2017 was the year that K-pop truly conquered the west, cementing its place as a global pop phenomenon.
While artists had broken through into the western market before – most visibly PSY with his viral dance hit Gangnam Style in 2012 – the genre has, somewhat recently, carved out its own space in western media and popular culture. BTS led the 2017 wave of Korean pop, breaking into the US Top 30 back in December and topping the iTunes chart in over 65 countries with their remixed track Mic Drop. It’s a development that shows no sign of abating in 2018 too, with the internet and K-pop’s proliferation of meticulously crafted, and perfected, YouTube videos extending the genre’s popularity and reach. With publications and a strong fanbase measuring every act’s level of success via their YouTube play count, the streaming platform plays a large role in the genre’s online presence, with K-pop being strongly interlinked with digital culture.
2018 has seen the genre take on a new political potency. South Korean acts – such as singers Cho Yong-pil, Lee Sun-hee, Choi Jin Hee, Yoon Do-hyun and girl group Red Velvet – performed a two-hour concert in North Korea, a diplomatic move during rising tensions. A historical moment intersecting Korean pop with politics, it marked the first time that K-pop artists had set foot in the isolated country since 2005. Kim Jong Un’s verdict? He was “deeply moved” apparently.
As an industry that has a rapid output of glossy tunes and perfectly synchronised dance routines, fluctuations are commonplace in the cycle of new music. Groups disperse, solo acts are debuted and artists change their image; what is certain, however, is the anticipation and scrutiny from fans, with forums analysing the best comebacks. From rookie girl-groups dominating the spotlight in 2018, to eagerly awaited returns from pioneering acts, below we’ve listed some of the best comebacks that’ve happened so far this year – that came with standout videos.
Originally forming in 2016 via the reality show Finding Momoland, the original seven-member group were later joined by contestants Daisy and Kim Taeha. Being the first girl group to make a comeback in 2018, the group have experienced a meteoric breakthrough – one that’s propelled them to the top of the charts and seen them successfully take over a large portion of 2018. While the mega hit Bboom Bboom was plagued by allegations of plagiarism and chart manipulation, the Shinsadong Tiger-produced bop is still going strong, inspiring a multitude of fan-made dance videos and a compilation dedicated entirely to member Yeonwoo’s spotlight moment. At the core of the breakthrough single is the theme of ‘giving of charms’ to woo a crush – and there’s a string of lovable quirks to unpack from the choreography. Think goofy moves from 18-year-old JooE – whose success with becoming a viral meme and starring in a Tropicana advert last year helped further the group’s rise – and the dab in 2018. Get learning.
Red VelvetBad Boy
Having released their sophomore LP The Perfect Red Velvet in January, lead single Bad Boy sees the group step in a dark direction. It’s a departure from their bright debut in 2014, with scenes of pink icebergs placed alongside snowy, black-and-white non-sequiturs, clips of blood red cakes and backdrops of mannequins. Choreographer Rie Hata engineered the group’s dark, slick image for the visual – a suitable fit considering she also designed the dance for CL’s The Baddest Female back in 2013. Sure, there are clips riffing on sisterhood while the group gear up for their takedown (note the pink-heavy slumber party theme) but the sinister feeling of having messed with the wrong crowd is hard to shake off throughout.
Super JuniorLo Siento feat. Leslie Grace
In November, the K-pop supergroup released the repackaged version of 2017’s Play, entitled Replay. For lead single Lo Siento, the pioneering boyband veer into a direction that’s never been done before in K-pop – incorporating elements of Latin pop into a hit single, and enlisting Leslie Grace, otherwise known as the princess of Bachata, as the female lead. The results have paid off with the collaborative tri-lingual track – comprised of Korean, Spanish and English lyrics – earning over 17 million views in one week. Steeped in mystery, the video sees the group vying for one woman’s affection, rolling through scenes of cars, seduction and moody, neon-lit choreography dramatised by falling snow.
Like Momoland’s Bboom Bboom, Sunmi’s hit has been accused of plagiarism, concerning alleged similarities to Cheryl Cole’s 2009 single Fight For Your Love. The claims have been dismissed and the single has still been a success, with Heroine becoming America’s second best-selling single after release week, second only to BTS’ remixed Mic Drop in 2017. The prequel narrative to her successful third solo release Gashina, Heroine takes inspiration from Adrian Lyne’s 1986 film 9 ½ Weeks, with the concept, as explained by Sunmi, weaved around the narrative of “a woman who is sad to be left by a man, but is able to get back on her feet.” She explained, “The thought that it would be good if Heroine tells the prequel story of the woman in Gashina came to my mind in the middle of working on the new song. So I proposed that idea, and the song’s video also came to have the same plot.” The choreography is interlinked too, with Sunmi deploying the gun finger move at the end, a component of the original dance that made Gashina a viral hit.
Chung HaRoller Coaster
Dropping the Offset EP at the beginning of the year, the former I.O.I member enters new territory on her solo debut, incorporating reggae into the album cut Do It and more of her own choreography into the lead single Roller Coaster. A rookie solo artist, Chung Ha has made one of the strongest female solo debuts this year. In an interview with Billboard, the singer highlighted how she’s upped the the dance moves, producing “really fast, really fancy” visuals. Case in point: the visual for Roller Coaster amps up the fashion and gloss with a retro flair – a contrasting image to the softer stylings of 2017’s Week and Why Don’t You Know. The focus, however, is on Chung Ha’s strength as a dancer, with the solo artist previously known as the main dancer of I.O.I.
Anticipation for the return for BTS’ return has been reaching fever pitch this year. Having released a nine-minute comeback trailer called Euphoria in April, the group surprised fans with another, named Singularity. Featuring a solo performance from member V – born Kim Tae-hyung – the BTS singer’s choreography has been crafted by Keone Madrid, who’s previously worked with the group on tracks Dope, Fire, Not Today and Blood Sweat & Tears. The smeraldo flower appears throughout – a recurring symbol in BTS’ lead-up to their official comeback, and part of their trail of mysterious clues. Upon its surprise drop, Singularity smashed the records by becoming the fastest K-pop solo video to reach 10 million views. Not bad.
And that leads us to the most anticipated comeback MV (music video) of the year. Dropping the video Fake Love on the release day of the album Love Yourself: Tear, the official comeback visual became the K-pop video to most quickly reach 100 million views on YouTube. According to Soompi, the MV smashed the record in approximately eight days, eight hours and 45 minutes. It also goes down as the platform’s most watched video in the first 24 hours of its release in 2018, scoring as the third highest 24-hour debut of all time alongside Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Do and PSY’s Gentleman. The rollout of teasers was worth the wait. Clocking in at over five minutes, the visual is packed with symbols and dichotomies. Water is contrasted against fire, dark against light, floorboards bearing a map fall away, a cloaked figure makes an appearance and the motif of a broken lantern recurs throughout. Member JHope lies on a floor covered in chocolate bars, later sparking a Twitter thread between Butterfinger and Snickers – with even Twix jumping in. The choreography contains symbolic details too, with the group’s intricate performance emulating the Japanese proverbial principle ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’. Epic, to say the least.