Columns, Features, Pop Cult

Pop Cult: No Doubt, Younha, Psy

Allen Huang / July 26, 2012

Pop Cult: South Korean Party Rock Anthem

Younha crosses the Korean Strait, No Doubt crosses 90’s nostalgics, Psy crosses into a new plane of awesomeness.

This is what the man who is dominating Korea’s musical charts looks like.

No Doubt – Settle Down: C-

They’re baaaaaaack! Gwen Stefani has finally opened her doors to her former bandmates, thrown the Harajuku girls in the back of a truck (literally), and towed her act all the way to Diplo-town. The superstar producer lends a marginal hand to this track, which bobs and weaves with all sorts of modernity. But it never ends up sounding like a No Doubt track, maybe something older, a little more world weary, a little confused.

Once one of the biggest pop bands of the 90’s, every song No Doubt did, good or bad, had a metric ton of personality in it. A lot of it was the look of Stefani, but sonically it was the ska-bred rhythm section’s ability to go from punk to pop to ska and back again on a dime. But instead of Tony Kanal and Adrian Young’s time-change antics making things interesting for the music, you get a bottom shelf Diplo beat, one that you can barely hang your hat on. Everything else just exists, nothing actively wants to be part of the song.

Younha – Run: B+

Younha is Korean, but her success is Japanese. She’s one of the few K-Pop stars to have more success in Japan than her homeland, and with a sound like this it’s not hard to believe. Artists like her and Kimura Kaela are willing to bridge the gap between the dangerously overproduced sounds of Korea and the reticent, ballady J-Pop aesthetic, which I think benefits both sides greatly. What you end up getting is a club rager from a Japanese singer that aims to please, and a lovely ballad from a Korean singer that feels much less hollow.

But onto the song! An emotive, driving rocker, “Run” takes a hint from the success of groups like Sakanaction, keeping things grounded in angst and conflict without ever forsaking the need to dance. Like all good pop music, “Run” urges you to sprint, jump, throw your hands up in the air, and on the tone of Younha’s impeccable voice, it succeeds.

Psy – Gangnam Style : A++++++

Oh how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

  1. Psy went to Berklee College of Music.
  2. Psy designs all the choreography himself.
  3. Psy made Kim Hyun Ah do the gallop dance.
  4. “Gangnam Style” makes no attempt to NOT be “Party Rock Anthem,” and through its honesty and humor surpasses the LMFAO hit.
  5. Those sunglasses.
  6. Dancing on the boat.
  7. Psy has unilateral support from the top figures in the K-Pop industry. Not because they don’t think he’s a chart threat (he is), but because they KNOW if he succeeds, they all succeed.
  8. Dancing with the grannies.

Basically THIS is gonna be the hit of the summer, and through his clowny ways, Psy has a chance to be the Ricky Martin of the K-Pop movement. Which might sound like a slight, but let’s face it: the K-Pop sound is very now, very here, and will be very then ten, fifteen years down the line. If “Gangdam Style” gets to be the song that is both remembered and ridiculed (which is fine, since it’s basically an untouchable parody), then all the better.

Disclaimer: After exposure to this song, it is really hard for me not to see a moderately attractive woman without “AAAAAAAAAAY SEXY LADAAAY” ringing through my head.

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