September 2009 was a dark chapter in K-Pop history.
Up to this point, the worst I had seen was the breakup of DBSK when JYJ went their separate way. But DBSK had been in the game since 2004. 2pm was still relatively new, only having debuted in September of 2008.
By all accounts, 2pm was considered a top contender to be one of the best in the industry. Hailing from JYP Entertainment, they came from the same label as the immensely popular Wonder Girls. They had just released “Again in Again” in early 2009. They were appearing on variety shows and winning all kinds of fans with their charm, talent, and diversity as Korea’s first “beastly idols”.
Then…Jay Park, Jaebeom as he was referred to back then…Jay Park left the group. Fellow member Taecyeon once described it as the worse day of his life. So much drama happened in the span of a few months but to a fan such as myself, it’s like it all happened in an instance. And when 2pm returned to the scene, they were no longer seven members, but six. The song they released seemed all too fitting to describe, not only their anguish, but the anguish of their fans. It was called “Heartbeat”.
So let’s back up. Here’s what happened…
In the fall of 2009, while rookie groups like BEAST and MBLAQ were going toe-to-toe, one mustn’t overlook the significant contributions from other artists that seemed to resonate with the beauty that comes along with the fall and winter seasons. I’m talking about the likes of Superstar K’s Seo-in-Guk, U-Kiss, Wheesung, Hwanhee, and Taeyang. Let’s get it.
This trend of releasing melodic sounds, it seems to carry over the years. The summer is full of club bangers and school anthems. But when the leaves start to brown and the wind turns chill, when the sweaters come out, that’s when the laid back hits start to wash over.
In the fall of 2009, several interesting things happened. First, this was around the time that I became a regular on a relatively new website devoted to kpop called Allkpop. These days, Allkpop is the standard by which everyone goes to for the latest and greatest news coming from South Korean entertainment. For the most part, it seems reliable and trustworthy… “seems”.
Back then, in 2009, I had to take it with a grain of salt. Allkpop was reliable when it came to publishing the release dates, the music videos, and teasers for my favorite artists. The downside, was that Allkpop was extremely biased back in the day and they know it. If you read my chapters about DBSK and Casseiopeia, then you’d understand. That fandom was real. And anyone who threatened the popularity of DBSK and SM Entertainment artists was a threat. That threat was none other than Big Bang.
Thus, if you go back and check out some of their articles released before 2009, you get a lot of trash talking where they’re straight up dissing Big Bang and YG artists. They may have deleted a lot of it, but I’m telling you it was real. Even when G-Dragon came out with his solo album that was undeniably good, the Allkpop author writing an article about it would give their two-cents where they’d give some credit, with backhanded criticism. Kind of like the news does with Pres. Trump these days. Where they’ll say, “Pres. Trump condemns white supremacists, but refuses to change gun laws…” He did something good…but he’s still bad. That effect.
4-MEN – Knock Knock Knock
However, Allkpop would get better as they came along. I think they took notice of the comments and how a lot of us were dissing the Allkpop writers for their unwarranted criticism of our favorite artists. Gradually, they realized that while DBSK had more fans internationally (out of the states), domestically and within the U.S., we mostly favored the sound of Big Bang and 2NE1. If you don’t want to lose readers, you gotta curb your hate and cater to them. So that’s what Allkpop did. Continue Reading
Anyone striving for greatness needs competition. These are just the facts of life. Without competition, some rival, some adversity to overcome, without someone to beat, how do you know how good you are? There’s nothing wrong with striving for greatness. It’s an amazing thing. It’s even better for the fans.
Anyone who was into kpop back in October of 2009 knows…the debut of MBLAQ and BEAST was one for the books. Everyone knew these groups were going to be all-stars in their own right. They were debuting at the same time and not only did the fans pit them against each other…for the first time, the boys themselves openly embraced the challenge. The competition was real and each group was ready to throw down.
Back then, they went by B2ST, pronounced BEAST…I remember when that teaser dropped and was like…Okay! Shots fired. Then, on October 14, 2009, MBLAQ responded with their first music video, “Oh Yeah”
Was homeboy sporting a mustache-goatee? In an idol group? Get the f**k outta here! I couldn’t believe it. Both MBLAQ and BEAST made their grand entrance like prized fighters to the ring. My respect for kpop definitely soared upon witnessing this with my own two eyes. But more than that. Even though they were rookies, I was already invested. A lot of us were.
Why? It wasn’t just the hype…AND THERE WAS A LOT OF HYPE! But the members themselves. A lot of us knew about them way before they debuted. Allow me to explain. Continue Reading
HEY YO! FINALLY!
2009 was a good year for YG Entertainment. Rolling off of Big Bang’s success from their “Remember” album in late 2008, they picked up endorsements from LG Electronics, spawned hits with Seungri’s “Strong Baby” and went on to launch arguably the greatest debut of any girl group in history with 2NE1.
In July of 2009, YG could have just sat back and rode off the wave of 2NE1’s hit “I Don’t Care,” or even Big Bang’s stardom in Japan with the release of their hit “Gara Gara Go.” Instead…they started teasing fans about the potential release of G-Dragon’s first solo project.
Now me…this had me on the edge of my seat. You gotta remember, I’ve been a fan of Big Bang since before they debuted in 2006. I saw what G-Dragon was capable of as a friggin trainee…a trainee!
I was going to include The Trax in my last chapter about Korean music, but then I thought, nah…The Trax deserves their own chapter. As one of the best rock groups to ever come out of South Korea…where do I begin. Let’s start with 2004’s very own “Paradox”.
Haha! So…from what I’ve covered (from 2005-2009 at this point), South Korea isn’t exactly known for its hard rock and heavy metal. In the coming years of 2010&2011, I’d eventually discover bands like Buster, Yellow Monsters, and Tranxfixion, but up to this point, the only other metal group I had heard of was Novasonic, Seo Taiji, and props to Moon Hee Jun for his grungy solo albums. But if you contrast this with Japan’s plethora of metal bands and don’t even get me started when it comes to the states…yeah, safe to say, South Korea doesn’t have a lot of diversity with hard rock. I’m talking HARD ROCK.
Don’t be fooled. If you check out websites like Soompi and Allkpop, they’ll tout some bands as hard rock or punk bands, but that shit’s so soft. Like CN Blue or FT Island. Get outta here with all that. I give FT Island props for their hit “Pray” in 2015. But that’s it. Everything else is soft-rock.
But when it came to The Trax… The only reason why I hadn’t written a chapter about them sooner was because, sadly, up to this point they had only released one album. Which is honestly the biggest tragedy of all. “Paradox” was released in 2004. So, from 2004 till 2009, only one album. This shows that either S. Korea wasn’t into the Hard Rock sound, or SM Entertainment doesn’t know how to manage rock stars. Because one thing was undeniable, The Trax was overflowing with raw talent.
Oh, you didn’t know? Hell yeah, The Trax, the mother-effing Trax was founded and produced by SM Entertainment, the company known for its pretty boys like DBSK, Shinhwa, and Super Junior. In fact, the first time, I legit heard of the Trax was in DBSK’s music video, “Triangle”. As awesome as the song was (with its amazing use of Mozart), what made the song timeless was the rock provided by none other than the Trax.
In July 2009, while 2NE1 was tearing up the charts in Korea with their hits “Fire” and “I Don’t Care,” their big brother group Big Bang was hustling to climb their way up the charts in Japan.
When I first saw “Gara Gara Go,” I was thrilled to say the least. Big Bang isn’t exactly known for their in-sync choreography. They usually rely on Taeyang or Seungri to hold down the dancing, at least in their music videos. So to see that they actually dance together during the chorus and breakdown, it was a welcomed surprise.
In August of 2009, they released their first full-length Japanese album, self-titled “Big Bang”. On it, they had Gara Gara Go and some other hits I jammed out with through the summer. But perhaps my favorite was “Stay”.
I must have played that song a 100x that summer. Not only was it a good song to write to, but it’s one of those songs you can take to the beach, go for a walk, and simply dream. Back then, such inspiration was needed. I was only 23 and just now embarking on my career as a screenwriter. I could take all the inspiration I could get. Continue Reading
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.
Then…there was 2NE1…
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 DBSK at 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 about Lady 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.