Yesterday, a couple of travel-blogging bros uploaded a music video for a song they wrote while enjoying their stay in North Korea. The song manages to celebrate the notoriously oppressive country in pursuit of “positivity,” which of course comes at the discarding of the not so positive truth that North Korea has some of the worst human rights abuses today.
Well, this got me thinking that this is probably the perfect time to talk about the actual Korean music that’s taking over the world. And seeing as North Korean jams like “We Shall Hold Bayonets More Firmly” and “The Joy of Bumper Harvest Overflows Amidst the Song of Mechanisation” aren’t exactly dominating the airwaves, that leaves us with the popular music from South Korea, or K-pop.
So here’s a carefully curated list of some of the hottest tracks from the K-pop industry this summer. Get ready for plenty of trap-inspired beats, some heavy electronic synth, and overall chill vibes.
This song, which dropped yesterday, technically isn’t a K-pop song. This is the English-language debut of CL, member of girl group 2NE1, who has long been heralded as the first K-pop star to break out into the American market. “Lifted” is a great, very low-key, chill track, and while the ~40s and shorties~ vibe does make me wonder if this qualifies as cultural appropriation, Method Man makes a quick cameo, so there’s that!
This quartet made their debut earlier this month and have already made it to the number one spot in Billboard’s World Digital Songs chart.
Okay, I’m cheating. This track from singer-songwriter powerhouse DEAN and rapper/producer Zico was technically released last year, but it’s a good track that pays homage to Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools,” so whatever. Also be sure to check out Dean’s track with Anderson .Paak, “Put My Hands on You,” for obvious reasons (Anderson .Paak).
EXO is actually South Korean and Chinese combination boy band whose latest album is very Disclosure-inspired.
Amber, a California native, is actually a member of the K-pop girl group f(x), but has taken some time to grace us with her solo stuff.
This is probably one of my top summer songs, not just K-pop. NCT U is a subset of Neo Culture Technology (NCT), a concept dreamed up by a record label founder: basically a K-pop boy band army, where all the members are interchangeable. It’s weird. Anyway, NCT U is great, their choreography makes me want to cry, and their sister faction NCTU 127 is p cute as well.
A perfect track for a lazy summer evening by a super talented, award-winning rapper. Seriously, check out his album “12.”
You’re actually probably already familiar with Hyuna—the K-pop veteran appears in Psy’s inescapable “Gangnam Style” music video as his dance partner. But in Korea, she’s definitely known for her own music.
Love this collaboration between up-and-coming rapper Heize (whose name was inspired by Angel Haze) and the previously mentioned Dean.
This is a much more upbeat, smiley pop track from Atlanta native Eric Nam.
Another more traditional and more soul-inspired K-pop track from the fun and irresistible girl band Mamamoo.
It’s pretty dope to see K-pop stars playing instruments, but just FYI, they’re still learning! Apparently, the concept of Wonder Girls actually being a band came up about halfway through recording their latest album, but A for effort!
I would be remiss to exclude the ridiculously popular summer jam from the ridiculously popular BTS, which kicked off this summer’s K-pop trend of adding a reggaeton beat breakdown to the end of a song (a direct homage to last year’s Big Bang’s “Bang Bang Bang”).