Despite what some overzealous fans might say, BTS is not revolutionizing K-pop. They’re not the only ones with the particular sound they have. That said, not everybody gets to be popular enough break out of Korea, or out of dedicated K-pop circles. And BTS did so not because their seven members look good (as is the stereotype with Korean acts) but because their songs really do hit the spot. The expectations surrounding Love Yourself 轉 Tear are much higher: it’s been a year since they really rocked the United States and had their music press salivating and their producers running to get first dibs. (There is a second collaboration with Steve Aoki.) They don’t disappoint. Perhaps knowing where they are now – a position only a few K-pop acts ever find themselves in – helped them. In fact, I’ll dare say Tear is better than its predecessor, Love Yourself 承 Her, in its cohesion and laser-focus. It doesn’t show everyone off, but it’s rare in K-pop for albums to not sound like compilations (although “Airplane Part 2”, an extension of a track from J-Hope’s Hope World mixtape, does stick out). I’ll admit I was more engrossed with this record than what came before, particularly the first half, with the focus on a relationship’s breakdown. But then, that’s what the too celebratory “So What” is supposed to end with, yes? [NB] | 4/5
BTS is that K-pop group you initially dismiss because male K-pop groups really tend to sound alike. But then they start to stick out, partly because they do have good songs, and partly because people seem to like them for they’re cool. It’s not undeserved praise: the group’s origins stemmed more from the hip-hop scene than most, and while they have mellowed (relatively) as time passed on, there’s still strong musicality in their work. Love Yourself: Her comes at an interesting time, with the group really picking up recognition outside Korea (although, let’s be honest, it’s mostly down to their ultra-devoted fans waging a social media campaign). Suddenly the world’s ears are on them, and they have to prove themselves. The result: well, it’s an all right album, although it focused too much on their more mellow side, with “DNA” a summer-y hit that will not feel out of place on American radio. But then, perhaps it’s the expectation that makes one think that way. If you’re one of the Army then you will think otherwise. [NB] | 3/5
We’re done with the backgrounder and we’ve given you the must-haves, so this week on How To Collect Korean Pop Music, we dig deep – well, deep-ish; you know our usual disclaimers – into the subsets of K-pop. Today, we begin with, well, the boy groups. And let’s be clear: when we say “boy groups” we don’t just mean the One Direction types who look good and sing in harmonies – although there are a lot of those in K-pop. Of course. There wouldn’t be a very big following if not for that, right?