The Best New Music from K-Pop and J-Pop Stars: June 2021
This piece was originally published on 17caratkpop.weebly.com.
#20: UVERworld, NAMELY
This pair of songs leaves a strong impression on listeners and provide prime examples of how UVERworld’s sound defies labels and expectations. “NAMELY” has a notable electronic breakdown in the bridge and a vocal delivery that strikes the perfect balance between disinterested and overly invested. However, this doesn’t mean UVERworld doesn’t know how to have fun on their songs: they go full melodrama on “LIVIN’ IT UP,” which features a rapping-singing mixture and growly choruses. Taken together, these songs simultaneously show the world who this band is and how capable they are of reinventing themselves from song to song.
#19: GHOST9, NOW : When we are in Love
The members of GHOST9 are “Up All Night” as they become game pieces in a life-sized version of their board game. The premise of this music video could take two very different directions: the members could turn on each other and treat the game as a must-win, or they could see camaraderie as an asset to the game, spending time getting to know the other players before worrying about the game’s outcome. GHOST9 chooses the latter. They revel in the chance to bond with each other. They stargaze, play hide-and-seek, and move through the streets of a rainbow neighborhood together. If GHOST9’s friendship isn’t enough to put a smile on everyone’s faces, listening to the full album should finish the job. NOW : When we are in Loveis an invitation to a summer of friendship and fun, full of short and sweet pick-me-ups.
#18: 2PM, MUST
The music video for “Make it,” in which their love interest is wearing a La La Land-esque dress, is goofy and inexplicable in the best ways. Looking suave in suits, the members of 2PM spend the apocalypse trying to flirt and dance amidst the chaos. 2PM chooses to make the most of their last moments on Earth, remaining calm against all odds. This chill attitude prevails throughout MUST, with pianos and saxophones weaving the tracks together to create the feel of sitting in a (mostly) quiet jazz bar. In classic 2PM fashion, this comeback manages to be both carefree and enthusiastic. There is tonal consistency in MUST, but its repetition is balanced out with the surreal “Make it” music video. Overall, 2PM contrasts their music video selves with their vocalist selves, and these opposite personas keep things interesting.
#17: TWICE, Taste of Love
As the name of the title track, “Alcohol-Free,” suggests, TWICE presents a youthful and wholesome image through this comeback. However, they do come across as more mature, particularly on the standout B-side “Scandal.” TWICE is not so much changing their image as they are adding onto it, expanding their catalog to contain more layers. Their fandom can only increase thanks to this, with new fans being drawn to their charms and longtime fans continuing to get the colorful and whimsical music videos they expect. Taste of Love makes for easy-breezy listening, transporting listeners to a tropical paradise. Whether to brighten spirits on a rainy day or just add to the summer fun, Taste of Love has all the flavors needed to leave all kinds of listeners satisfied.
#16: EXO, DON’T FIGHT THE FEELING
For longtime EXO-Ls, it is a relief to see the EXO Cinematic Universe characters get a break from some of the chaos! This comeback pivots to the “normal world,” as opposed to the supernatural world in which most of EXO’s previous music videos have been located. While EXO’s crime-fighting alter egos get the day off, their powerhouse vocals do not, making this album worthy of the acoustic treatment. As thrilling as EXO’s cinematic universe is when focused on the supernatural universe, this release proves EXO doesn’t need dramatics to compel audiences. With this comeback, turning the theatrics down a peg works in EXO’s favor by providing a refreshing change of pace and not letting their raw talent be overlooked.
#15: Brave Girls, Summer Queen
What could be better than long-overdue love for Brave Girls? Brave Girls being aware of the renewed attention on them and embracing it! Brave Girls confidently and rightfully declare themselves summer queens, and they prove they deserve this title by combining several classic summer comeback concepts into a single music video. “Chi Mat Ba Ram” features a beach, skateboarding, lots of color, and a chic summer wardrobe. The girls check off many boxes with this comeback, making it a K-pop classic in the making. In short, Brave Girls is back and better than ever.
#14: A.C.E, SIREN:DAWN
A.C.E immerses themselves in their music video characters more than ever before, kicking their musical storytelling up yet another notch. This comeback’s photoshoots and videos are full of underwater shots, princely attire, and celestial scenes, combined in ways that somehow bring a cohesive story to life. The SIREN:DAWN album intro, “Miserere Mei Deus,” alludes to a psalm about forgiveness. This serves as a prelude to the “Higher” music video, which is also open to interpretation. By associating stunning visuals with a concept as abstract as mercy, A.C.E intrigues for more reasons than one. A.C.E establishes the tone for their album and leaves the more specific conclusions to be drawn by fans. In other words, A.C.E does not tell fans how to interpret the messages hidden in the “Higher” music video, and in this album overall, but A.C.E does provide fans a framework that makes the interpreting easier. A.C.E sets the scene and leaves the decoding to fans. Because every fan can walk away from this release with a different take on it, this comeback manages to be personal while literally out of this world.
#13: HARU, “15”
HARU’s delivery is hard to describe but can best be summarized as a distinct cadence that walks a tightrope between singing and rapping. After a quickening delivery, his words start to tumble over one another in rapid succession, as if he is trying to voice his thoughts at the speed they come to him. Yet the murmuring and guitars that accompany him keep the song from sounding too rushed. The vocals are the yin to the instruments’ yang, making music that is neither overwhelmingly quick nor tiringly slow. “15” is perfectly paced to suit its singer, a star whose voice and cadence leave a lasting impression.
#12: N.Flying, Man on the Moon
The “Moonshot” music video setting serves as a great metaphor for Man on the Moon overall. Just as they do in scene after scene of the video’s alternate reality, surprises pop up on track after track on the album. There is a sudden pivot to rapping in the middle of “Moonshot,” unexpected high notes on “Ask,” and a more dramatic sound on “Comma,” just to name a few. Through this new album and music video, N.Flying proves they shine as brightly as the stars they sing about, and they encourage others to let their lights shine as well (“If you wanna change, be not afraid”).
#11: BamBam, riBBon
The music video for “riBBon” shows BamBam at his most charming, dancing and flying through picturesque scenes as he dons Mad-Hatter-chic outfits and sings about feeling reborn. He is seen at a dance party, in a human-sized chess game, and atop mountains of presents, among other scenes. It’s a gorgeous and quirky music video fit for its one-of-a-kind star. BamBam’s endearing and uplifting image ties all the songs on riBBon together, but each song is also a unique gift of its own. He raps and sings on songs ranging from R&B-influenced tracks to a ballad to pop delights. From his cheerful wardrobe to his music video’s extravagant settings and pastel aesthetics, this comeback guarantees BamBam’s future releases deserve a spot on everyone’s wish lists.
#10: from20, Radio Will Sing Our Song
Returning to the synth-heavy sound of his last single, from20 is back in his musical sweet spot. This time, he sings a tale of bittersweetness and nostalgia. While he acknowledges a perfect relationship cannot stay that way forever, those perfect memories can be preserved by associating them with a special song. Whenever that special song plays on the radio, from20 is taken back in time to the days of a blissful romance. It strikes a powerful chord to see him go on carefree dates and share sweet embraces with the one he loves while singing about how those precious moments are left in the past. This single is a touching tribute to both a relationship and a desire to bottle up and hold onto whatever magic made that relationship so perfect in the first place.
#9: toku, Bouquet
toku is one half of the group GARNiDELiA, but he is one full superstar on this solo album. His solo music departs from GARNiDELiA’s sound, but not entirely: electro-pop and anime rock influences remain prominent. Bouquet features piano ballads, dance-ready jams, and everything in between. toku concocts his own formula of mixed genres throughout this album, making for an impressively versatile solo that takes aspects of GARNiDELiA’s sound and does something new with them. Thanks to this exciting new formula, toku deserves to both gain new fans and maintain the admiration of GARNiDELiA fans.
#8: Stray Kids’ New Releases
Despite not having an official comeback this month, Stray Kids has released several new songs and music videos that cover a range of topics. On “HaPpY,” HAN reflects on a chapter of his life ending and the feelings of loss and wistfulness he has to deal with now. On “Up All Night,” a handful of Stray Kids members sing about being too caffeinated to sleep. On “Mixtape: OH,” all of the members sing about feeling vulnerable and inexperienced in a relationship. Stray Kids appear concerned and deep in thought throughout the “Mixtape: OH” music video, whereas they are class clowns in “Up All Night” (dressed for Halloween, no less). With their new releases, Stray Kids shows the range of purposes their music serves. It conveys relatable emotions, injects levity into situations, and stresses the power of positive relationships. Whether in the mood for comfort or celebration, drama or humor, there is a Stray Kids song for that, even on their off-months.
#7: PINK FANTASY, Alice in Wonderland
PINK FANTASY delivers both goth princess aesthetics and a dark, intense sound in their own unique ways. Impressive choreography makes the “Poison” music video a must-watch, not to mention the wardrobe. With looks including Cruella de Vil hair, glitter tears, and dark lipstick paired with a lavender dress, the members of PINK FANTASY are punk prom queens with a transfixing presence.
#6: HA SUNG WOON, Sneakers
HA SUNG WOON is absolutely adorable in the “Sneakers” music video, not to mention stylish. Bright colors fill both the album cover and the music video, a fitting choice for an artist with such a bubbly and colorful personality. HA SUNG WOON continues to shine when he gets more sentimental on the album’s slower songs. He proves those with a naturally high register can still be versatile in their vocal delivery. Through this comeback, HA SUNG WOON is both the epitome of sunshine and willing to show off a softer, more vulnerable side to himself.
#5: LOONA, [&]
As an upcoming episode of “LOONAverse Talk” will address, LOONA knows how to leave fans guessing in more ways than one. They remain unpredictable for both the Easter eggs they choose to sprinkle throughout their work and for their changing sound. On this latest stage in their musical evolution, LOONA incorporates the sounds of Bollywood and dubstep into “PTT (Paint The Town),” a triumphant declaration of the desire to take control of one’s destiny. LOONA’s dynamism is further shown through [&], as the albumincludes both upbeat and slow songs. LOONA is commonly seen as a top-tier group for their synchronized performances, a warranted label. However, this new album proves their vocals are also commendable. With a unique title track, a music video full of details that will excite longtime fans, and room made on the album for their singing skills to shine, LOONA ensures this comeback is one to remember.
#4: Nissy, “Do Do”
First of all, this song on its own is pop perfection. Nissy’s voice is electronified in an artful way in the pre-choruses, the chorus is very catchy, and the bridge includes a pause from singing to hear the sounds of a party. Combined, this song’s details set the scene and keep listeners nodding along. Secondly, Nissy’s new release is worth attention for its cinematic music videos. Several symbols that appear in his earlier videos make a return, including the bathtub his character uses to teleport whenever lightning strikes. This time, Nissy transports into a house where he has a vivid daydream of becoming a superstar. He awakens to realize it was just a dream, then he awakens again to realize that scene was also a dream. The alternative ending in the other music video shows Nissy watching his performance on security cameras. If this all sounds perplexing, it should. His dream-within-a-dream concept and the choose-your-own-adventure-style videos leave more questions than answers, indicating there are many more chapters of this story ahead. If future singles are as catchy as this one, Nissy’s adventures will keep on being worth the wait.
#3: B.I, WATERFALL
This debut full-length album is an excellent introduction to B.I. He shows the world who he is as a fierce solo rapper on some tracks and as a softer singer on others. Rather than introduce his rapping and singing personas separately, he shows how these sides of himself constantly interact. This is a very human album that shows B.I’s multitudes as a person. His character defies labels just as his music does, mixing rock, R&B, and rap influences. The album is bookended by expressions of boldness and determination in very different ways, showing how confidence and vulnerability can coexist. The album opens with “WATERFALL,” an in-your-face anthem, and it ends with “Re-Birth,” a song that exerts a quiter, more conditional confidence. As a whole, WATERFALL is a journal full of complex thoughts and feelings that are conveyed in a myriad of artful ways.
#2: MONSTA X, One Of A Kind
As detailed in a previous episode of 17 Carat K-Pop, MONSTA X shows natural growth on their newest album in more ways than one. The subject matter in their lyrics is more mature than ever, and the members have grown into their musicianship, becoming more hands-on with songwriting and producing. When considering their authentic growth, emphasis must stay on the word authentic. MONSTA X has not grown up overnight; the band still sounds like classic MONSTA X. Joohoney and I.M still trade rap lines, Kihyun still belts out high notes, and their songs still layer instrument on top of instrument to an impressive extent. Plus, the “GAMBLER” music video picks up where their previous videos leave off, adding a new installment to their music video universe. This album is both classic MONSTA X and classic in the sense that it is a very original body of work. MONSTA X has challenged themselves creatively by working so much on this release, and their rolls of the dice turn out to be big winners.
#1: SEVENTEEN, Your Choice
As detailed in a recent essay and podcast episode, SEVENTEEN’s work always maintains several dimensions. It works on an emotional level as well as a more surface-level one. It is both a pick-me-up and a powerfully resonant tale, an energy boost and a reflective, profound form of storytelling. Their latest album encapsulates these multitudes, showing the full extent of their capabilities and natural talent. From their music video aesthetics to their choreography, each element of this release works in tandem to send a strong, clear message about a concept that is essential to understand, yet complex in its definition: love.
Click here for the podcast episode featuring further commentary on these picks and on some honorable mentions, follow the link below for a playlist of the songs referenced here, and click here to read about last month’s picks!