2018 in K-pop: Chill Beats

HA:TFELT Preps Us for the Summer with Deine

Welcome to yet another installment of “2018 in K-pop,” and we haven’t even hit the half-way point! Take your bets now: will I make it to the very ambitious end before 2020 or will I falter in the middle? (I’m only partially joking.)

I think after all the dance-pop EDM it’s nice to slow down a little bit with music that lingers and wallows. Unfortunately “Chill Beats” is the best name I could come up with, I’m sorry. I wouldn’t even read a year-end post called “Chill Beats”–like what does that even mean? Some random 1 hr playlist on youtube with artwork from an anime or manga artist? This is not that. But I can’t seem to say what it is either. A solo artist haul in disguise?

Gracie, “25/7” (“No Fake Allowed”)

Gracie is one of several ex-members of H.U.B. (yes, they’re in the extravaganza too, don’t you worry), and maybe for the better. Her debut EP, while somewhat juvenile, has a nice clarity and languid tempo that I don’t think listening to “25/7″* alone gives justice to. Her most popular song, and my personal favorite, is actually the B-side “Our love is like”. Admittedly it’s also a cliche-ladden track–the synth riff and melody is not new in the slightest–but the production and compositional flow is elegant and that catapults it to the top for me. So why do I have “25/7” on the list? Apart from an awesome dance MV, I think it’s most representative of “No Fake Allowed as a collective. I love how “25/7” treads the line of relaxed and upbeat much like the album as a whole. “25/7” also has the clean vocal production that best highlights gracie’s effortless smoothness.

*did i write 24/7 instead of 25/7 the entire time and then fix it? yes i did.

(G)I-dle, “DON’T TEXT ME” (I Am)

“Don’t Text Me” could have ended up on the discard pile, and every other listen has me wondering whether I like the song or not. That enigma earns “Don’t Text Me” its place here, and I think what saves “Don’t Text Me” from its meandering drone are squeaky synths and squeaky raps. The contrast is appreciated and expected. Not to slight the vocals, however, as I think that’s what gives the song enough substance to stay afloat and make use of the contrasting elements. In fact, that very “substance” of “Don’t Text Me” is very reminiscent of old school K-pop, and I’m a sucker for nostalgia.

HA:TFELT, “위로가 돼요” (Deine)

While this is nothing like her first album, which I love, I equally love seeing artists step outside of their self-imposed confines and try something new. Moody and relaxed, HA:TFELT has stepped into a less dark version of herself as a JYP-independent solo artist. I’m a little skeptical of the honesty of intent behind the vibe of “위로가 돼요”–is it personal curiosity, trend following, or a desire to fit into her new agency? Ultimately I think it doesn’t matter, because the outcome is good music regardless. I like that we have a play on the technique of variations in classical music by having essentially a static riff and letting the verses and chorus make small developments on each other to the point of wondering if the verse is an interpretation of the chorus or if the chorus is an interpretation of the verse.

Hwasa, “덤덤해지네 (Be Calm)” (Yellow Flower)

This song is all about the texture. Hwasa’s timbre is hit or miss for me, but here it really works. The gravelly undertone fits against the plodding guitar line and embodies the story it wants to tell. Be calm. Relax. Don’t sweat the hard stuff. Maybe if you “laugh once, two of your worries will disappear.”

Fromm, “Midnight Driver” (Midnight Candy) [Studio Version]

Fromm is one of my favorite Korean indie artists, especially for her subtle diversity of sound. For some reason I liken her to a folkier IU with some Lana Del Rey tossed in for good measure. In less obnoxious terms, she does a stunning mix of folk, ballad, pop, and rock. “Midnight Driver” is one of her more of her folk rock-oriented offerings, and it’s the style that I’m partial towards. The electric guitar that feels acoustic and the juxtaposition of somber and triumphant melodies makes “Midnight Driver” captivating in the way I remember being captivated by “A Spring Day Out” many years ago.

Sunmi, “Black Pearl” [Studio Version]

My oh my this song. You don’t need an MV to see the filtered twinkly lights create a gorgeous sheen over everything. (That said I bet there’s some 80s edit floating around because that’s all the rage right now.) That bass! That flamboyant sax! That sultry voice! The twinkly effects in the second verse! The buttery guitar galore! Best of all it’s so so simple. This is the side of Sunmi I absolutely adore, and fits in beautifully with the songs she wrote for Reboot, particularly “사랑이 떠나려 할 때”.

Heize, “Jenga (feat. Gaeko)” (Wish & Wind)

The chromaticism of “Jenga”‘s jazzy hook (the melody of “I don’t want to play this game no more” in the chorus) is an instant winner in my book. Your attention is immediately given to the song because of the tension of the aforementioned melody right from the opening bars–you don’t want to play the game, but you have to. The hook subtly cycles into the parts that follows, so even as the listener wants to drag their heels for resolution, the song doesn’t let them have it. It may seem trivial, the choice of melodic scale, but it’s the difference between a musically interesting piece of pop music and one that merely sounds pretty.

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