This started with a Twitter thread about joy in music – I promised to provide some references in K-pop, then things went pear-shaped and it dropped off my radar.
So now I’m starting the year anew and all that. I’ll try to keep within the theme of joy, rather than just music I like, because there’s a whole universe of K-pop and I could wiffle non-stop for months.
Note: Yes, I’ll call them boys. I’m from the Paleozoic era, so everything younger than a trilobite is a junior to me (you dimetrodons get offa my lawn). And if you’re wondering at the references, it’s because this thread is turning into something resembling Godzilla.
And now, to business…
These 3 boys epitomise joy in music. Between the sublime vocals, the songs ranging across R&B/jazz/blues/ballad/pop, their own delight in music, and the fact that they’re genuinely nice people who care for each other like brothers, these boys are just the quintessence of musical joy. Debuted in 2011 with 5 members, when 2 members (Jinyoung & Baro) left in mid-2018 they became a trio. All 3 members (CNU (pronounced Shin Woo), Sandeul, & Gongchan) have ongoing projects outside of the group, including solo albums and OSTs (soundtracks), musicals, radio programs, and variety TV shows.
This one was written for the fan event in January 2019, just before CNU enlisted for his compulsory military service. A light poppy tune with their trademark sweet harmonies, over an MV that has the boys rehearsing for the show & being cute in the studio and emotional on stage.
This song, written to celebrate their 10th anniversary, is like a thread cleanse set to music: 3 boys having fun in stunning scenery, with sublime vocals.
Their most recent album is Origine, written & produced by the group – not so common in K-pop, where music is often written & produced by the company. This one is the B side off the album, and is basically a big bouncy dose of happy.
Here’s one from their days as a 5-piece – it’s very bouncy, and I suggest you watch the dance practice video because it’s lots of fun and gives an idea of life in the K-pop world.
Another from their early days which is a lot of fun is Beautiful Target, which features Sandeul demonstrating his snake jaw and Gongchan showing off the Irises That Ate New York. Bouncy K-pop at its absolute best.
Lead vocalist Sandeul is acknowledged as one of the best vocalists in the industry – he can belt like a legend, but here’s Sandeul being king of the bouncy ballad.
If you want to dance, these are your go-to guys. They’ve been called Kings of the Korean wave, have been going for 16 years, & are hugely popular worldwide. They’re all good singers, and can be mad as a box of ferrets when they get together. Debuted in 2005 with 12, added 1 member in 2006, and now have 9 active members, although Heechul recently announced he’ll no longer tour or perform with the group due to a long-term injury.
They’ve been through numerous musical phases during those years – this one from their 10-year mark has a funky beat, cool vocals, and is eminently danceable.
This is from their Latin phase – they did a whole album (Otra Vez/One More Time) with a Latin beat, featuring Latin American collaborators, and sung partially in Spanish. This song features Mexican band Reik.
Ahora Te Puedes Marchar (You can go now) is the Spanish song by the Puerto Rican singer Luis Miguel to the tune of the old Dusty Springfield hit I Only Want To Be With You. I love the SuJu cover because (a) it’s a great song, and (b) they’ve apparently economised on costumes, so the whole group are wearing the same wig & leather jacket, & hamming it up enormously. Tremendous fun.
Here’s one I love because it’s so incredibly primal, and you can almost feel the rush of being in the stadium when they opened the concert with this song.
Then there’s this one, which was the song that led to their massive international fame. The era of autotune, alas, but a real ear worm, and possibly the first K-pop chorus you’ll ever be able to sing along with. Okay, maybe the second (see below).
You don’t often get a dance track with a public health message, but SuJu are here to supply that lack. They were thanked by the WHO Director General for this one, an encouragement to fans around the world to maintain Covid precautions. There are 3 MVs for this, but the House version is my favourite – grown men in jammies playing silly buggers always makes me laugh. On the Renaissance album which was released in 2021.
As with most 2nd gen groups, most members also do solo work, and because of the size of the group, there are also several sub-groups. Kyuhyun is also recognised as one of the best vocalists in the industry – if you like ballads or belting, definitely check out his work.
Here’s a ridiculously cheerful song from Super Junior D&E – I love it because it’s bouncy and makes me want to go into the street and do the chok chok dance.
Super Junior D&E (Donghae & Eunhyuk) mainly do hip hop, rap, trap, and related music, but also do some fun songs like this. Other subgroups are KRY (Kyuhyun/Ryeowook/Yesung), who do mainly ballads; M (Sungmin, Eunhyuk, Ryeowook, Siwon, Zhou Mi, Donghae, Kyuhyun) who sing in Mandarin; & T (Leeteuk, Heechul Shindong, Sungmin, Eunhyuk) who do trot music, which is the oldest form of K-pop.
Here’s Eunhyuk, Super Junior’s main dancer, with a Christmas version of his solo song – it’s delightfully chaotic, but still has his sweet vocals & lilting melody. They had a lot of fun preparing for and rehearsing for this Christmas video, as you can see here. If you’d prefer to watch the original MV, here it is.
And this is Heechul, who with friend Min Kyung Hoon forms the side group Universe Cowards, plus rapper/producer/singer DinDin, indie singer BIBI, & 4th generation group Ateez (more on all of these later). This one’s quite fascinating, as it uses traditional instruments & rhythms but is technically hip hop.
These boys are known as “the Princes of K-pop”. Debuted in 2008, and like all 2nd generation groups have gone through many musical permutations. Right out of the gate they were known for excellent vocals & dance skills, & generally being K-pop royalty (hence the nickname).
This R&B song shows off the excellence of their vocals. The two lead vocalists are exceptionally good, while maknae (youngest) Taemin showed awesome dancing talent right from his debut.
This one was a massive hit, and a major ear worm. Sadly a little too much auto-tune, which detracts from the superb vocals, but great nonetheless. Yah, this will be the first K-pop chorus you’ll be able to sing along with, at least in part – it’ll reverberate in your brain for weeks.
Pure pop. Pure dance. Pure vocal excellence. Pure joy. This is one of the MVs, along with B1A4, that I watch when I need something to lift me up.
Solo work again – Taemin was only 14 when they debuted, & recently went to do his national service at the age of 28. He has a beguiling voice and is probably the best dancer in Korea, and his songs are quite hypnotic. It’s worth watching the dance practice video for this one, because he’s an exceptional dancer, and because there’s such a contrast between the song, with its matching choreography, and Taemin’s reaction once he finishes the dance.
Onew was second lead vocalist, and is now lead. He did this after he’d had surgery on his vocal chords. The pure beauty of his voice takes my breath away.
DinDin is a rapper/singer/producer who does a lot of collaborations, and the music changes depending on who he’s collaborating with. Very interesting – he’s done everything from ballads to head-banging, so you’ll be bound to find something you like in his oeuvre.
A 4th generation group that are just fun, with bouncy, eminently danceable music. And who can resist a giant frog? Especially when it comes with an irresistible dance beat.
You can’t talk about K-pop without mentioning BTS. When I first got into K-pop, I strenuously resisted even listening to them because every time I mentioned K-pop, the immediate response was “Oh, you mean BTS?”. Which made me want to bring the leeks.
But eventually I investigated, and found that they’re intelligent, compassionate, and make great music – not just performing, but also writing and producing. They also work with UNICEF, & have addressed the UN General Assembly no less than 3 times – not bad for boys who are still under 30.
in fact, they’ve won so many awards & accolades, not just for music, but for promoting Korean culture, language, & business, that I fully expect them to be named Emperors of the Universe, at which time I for one will welcome our K-pop overlords.
And just rubbing in that they’ve got friends in high places, here’s their latest song, performed at the United Nations during their visit in 2021 to encourage the world to keep to the Sustainable Development Goals.
For Part 2 of this post, go here: