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K-Pop Through the Eyes of a Novice

So you mean to tell me…there’s more to K-Pop than learning all the names of BTS’ members?

My first exposure to K-Pop dates back to sophomore year of high school. My friends and I were sitting in pre-AP chemistry and instead of learning the periodic table; we were fangirling over the music video for EXO’s “Call Me Baby.” I am now a soon-to-be college graduate, and that song still slaps. Ever since then, I’ve been casually aware of K-Pop, dipping my toes in every now and then.

That is, until quarantine started and I found myself bored on YouTube watching videos titled: “Cute Min Yoongi Moments,” and “Ranking main rappers from girl groups.” I was a goner.

In my conversion to this cute, fun but also explosive and seductive music industry, I’ve noticed many interesting things about how it works. Here is my list of the most interesting things I’ve discovered about K-Pop.

1. The Industry

Starting with the most obvious; the K-pop industry is a cutthroat well-oiled machine producing star after star and hit after hit. The three biggest companies in K-Pop are JYP Entertainment, YG Entertainment and SM Entertainment. HYBE Entertainment (formally known as Big Hit Entertainment), who manage BTS and Seventeen, is not commonly considered among the Big Three of K-Pop companies, but they have certainly made a name for themselves.

SM Entertainment

The K-Pop industry is not for the faint-hearted. Artists train anywhere from one year to a decade, learning how to sing, dance and perform. As trainees they are constantly fighting to prove they’ve got what it takes, and the chances of becoming an idol are 1 in 1,000. Once you become an idol, it’s non-stop work. You’re performing difficult songs and choreographers on multiple music shows; promoting new music, going on variety shows, doing lives on social media, sticking to strict rules and keeping up appearances everywhere you go.

Now of course working in any industry is tough, but K-Pop takes it to another level, proving why K-Pop idols are another breed of entertainers.

2. Comebacks

In Western music, artists come out with new albums, they do a few performances at award shows or on late night shows, post about their new album on Instagram and that’s about it. In K-Pop when artists come out with new music, it’s an event, and that event is called a comeback.

Comebacks include: teasers for new music videos, several performances at music charts shows, concept photos for that comeback and several extras (behind the scenes, dance practices, variety show appearances.) In K-Pop one does not simply drop an album and then leave. Comebacks are planned down to the T. Companies put a lot of money into them, and idols put in a lot of time and effort making sure each one is better than the last.

3. Concepts

There is a certain concept being portrayed whenever idols release new music. The most popular concepts are: cute concepts, girl/boy crush concepts and dark concepts. They are essentially themes, and the music, performances and costumes are tailored to that theme.

TWICE courtesy of JYP Entertainment via Times Magazine

TWICE, from JYPE, is known for their cute and elegant concepts. BLACKPINK, from YGE, is known for popularizing the girl crush concept and it is considered to be a large reason for their success. BTS came up as a boy crush concept group before evolving into their current style. Red Velvet, a girl quintet from SME, are often called “concept queens” expertly switching between their cute red concepts and their dark velvet concepts. 

The concepts of K-Pop go to show the intense thought and artistry that goes into their music.

4. K-Pop more like International-Pop

K-Pop means Korean pop, but did you know that you don’t have to be of Korean descent to be a K-Pop idol. Over the years K-Pop has been expanding across Asia, and to facilitate this expansion, companies have been signing idols from all over the world.

Some of the most famous include; Lisa (BLACKPINK) from Thailand, Tzuyu and Momo (TWICE) from Japan, BamBam (GOT7) from Thailand and Jackson Wang (GOT7) from Hong Kong.

Lisa from BLACKPINK courtesy of YG Entertainment

Now there are some issues with foreign idols receiving racist comments from K-Pop neitzens (a term referring to those who bully idols). There are debates over if K-Pop is solely for artists of East Asian descent, and at the moment it seems that is the case. But it is fascinating to see K-Pop grow beyond the borders of its home country, truly showcasing its global impact

5. What is a maknae?

Here are just a few last minute things that I love about K-Pop. 

Maknae refers to the youngest of the group, while Hyung (for men) and Unnie (for women) refer to the elders of the group. It’s wholesome to witness the bond between all the members and to see aspects of their culture through the relationships. 

Focus cams are great for when you’ve discovered your bias (your favorite). Essentially they’re just the footage from a group’s performance but focused on one member only. Don’t ask me how many SUGA or V focus cams I’ve watched, I couldn’t tell you if I tried.

Is it just me, or does anyone else love the robot voice K-Pop YouTubers use on their videos? There’s just something about the slight sarcasm in British Siri’s voice that’s hilarious. Also K-Pop stans? Very messy, there is nothing they love more than an unpopular opinion video on idols or the industry as a whole.

K-Pop is a vast entertainment business with all kinds of ins and outs, and it’s slowly taking over the world – rightfully so. However, there are still those who dismiss K-Pop. They think it’s all a bunch of cutesy music with no depth. They talk down on male idols for wearing makeup and jewelry. They put racist expectations on them to speak English. 

K-Pop is an intricate and impactful music industry that deserves more Western recognition. It’s more than just those “seven Asian boys who sang with Halsey once.” It’s an industry full of beautiful and talented people pursuing their passion.

Featured image BTS at the 2021 Grammys courtesy of HYBE Entertainment

Justin Bieber “Justice” Album Review

At just 16, Bieber released his first studio album. He created a whole demographic of kids and teens that sang along to his first single in 2009, “One Time”, and then “Baby” , in 2010. Since then, his life has been a rollercoaster filled with love and hate, highs and lows and everything in between.

Since his music career began, Bieber has released six studio albums. His latest release, “Justice” , is an undeniable love letter to his wife Hailey Bieber, with tones of love and justice that carry throughout the whole album. 

Not only does it truly capture how his voice has grown over the years, but also how he has matured with every high and low.

Using MLK

In ”Justice,” Bieber uses two samples from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches from the civil rights era. In an interview with radio personality Zach Sang, Bieber explained that he wanted to continue to touch on the problems of injustice the world faces, and sampled King— who he called a “revolutionary voice”— to amplify the minister’s message in a time where younger generations might not know him.

On the first track on “Justice” King opens with “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” before continuing on with “2 Much”, a soft love song about wanting to spend as much time with the person you love as possible.

Track 7 on Bieber’s album is entitled “MLK Interlude” and is almost 2 minutes of an excerpt from King’s 1967 sermon titled “But if Not” that expresses the need to be willing to die for the things in this world that are precious to you.

“I say to you this morning that if you have never found something so dear and so precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live for it, then you are unfit to live.”

Although the use of the samples was approved by King’s Daughter Berenice, several entertainment magazines find them startling and misplaced in the album. 

My first listen through the entire album I skipped the interlude, and all but ignored King’s message in the first song. I chose to listen to this as an album about love, and agreed with many others in the thought that King’s voice was jarring to the album.

The more I listened to it, though, the more King’s words seemed to fit. Directly after the interlude, “Die For You” plays; an up-tempo song about Bieber’s willingness to die for Hailey.

When that realization came, this album felt less like just a love letter, and more about a commentary on the way in which love and justice work together. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the old saying is “love conquers all”, and in the face of injustices, I think it can hold true there too. It may be a romanticized version of justice that Bieber alludes to in this album, but all the same I think once the initial shock of it subsides the connection begins to emerge.

Song Analysis

When looking over the totality of the 16 tracks, they create an experience of weaving tempos and connecting tones that all go well together. 

The first six songs before the interlude all carry a softer vibe and express Bieber’s love for Hailey as well as his fears and thanks for her sticking by his side.

After the interlude, more up-tempo songs take place that seem to come from a more secure mindset about the relationship all the way up to the 15th track “Anyone”, which expresses how Hailey is his one and only love.

“You are the only one I’ll ever love, yeah, you, if it’s not you it’s not anyone”

The only song that feels out of place is the 16th track, “lonely” featuring Benny Blanco. Rather than expressing love, Bieber expresses how lonely it can be to be as successful as him without someone you love next to you. Placed at the end, it seems like a reflection on life before Hailey, and the instrumental does fit well with the album, though it certainly takes a darker turn to the love-riddled album.

“What if you had it all, But nobody to call? Maybe then you’d know me

Final Thoughts

Overall, the listening experience is well-balanced and offers plenty of romanticism with several collaborating artists that continue the tone Bieber sets. With the messages of love and justice, the newfound maturity in mind and voice, and the dedication to telling his story, Bieber has created an obsessive album worth listening to over and over again.

Ariana Evolution: From Teen Nickelodeon Star to Pop Icon

After eight years of her first single “The Way” featuring Mac Miller, released on March 25, 2013, Ariana Grande has become the epitome of pop music of the last decade. Shedding her peppy Nickelodeon Cat Valentine role, Grande has stepped into her thigh-high boots and gathers attention from everyone as the vocalist of our generation.

Featured Illustration by Valerie Aldana

          Grande did not step into this role overnight, though. Grande has experimented with different styles, whether through her music or clothing, to best express herself and reflect on her experiences. Each era has without a doubt been iconic for fans all over the world.

Starting her career at only 15 years old in the Broadway musical “13”, Grande then moved on to star as Cat Valentine on Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” when she was 16. Her character, Cat Valentine, was a fan-favorite and went on to have her own show “Sam & Cat”, alongside iCarly’s Jennette McCurdy. Playing the super sweet red-headed character for four years as a teen, Grande felt as though she had to hide behind her Nickelodeon image. She went on to release her first single, “Put Your Hearts Up” in 2011, which Graned later disowned because of its inauthenticity and tween sound. In an interview with Zach Sang, Grande explained that the single and music video, which was her with her red hair dancing around in a hot pink dress, was not her style, and instead, a very much Cat Valentine-esque single.

With her now brown hair in her famous half-up, half-down do, wearing super high heels and girly skirts, Grande was entering a new era. On September 3, 2013, Grande released her debut album, which took inspiration from urban pop from the late 1990s. Having been able to let go of her false persona to who she truly was, Grande named the album “Yours Truly”, signing it as she would a love letter.

In a time of her sky-high ponytail and cat ears around one year later, Grande released her sophomore album, “My Everything”, on August 25, 2014, where she experimented with new sounds. Having some of the biggest hits of 2014 including “Bang Bang (featuring Nicki Minaj and Jessie J)”, “Problem (featuring Iggy Azalea)”, and “Break Free (featuring Zedd)”, Grande was becoming a dominant player in the world of music. She played with different styles from 90s R&B in “Problem” to EDM in “Break Free” and to slower sentimental songs such as Harry Styles’ penned, “Just A Little Bit of Your Heart”.

Courtesy of WallpaperAccess

An even greater force came when “Dangerous Woman” released on May 20, 2016. Grande traded in her cat ears for bunny ears, perhaps symbolic of the no longer present Cat Valentine character. With the album cover featuring her latex bunny mask, signature ponytail, and her first Parental Advisory label, the music itself showed Grande’s more sensual and mature side. In a live chat before releasing her album, Graned explained her different route to this new music saying, “To me, a dangerous woman is someone who’s not afraid to take a stand, be herself, and to be honest.”

During the European leg of the “Dangerous Woman” tour on May 22, 2017, tragedy struck in the Manchester Arena. While the show was ending, a suicide bomber set off an explosion, killing more than 22 people, and wounding 59. With a young fanbase, children were among those affected. Mourning the lives of those loved ones, Grande set up a benefit concert in Manchester, the One Love Manchester concert on June 4, 2017, raising millions of dollars for those affected.

Courtesy of Grande’s Twitter

In a way to brighten up the darker event of the previous year, Grande released “Sweetener”, her fourth album, on August 17, 2018. Her album cover hints at the positivity of her lyrics, with it being her first album cover in color. In addition, Grande debuted her silver hair in this era, in contrast to her usual darker brown ponytail. “Sweetener” was a beautiful response to dealing with her trauma and for Grande to show how music heals her and others. In a sound taking you to a dreamlike state, Grande showcased her lower register, instead of her previous sound of showing off the crazy tricks her voice can pull off in her more radio/pop songs. “Sweetener” was about caring less about her range and more about the lyrical content and showing a sweeter and more mature side of her. As happens in life, Grande seemed to be at the height of her happiness during this time, singing songs like “No Tears Left to Cry”, and naming a song after her then-fiance, Pete Davidson. Of course, things don’t usually go as we wish they did.

Courtesy of Grande’s Twitter

On September 7, 2018, singer Mac Miller passed away from an overdose. Miller and Grande had met years before when Grande was 19 and had become close friends, which then blossomed into a romantic relationship in 2016. They both appeared on each other’s songs and continuously showed their love for each other on social media. Though they broke up in May 2018, both remained on good terms with each other. Quickly after their breakup, though, Grande began dating Davidson, and in a flurry of news of this new relationship, Grande and Davidson got engaged in June of that same year. The news of Miller’s overdose 2 months later left his fans pointing fingers at her to blame, claiming she abandoned him for Davidson.

With the whirlwind of traumatic events Grande went through in a single year, from the Manchester bombing to her former love Miller passing away, to her calling off her engagement to Davidson, Grande was at her lowest point, grieving and traumatized. As a musician, Grande turned to songwriting to heal herself, and hence, “Thank U, Next” was created, her most personal and honest album. Working in an environment of a supportive group of friends who flew in to support her, Grande was able to pull herself out of the dark and take the best out of the horrible situations and turn it into one of her most successful albums to date.

Courtesy of Grande’s Twitter

The “thank u, next” single was dropped in a surprise on November 3, 2018; it quickly shot to fame because of Grande being completely honest, using real names of exes, and being grateful for lessons learned from failed relationships. In this powerful song, Grande gave women confidence everywhere to learn to love themselves. The music video for “thank u, next” alone racked up more than 55 million views in 24 hours, breaking YouTube records, and featuring celebrities ranging from the Kardashians to Jennifer Coolidge. The full album was then released on February 8, 2019, breaking even more records because of the powerful message behind it: Grande reminded fans to embrace their mistakes and what they learn from them.

Courtesy of Grande’s Twitter

Closing up with her latest album, “Positions”, released October 30, 2020, Grande shows how she now rather prefers releasing music on her own terms, without sticking to certain expectations. In contrast to her more pop-sounding music, Positions veers more towards R&B. While “Positions” might not have had as big of an impact as “Sweetener” & “Thank U, Next”, her lyrics and raw voice in “Positions” beautifully resonate with the process of healing and learning how to love again. “Positions” was the production of Grande’s new chapter of a healed version of herself and a way for her to make fans smile during the craziness of 2020.

With just eight years of Grande making music, she has become a key figure in music. She takes her life experiences and turns them into an escape for fans everywhere, giving us music for every occasion with over 100 songs in her discography. As Nicki Minaj says in the “Side to Side” collaboration, “Ariana runs pop. Don’t believe her? Go ahead and look up “Biggest pop star in the world”.

Women to Follow to Keep Female Empowerment Alive All Year Long

As we leave the month of March behind, April showers and marshmallow peeps come in full focus. Even as we leave Women’s History Month, it’s important to keep the message and appreciation alive all year long. So here are some badass women to keep on your Netflix watchlist, and in your Spotify Playlists.

Netflix And Girl Power

Good Girls

Photo Courtesy of NBC

This NBC show has all four seasons on Netflix and is the perfect binging material for a wild money laundering scheme that has three witty, dynamic women at the forefront of the plot. The constant twists and turns keep you on your toes until Netflix inevitably has to ask “Are you Still Watching?” This is definitely a show about women taking back the power, and also about how far they’re willing to go for their families. It’s a must-watch to keep the girl power alive all year long.

Ginny and Georgia

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

This Netflix original has one season that leaves you wanting more. Starring a spirited mother-daughter duo, the show has all kinds of messages of how far you’d go for family and also how women always seem to get the right thing done. Admittedly, Ginny is one of the most frustrating characters in television I have ever seen and most of the internet agrees. But watching these two women take the bull by the horns and work to get what they desire out of life is yet another binge-worthy event.

Firefly Lane

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

Another feisty duo, the two best friends in the Netflix original Firefly Lane tell their story through several different timelines. This show truly feels like a coming-of-age story between two women trying to work through the ups and downs of the world, as well as the highs and lows of their friendship. It’s a bit less adventurous than money-laundering or flower-poisoning, but the women who star in this series create a show that is an absolute must-watch.

Female Icons to Jam Out To

Taylor Swift

Photo from Miss Americana, A Documentary about Taylor Swift on Netflix

From the constant bashing about boyfriends to having her own music barred from her performances, Swift has been through a lot. However, she has spent plenty of time being a woman of empowerment. From her entire album, Reputation, to songs on many other albums, Swift has shot back tenfold. Now, on April 9th, she will be releasing a new version of Fearless to take back all the amazing music she created that her old label has tried to keep her from performing. This woman is definitely an icon in the pop industry, and you should have her on all your playlists.

Beyoncé

Photo from Homecoming: A film by beyoncé on Netflix

Beyoncé is one of those singers whose name always brings a cheer with it. She’s a legend in the industry and love for her music and her story runs deep in pop culture. Her passion and drive especially paid off when she received her 28th award at the Grammys, making her the show’s female artist with the most awards. She has always pushed her limits, and everything from her documentary, Homecoming, to the numerous albums she has created, shows her ability to work hard and continue to speak out for women everywhere with her iconic feminist lyrics.

Lizzo

Photo Courtesy of Lizzo’s Instagram @lizzobeeating

Lizzo very much creates music by women for women, in that she is constantly empowering her listeners with lyrics about self-love and self-confidence. She’s faced a lot of backlash for being a plus-sized pop star, but instead of ignoring the media’s hate, she claps back through music, TikToks, and more. Songs like “Soulmate” and “Juice” keep the empowerment alive in the form of fast-tempoed songs that anyone can dance to and talk about self-love. She’s definitely the hype woman to keep on repeat.

While these three artists are definitely my top choice to add some extra female empowerment all year long, take a look at some other female artists to add to your playlists to continue to expand on women’s empowerment all year long.

Whether it’s a binge-able show or a song on repeat, it’s important to keep yourself surrounded with that amazing Girl Power energy to remind all of us we are so much more than the world says we are. Keeping these reminders in our everyday life is what ultimately continues to sew the seeds for even greater social change, and even more women to go down in history to celebrate next March.

Female Artists to add to Your Playlists

Are you looking for new artists to listen to? Have you realized that most of the artists you listen to are men and want to add more women to your playlists? In honor of women’s history month, here are some underrated female artists you can check out and add to your rotation.

  1. Rina Sawayama

Rina Sawayama’s song “Comme Des Garcons” (Like The Boys) will make you feel like anywhere is your runway. The Japanese-British artist fuses pop with everything from R&B to club beats sure to brighten up your mood.

Recommended Songs: Comme Des Garcons (Like The Boys), XS, Lucid

  1. Chloe x Halle

The iconic Grammy-nominated sister duo, Chloe and Halle Bailey, are self taught musicians from Mableton, Georgia. The sisters were signed by Beyonce in 2015 and appeared in her visual album “Lemonade”. Chloe x Halle deliver vocals, visuals and songs that make you feel everything from angelic to powerful. You might recognize them from their trending song featured on Tik Tok “Do It”, acting performances on “Grownish” and the buzz for the upcoming live action production of “The Little Mermaid”.

Recommended songs: Do It, Ungodly Hour, Happy Without Me

  1. Snoh Aalegra

Snoh Aelegra is an Iranian-Swedish R&B artist with a soulful sound and music that reflects her coming of age story. She sings about love, heartbreak, and everything in between. Whatever mood you’re in or whatever emotion your feeling, Snoh Aelegra has a song that will perfectly accompany it.  

Recommended Songs: Situationship, You Keep Me Waiting, Nothing Burns Like the Cold

  1. UMI

UMI is an R&B and neo-soul artist that gives a unique and nostalgic feel to each and every one of her songs. The Seattle native who attended the University of Southern California has a sound influenced by the r&b, sould, gospel, and Japanese pop her African-American father and Japanese mother listened to.

Recommended Songs: Butterfly, Frequently, Sonshine

  1. Raveena

Raveena is an R&B artist with a dreamy and spiritual feeling to her music. As an Indian-American artist she beautifully incorporates elements of South Asian culture within her music. Raveena’s sound is creamy and her visuals add to the illusion of the dreamlike sound.

Recommended Songs: Honey, Close 2 U, Headaches

  1. Noname

Noname is a rapper and poet inspired by artists like Lauryn Hill and Andre 3000. The Chicago native incorporates storytelling and witty poetry with critiques on race, sex, identity, and politics in her music.

Recommended Songs: Diddy Bop, Shadow Man, Self

  1. KAINA

KAINA is a Latina R&B artist whose music has elements of  pop and salsa. The Chicago native strives to make music that is positive yet honest. Kaina tells her story as a first generation Latina through her smooth and melodic music. 

Recommended songs: La Luna, Honey, Could Be a Curse