The Year that was 2012: Comebacks and Rookie Overdose

In this final look back at 2012, I analyse the comebacks and rookie Kpop groups that got me talking this year.

2012 saw a plethora of comebacks from the big hitters in the Kpop world. We saw some returning from a difficult 2011 and others presenting a new sound under new management. There was also a whole load of rookie groups who debuted under much fanfare but left a somewhat bland taste in the mouth. Others managed to make a name for themselves and who didn’t seem so rookie.

I don’t consider myself a Kpop fan, rather a music fan who is enlightened in all genres of the music industry. Here a few comebacks that caught my attention for the right reasons:

Big Bang

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Big Bang, those ‘urban’ boys of Kpop returned this year to much fanfare and hype. 2011 provide a very difficult and challenging year for the group and it seemed taking time out to get their heads together allowed them to retain their high status in the Kpop world. With G Dragon’s ‘scandal’ and Daesung’s fatal accident it seemed for a second that the boys were going to fall off the top. But they returned this year with pensive and reflective music.

Of course they had their standard ‘party tracks’ but the album ‘Alive’ sent a signal that they were back and stronger than ever. With hits and a successful tour around the world (including London which was well received), the boys now men showed their growth. To me it seems that Big Bang has managed to carve a niche for themselves and their music is theirs. That Big Bang sound is easy to spot.

I must say that single Bad Boy stood out, the production was excellent and it was song that had a certain urban groove to it. I could easily see it being played on the radio and many international fans reacted positively to this song.

As well as the Big Bang album leader G Dragon returned with his second album and it seems that Mr Dragon wanted to distinguish himself as a musician. Looking to shake his Kpop label he managed to present an album that had a strong sense of self. He even managed to get an interview with the Source magazine, a celebrated hip hop magazine (how that happened is a mystery to me) where he tried to reinforce his musician status.

Big Bang came back to much fanfare and I must say they gained success easily. Although they are becoming more known in an international sense they haven’t quite made it yet. Why even the Guardian newspaper reviewing their London couldn’t tell them apart from the other pop groups about in the market right now (cue angry Kpop fans dedicated to their group). Many people assume that they could crack the international market but I really don’t think this is important or essential. If you ask your average British person they have no idea who this group is. They will probably say ‘oh are they like One Direction but just Korean’. Thanks to Psy if you mention Korean music everyone just assumes they are talking about Gangnam Style. 2013 could be the year that Big Bang tries to make it into the international market BUT I strongly urge them not to. Either way they were very successful and proved their longevity in a business that longs for the next big thing.

Epik High
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The great Epik High returned this year after a long hiatus and under new management. After the drama and time away many fans (including myself) were thoroughly pleased to see them back. See my detailed analysis here.

Tablo released a great solo album under YG and it seemed to set the precedent for the rest of the group. When the other members signed to YG many people felt somewhat happy and somewhat apprehensive. YG is one of the top three agencies in the Kpop world and it has tried to establish itself as an ‘urban label’. No matter how hard it tries it is still an essentially a Kpop label.

When news came of their comeback I was filled with excitement and a little bit scared. I thought to myself ‘I really hope they don’t change their sound and style’. Everyone that is a fan knows that Epik High present music that represents the real world. It isn’t all falling in love, being sexy or dealing with a break-up. Politics, societal issues and others were not off the limits and they really let people know how they felt.

After a couple of teasers their first release saw them presenting a retrospective song that matched the cold weather (it also featured a new artist Lee Hi who I talked about here. Their next singles however left me slightly confused and wondering what had happened to their sound. Up featuring Park Bom of 2NE1 left my ears reeling as Bom screeched the chorus, Don’t Hate Me left me annoyed and I had to turn the music off.

Of course there needs to be some element of growth from artists, they can do the same sound all the time (I’m looking at you Girls Generation!). Furthermore we can’t assume that just because an artist is a hip hop artist that they cannot want to dabble with other genres. I’m pretty sure that their music collection is varied and provides them with inspiration. Who are we to say they cannot do pop or dance music?

For me it seems that they just wanted to have some fun, after all that they had been through this time they could just let loose and be free. Epik High and Kpop don’t go together but it works and they have stated that is a concept album. What 2013 will bring is still up in the air, they could do a 180 degree turn and go hard-core hip hop or even dabble with indie. I’m looking forward to see what they bring in the New Year.

Coupled with these comebacks, there were so many new groups that I couldn’t keep up. There were approximately 32 new girl groups this year alone, yes ladies and gentleman 32 new groups. What does that say about an industry? Overpopulated and losing quality.

Here are a few rookies that caught my attention. One in the right way and another that left me holding my head in my hands.

B.A.P

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What does it make you think of when you see the words B.A.P? If you’re a Kpop fan you know that this name is attached to the five guys who have the ‘Power’ and show ‘No Mercy’.

When they first debuted I thought ‘who are these peroxide blonde guys wearing random boiler suits’. Their initial single Warrior was gutsy and strong with lyrics that went against your standard lovey dovey Kpop songs. Dealing with standing up against oppression and being strong.

Their other singles went around a similar theme and their lyrical content wasn’t too shallow (although their latest release leaves me feeling very uncomfortable). Another interesting element about their group is that it features actual hip hop talent. Members Bang Young Guk and teenager Zelo are known for their lyrical ability and have produced music prior to the group cementing their hip hop status (I must add that Young Guk’s voice adds a harsh and interesting sound to their music). Zelo the teenager seems small and innocent but when he opens his mouth and in his mixtapes he has the talent of the rapper who has been in the industry for years. His innocence hides his ferocious rap ability.

I must add though that even though I think they are a good group I still prefer underground Korean rappers such as a Crucial Star, Beenzeno, Dok2 etc.

B.A.P created an interesting sound and they stood out from the crowd and they still do. Their debut stage saw them perform with such energy and experience and they made an impact. Who knows what 2013 will bring for them? Hopefully they stick to what they have been doing and don’t lose their original sound.

Gang Kiz

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What can I say about this group? They were supposed to be another killer group for CCM (home to the beleaguered T-ara) came out this year with a lot of money spent on them. The girls of T-ara were roped into helping them with promotions and they undertook a European tour (which was supposed to be a break for the T-ara girls).

The name itself is terrible but so was the music they released, their single Honey Honey with two different videos was bland and seemed to be just another rip off of T-ara. They didn’t really bring anything new to the table and it seemed CCM just wanted to get more money from another group.

When bringing a new product into an already crowded market, you need to establish the key selling points. Why should people buy into your product or brand instead of others. Gang Kiz just look just another bunch of pretty faces singing the same old tired and worn out music.

This is the same for other groups who debuted this year. They all seemed to look and sound the same.

32 new girl groups’ means that competition is stiff and with new groups emerging each week it has never been more important to distinguish yourself from the others.

More and more young men and women want to be stars and there is still a certain amount of demand from the industry.

But what happens when we can’t remember whose who? Quality has seeped away as group seek to emulate songs that have been successful.

What happens when the big guns return? Girls Generation are due for a 2013 Korean comeback. Of course I find their music tired and boring but they have managed to be crowned ‘the goddesses of Kpop’. How these debutants will cope under the mighty glare of Girls Generation is a mystery but they need to bring something fresh and funky to the party. Otherwise they will enter the graveyard of unsuccessful Kpop groups.

The market has become so crowded and congested that something will need to give. Instead of creating copy cat groups or trying to bring about new ridiculous concepts (EXO K AND EXO M I’m looking at you!) Kpop needs a fresh injection of sound. Something that generates new inspiration and a new sound.

2013 promises to be another big year with group comebacks and tours planned. Who knows if the Kpop world will be shaken up by a new sound or a new group? One thing that needs to happen however is a cut down in the number of groups debuting. At this rate the industry will become so saturated people will lose interest.

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