Nostalgia tells you a false history, for example it could make you believe that K-pop's absolute peak was around 2012, or 2015, or 2019, or whichever was your year, even though it wasn't. Most music from your favorite time period actually stinked, even if it maybe didn't feel like that at the time. But what K-pop didn't stink? Which songs and groups have stood the test of time and are actually good regardless of times and trends? To find out I decided to listen to almost all EP:s by all K-pop girl groups, both your favorite groups' best songs and all the non-hits in between, and analyze them.
And my conclusion from one month of relentless K-pop listening is: Originality is timeless. The original, weird and unusual stuff is what people keep talking about forever. Unoriginal things only live for short times during trends. Original doesn't equal good per se, but I think most really great songs have some original idea in them. If you just copy someone else's recipe for a good song you won't ever make something great, you'll just make a slightly worse copy of the original. So to make something good you must be original.
That's how I feel about Girls' Generation, the first K-pop girl group to get really big. Who knew when they released their album I Got A Boy in 2013 that it would age with dignity? That it would still sound good a decade later? To know that you'd have to time travel. Which is what I think Girls' Generation did. They knew or felt something that others didn't and made music from 5 years into the future. Since their music was before its time, countless other groups copied their styles, and of course these copycat groups faded away, because originality is what gets remembered. Girls' Generation made something original before everyone else knew that they could do it. Their music doesn't sound super-original today, but that's because we've gotten used to their sound. Girls' Generation was just kind of how K-pop sounded back then, but the thing is that they created that trend and everyone else followed it.
And when talking original groups, it's almost illegal not to mention Red Velvet (who first made me realize that weird & original is good). When everyone else plays safe and tries to sound the same as their last release to please their audience, Red Velvet comes out with a whole new genre and image. The romantic classical-inspired song Feel My Rhythm took the #1 spot on my Best songs by girl groups ever list, the joyful hit Red Flavor may be the summer:iest song ever, the weird and wacky Zimzalabim is weird and wacky, and Dumb Dumb makes me confused about genres in general. Red Velvet always challenge themselves and the world by breaking expectations and do new things in new ways. They put cool ideas before trends and that's why their songs from 2015 don't sound dated at all. Red Velvet's music is too cool, challenging and original to be tied to a certain time or place. It's cool no matter what, and you'll understand that once you listen through their whole discography.
f(x) was a group that had a similar free spirit and musical genius as Red Velvet. They also had that typical 2011 in-your-face electropop sound that was very trendy at the time. But their music was so good and unique that it could rise above its time, which you hear in the EP "Electric Shock". It sounds eternally fresh. I watched this live clip, thought "this is so 2011", then realized it's a 80s retro song, and then thought about how timeless it sounds. That's f(x).
2NE1 were big at the same time as f(x) and are another good example of timeless originality. When 2NE1 were weird, they were _weird_, and I can't imagine a time or place where they wouldn't be. They sound weird today and they did back then. They won't go out of style because they were never in. They were also the best live group, the member CL may have the highest international charisma, and the member Dara had the best hair.
And despite all this weirdness, K-pop has a clear template and going outside of it is very rare. Red Velvet, 2NE1 and f(x) are experimental but they still do what they "should" as K-pop groups: their music videos look like K-pop music videos, their songs are intro, verse and chorus with a loud vocal mix, and they always dance. You have to fit your music inside the K-pop box. I only felt something else while listening to Crayon Pop. They may be the only ones who ever went out of the K-pop box successfully. Crayon Pop didn't feel like a streamlined product, they felt like a cool group that happened to be in the K-pop world of all places. They looked and sounded different and their whole vibe was different, and not as a gimmick or a revolt against the mainstream, just authentically unique. They wore freaking bike helmets and played disco!! Crayon Pop couldn't have happened at any other place or time than it did (at least that's my naive feeling). They may not be the absolute best or my absolute favorite, but they did something real. And their songs are the catchiest of them all!
These were the timeless ones, so what about the rest? I love 4Minute (they made one of the best and most timeless EP:s) but many of their early songs wouldn't work today. This song and this EP are good but they belong in 2010. They just don't stick out enough to make us forget the 2010 sound (I feel the same about Girl's Day's early stuff). The album "A Class" by Miss A is another example of aging badly, and even if it's a bit too early to know, I feel like this sound by fromis_9 will age poorly. Other things that have aged badly: 90% of all ballads, the first album by most early groups, around 15 groups with "girls" or "ladies" in their name that I can't tell apart, most of the groups that never made more than one song before they disbanded, and all the 2011 swag rap that I love with all my heart. And things that _will_ age badly: probably all groups of today that people love but that don't really bring anything new to the table. Those who just sound like K-pop sounds today.
Lastly, I could also have talked about BLACKPINK and TWICE, but I don't have anything specific to add except that their members have off-the-charts starpower, that they make good music and that they're too big to compare to other groups. I could also have mentioned Dreamcatcher, who transitioned from the wholesome group MINX to the dark group they are today, or Mamamoo who are just funny, authentic and extremely good at what they do. But I won't say A SINGLE WORD about these groups.
So, congratulations to Crayon Pop for winning the kbrecordzz award for Most timeless and original K-pop girl group! The prize is a paid vacation to Tomelilla, Småland, Sweden, where you will relax and also take a two-day course in glassblowing! (for legal reasons, this is a joke) 6>
Now, read about K-pop videos and how they hypnotize your mind to keep watching!
Update 2023: Re-reading this and realizing the text is 90% about SM Entertainment. They're just that good. Has anyone seen their manual?