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2012 in Review: Return of Old School Sounds

With 2012, we saw k-pop music continue to evolve. However, we also saw the return of sounds from decades ago. From soul to punk rock, k-pop artists have brought back memories for those of us in our twenties and older.  Although rookies led the way in using old school music, veteran artists did not shy away. Below are examples of new takes on old sounds.

B.A.P: “Stop It”

B.A.P has made a lasting impression as rookies. Particularly, they are known for powerful lyrics and dancing. Their latest track, “Stop It,” showed a new side of the group: old school. First, the group uses a 1990s pop-rock instrumental, heavy with guitars and lifted drum beat. The rapping style of Bang Yong Guk and Zelo will always be like that of rappers who started in the ’80s and ’90s. In “Stop It,” the singing style – upbeat with over-exagerrated vocal mannerisms – is also reminiscent of pop music from the ’90s.  Even the dancing for the song will remind you of the ’90s.

Block B: “Action RMX,” “Mental Breaker,” and “Romantically”

Block B is known for their different musical composition compared to most k-pop groups, so it’s no surprise their albums this year have had different styles. In particular, three songs have taken concepts of old school music: “Action RMX” from Welcome to the Block (Repackage), “Mental Breaker” and “Romantically,” both of which were from Blockbuster. “Action RMX” incorporates funk from the 1970s into a fun track. “Mental Breaker” samples disco music that leaves you doing hip bumps and pointing your finger in the air. “Mental Breaker” and “Action RMX” also make you feel like strutting down the sidewalk carrying a 50lbs boombox on your shoulder. Meanwhile, “Romantically” veers in an entirely different direction. The song is a jazzy tune, originally performed by Block B’s mentor/CEO, Cho PD. With new lyrics, and Taeil scatting, “Romantically” makes you feel like you should be in a smokey bar with your lover.

BtoB: “WOW”

New jack swing is probably familiar to those who grew up listening to Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block, or other boy bands from the 80s and 90s. So, when rookies BtoB released “WOW,” it was a trip down memory lane. Reminiscent of ’80s-’90s childhood and filled with impact vocals and instrumentals, “WOW” was a fantastic blast to the past. Try to resist singing and dancing along with BtoB.

Dal Shabet: “Have, Have Not”

The queens of old-school-new-school, Dal Shabet, did not disappoint with their latest release. Once again, the girls were back with disco in “Have, Have Not.” Not only did they dress the part, they also danced the part. The song itself is a poppy disco track, complete with the typical “woo woo” vocalizations common in disco. “Have, Don’t Have” also incorporates heavy synths, which you find in pop from the 80s. Overall, the track is a celebration of music from the 70s and 80s.

Epik High: “Don’t Hate Me”

Epik High had an epic comeback this year, to say the least, with their new album, 99. Their title track, “Don’t Hate Me,” is a fusion of hip-hop and punk rock. By punk rock, I mean the classic style from the ’90s that had you jumping around and rebelling.  Epik High continues that feel in “Don’t Hate Me.”  With it’s anthem-like style, screaming guitar lead-in, and banging drums, you’ll find yourself headbanging right along with the trio and the cute kids in the video. (Seriously, watch the video, it’s awesome.)

Kim Sunggyu: “Shine”

1980s pop and ’90s rock, anyone? This year, INFINITE’s leader, Kim Sunggyu, had his debut as a soloist. Before the official album was released, “Shine” was pre-released.  The track features synths layered over instrumentals, which was common in the ’80s, and also features high-pitched and rock-tinged vocals from Sunggyu.  Written and composed by Nell’s Kim Jong Wan, “Shine” is an exercise in pop rock and reminiscent of 80s bands, such as The Police.

Lee Hi: “”

Rookie soloist from YG Entertainment, Lee Hi, took the k-pop world by storm. Ranking atop the charts for weeks, Lee Hi’s debut track, “,” was a smash hit. Written by Masta Wu, and produced by CHOICE37 and Lydia Paek, “” is a revival of diva-like soul. A combination of soul, jazz, blues, and pop, the track takes old school sounds that created musical divas. Lee Hi’s smokey vocals only add to the old-school sounds.

SPICA: “I’ll Be There” and “Lonely”

SPICA is another rookie group to try an old sound. The girls debuted with powerful vocals, but with “I’ll Be There,” the girls took it to back to old school girl groups.  You are taken back to the days of Spice Girls or S.E.S.  The rap parts really remind you of Spice Girls. With light instrumentals and beats, over-layed with powerful vocals, “I’ll Be There” is a trip back to the ’90s. “Lonely” combines ’70s and ’80s beats and instrumentals, with the soulful vocals of the girls. Initial reactions would be to say this song reminds you of hits like “It’s Raining Men.” However, the song uses more up-to-date instrumentals and powerful lyrics to keep it out of the disco-poppy realm and firmly into a more soulful territory.

Ulala Session: “Beautiful Night” and “Wedding Singer”

Could Ulala Session’s debut song have been any more old school? “Beautiful Night” sampled the “Footloose” guitar line and beat, a song from an iconic 1980’s movie that celebrated rock n’ roll.  The MV even featured outlandish dancing, similar to what you would have found in the movie.  Also, the introduction to the song is set in a jazz bar style, only adding to the old school feel. Not only did “Beautiful Night” go old school, but “Wedding Singer” actually begins with the theme song of classic TV show “Sanford and Son.”  The song itself features a reggae beat and brass line, which was a popular style for music in the 1980s and 1990s.  Ulala Session was able to capture the beats and sounds that epitomized old school musical eras.


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