It’s been a great summer for k-pop. Complain that everything sounds the same if you want. You’re not wrong. The same elite circle of producers do produce everything. But I don’t care.
I want tunes and jams and gems and masterpieces. Obviously, given the overly professional state of k-pop, masterpieces are less likely. K-pop is no longer in its empire building phase, ambitiously trying to surpass the Western pop legacy to create their own dynasty. Everything is more stable. And if you love the current status quo, then every month you find something to enjoy. When was the last time you could say the same about Western mainstream pop?
So there isn’t much worth talking about that requires a blog post. I tweet my “live” reactions to new releases. There is no point writing article after article trying to find new ways to talk about all the great bubbly girl pop this year has brought. Unless something of particular interest comes up, I’m sticking to twitter.
But thankfully, something worth discussing has emerged.
The Battle of GG was not the epic I expected. Tiffany came out with a solid song that just missed qualifying as a tune but I deemed it as such because compared to Jessica’s single it was. Then Taeyeon left them devastated. Her single was actually worth listening to for more than two days. Good for her! “Why” is American radio at a higher level.
But while the Battle of GG raged, Fei, Transcendent of Miss A, played her Game of Thrones and conquered. She won The Solo Wars with a slice of true pop heaven, the kind of song that makes you rethink and realize how small The Battle of GG was. Luna laughed from her underground kingdom of laser lights and dancing gays.
I needed this. I needed Fei, and I will need Jia and Min, to rule. These three women have wanted to work, to make music, and to be the artists that they are, that they trained years to be, but have been hindered by the juggernaut that is Suzy’s celebrity. Everyone says they need Suzy, but clearly they can’t move forward with her. No one will let Miss A exist without Suzy, so solo releases are the only way for these three women, who want to work and create, to have a chance to do so without having their careers being ruined by the public’s self-fulfilling prophesy.
And the fact that this knowledge has not turned anyone against Suzy, the fact that Miss A being paradoxically propelled and blocked by Suzy has not lead to the earth splitting and hell pouring forth is proof that no one cares more about Miss A than they do about Suzy.
In my dream world, JYP would have phased Suzy out of Miss A in a PR campaign. Let her sign on to more CFs, dramas, and duets while Miss A subunits as a trio. Artistically, she has a nice vocal texture, she’s beautiful, but she either throws off or is harmless in the stages. Fei can more than compensate for her visuals and voice at this point. But this is beyond the craft of pop. It’s celebrity.
So given my stance, it’s no wonder that Fei frightened me. I was so afraid that I pretended not to care. I gave one rant during the “Only You” era when Suzy cut the comeback short just as they were beginning to gain traction on a much needed hit. Then I went away. When a member left and as solos were announced I gave a celebratory stan cheer, but as the possibility of music came closer to reality, I was quiet. Fei made announcements, released teasers, and I didn’t look. I didn’t click. Finally, I gave in to the MV teaser and THERE WAS NO MUSIC. I just buried myself in Taylor Swift v. Kim to keep from having real feelings about something I really cared about.
But it is here. Fei has released her solo debut, and the REIGN OF JYP continues. I was so afraid Jay was going to stumble, but he understands how serious this is, how much a cult following of K-pop enthusiasts needed this.
Fei’s “Fantasy” capitalizes on the sex revolution that happened during “Hush.” It was the moment that Fei became my consistent favorite. I always went back and forth on loving the girls depending on their part in a song, but Fei’s breakthrough in visual made her leading material.
The MV teaser revealed the virtual reality concept, and I had to shut myself down before I shed a tear over its brilliance. It’s been a long time since a major act went so conceptual in their concept (beyond stringing together a bunch of incomprehensibly artsy set pieces). I think “Fire Truck” may be an interesting exception. (But that’s another topic for another day, and it’s a typical message albeit creatively told.)
SM is winning pop as a cultural/corporate phenomenon. JYP is winning pop as an art form.
In the hands of other artists, this sexy concept would have been so pandering and full of fan service as to be wonderfully ridiculous. I’d love it, but that doesn’t mean I’d respect it.
The virtual reality concept is a framing device. Taking this mature, slinky sexuality and giving it some underground filthiness and a digital world premise are the details that elevate the overall visual production. And it does say something about the future virtual revolution instead of just exploiting it for trendiness. There isn’t a narrative, but there is a theme. And maybe not having a narrative, being stuck in one fantasy, is the point. Social media has changed the world but it really hasn’t. And for all the talk of how important art is in creating positive change, its primary function is escapism. How does that work? Change the world by running away from it. Fix today’s world by arguing the historical accuracy of an epic fantasy based on the medieval era.
Fei dances in dirty white sneakers and in pieces that are equal parts sexy and sporty while hypnotizing you with a hula hoop that appears in different set ups at different times. Our real reality is a pop-grunge scene where we are in some underground parlor watching Fei dance in a glitchy virtual world where a bathtub and mirrors flicker in and out to reveal the digital architectural lines where she creates with building blocks of digital reality. It seems to capture the artifice. The mirrors create a false sense of depth and in a way it’s like she’s dancing in a glass box, like the viewer (us as the young boy) are watching her in a cage. You don’t even realize the shower curtain is there until she interacts with it. There is such a great use of boundaries to poetically enhance the idea of illusion. We entrap avatars in a manmade world and end up trapped ourselves, stuck in one moment in time.
We are supposed to be gods of virtual reality. We are supposed to create and “live” our fantasies. But “Fantasy” understands that underneath this desire is a single person, alone–lonely–wanting a connection that feels improbable in the 3D world but is impossible to obtain with digital representations of humanity in a computerized universe. Combined with the lyrics, the whole thing is a hopeless tease. She’s trying to lure you in, to make you do the work you are too shy–afraid–to do, but once you get up and run for her, you will only grab air or crash into a wall.
“Fantasy” as a music production fits into my standouts of 2016. It’s confident in its identity and gives space for true performance-character to emerge. It’s a midtempo dance track that has faith in its hook. No bells and whistles. No whirlwind of bridges that mandate multiple listens just to hear your very brief favorite part again. It’s a true groove.
But never let it be said I’m an elitest. Because Laysha just dropped a bomb with “Chocolate Cream.” It’s everything Fei tried to remedy. All the sobriety that “Fantasy” brings is undone with an overdose of rookie tryhard. Laysha is Stellar reduced until the cherries have burned at the bottom of the pot. Pop can be anything if the market allows. (And it usually won’t.)
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