The art of going solo – YG edition

For many people YG entertainment is like the cool and rebellious teenager in high school. Amongst the other big three entertainment companies, YG has always managed to retain a certain level of cool and respectability.

Rather than just producing mere products like the other big companies, YG seems to nurture and present artists to the idol scene. These are not just singers or rappers but individuals with a lot to offer the scene and a lot of material to give. Of course in the cynical world of K-pop you could say that the more an artist is allowed to express themselves and produce more music, the more the cash till rings for the company.

Most people assume that YG is the home of just big idols groups such as 2NE1 and Big Bang but this just isn’t the case. YG is home to a variety of artists ranging from serious songstress Gummy, rapper Tablo (of hip hop group Epik High) to the funny and energetic PSY.

What these artists have in common is their individuality and the individual offering they can make to the market. You could say that YG has more solo artists that debut than their competitors. Rather than just allowing members from idol groups to debut as solo acts, YG seems to foster the environment for solo acts to shine.

Unlike other companies they knew that the members of their biggest money spinner Big Bang were good solo investments. Their debut was strong and they instantly made a name for themselves in 2006. Leader G-Dragon is the perfect blend of creativity, talent and charm. But he isn’t the only talented one in the group.

YG seemed to have created a super group where all members had strong individual talents.

G Dragon is a producer, song writer and all round man in charge (alongside Teddy) when it comes to making new albums, T.O.P is the charismatic talented rapper with a sophisticated urban edge, Taeyang is the Chris Brown of the group with his soulful voice and impressive dance moves, Daesung has strong, deep vocals which add rich tones to their songs and Seungri has a strong, distinctive youthful voice and energy.

Together the boys literally made and still make a bang – pun intended- on the music industry with their material.

With the group on a break in 2009 it seemed like the perfect opportunity for each member to show what they were made off and why they had been chosen by YG himself. Of course if this was any other company the most marketable and profitable candidate would have been chosen. However in an interesting move all members were allowed to pursue solo activities.

Leader G Dragon started his solo career with the hit album and single of the same name ‘Heartbreaker’. The songs proved to be a stark contrast to the sound of Big Bang. With techno influences and hip hop beats it seemed that G Dragon wanted to assert his dominance as the main hip hop guy in the idol world. The concept saw G Dragon in all of his bleach blonde glory showing off his experimental fashion and image.

A year from that he joined forces with the other main rapper in the group TOP (or his official title The Official Pimp) for the collaboration album ‘GD&TOP’. The album was urban and showed their hip hop influences with many songs penned by both Dragon and TOP. They each had their own songs alongside the songs that they worked on together. Again the album was a chart topper, not just because it was GD&TOP but because they produced something that was so different from what other artists had to offer.

They created their own sound and image that worked in establishing their place as style and music icons.

I was begging for the two to work together as they both had the same urban edge to create fresh music in the idol scene. This pairing is like a match made in heaven, I actually begun to yearn for more music from the group.

Unlike his partner, TOP seemed to move away from music and push towards acting. Although he featured on a couple of songs with other artists he took on TV roles, music video actor roles and even became an MC. This wasn’t a detriment to his music but rather it added a new depth to his idol character.

Taeyang focused on the music, pushing to present himself as a serious R&B crooner. If anyone else had done this the result would have been less smooth moves and more cheese. His vocal style and ability has always been compared with urban singers in the US. His first album ‘Hot’ a mini album released in 2008 was a hit thanks to the tracks being produced by Teddy and Kush. Teddy Park, who could be labelled as the 5th member of 2NE1 (as he is their producer and manager) understands the US music scene. Having lived and worked in over there he knows how to recreate that sound for a Korean audience.

Taeyang’s first full album ‘Solar’ released in 2010 was a spectacular hit. The album was released through iTunes and he managed to become the first Asian artist to chart at the number two spot on the iTunes’ Top R&B-Soul albums chart in the United States and number one in Canada’s.

He positioned himself as a sensitive and sexy young man, with singles such as ‘Wedding Dress’, ‘ I Need a Girl’ and ‘Take it Slow’.

Seungri on the other hand showed off his youthful and suave side on his mini album ‘VVIP’. As the youngest (maknae) of the group he wanted to show off a more sophisticated side of himself. His album featured the hit ‘What Can I do’ a song for the clubs and his other hit ‘VVIP’. The album did well but did not seem to make as huge an impact as his band mates. It helped to shed his young image but this youthfulness was still very evident in the subject matter of his album. In my opinion it paled in comparison to his band mates. There are some great songs on the album but nothing that was influential or solidified his place as a solo artist. For me he is still Seungri of Big Bang, not Seungri also the solo artist.

Daesung, the ‘happy virus’ of the group went into a new direction. Not content with making more pop or urban songs he sent the trot route. Those of you unfamiliar with the trot genre it is recognised as the oldest genre in Korean music. It was created during Japan’s colonisation of Korea in the 1900’s and had been influenced by Japanese, Western elements.

At the end of the Second World War the genre became more westernised to appeal to the soldiers stationed in Korea and also due to the government at the time wishing to eradicate the ideologies of communism. The genre can be known for its fast paced beat and simple melodies and lyrics.

This was the perfect route for him to take, his single ‘Nal Bwa Gwisoon’ meaning ‘Look at Me, Gwisun’ was bright, happy and a sure fire way to get everyone dancing. The song is reminiscent of his happy go lo lucky nature. He became a key figure in the variety set due to his personality and humour becoming a permanent cast member on the show ‘Family Outing’. His antic with others such as Lee Hyori and Yoo Jae Suk made him a pleasure to watch. Although his solo career came to a halt following a horrible car accident he was involved in leading to one fatality. Rightfully he went away from the public spotlight and took some time out to regroup and get over the shock. Who knows what he could have accomplished if the accident never took place.

Of course Big Bang are not the only act to receive solo chances, 2NE1 (my BFF’s) each undertook solo activities.

Dara went first with her single ‘Kiss’ featuring CL as rapper. What’s interesting about Dara is that she was her own success machine before she became part of 2NE1. She was a large star in the Philippines staring in movies, TV shows and even releasing her own album. Of course in the Philippines she stood out and offered something unique and different. Her single was used as apart of a promotion in which she starred in with Lee Min Ho for Cass Beer. Although she hasn’t got the strongest voice in the group she did earn some success with her single

CL, worked alongside maknae Minzy to release the single ‘Please Don’t Go’ although the song did well it charted lower than Dara and Park Bom’s singles. CL also participated in a collaboration with Teddy and G Dragon on the single ‘The Leaders’. She is known for her onstage charisma and fierce rap delivery so it seemed to be the perfect union, a marriage of YG’s hip hop elite. She cemented her position as a key rapper in the idol industry with this track.

Park Bom released her single ‘Don’t Cry’ which was a huge hit; she also featured on GD&TOP’s album on the song ‘Oh Yeah’. Park Bom had been under the YG roster during the hey day of Big Bang. She also featured in various advertisements and featured in music videos. She made an appearance on singles with YG singer Lexy.

The question remains could they have the same success again as solo artists?

The answer is a resounding yes.

All of the characters in these groups have something to offer musically and non-musically.

Big Bang have announced that they will be undertaken solo activates after their world tour and it seems that they have been steadily working on these whilst promoting as a group.

So what can we expect from the group?

I see G Dragon producing experimental music that is also cemented in his strong hip hop background.

I see TOP taking up more acting roles and developing his talent but also surprising everyone with his eclectic take on music when he comes to release new music.

I see Seungri heading down the dance route and also trying to reaffirm his maturity which would be reflected in his subject matter in his songs.

I see Daesung producing an album of songs that describe the pain and suffering he went through during his time away from the spotlight.

What about the 2NE1 ladies when they decide to go the solo route again?

I see CL coming out with a fierce R&B and hip hop focused mini album that focuses on lyrical content and her need to create a place for herself amongst Korea’s female hip hop artists.

I see Park Bom going the Mariah Carey route and producing pop and R&B music with a strong focus on her stand out vocals.

I see Minzy creating an album that appeals to younger K-pop fans with a move away from the somewhat forced urban image that has been placed on her. She might even surprise us by going the rock or indie route.

Finally I see Dara creating more pop focused music with a concept that focuses on her strong visual appeal.

YG has given these artists the room to create and produce music their way. Granted when they first debuted they didn’t have a choice and were told to sing what they were given. But through making the right choices they have artists rather than mere products.

It seems YG knows how to nurture their talent and help them to navigate and swim above a sea of never ending idols.

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