind-bogglingly brilliant Black Pink (who have only two short EPs to their name so far but who are shaping up to be something very special),
Hit single: FANTASTIC BABY (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAbokV76tkU)
GIRLS’ GENERATION – FIRST JAPANESE ALBUM (Released: 2011)
The girls (then a nine-some) cracked Japan with this focused and eclectic mix of revamps of some of their Korean originals (‘Genie’ – but in Japanese! ‘Hoot’ – but in Japanese! ‘Gee’ – but in Japanese!) but added to the mix some masterpieces that cannot be found elsewhere. The dance-rock mash-up ‘Bad Girl’ is instantly addictive, whilst ‘Run Devil Run’ experiments with swing and ‘You-aholic’ became an understandable live favourite with its aggressive EDM grooves. Meanwhile some fans still argue that penultimate track ‘The Great Escape’ is peak-Girls’ Generation – so much so that the band would tease the opening during their 2015 Asia tour to an overwhelming response (before doing something else anyway).
Hit single: BAD GIRL (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gQs7damTIE)
T-ARA – BREAKING HEART (Released: 2010)
T-ara have had a rough time of it in recent years and, for all intents and purposes, look as if they have finally and inevitably disbanded. A bullying scandal in 2012, which saw one of the then seven-piece band drop out, returned the girls to their original six but the South Korean public soured on the group as newspapers devoured stories of backstage bitchiness. Ever enterprising, though, T-ara turned to the Chinese market and signed a multi-million dollar deal that paid off and then some. But when the THAAD missile crisis resulted in the ever-liberal Beijing government banning all Korean entertainment, it meant T-ara were once again in a sticky situation, losing members Seohyun and Boram in the process. But looking back at the band and their sole Korean long-play still holds-up as a breakthrough addition to the movement: the sumptuous ‘Like the First Time’ – even in spite of its sexist video and lyrics – a throwback to Shoegazing by way of an electro-beat. It is still one of K-pop’s finest moments. The repetitive brilliance of ‘Bo Peep’ is enough to fill any dance floor and the likes of ‘Breaking Heart’, ‘Sexy Shadow’ and ‘One on One’ – three faultless opening tracks – are so breathtakingly confident that it is difficult to believe any album would chuck them into the mix so quickly.
Hit single: LIKE THE FIRST TIME (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWSTtFoD0Ms)
SHINee – ONE ON ONE (Released: 2016)
The band’s last album with the late Jonghyun, this promised a more retro-vibe than the previous years ‘Odd’ (which had tackled an Ibiza-style summer anthem with the sublime ‘View’, penned by Jonghyun). ‘One on One’ is the more consistent album – lead single ‘I of 1’ is indie-pop at its finest but follow-up track ‘Feel Good’ is an experiment in chill-out and funk that begins as something and then turns into something else entirely for its EDM-inspired chorus. It is one of the greatest four minutes of SHINee’s career and still feels like a heartbreakingly rich soundscape that, thanks to the passing of Jonghyun, can never really be replicated again.
Hit single: 1 OF 1 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJua7KEP_oE)
2NE1 – CRUSH (Released 2013)
Another sadly missed band, 2NE1 arguably hit their peak with their 2011 six-track EP that included the stadium rock belter ‘Ugly’ and the acoustic loveliness of ‘Lonely’ but ‘Crush’ made them enormous, including a sold out American tour, before they split up anyway. For anyone looking to let the unique cut-and-paste of K-pop seduce them – one could do a lot worse than this album’s lead-off single ‘Come Back Home’ which blends dance, trance, trip-hop and rock into a hit single that, at the time, felt like music beamed from another planet, never mind another country. And fuck me, what a video… For those missing the 2NE1 sound, the 2017 EP from former band member Minzy goes some way to writing this very premature break-up.
Hit single: Come Back Home (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLbfv-AAyvQ)
EXO – THE POWER OF MUSIC (Released 2017)
Last year’s EXO comeback indicated that, whilst the West gets wild about BTS, the true Kings of K-pop are still producing the genre’s most adventurous music. From the opening soft-rock of ‘The Eve’ to the outright pop of ‘The Power’ to the reggae-infused ‘Ko Ko Bop’ (one of the best EXO efforts yet), this is another left-field attempt at evolving the sound of a band that has never been radio friendly and yet continues to be a legitimate stadium attraction across the Orient. Probably still the best band on the planet at the moment. Although curious fans are advised to seek out their 2015 single ‘Monster’. Which just rocks.
Hit single: Ko Ko Bop (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdssuxDdqKk)
WONDER GIRLS – REBOOT (Released 2015)
Another band that has since split (with band member Sunmi hitting a confident solo stride with the hits ‘Gashina’ and ‘Heroine’), ‘Reboot’ saw another Wonder Girls line-up shift and the release of their first album since 2011. This time, the girls re-cast themselves as sexy eighties superstars with a synth-fuelled sound and lots of big keyboards. It worked a treat, although their 2016 single ‘Why So Lonely’ would have been very welcome as an inclusion too (it might be their best tune). That said, there is so much to love here – the tortured, ominous ‘One Black Night’, which sounds like the theme track to a still-in-development horror movie chase set across the night-time alleyways of Seoul, and single ‘I Feel You’ are among the best music that label JYP ever produced.
Hit single: ‘I Feel You’ (probably not safe for work - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9QXQz6uE0M)