Discussion in 'K-pop' started by Wills, Oct 20, 2020.
Same here. After I finish that rate I'll start this one.
Road to Sweetune: KARA
Let's talk about some titans.
Admittedly, I've found this one a bit tough to motivate, mostly because... I'm pretty sure anyone reading this could speak more authoritatively on KARA and their history than I can ddd. But today happens to be the 10th anniversary of Jumping (!!), so time to suck it up and get on with it!
KARA debuted in 2007 under DSP Media, also home of... *inhales* Sech Kies, Fin.K.L, SS501, Rainbow, April, KARD, industry legends A-JAX, and a bunch of others. Of these, Fin.K.L is probably the most relevant, because KARA's debut album was strongly reminiscent of their established sound - or so Wikipedia tells me.
Either way, their debut sounds like nothing else in their discography, leaning towards the Max Martin-style, R&B-influenced pop that dominated the late '90s and early '00s. The album spawned three singles - 'Break It', 'If U Wanna', and 'Secret World' - and all three are better than I'd anticipated! 'Break It' is my favourite of the bunch and a strong debut overall:
The album flopped, but the group's next moves proved pivotal. First, founding member Sunghee left to focus on her education, which was probably the correct decision based on the info available at the time. This left Gyuri, Nicole, and Seungyeon from the starting lineup, who were then joined by Hara and Jiyoung to form the group's most prolific - and iconic - configuration as a five-piece.
Their Rock U EP heralded a remarkable change in image, which Wikipedia tells me was "pretty but natural," apparently code for "violently cute." Most importantly, the title track marked their first time collaborating with Sweetune. This is the earliest song we'll be rating, meaning it's also kind of the reason we're here in the first place. Credit where it's due!
A pair of B-sides, 'What's This? (이게뭐야)' and 'Good Day', were also credited to Sweetune. This is where the writeup gets a bit messy: both of these tracks showed up as remixes on the 2009 Honey EP, itself a repackage of the 2008's Pretty Girl, and three separate versions of each title track exists between the two.
... I've laid that out about 8 different ways, none of which make any sense, so we're moving on.
Also confusing: Wikipedia credits a pair of tracks off Pretty Girl - 'My Darling' and 'I'm... (Ing)' - to MonoTree, which didn't exist as a separate entity until 2014. I assume the folks involved were just part of Sweetune's B-team at the time, and the Wiki listing is an anachronism. Either way, neither are really up to much, though the latter is a cute enough ballad and probably my favourite early B-side.
2009's Revolution, the group’s second full-length, featured 5 Sweetune-penned tracks, including the title, 'Wanna'. Initially, 'Mr.' was a mere B-side, but the Japanese version was later released as a single and became a major hit for the group. This was thanks entirely to its strength as a composition and no other factors at all. Did they even dance in the video? I can’t seem to recall.
Among the other Sweetune tracks, we find some prototypes for sounds the team would explore further in the future. 'Magic' is a pretty obvious precursor to Stellar’s 'Mask' with extra harp bits, while 'Same Heart (똑 같은 맘)' shares some DNA with KARA’s own 'We’re with You'. But my pick of the bunch is 'Take a Bow' – no one enjoys hearing “ABBA chorus” in 2020, but… well, you be the judge:
(Listening to them back now, I might actually like 'Magic' a smidge more, but that might just be my mood – either way, 'Take a Bow' remains catchy as hell)
2010 saw continued success for the group, with 'Lupin' becoming their first (and only!) #1 on the new Gaon Digital Chart. 'Tasty Love' and 'Umbrella' are the other Sweetune tracks here; both are cute, but I wouldn’t say either ranks among their best work.
Then, exactly 10 years ago today, the Jumping EP was released. The title track itself was a more modest success, only hitting about half the overall sales of 'Lupin'. But for our purposes, the album was an even greater achievement, as the girls (i.e. DSP) finally had the good sense to let Sweetune handle the entire thing. Growth! 'Binks' is my pick here, thanks to the low-pitched vocal hook and just generally being a hoot:
Next... came KARA’s most beloved & enduring hit:
'We’re with You', in conjunction with the FIFA World Cup campaign!
Anyways, then came 2011’s Step, which you’ll agree was a significant 'Step' down in quality due to having ZERO Sweetune-produced B-sides, what the heck KARA. Oh, but actually 'Rider' is a hell of a tune:
For some reason every version that exists on YouTube is horribly pitched and of abysmal quality, so we’re going with the worst of the bunch.
2012 was another big year for KARA X Sweetune, yielding the Pandora EP (with B-sides 'Way' and 'Miss U'), as well as Kara Solo Collection, comprising a solo track for each member. Of these, three were Sweetune productions we’ll be rating: Gyuri’s 'Daydream', Seungyeon’s 'Guilty', and Nicole’s 'Lost'.
Speaking of Nicole, she continued to work with Sweetune for later solo endeavours, both in Korean and Japanese. Her 2014 solo debut, First Romance, included the title track 'Mama', as well as a few other Sweetune productions. Two of these were downtempo numbers that I found a tad dull (though I’m fascinated that the Dongwoo duet has been translated variously as 'How About U' OR '7-2=Misunderstanding', these two titles are very much not alike), but 'JOKER' (feat. RICKY of Teen Top) piqued my interest by featuring an accordion!
Nowhere near enough accordion in Kpop, trust Sweetune to be the only ones putting in the effort.
Anyways, I’m running out of steam and completely out of embeds, so we’ll wrap up. 2013 was KARA’s last time teaming up with Sweetune for 'Damaged Lady'. Oh, and while all of the above was happening, the girls were also churning out a bunch of Japanese material – both remakes of their Korean tracks, plus original compositions. I listened to most of these, and frankly, none of them really grabbed me...
… except for one: HARA’s 'Midnight Queen' from 2019. We’ll revisit this when the time comes. ♡
Anyways, that brings us through the entirety of KARA’s Road to Sweetune. I apologize for the rushed nature of this one – as I said, I don’t necessarily have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the group’s history. But, like many of you, I do have a ton of affection for KARA and their music, and I hope this rate can be a celebration of that!
Songs We'll be Rating
Rock U (2008)
Pretty Girl (2008)
We’re With You (2010)
Damaged Lady (2013)
Lost (feat. Jeong Jinwoon) (Nicole solo - 2012)
Mama (Nicole solo - 2014)
Guilty (Seungyeon solo - 2012)
Daydream (Gyuri solo - 2012)
Midnight Queen (Hara solo - 2019)
Aaaand with that, I'd like to announce a
December 6th, 2020 at 11:59 PM MST
I think we'll all feel a bit better with a couple extra weeks! x
@Wills you're an angel for that extended deadline. I've been so busy with......life itself that I haven't even started rating yet.
KARA is such an amazing group, the way they dominated Japan, whew! it's sad how people tend to forget them when talking about 2nd gen girl groups, like... there's a reason WonSoKa is a thing!
Pretty Girl left us with this performance of Seungyeon blocking Nicole from the camera, Gyuri looking like she was about to fight her for doing that and then Seungyeon messing with Nicole in the middle of the bridge lmao
Pretty Girl is a bop!
Oh whoops, I suppose I should update the thread title to reflect the new due date. I'm also hard at work on the next artist writeup, so hopefully less dead air going forward!
I was thinking a bit more about KARA and how their discography fits in the context of this rate. It shouldn't be overlooked that they were all the way up to 'Lupin' before INFINITE debuted. That's half their songs in the rate, released before any other acts even showed up! The fact that they're still seen by so many as the gold standard... that's talent.
But their music also lets us chart the development of Sweetune's sound. Outside of a few elements, songs like 'Rock U' and 'Pretty Girl' don't really sound like anything they'd ever do again. And even if you have a lot of affection for these early tracks, it's hard to ignore that a certain... refinement didn't show up until Revolution. Mind you, that was only a year later! So it's not only remarkable to see how far Sweetune came, but also how quickly they got there.
Anyways, I'll stop before I risk giving away too many opinions, but friendly reminder: KARA really paved the way, y'all.
Road to Sweetune: INFINITE
There’s something we need to address. There’s no easy way to say this, but…
Your host is biased.
Now, obviously I love all of the acts & most of the songs here. But as far as I’m concerned, INFINITE has the strongest discography in all of Kpop, even when considering their post-Sweetune output. And quite frankly, their music was the catalyst that led to me running this rate in the first place.
All that to say: I will make every effort to be fair in my scoring, but… please don’t be mad if they wind up with a very high average kekeke.
Anyways! INFINITE debuted in 2010, under Woollim Entertainment. At the time, the company had only ever managed acts like Epik High and Nell, making INFINITE their first foray into the idol scene. Needless to say, it worked: off the back of INFINITE’s success, the company would later debut Lovelyz, Golden Child, Rocket Punch, and the newly-debuted, highly iconic DRIPPIN.
INFINITE’s first release was 2010’s First Invasion, and like KARA, the group didn’t work with Sweetune right out the gate: their debut single, ‘Come Back Again’, was produced by Hitchhiker, generally known for his work with SM groups.
The track sounds like nothing they’d ever put out again. And thank God for that!
…nah, it’s fine, and a perfectly serviceable debut. It’s just a weird tune in the context of their later work, especially since most of it revolves around a single chord. It kinda reminds me of f(x)’s ‘Rum Pum Pum Pum’ in that regard, except where that was a career highlight and a masterclass in bizarre chord structure, ‘Come Back Again’ is mostly a curiosity from the group’s early days.
Luckily, it took them even less time than KARA to figure it out: 'She’s Back' was also included on their debut and released as a follow-up single. This track, along with B-side 'Entrust', set the stage for a partnership that would span half a decade.
2011 was a monumental year for INFINITE, surpassing even 9MUSES’ 2013 with five tracks we’ll be rating. This year also saw the group skyrocket in popularity, netting a few proper chart hits and their first music show win.
INFINITE’s 2011 kicked off with 'BTD (Before the Dawn)' and its parent EP, Evolution. Aside from the title track, Sweetune also produced 'Can U Smile', a sprightly electro-bop. The Inspirit single album followed up two months later, featuring 'Nothing’s Over' and… a stripped-back remake of 'Can U Smile'. It’s kind of pointless, but I’m sure someone likes it!
More importantly, Inspirit also featured 'Shot', one of my favourite INFINITE B-sides. I mentioned this track during my SNUPER writeup, as this sharper-edged rock style isn’t something Sweetune has returned to frequently. It took a few listens, because the structure’s all over the place, but I now rank it among the group’s very best work:
But all that was just a teaser for the year’s main course: that fall, INFINITE released Over the Top, their first full album. The title track, 'Be Mine', was the group’s biggest hit to date, and 'Paradise' from the repackage did even better.
As far as B-sides, the group practiced their fractions on '1/3' and their, uh, vowels on 'Julia'. But best of all was 'Cover Girl' – if any INFINITE B-side deserved promotion, it was this:
Finally, the group closed out the year with the Christmas track 'White Confession (Lately)'. Whew! After a year like that, it’s no surprise 2012 was a little more laidback. The group only had one release that year – the Infinitize EP, AKA “the one with 'The Chaser'." Sure, there were a few cute B-sides (my favourite being ’I Like You’, and I know @camden_italian stans ‘Only Tears’), but… let’s face it, we all know what we’re really here for.
2013 was a more prolific year for the group. Song for song, New Challenge might be my favourite INFINITE release; apart from 'Man in Love', the EP included a full-group version of Sunggyu’s ’60 Seconds’, as well as one of my favourite B-sides, the Woohyun-penned ‘Beautiful’. Sadly, the latter wasn’t a Sweetune production, so I’ll spotlight the also-excellent ‘As Good As It Gets’:
And then it all fell apart a few months later when SOMEONE saw fit to release ‘Destiny’, their first release sans Sweetune since debut. This would end up being a good indicator of where their sound would go from here – and, I’ll admit, I didn’t care for it at first, but it's slowly solidified as yet another favourite:
But still, talk about the end of an era. ...or so it seemed! INFINITE and Sweetune teamed up for one final victory lap in 2014’s ‘Last Romeo’, the title track from Season 2. The album was later repackaged as… oops, hang on, that's all for now. What happened next? We’ll never know ;-)
As mentioned earlier, leader Sunggyu made his solo debut in 2012 with '60 Seconds'. The group also produced a couple subunits: INFINITE H featured rappers Dongwoo and Hoya, while INFINITE F saw L, Sungyeol, and Sungjong making featherweight pop. Nothing but love to those three boys, but… that’s not really what I come to INFINITE for dddddddddd.
“And what about Woohyun,” you might ask?
Road to Sweetune: ToHeart
In the crossover event no one saw coming (I assume), main vocalist Woohyun teamed up with SHINee’s KEY for a brief time in 2014. Both Sweetune-penned tracks from their album, ‘Delicious’ and ‘Tell Me Why’, were given MVs.
Plus, this is the closest we’ve gotten to Sweetune x SM. They’ve really swerved the Big 3, huh?
Songs We'll be Rating
She’s Back (2010)
BTD (Before the Dawn) (2011)
Nothing’s Over (2011)
Be Mine (2011)
White Confession (Lately) (2011)
The Chaser (2012)
Man in Love (2013)
Last Romeo (2014)
60 Seconds (Sunggyu solo - 2012)
Tell Me Why (2014)
And just like that, we're closing in on the end of November. I don't know about you, but this month's flown by at warp speed for me.
How is voting coming along? I'll reach out via DM this coming weekend to see how folks are doing. I'm certainly not opposed to extending more if necessary, but... just pretend I didn't say that and get your votes in instead! ♡
Other than the Only Tears dig, LOL, excellent right up on my favorite boys. I almost took offense to the Infinite F line, but not even my beloved Myungsoo could make me stan that. Let’s not pretend my 11 isn’t coming from them, I just can’t decide if I want to go with my heart or be strategic.
If I was a fan back then I would have lost my mind when Toheart was announced, my wreckers from 2 of my favorite groups. I want to say SM for a while bought stock in Woolim and where shareholders and that’s why the project was easier to make happen. Key and Woohyun were legit best friends (dating rumors and all) but supposedly afterwards, because the project was more catered to Key and not Woohyun (it was put out by SM of course), they had a bad falling out. They eventually made up because Key hosted Woohyun’s 2nd album release party.
Finally remember a low score against an Infinite song is a personal attack against me! Hahahaha
Oop, now we're talking.
LOL, it goes against everything I believe when it comes to labeling/outing/shipping idols BUT...ugh I can’t say it, I feel like a hypocrite.
But anyways, back to the scoring folks, nothing to see here! I am vibing to some of these KARA songs for real!
I have started rating and I have successfully decided on my 11. Excited to finish rating and for this to start!
Wait.... Guilty by Seungyeon of KARA...
Road to Sweetune: Stellar
Oh, Stellar. This group's interesting in a couple different ways. Obviously, there’s the extreme shifts in concept which, for better or worse, have become the group’s legacy… but we’ll get to that. Less obvious is how Stellar’s history ran parallel to an evolution in Sweetune’s team structure, culminating in the MonoTree split.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though! Stellar was formed in 2011 by The Entertainment Pascal, a company with no further involvement in the Kpop industry, which maybe goes some way to explaining why Stellar was handled so miserably. The group debuted with ‘Rocket Girl’, and maybe I shouldn’t call it a soulless trainwreck, but it’s all a bit Nadia Oh without the wink:
Brilliantly, they doubled down on the quirky girls in SPACE! theme on 2012’s ‘UFO’, probably just glad they grabbed the Stellar name before anyone else could. I think it’s an improvement, but honestly I was too distracted by the foreshadowing of things to come in the choreo, plus the robot guy looking like he was about to snap and attack everyone:
So suffice to say their early sound didn't grab me. Luckily, by this point Sweetune were no strangers to adopting wayward idol groups and overhauling their sound. I have to assume The Pascal Entertainment was somehow involved in getting the production team involved, which would stand as their singular wise management decision. The partnership kicked off with 2013’s ‘Study’, and it’s amazing how quickly things improve when someone actually bothers to write a song over the beat!
Then came ‘Marionette’. The fact that the MV is sitting at 18M views, next to Study’s 2M, should not be overlooked - this remains the group’s biggest hit ever. Chances are, you already know why; if not, I’ll let Wikipedia explain:
The group received criticism for their "stripping game" promotional material, which involved fans having to "like" posts on Stellar's official Facebook page to reveal photos of the members' body parts. The group received further criticism for their 19+ music video and performances of "Marionette".
Here’s where I get editorial for a moment (ignoring all the other times I share my unsolicited opinions). Everything Stellar did – onstage, behind the camera, whatever – could have been cool as hell. Grown women doing sexy things? We love to see it! Or, at least, we would, if only the ladies had some agency in the matter. Since (spoiler) disbandment, the members have spoken out about their discomfort with the sexually explicit concept and performances, as well as a slew of other issues stemming from harrowing mismanagement.
It’s not really a hot take to suggest this is all super gross and upsetting, and while I intend to focus on celebrating the music above all else, it felt irresponsible not to address this aspect of Stellar’s history. I hope with time that the ladies will be able to look back with pride on the aspects that resonated with their identities and values, and that they’re moving forward with control over their careers and self-expression.
All that to say: visit Gayoung’s café next time you’re in Itaewon! Uh, once the pandemic's over, I mean.
All four songs from the Marionette EP – including both previous singles – were produced by G-High, Lee Joohyung, and Hwang Hyun, the three Sweetune alumni that went on to form MonoTree. B-side ‘Guilty’ is a jazzy number with some sick string swells and electronic elements, while ‘Have it All’ is a stunning power ballad:
(The girls sound great, though I’d love to hear SPICA take both of these on.)
Needless to say, the EP was a wild improvement over their first couple tracks. Stellar’s partnership with G-High and Joohyung continued on August’s ‘Mask’, and from what I can tell, this was the producers’ final release under the Sweetune name before leaving in December.
It wasn't quite the end for Stellar, though: their 2015 track ‘Fool’ was produced by Sweetune founders Han Jaeho and Kim Seungsoo, making it our final stop for this rate. In a way, it feels like drawing an arbitrary line in the sand, as ‘Study’, ‘Marionette’, and ‘Mask’ share the same production talents as later releases ‘Vibrato’ and ‘Sting’ (edit: not MonoTree, oops!). Even browsing to find definitive information on Sweetune vs. MonoTree productions proved difficult, as a lot of sources were retroactively updated to only include the latter. Nevertheless, ‘Fool’ feels like an appropriate endpoint for today’s journey.
So, that’s Stellar. Their appearance in this rate is a bit more modest (kii) than the other groups at only four tracks, but I'd say their presence looms just as large, justifying their place among the titans.
Songs We'll be Rating
I know they're really chee(s/k)y and corny, but I love Rocket Girl and UFO. I love Stellar and miss them.
Me giving 9Muses a perfect 10 average
Me kinda tanking some classiques
Me still giving my 11 to an (iconique) boy group song oop
Looking back throughout their MVs, damn KARA's choreography was so underwhelming isn't it ? dddd
fhasjkdlhsajkd the beginning of Honey never fails to make me laugh:
I assume they were going for... demure? But they just look so bored dddd. And then Gyuri looks like she's about to snap. I love it so much!
Just to give an update: I'm about 1/3 of the way done. Will listen and score more tonight, and should hopefully have this done by the weekend. My averages are going to be INSANE.
So sad that KEEMBO's new iconique Sweetune-produced single Scene just missed out on being a part of this rate.
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