10 K-pop & J-pop songs you need to hear

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If ‘Gangnam Style’ came on in a club a month ago, the dancefloor would come alive. People would be jovially galloping and waving their arms in the air whilst trying to warble along to the mixture of Korean and English, erupting into a chant of “HEYYY SEXY LADIES”. The case today is a bit different, I for one am sick of hearing Psy’s K-pop smash-hit, but it’s lead me to wonder what other gems await us from the Asian music scene.

1. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Think about a Japanese child eating hundreds of blue smarties and this is probably what you’ll get. She is crazy, and cartoon-like as she beams the imaginative chorus “Candy candy candy candy / sweetie sweetie girls love”, joined by a singing onion with googly eyes. If you like this, head over to another of her hit singles ‘Ponponpon’ on which she is accompanied by a dancing, overweight, faceless woman.

2. SHINee

These boys are definitely channeling some kind of Justin Timberlake/big band combo. The video for ‘Sherlock’ seems a little suspect as the 5 slightly feminine members of the boyband sing “Oh I’m curious, yeaaah”. Still, it’s pretty catchy as an R&B track with a cool beat and plenty of brass. They’ve got a confusing image but this video is kind of cool with it’s tight choreography.

3. Hatsune Miku

Perhaps you’ll be more tempted by the singing synthesizer who is embodied by a 16 year old, anime hologram with blue hair when performing live. An odd character, anyone can create music for Hatsune by purchasing the software used to create her voice. In 2011 it was claimed that she had over 100,000 songs to her name thanks to this software. This video from a recent performance shows that Tokyo seems just as excited about this hologram as Coachella was for Tupac.

4. Heartsdales

Heading back in time, Heartsdales were huge in Japan from 2001 to 2006 as one of a few Japanense hip hop groups. Consisting of 2 sisters who were known by their stage names, Rum and Jewels, they work a kind of 1990s Pokemon version of hip hop-pop. Dancing around in their pink tracksuits and caps, the girls switch between Japanese and English with some dubious tuning. It’s cringeworthy but nostalgic with it’s try-hardness whilst trying to look like they aren’t trying. If for no other reason, watch this video for the brilliantly ‘futuristic’ computer editing with stars and words flying all over the place.

5. BIGBANG 

‘Fantastic Baby’ is nothing less than huge. A danceable beat will make you want to move, and the electronic undertones makes this sound like a Black Eyed Peas song, just in Korean. The video however, is less Black Eyed Peas, and more Gaga in its weirdness. There was clearly a big budget to this production as people battle in the background, but many of the costumes make the gender of the members of this band very questionable.

6. GD & TOP

South Korean hip hop duo GD & Top are an explosion, somewhere between American and Korean society, and are compromised of 2 of the members of previous band BIGBANG. ‘Knock Out’ is mostly rapped in Korean but has plenty of western ‘hip hop’ slang haphazardly thrown in like ‘ghetto’ and ‘swag’, but is surprisingly produced by world-famous DJ, Diplo. The video is certainly odd as they go from sitting on a tank, to playing with bubble wrap, after a picture of the Mona Lisa is seen in the background with a Marge Simpson hair-do. A strangely encapsulating act, the duo even featured on the Japanese release of Pixie Lott’s second album Young Foolish Happy on the track ‘Dancing On My Own‘.

7. AKB48

This band are sickeningly cheesy. ‘Everyday’ sounds like something off a Nintendo soundtrack, and the acting in the video resembles something out of a toothpaste advert. However, cheesiness sells, and this band are in fact one of the highest-earning musical acts globally, earning record sales of over $200 million in 2011 in Japan alone. This is a lot of money, even after it’s been split between the bands 67 members (YES, SIXTY SEVEN BAND MEMBERS!). It’s unclear how the band actually work, but they seem to be on their 13th generation, and have 4 teams of girls within the group. Anyway, you can enjoy all of the members dancing around in bikinis on the beach in their short feature-film for the song.

8. MBLAQ

This South-Korean quintet are another bunch of choreographed and styled popstars, with their name being an acronym for Music Boys Live in Absolute Quality… Nevertheless, they are different from all of the other Asian boy bands, with ‘Mona Lisa’ sounding distinctly like a Eurovision entry with it’s electro-accordion and imaginative lyrics, “Baby say yeah yeah yeah yeah, don’t say no no no no”. This lead to it topping charts not only in South Korea, but also in Bulgaria. I’m not sure this song would have quite the same appeal for many Brits.

9. Girls’ Generation

This band are almost a South Korean institution, probably one of their most successful bands ever, and perhaps they might be closer than we think as Interscope recently released their single ‘Boys’ in the UK. They’ve sold over 100,000 copies of each of their 6 Korean albums, and their single ‘Gee’ was crowned “Song of the Decade” by the Korean music site, MelOn. In the video, the 9 members can be seen acting as mannequins before coming to life and showcasing their Pussycat Dolls style dancing. It really is a catchy track but it is maybe a bit too “cutesy” for the European market.

10. TVXQ!

5-piece South Korean boy bands seem to be in abundance, but this one formerly broke up in 2009, now returning as a duo. Their music is somewhat harder to describe, as in ‘Tri-angle’, they manage to sample Mozart, include vocals like N*SYNC, but then segue into a heavy rock screamo section. The video for ‘Keep Your Head Down’ is even more peculiar with a plethora of homoerotic tension, and members of the band shooting fire from their fingers and swinging tubes around like they’re teaching martial arts.

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