I know…the title of this chapter is enough to spark some disgruntled looks. If you’ve heard of Big Bang before reading this memoir, it might sound confusing. But as someone who’s been into k-pop since nine months before they’re first release, I can tell you that they’re debut was anything but an actual Big Bang.
*disclaimer: If you hadn’t read the intro, the following is a personal memoir about my 13-year journey of exploring Korean and Japanese music
Let’s start from the beginning.
By the fall of 2006, I had just turned 20-years-old and DBSK was still my favorite kpop group. H.O.T. would be the greatest in my book until about the year 2014. But H.O.T. disbanded back in 2001. Se7en latest album was awesome, but it was DBSK that actually got me into kpop with their hits “Rising Sun” and “Triangle”. In September of 2006, they released their third album, “O” and their music video was phenomenal.
I was glad to see they hadn’t lost their touch, having spent so much time trying to make a name for themselves in Japan. The choreography was on point and the song was fire. While I was super psyched to hear from them after some time…there was one problem that I couldn’t overlook…aside from their use of the World Trade Center collapsing as b-roll…The title song, “O” was the only song that I liked on the album. The rest, was garbage. Especially their follow up hit, “Balloons,” which if you saw, you’d see was very bubble-gum poppy with the video super focused on the visuals.
Back in film school, we had a word for albums like this. “Duds”. An album everyone thinks is going to be the bomb, but makes no explosion. That’s not to say it didn’t do well in Korea. It was the highest selling album in 2006. But part of that started to breed resentment in me. That they’re fans would just accept anything. Or maybe I’d gotten spoiled from uncovering albums from artists that had already been released, one after the other. While, with DBSK, I now had to friggin wait for God knows how long for their next album to come out.
And when it comes to the fans…dude. I’ve been referring to these boybands as groups…because that’s what they are to me. However, in Korea, they’re called idol groups. And it’s not hard to see why. DBSK had the largest fanbase of all the groups, probably the whole world. I think at one point, it numbered around 500,000. They were called Cassiopeia. That’s the name of their fan group.
I was a fan, but I never would call myself a Cassiopeia. Why would I?
After listening to just “O”…a single song on an album of eleven tracks, I was left with more to be desired.
It was around this time that was also listening to Se7en of YG Entertainment. And as you’ve learn from the end of the last chapter, I stumbled across a video of a pair of YG Trainees dancing. It was G-Dragon and YongBae.
After that…I saw on the Youtube sidebar a pre-debut song G-Dragon put out. It’s a remix of Maroon 5’s “This Love”. And dude…I’m telling you. Back then, I didn’t know how far he’d go. Only that he was by far the most talented artist of our generation. I recognized all of this from just one listen to this song. He was only 18-years-old at the time and he wrote all of his own lyrics.
“This Love” by G-Dragon was amazing. It’s one of those timeless songs that never gets old no matter how many times you hear it, no matter what year it is, no matter what the trends are. The song, the style, the vocals, everything works.
Coincidentally, it was just like when I discovered DBSK. I saw the video of Yunho before learning he was the leader of DBSK. I saw videos of G-Dragon and learned he was the leader of YG’s up and coming 2nd generation group following in the steps of 1TYM. That group went by the name of Big Bang.
The first video I saw of all five members was “LaLaLa.” I’ll let you listen first before hitting on some key points.
So let me introduce you to each member by breaking down the moment they sing in the video.
@0:20, Kwon Jiyong, aka G-Dragon is the leader of the group. The dude sings, raps, composes and writes his own lyrics. If you’ll recall, back in 2006, Chris Brown was blowing up in the states with hits like “Yo” and “Wall to Wall.” When I heard G-Dragon sing, he sounded like Chris Brown. There’s actually a clip of Dragon singing to “Run It” as a trainee.
@0:30, Yong-Bae, aka Taeyang was pegged to be the lead vocalist. Hahaha, I’m a bit cautious to say this. Because from the “LaLaLa” video, other than Taeyang’s superb dancing ability…at first glance there doesn’t seem to be anything special about him. I wasn’t impressed with his voice. But just a teaser, Taeyang will get better. “Lalala” was released on September 28th 2006. In a year’s time, he’ll transform into something remarkable.
@0:58, Seungri, aka VI or Victory was the maknae (youngest) of the group, 15-years-old at the time of the music video. Seungri is a vocalist and a dance specialist, having been part of a dance team in his hometown of Gwangju. Here’s a sample of his talents.
Everyone had high expectations for Seungri, myself included. Some of his pre-debut videos are exceptional. Not to mention, his smooth voice was much like Se7en’s in a lot of ways. Even Wheesung, a fellow YG alumni thought he would one day be the show-stopper.
@1:16, Daesung…if you hear his voice in this music video, I’m sure you would’ve stopped what you were doing. This kid does not look like how he sounds. I grew up with black kids who would kill to sing like him. It’s a pleasant surprise. Even when I used to visit home from college, I’d visit my mom’s class of 7th graders and showed them this video. “Home” was a place called Augusta, Georgia. Not known for its diversity. You should have seen their eyes light up when they heard Daesung’s voice.
@1:45, last but not least you have this smokey-eyed rapper who goes by the name of T.O.P. Just like when they heard Daesung, I had some 7th graders legit saying, “Yo, if this was English, it’d be fire.”
That was Big Bang. Witnessing them step onto the stage for the first time, I was honored. And more than that, they kept fans satisfied. I credit YG with popularizing the concept of a mini-album. Big Bang was releasing a mini-album (EP) every month. So while I had to wait for another year for DBSK to come out with an album full of fillers and one good song. Big Bang was releasing a mini-albums with three to four awesome tracks on every record for three months straight.
More than that…YG Entertainment did something interesting. The filmed a 13-episode documentary quite similar to MTV’s “Making the Band” except with less drama and the band ended up successful.
It was in this documentary that I really formed a strong connection to Big Bang and YG Entertainment. There’s a certain aspect of life…perhaps the best thing about being alive is the fact that there’s no such thing as perfection. There’s always room for improvement. And that’s what these boys strived for. Improvement. You really saw it. The sweat and toil they had to endure. It’s why we all love Dragon Ball Z. Everytime there’s a challenge, the characters train and practice like hell to overcome it. That’s what Big Bang’s had to do.
In particular, Taeyang and G-Dragon. These guys had been trainees since they were barely out of grade school. Initially, YG Entertainment was going to have these guys debut as a duo of rappers called GDYB. But somewhere along the lines, YG decided to create a boyband out of them.
In the documentary, there were six trainees. In the end, one was eliminated and the five became Big Bang. But even after the lineup was settled on, they still had an uphill battle to climb. As I mentioned…the reigning kings at the time were DBSK, followed closely by labelmates Super Junior and rivals SS501.
When Big Bang debuted, other than already established fans of 1TYM, Se7en, Wheesung, and Jinusean, nobody really gave them much notice. I saw people leaving all kinds of disparaging remarks about them trying to act all gangster, trying to act black, saying that they were ugly.
In so many ways, Big Bang really was the anti-DBSK. It reminds me of how they said Avril Lavigne was the anti-Britney Spears. That’s not to say there was any animosity real between the groups themselves. DBSK debuted in 2004. Big Bang debuted in 2006. From what I saw, Big Bang wasn’t so arrogant or foolish to think they’d just debut and jump to the top of the charts. But I think DBSK’s fans saw them as a threat.
And why wouldn’t they be? Big Bang was something completely different from the other boybands or idol groups. Big Bang flared with an urban, street fashion attire. DBSK and Super Junior had rappers, but not like Big Bang’s TOP and G-Dragon who hailed from YG, an entertainment company that made their bones excelling in hardcore rap and hip hop.
Not only that…but Big Bang composed most of their own lyrics. DBSK and Super Junior had song-writing teams producing and writing their songs. You could tell from the documentary that YG was grooming the Big Bang members to compose their own songs, choreograph their own dances. This level of artistry was different from the manufactured nature of other groups. If you’re a fan who claims to respect and appreciate your artist, you had to take that into account.
And perhaps more importantly, and this is the thing that really started to get to me, DBSK, Super Junior, and SS501…I don’t want to go so far as to say they thought of themselves as pretty boys. But I think their companies made them out to be. It’s like they were peddling sex appeal first, and their music second. Which, if you’re a girl, I can’t blame you for seeing there’s nothing wrong with that. Business is business.
But as a guy…I resented it. Ever since I was a kid, I never understood the effect of one being or becoming popular because of their looks. Especially Super Junior’s popular member, Heechul.
There was so much focus on him even though, let’s be honest, he wasn’t the best singer/dancer/rapper of the group. He may have a good personality for variety shows, sure. But still, the concept of “sex sells” was starting to wear thin. It got to the point where if I saw that anything was too visual and focused on superficial appearances, even if I wanted the product or liked the artist’s work, I’d refuse to buy into it just in my own stupid rebellious way to show them.
With Big Bang and the release of their documentary, they just seemed real, authentic to who they were and what they were trying to accomplish. TOP was a real fan of the Notorious BIG. He wasn’t pretending. G-Dragon was a fan of the Wu-Tang clan. Seungri was a fan of Justin Timberlake. They performed true to their nature. While it seemed the other groups…
And it wasn’t just with Korea but also here in the States. I was 20-years-old and getting tired of college life. Everything was so superficial and fucking fake. The emo and goth culture was blowing up where we saw dudes in skinny jeans, wearing makeup, and had longer hair than girls. And the girls, for their part, loved it. Suddenly, misery and apathy was attractive. And happy, enthusiastic spirits were shunned. I’m talking about what I was seeing with my own eyes in Tampa, Florida. Perhaps it was different where you were towards the end of 2006.
All of this…I confess it had me rooting for Big Bang in more ways than one. I wanted the culture to change.
By the end of 2006, I was looking for something different. I saw Big Bang play out their concerts and they were able to do a few variety shows, despite the obvious haters even within the industry. But I needed something else. Something to escape from. Hahaha! My taste in music happens in cycles it seems.
Just like how I dove into Seo Taiji and his Korean rock music before finding comfort in the smooth stylings of Se7en. After listening to the few mini-albums of Big Bang, Se7en and getting tired of Super Junior’s “U”…I went searching for metal.