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The K-Pop Group Aren’t Super Shy About Reinventing Their Genre

The K-Pop Group Aren’t Super Shy About Reinventing Their Genre

Ağustos 17, 2023 17:17
The K-Pop Group Aren’t Super Shy About Reinventing Their Genre



If you follow K-pop – or the wider pop universe – then you may have noticed how a certain overseas quintet have dominated the conversation this summer. South Korean girl group NewJeans are barely one year old, and they’ve only released a handful of tracks. Still, Minji, Danielle, Haerin, Hanni, and Hyein, who are all between ages 15 and 19, are everywhere.

First, there’s the record-breaking Billboard success. On Aug. 2, NewJeans’ just-released second EP, Get Up, topped the Billboard 200 albums chart with 126,500 units, outselling the Barbie soundtrack by 500 units. Plus, three NewJeans songs have surfed the Hot 100 in the past year, led by the #66-peaking “Super Shy,” a glittering, quivering R&B/pop gem that sounds like a sped-up version of early Ariana Grande. (Picture Grande running on a hamster wheel and toning down the vocal belt — but in a fun way.) K-pop songs don’t tend to last super long on the American charts, partially because they’re often powered by sales rather than streaming, but NewJeans have shown an unusual longevity. They’re now the first female K-pop artist (and second overall, following BTS) to chart three different songs for five weeks each; prior to the ubiquitous “Super Shy,” both “Ditto” and “OMG” spent five weeks on the chart earlier in 2023. Globally, Get Up sold 1.2 million copies on its first day alone.

Then, there’s the adorable-sounding Lollapalooza takeover: In addition to becoming the first K-pop girl group to ever perform at Lolla, NewJeans teamed with Spotify to offer a whole experience called “Bunnyland” (the NewJeans Stan communities are called Bunnies), which promised “a dedicated space packed with activities and prizes for fans.” Speaking of Spotify, NewJeans are the fastest K-pop act ever to hit 1 billion streams on the platform.

As with any stars from one scene looking for a crossover, K-pop stars sometimes collaborate with Western pop stars as a bridge to new audiences — think of BLACKPINK’s “Ice Cream” with Selena Gomez or BTS’ songs with the likes of Halsey and Coldplay. It’s not to say that they couldn’t or wouldn’t, but to date NewJeans haven’t pulled that lever and haven’t needed to. Apparently Rina Sawayama has incorporated the choreography to the sprightly, Janet Jackson-esque “OMG” into her live set. July’s self-referential, pleasantly glitchy “New Jeans” is a collaborative track celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Powerpuff Girls. So far, they are breaking through in the West without a strategically deployed feature.

A cynic might write off NewJeans as just another shiny vehicle coming off the factory line. After all, the quintet were placed together by ADOR, a subsidiary of Hybe Corporation, which also has Big Hit Music under its umbrella. Big Hit, of course, are who we have to thank for monster K-pop acts BTS and Tomorrow X Together; they also manage the solo careers of BTS members Jimin, RM, Jin, Jungkook, J-Hope, and V. But if the band emerged from within the K-pop machine, they represent an exciting new update on the existing model.

For one thing, NewJeans are backed by some titanic branding experts who’ve helped the group to truly stand out. ADOR CEO Min Hee-jin helped brand some of the country’s most well-known K-pop acts, such as Shinee, EXO, and Girls’ Generation. As ADOR’s CEO, Min has made it clear how big of a priority it is to break established industry standards. The BTS member V recently brought Min on to determine the creative direction for his upcoming solo album, seeking to differentiate it from his work with BTS.

One practical difference in NewJeans’ approach is their rollout strategy. As opposed to breadcrumbing teasers and trailers the way many acts do, NewJeans tend to drop multiple singles and videos at once (“Attention,” “Hype Boy,” and “Cookie” were in a September 2022 batch). Then, there’s the aesthetic. NewJeans have fashioned a hyper-specific Y2K-core look, which extends to their costumes (casual, low-key, and attainable, with lots of pleated skirts, tank tops, and boots) and visuals, which are candy-colored and youth-oriented but not necessarily childlike. Even the name NewJeans rides the line between nostalgia and innovation: On one hand, NewJeans suggests a new era of pop music (“new genes”) is taking over. At the same time, the name is literally a tribute to classic denim, which never goes out of style.

Meanwhile, NewJeans’ choreography tends to be less slick and a little looser, which adds another layer of laid-back ease to the group and can be more easily emulated by Bunnies at home on TikTok. Thinking about it now, I’m reminded of the first time I saw Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” video all the way back in grade school — yes, Spice Girls had synchronized dances, but they appeared spontaneous and organic. It made the average viewer feel a kinship among the band members, like they could be your friends, too. The same is true of NewJeans, and they’re leaning into the accessibility. As NewJeans released their video for “Super Shy,” filmed in Portugal, they partnered with YouTube Shorts for a #ImSuperShy challenge, which invited fans to create videos and submit their own choreography. “It’s super simple so everyone can join in and dance along and there’s also a lot of creativity,” Danielle told Elle.

As for the music itself, there’s no question NewJeans are trailblazers within their genre. While traditional K-pop loves itself some maximalist pop with hip-hop influences — the more gargantuan hooks, the better — NewJeans are noticeably more scaled-back, borrowing influence from ’90s/Y2K R&B, Drill rap, dance, and electronica. Instead of baroque, bigger-is-better production, last year’s self-titled debut EP and Get Up offer mellow, skittering beats, twinkling synths, and soulful, airy vocals that are just a touch melancholic. Their lyrics, equally #relatable, tackle teenage concerns such as crushes and the ensuing emotional highs, vulnerability in relationships, and just vibing out.

As Hanni told Dazed: “There’s a large variety of emotion and stories in the songs. We have songs that are a good vibe to party with your friends, we have some songs about nostalgic feelings and farewells, and also falling in love. It’s just a full package so I hope everyone enjoys it as much as we do.”

Apparently, this stylistic divergence has always been intentional. Out of six Get Up songs, four were written by the Portugal-born, Copenhagen-based singer-songwriter Erika de Casier, who had previously worked with Dua Lipa and Blood Orange. And the whole reason NewJeans’ team wanted de Casier was specifically because she was not well-versed in K-pop.

“So I just got this email from one of their team members that just said like, ‘Hey, we’re having a session in Copenhagen, we would love to see you there,’” de Casier told GQ earlier in August. “And then I was randomly talking to my friends, Catharina [Stoltenberg] and Henriette [Motzfeldt] from [Norwegian electronic pop act] Smerz, and my friend Fine [Glindvad Jensen, a singer-songwriter] and they were like, ‘Oh, we got that email as well… What? That’s so random.’ And then we just decided, okay, let’s all just go there. We met there and wrote one of the songs ‘ASAP’ together, the four of us.

“One of the first questions they asked me was, ‘Do you listen a lot to K-Pop?,’” de Casier added. “And I got so nervous and I had to be honest and said, ‘No, I haven’t yet explored that genre.’ And they’re like, ‘Good, because we want something new. We want something fresh.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, okay, okay.’”

Could it be that NewJeans imbuing Western influences into their songs, which lyrically merge Korean and English, make them more easily digestible for US audiences? It’s a possibility. A prominent feature within Gen Z is the way consumers and creators of a younger age don’t see borders or genre the way older generations have. When the internet allows access to nearly everything — music, fashion, language — then it makes sense that the still mostly teenage Minji, Danielle, Haerin, Hanni, and Hyein would build a collage out of these things, sonically and visually. That Western listeners love them might just be NewJeans and their team correctly reading the room.

As previously discussed in this column, what’s fresh and new in pop music can sometimes rely a little too heavily on what came before in the form of samples and interpolations. Creating a balanced new-to-old ratio and making it look organic, effortless, and inviting is incredibly tricky. I imagine that’s partly why NewJeans give off that lightning-in-a-bottle magnetism. It’s wild to think that they haven’t even released a full album yet. I can’t wait to see what happens when they do.


Olivia Rodrigo – “bad idea right?”
I’m not sure if Olivia Rodrigo gets enough props for how good of a sing-speaker she is. It’s like a way more appropriate version of what Kesha tried to do as a “rapper.” I’m also hearing Cake and Beck in here, and Luscious Jackson’s “Naked Eye.” It’s the same drum beat, right??

Claire Rosinkranz – “Pools & Palm Trees”
For the record, I’m getting kind of sick of this twirly, accented vocal style so many rising pop singers insist on doing. It’s like the pop version of that “tooonoite will be the noooite” emo meme. That being said, I do really like “Pools & Palm Trees,” which has a sufficiently bouncy beat and pleasantly disjointed structure. There’s also a “Rosinkranz And Guildenstern Are Dead” joke in there somewhere, but IDK, maybe I’m expecting too much.

Lauv – “Love U Like That”
I sure do lauv this new Lauv song, which shivers with all kinds of sensual anticipation.

Reneé Rapp – “Talk Too Much”
Have you noticed yet that I’m a big Reneé Rapp fan? I can’t not include her in every Pop Ten, in part because she’s dropped a new song on a near-monthly basis, and they’re all bangers. Between Reneé’s captivating onscreen presence and her vocal soar, I get echoes of Demi Lovato.

KAROL G is a well-documented fan of Selena Quintanilla, and “MI EX TENÍA RAZÓN (My Ex Was Right)” is a Cumbia-laced, beautifully executed tribute to the late Tejano icon.

Miguel – “Number 9” (Feat. Lil Yachty)
Over a woozy beat, Miguel tinkers with vocal layering that, quite unexpectedly, remind me of Fleet Foxes. He’s got the right collaborator for this one in the Lil Yachty, who loves a good sonic experiment.

Uncle Waffles – “Peacock Revisit” Feat. Ice Beats Slide & Sbuda Maleather
Uncle Waffles — Swazi-born, South Africa-based DJ Lungelihle Zwane — was actually at Øyafestivalen last week, and I briefly swung past her set, which was really popping off. “Peacock Revisit” is more of a laid-back atmospheric vibe — best for the post-club comedown.

UMI – “happy im”
This unassuming, acoustic-led love ballad is one for the late, lazy summer days, when all you care to do is bake in the sun on the nearest grassy knoll.

Yeat – “bigger thën everything”
Portland-based trap/cloud rapper Yeat immediately captivates with a haunting, looping piano track, which anchors (but doesn’t overpower) “bigger thën everything.”

Carrie Underwood – “Give Her That”
Taken from the forthcoming deluxe edition of Denim And Rhinestones, “Give Her That” is a rock-solid, modern-classic country ballad in the vein of Reba McEntire. I swear, I never get tired of hearing Carrie Underwood’s full-throated howl.


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