In May of 2009, I had just graduated, just got fired, and was on the verge of starting over by moving back in with my parents. To me, that would have been failure. Brace yourself…a lot of personal revelations in this one.
In the last chapter, you saw my elation, such triumph and joy at the debut of 2NE1. But by June 1st, 2009…my life wasn’t going so great. In March, I was 22 and had just graduated from a tumultuous four years of film school and landed a job with an up-and-coming start-up company. Haha, so without going into so many details, turns out this company was run by gamblers and con-artists. I’m not lying.
In the beginning, I thought everyone was so cool and everything ran like a well-oiled machine. I was hired as a video editor and a content producer. But one thing led to another and I eventually learned that one of my bosses wasn’t who he said he was. The man claimed to be one of the founders of Myspace. He was eventually fired, and my new boss (the gambler) started writing me bad checks that would bounce.
In May of 2009, I flew to Colorado to attend my cousin’s graduation and while there, my boss called me over the phone and fired me, accusing me of theft. I’m no thief. He only fired me because I threatened to file a lawsuit against him for writing bad checks.
And so…in June of 2009 for the first time since I was 16, I was without a job. My future seemed uncertain. I barely had enough to pay one more month of rent and that was it. These were sad days, but I’m not the type to sit on my thumbs and say, “whatever happens, happens.” In the end, I had made up my mind to leave Florida, pack up what I could, and move back into my parent’s house in Georgia in July. Basically, to start all over.
This decision wasn’t easy. As a young man full of pride, moving back into my parent’s house was like admitting defeat, that I couldn’t cut it in the real world on my own. But pragmatically, it was the best decision. Moving back in with my parents would allow me to get another job, save up without paying rent, and then I could head out to Los Angeles and pursue a career as a screenwriter. This was my thinking.
With my mind made up, I spent most of June 2009…writing. Every day, I’d wake up and go to my school’s library to write. And the music that got me through these tough times was none other than a lesser known Japanese composer who goes by the name of Yoko Kanno.
If you’ve been reading up to this point, then you know that ever since 2006, I’ve been firmly in the camp of YG Entertainment thanks to Big Bang. I witnessed their debut, I saw their adversity and watched as they continued to improve and breakthrough with mainstream success following the release of “Lies” in 2007.
By 2009, it’s safe to say Big Bang was now the top dog in S. Korea’s music scene. DBSK was still around, 2pm was up-and-coming, and Super Junior had just released a monster hit in “Sorry Sorry…” But Big Bang had established themselves as champions when they destroyed the stage in 2008’s year-end showdown.
So when YG announced the debut of an up-and-coming sister group…everyone was on the edge of their seats. YG had other female artists in their retinue like Big Mama, Gummy, and Lexy…but the agency wasn’t known for their female acts. I think everyone was wondering what YG would produce. Not to mention there was already widespread speculation that this group would merely be a female version of Big Bang. But still…would that a bad thing?
On March 27, 2009, the world was introduced to four energetic and wildly charismatic females when YG released “Lollipop”. It was brilliant. It’s like YG heard the rumors of 2NE1 merely being a girl version of Big Bang and was like…“so what are you gonna do about it.”
To be honest though…I wasn’t particularly blown away by their contributions in that song. I liked it because of Big Bang’s vocals. Taeyang, Daesung, and Seungri killed it. Not to mention, we were starting to get a glimpse of the producer, Teddy Park’s signature sound that would ultimately play the biggest role in 2NE1’s success. But despite my lackluster approval…I knew it. I knew 2NE1 would be superstars, not because they were with YG, not because they were following in Big Bang’s wake…but because of their lead vocalists who’s voice could’ve crushed the competition if she appeared on “American Idol” or “The Voice.”
Park Bom was her name. And before I heard of 2NE1, I had already heard of Park Bom. Any Big Bang fan would’ve. It was her voice that sang the chorus of one of Big Bang’s early hits, “We Belong Together.”
The beginning of 2009 jumped out to a great start. I was still reeling from that awesome showdown between Big Bang and DBSKat the SBS year-end events and the hits kept on coming. I think it was simply the trend where hip hop and pop blended smooth electronica in their songs that made them all so unforgettable.
This chapter’s gonna show you a myriad of artists, so strap yourselves in. We go from TBNY, to Untouchables, an up-and-coming solo act named AJ and rounding it out with Super Junior’s breakout hit that would eventually become their most successful song. All of it went down in the first quarter of 2009.
This was back when Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” was on replay non-stop. Even with me, a man who didn’t listen to the radio or kept up with American pop culture, I couldn’t escape it whether I was out at the gym or at this internet start-up company where I was an intern. Man, you couldn’t escape it. That’s not to complain though. Say what you want aboutLady Gaga, “Poker Face”got in your blood. Your head will bob, no matter what you’re doing.
Those were good times. I only had three months of college before graduating, I just started practicing Wing Chun with a legit sifu. And as per usual, what made it all memorable, was the music I discovered.
In the last chapter, I discussed Big Bang’s collaborative performance with a hip hop group called Dynamic Duo. It was the first I had heard of Dynamic Duo and was impressed. Thus, I was more open to solo and underground hip hop acts. The first I discovered, was a hip hop duo called TBNY.
Once upon a time in the entertainment industry, we had these things called rivalries. Tupac vs Biggie. Backstreet Boys vs Nsync. Britney Spears vs Christina Aguilera. Hell, we even had the Jacksons vs the Osmonds for the old heads out there. And in South Korea…there was Big Bang vs DBSK.
There’s nothing wrong with having a rival. Without worthy adversaries, life becomes boring, even if your rival is yourself. For us spectators, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing worthy adversaries go head to head. It keeps us engage, invested. And back in 2008…there was a once in a lifetime clash between the two greatest Korean groups of my generation.
Out of SM Entertainment’s corner comes the current heavyweight champion of the kpop music industry, debuting in 2004 and going on to dominate the charts, even carving out a name for themselves in the Japanese markets. I give you none other than DBSK!
And out of YG Entertainment’s corner comes the challenger, debuting in 2006, overcoming much adversity before dropping the groundbreaking hit, “Lies,” these talented vocalists/rappers have created waves not only in the music industry, but in shaping fashion and cultural trends, here, we have Big Bang!
August of 2008 was awesome for more reasons than one. Big Bang just came out with their “Stand Up” mini-album and even Shinee and the Wonder Girls were still throwing down. But on August 29, 2008, a new challenger entered the stage. They went by the name of 2pm.
When, I first heard about 2pm there was a lot of hype. First off, they boasted about their masculinity, which was a jab at the other idol groups as I mentioned in my chapter “Big Bang vs. The Flower Boys.”2pm would become known as the “beastly idols” for bearing their muscular physique and pulling off some difficult choreography, backflips and handsprings galore.
Additionally, 2pm was formed and produced by JYP of JYP Entertainment, the same man behind the Wonder Girls and Rain. The anticipation was palpable. It was JYP’s first boyband since G.O.D and…I hope I’m not overstepping any bounds by saying this, but it does seem like having a boyband was a staple of prominence when it comes to Korean pop culture. You could have a soloist, a band, or even a girl group…but until you’ve locked down a solid boyband…it seems like you just couldn’t compete as an entertainment company.
Despite all of this, I confess, when I first heard 2pm’s “10 Out of 10” I really didn’t think much of them. I mean, they were clearly awesome dancers and they had the swag to compete on the same level of Shinee, who had debuted just a few months prior. But their singing…I didn’t think there was anything remarkable about them. Their voices were average, their rappers were sub-par, and if any of them were to go solo, I didn’t think they stood a chance on their own. And then…it was just by chance that I saw their live performance of “Only You.”
There’s something about that song and performance that made 2pm stand out to me. It wasn’t until I saw this performance that I thought… “Okay, these guys could be a threat to Big Bang.”
And I say that with a smile. I’m one of those who fully believes in rivalries bringing the best out of competitors. “10 Out of 10” was okay…but “Only You” showed their versatility, meaning they weren’t only capable of producing a mainstream track, but creating something new. Continue Reading
Allow me to take a moment to talk about Japan. Because for the last ten or so chapters, I divulged how I got into Korean music and started to explore and appreciate different the genres. However, during this time, I’d say late 2007, early 2008…there were some Japanese artists that caught my eye as well and it’s just unfortunate really.
Because the truth is, there are SOOO MANY Japanese bands, singers, and groups out there. Just like in the states. And unless you’re with a powerful label backing your play, there’s no way you’ll be discovered by a mainstream audience and reach a substantial level of success.
I’ve already written a chapter about a group called KAT-TUN. Yeah, back in 2006-07, it was undeniable that these guys were the undisputed kings of j-pop. I say it was undeniable, based on their popularity, the time they spent at the top of their charts, and their record sales.
However…in my eyes, that don’t make them the best. In my eyes, the best goes to the artists showcasing the better talent, the better songs, the better sound, the better performance. Of course, it goes without saying that I’m not Japanese, so what you’re about to get is the perspective of a then 21-year-old straight male living in the states. On that note, let’s begin with W-INDS.
Haha! So, at the time, while I was in college, I was into this anime that came on Cartoon Network called “Shin-Chan.” The ending theme song was cheesy as hell, but it made me smile. The above song of “Paradox” is a little cringy to be honest, with the random shots of juveniles just staring at you as if you stole their bike. But the choreography was better than I had seen from a lot of other Jpop boybands, especially KAT-TUN.
W-INDS consisted of three members, the lead vocalist, Keita Tachibana and two backup singers/dancers, Ryuichi Ogata and Ryohei Chiba. To be honest…it’s quite difficult to really see W-INDS as a group or boyband. Because on every track I’ve heard of W-INDs, it’s mainly Keita holding down the vocals and I barely hear the other two. It’s as if, the music label paired Keita with the two backup members purely because they didn’t think he was impressive enough to perform on his own. Mind you, they debuted in 2001 when Keita was merely 15-years-old.
Despite all this, W-INDs was super popular in the 2000s, selling in the six figures with each track. I gave them a try and the only two songs I really liked were “Paradox” and “Kuwari Yuku Sora”. In particular, “Kuwari Yuku Sora” was a very upbeat and positive track. I remember listening to that song many a nights. No matter what I was going through with college, lady drama, or the struggles from being so overweight and lonely…that song gave me hope in a strange kind of way.
At the time, I didn’t have many friends that I could rely on to give me a daily pat on the back and say, “chin up, everything’s gonna be alright.” Thus, the music helped me to internalized the confidence, to pick myself up and keep going. Hahaha! In the above music video, you’ll see what I’m talking about. I wish I had such a group of friends as a dependable support system. But I didn’t. So I dreamed that I did. And hope that one day, I would.
NOW THEN…let’s get into Arashi. Because if I had to pick which boyband was the “best” in all of Japan…It would hands down by none other than Arashi.
By May of 2008, I hadn’t heard much from Big Bang since the release of their “Hot Issue” album that had hits like “Last Farewell.”They were rarely seen on variety shows. With the exception of that Manwon Happiness that featured Seungri vs SNSD’s Yoona. So yeah…not much.
I had high hopes that Big Bang would rise up and dethrone DBSK. (see VII. Big Bang vs the Pretty Boys) but DBSK was still going strong in Japan, Shinhwa released their 9th album, Epik High dropped their timeless album “Pieces, Part One,” and Super Junior-M made an impact with their mandarin album “Me.”
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect or when. Back then, I hadn’t heard of websites like Allkpop where articles heralded the upcoming releases of your favorite artists. Back then, I relied on forums (that were clearly biased for SM Entertianment’s artists). This was back before agencies had their own Youtube page, as if they were watching and waiting to see if Youtube was just a fad like Myspace.
Then…all of the sudden, one of my favorite Youtube users uploaded this…
I couldn’t believe it. There were so many mixed emotions on a heightened scale that I was literally just awestruck for days. Straight-up fanboying. Essentially, YG Entertainment had released a solo mini-album for Taeyang called “Hot.” The released tracks were “Prayer”…and the highly successful track “Only Look At Me.”
One the one hand, I was super pissed about this. I feared that this would break up Big Bang as a group because it was showing favor and giving too much attention to a single member above the rest. This would be bad because there’s no way a solo artist would be able to take down DBSK. It just couldn’t happen.
On the other hand…if you are going to release an record singling out one member above the rest…THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT! YOU DO IT WELL!
When I first saw “Prayer,” I was like…who the eff is this? That’s Taeyang? The same guy with the mediocre vocals of “My Girl”? The same guy who was all shy and timid in that Big Bang documentary when they were trainees. The same guy who never had a girlfriend and wouldn’t know what to do if he approached a female? This guy?!
Shockingly impressive is the best way to describe it. It’s amazing how Taeyang was molded and evolved throughout the years to not only dance and perform at a higher level…but sing like the superstar he was destined to become.
Taeyang – “A Sinner”
You gotta give credit to YG in so many ways. Taeyang was polished as a complete package. Long gone were the days of braids and baggy clothes reminiscent of the early 2000s. Now, Taeyang became iconic for his oversize cap and faux-hawk that he’d carry and wear well for the next 7-8 years.
He’d consistently be considered as one of the best dancers in the industry, constantly compared to the likes of DBSK’s Yunho, Super Junior’s Eunhyuk, and even Bi (Rain). But I believe, what set Taeyang apart as a dancer was that he perfected the short-but-powerful technique, almost as if he’s krumping but it was controlled and premeditated.
And in Taeyang’s corner was a producer who knew well what it’s like to be in a group under YG’s label. Former 1TYM leader and reputed rapper, Teddy, already had experience as a producer by composing songs that appeared on some of YG’s early hits from YG Family albums as well as many tracks performed by Se7en. But with the release of Taeyang’s “Hot” mini-album…I think a lot of eyes were opened. Everyone had no choice but to recognize his talents because every track on this mini-album was amazing. It kept in the flavor YG was known for, the more hip-hop slant while providing a modern 2008-leaning synth.
It also introduced us to a gem of a producer named Kush who wrote, composed, and featured on the track “Make Love.”
Taeyang – “Make Love”
The impact of Taeyang’s “Hot” mini-album sent waves throughout the industry. No one need say anything, everyone knew. Shots were fired. A statement was made. Since when has a single member of an idol group or boyband released a solo project on their own, while the group was still together? Big Bang hadn’t disbanded. They were still a group. And yet, here we have Taeyang releasing tracks that were not only good commercially, but critically. He’d go on to win two trophies from the 6th Korean Music Awards for 2008 Best R&B song and best R&B album. This was a first for any boyband member.
So in the ongoing, unofficial war of Big Bang vs. DBSK, YG vs SM Entertainment…YG definitely won a significant battle. One had to ask, is there a member from DBSK who could do the same? Could Xiah or Yunho or Micky or Max or Hero release a solo project like this and receive such acclaim? Would SM Entertainment ever be so bold as to let them try it?
Honestly, I’ve pondered the notion. I think Xiah could stand a chance because of his one-of-a-kind vocals and the fact that his dancing ability was improving to the point where he could have given Yunho a run for his money. I think this dance compilation of Xiah speaks volumes.
Ladies and Gentlemen…in April and May of 2008, I was blessed by some of the greatest music released in Kpop history.
When I say “greatest,” I’m not referring to album sales or even popularity. But more so the creativity, the courage, and the impact it had not only on me as budding author still shouldering my way through film school but… you’ll see. I’ll show you how a single producer made his stamp on the Korean Music industry. I’ll give props to a rival entertainment label for putting up a good fight. And I’ll express my gratitude to an ever-evolving hip hop group who refuses to release the same thing again and again.
To begin…I have to give you a little personal backstory. Just scroll down past the Rock picture if you don’t want to get straight to it.
If you’ve read my last chapter about Dragon Ash, then you’d know that I was in a good place mentally when it comes to my progress as maturing 21-year-old. Alas, by April of 2008…My patience was beginning to wear thin with my female friend of affection. It’s crazy how there isn’t a word for this kind of person yet. I’m talking about a woman who isn’t technically your girlfriend, but it’s ridiculously clear that you care and have feelings for each other (story of my life).
Since May of 2007, this girl has been working at the same pizza delivery place as myself. While I was the driver, she was a Customer Service Rep who was promoted to assistant manager. And throughout 2007, we really did get along. I really did love this girl. I made all kinds of mistakes and blunders because I was truly inexperienced. But in my stumblings, I’d learn. I’d grow. In particular, my patience got better. I was humbled more than once because I’ve done many regrettable things in which I had every right to feel miserable and guilty.
However…there’s only so many times a man can step into an arena and submit to defeat, acquiescing every time just to make her feel good and avoid hurting her. Through Myspace, we’d go back and forth through epic written battles where we’d take turns laying the blame at each other’s feet. In person, she’d curse up a storm and call me every name in the book while I did my best not to yell and refrained from flat out telling her what I really wanted to say, which caused me to die a little inside with each and every confrontation because I hate holding back.
I think the last straw came when I saw her slacking off in her work. I don’t know why but that shit…a complete disregard of responsibilities really does rub me the wrong way especially when I’m out here hustling, bussin’ my ass. Basically, on several nights, I’d come back from a delivery run in the hot sweltering heat. And while she should’ve been at the front counter, or hell, anywhere in the story ready to cash us drivers out…I caught her and her friend in the Chinese restaurant one store over….dude, on the clock, these bitches were having a full course meal with the Chinese family running the Chinese restaurant.
Just picture it for a second. Hot, humid. It’s 9:45pm. We close at 11pm. We can’t leave until the store is cleaned and all sorted. You can’t personally while you’re out making runs, so, it would be nice if your teammate in the store did their due diligence but no…you pull up and see them sitting down in the Chinese restaurant passing around bowls of food like its friggin Sunday after church. And this happened more than once.
In the spring of 2008, I was 21-years-old, 378lbs, and finishing my final year of film school…it was then that I discovered what would become my favorite band of all time. Allow me to introduce you to Dragon Ash.
When you discover a new band…the first song you hear, or the first music video you see is critical. I remember. I was sitting in my bed, watching Youtube music videos just before I put on my headphones to daydream of performing in my fictional world…and I came across “Fantasista”.
Haha! You know a song is good when it completely throws you off track, the kind of song that changes your plans as soon as you hear it. Allow me to explain…
If you’ve been reading my memoir up to this point, then you know I use music as a medium, a tool to escape, to feel something else detached from the reality I’m currently entrenched in. I need it to move me, to motivate me, to make me feel something, anything.
I don’t do drugs, smoke weed, or get drunk. Hahaha! I don’t need to. My imagination and an innate mental ability to remove myself from this world on command is good enough. But still…At the age of 21, that “innate ability” was still relatively weak. Music was more like the ignition switch by which the portal of imagination could be open. And once the portal was open, I’d step through and enter a whole nother world. And in this world…I was no longer “Reginald Tennie”. But something more. Something better.
As I said…I used to weigh 378lbs. But before it’d take me four years to drop down to 220lbs of solid steel and sex appeal, I dreamt of the kind of person I wanted to be. It was a fantasy that I’d eventually turn into reality. This is what it means to have a vision. You gotta have a great deal of confidence, motivation, and encouragement to push yourself to that finish line. And that finish line, is the vision you never lose sight of.
Big Bang and H.O.T was pure entertainment to me, the music that entered my soul and made me want to sing and dance and smile. Dir En Grey and American groups like Slipknot, System of a Down, and MachineHead fueled my drive, instilling in me a never-stay-down arrogance by which I refused to quit and give in. Music from Clazziquai, Samurai Champloo, Yoko Kanno and Epik High opened my eyes to stars and supernovas, allowing me to spread my wings and fly high as a writer.
Then there was Dragon Ash…who provided something new…perhaps the most important thing every young man needs while he’s in the midst of finding himself…Honestly, adjectives fail me. It isn’t just confidence. It isn’t just encouragement. The best way to describe it is with a sentiment:
“Yo, who gives a shit. Just do your best and whatever happens, happens.”
By the time I was 21, I knew what I wanted in life. I wanted to lose weight to the point that I looked like superhero. I wanted to marry the most beautiful woman I could find. And I wanted to be the greatest writer of my generation. I wanted to do something so significant that future students would have to take tests about me in class.
These all sound like lofty goals and I dare say, if most men at that age had the same goals…they wouldn’t speak them out loud, let alone actually coming to the conclusion that this was what they actually wanted. But I did. I honestly believe that it was during this time that I transitioned from Reginald Tennie to Rock Kitaro. From the caterpillar to the butterfly. Dragon Ash helped.
Perhaps it was my digging into old albums of 1TYM that I was ready for a group like Turbo. Haha! I can’t remember how I found them…but I do know that the first music video I saw was…oh yeah! Now I remember!
So…in early 2006, I saw Super Junior’s prominent dancers Eunhyuk, Shindong, and Donghae appearing on a variety show and they were dancing to an old school Korean song. I really like that song and spent over a year trying to find it. I eventually would. It’s called “Back to Black” by R.EF. But before I could find that song…Youtube showed me another group that was of the same era, that 90s dance music of 1995. Allow me to introduce you to Turbo!
Hahaha! When I first heard Turbo…it was a truly welcomed blast from the past. Debuting in 1995, they really did stake their claim as the kings of Korean dance music, reminiscent of Mortal Kombat’s soundtrack mixed with the top club hits of the 1980s. Honestly, if you’re looking for something different, this group does just the trick.
Funny thing is…I had heard of Turbo before I even knew it. Kim Jong-Kook, the lead singer with the high-pitched electronic voice, is a buff stud I’ve been seeing on Korean variety shows for well over a year, pretty much ever since I got into Kpop. I never knew his name or his significance. And when I heard that Chaeyeon had a crush on him, I was a little jealous, like “f##k dat dude.” Then…I heard him sing.
Turbo started out as a dance duo with Kim-Jong Kook as the singer and Mikey as the rapper. After the second album, apparently Mikey left and was replaced by another rapper named Kim Jung-Nam.
Their third album, “Born Again” sold over 800,000 copies. That’s ridiculous. And here I thought H.O.T was the baddest in the land, Turbo definitely gave them a run for their money and Turbo didn’t even come from one of the top three agencies like SM, DSP, or YG. With sheer talent, vocal ability and catchy melodies that linger long after you hear it, Turbo definitely made history as one of the greatest in Kpop History.
Lol, speaking of giving H.O.T a run for their money…imagine actually being from one of the top three agencies and going toe-to-toe with them in their own genre. Well then, allow me to introduce you to a group called Sechskies.
Debuting just one year after H.O.T,Sechskies first album with the above title song went on to sell over a million albums. And if you’ve been reading my memoir up to this point, you might have noticed my mentioning Sechskies before. But it wasn’t until the Spring of 2008 that I really gave them a shot. I don’t know why. Perhaps the name? But I was so content with H.O.T and Big Bang that I didn’t really go looking for anything else.
So when I found Sechskies and clicked on that “School” music video. I was taken aback. It’s one of the best of the old school kpop songs. I imagine if I was going to school in Korea when this song came out, it would have been the official anthem all year.