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!
The first time I had heard of H.O.T. was when I began looking for websites about Korean groups and other bands like DBSK. Almost every website I came across put two names up on the highest echelon in the Korean music industry.
One was a man named Seo Taiji. The website touted that his popularity in Korea was on par to Michael Jackson’s phenomenon in U.S. when “Thriller” hit the scene. The other name was H.O.T., which stood for “High-Five of Teenagers.” Now, if you think the name was lame, the picture I saw of them in anime hair and metallic costumes gave the same impression. My initial thought was that H.O.T was just as manufactured as Super Junior appeared to be. So, I passed on both of them.
*disclaimer: If you hadn’t read the intro, the following is a personal memoir about my 13 years of exploring Korean and Japanese music.
As I continued to get deeper and deeper into Korean music and their culture. One of the first things I learned was how strict they were about broadcasting songs they deemed unsuited for public consumption. If a song was too materialistic, or promoted an unhealthy lifestyle, it wouldn’t be allowed to broadcast on the major stations.
Deep down, I think I respected that, considering how much I blame the entertainment industry for how immoral and backwards my own generation had become here in the states. However, as I’d eventually grow as an artist, I confess, I do think there is some corruption when it comes to such practice. Meaning, if you wanted, you could very well sway the deciding members on what should be deemed suitable or unsuitable. But I suppose that’s for another essay.
I also loved how in South Korea, they have dance shows and variety programs where the top celebrities come together and just straight up dance it out or to promote their current singles. At the time, some of the most popular shows were “X-Man,” “Love Letter,” and “Golden Star Bell”. Some of the regulars were famous names like Lee Minwoo, Jang Woo Hyuk, Tony An, and of course Yunho and Micky representing DBSK. Here, you’ll see Yunho dancing with Jang Woo Hyuk in the middle.
Now then…allow me take a moment to introduce you to two names here. Jang Woo Hyuk and Tony An. It took me a while to pronounce Jang Woo Hyuk properly. I believe it’s supposed to sound like, John Woo Yuh. Forgive me if I botched that.
It was just by chance that I had downloaded some of their music the month before I saw them on these variety shows. And dude…their music was amazing. It added a bit of variety to my k-pop tastes. DBSK and Super Junior handled the boy-band sound. Se7en gave me a solo Justin Timberlake vibe with his hits like “Passion” and “Crazy”.
But Jang Woo Hyuk and Tony An were something different altogether.
Jang Woo Hyuk was an amazing dancer. He was featured in numerous compilation videos as one of Korea’s premier pop-and-lockers. And as a solo artist, he’s a Bonafide rapper whose voice, I really can’t compare to anyone else. I listened to his song, “Flip Reverse” so many times that I think it was the first Korean song in which I memorized all of the lyrics.
I rapped it for my older brother when he came to visit. I think he was impressed. Not to mention, it was really remarkable how much hip hop had an influence on other countries around the world. It’s like everyone took a piece of it and modified the art to fit their own styles. But still…their own style. I think there’s a difference between being influenced by a culture and straight up swagger jacking. Some Korean artists are guilty of this. But I don’t believe Jang Woo Hyuk’s one of them.
And when it came to Tony An…the first song I heard of his was “Yutzpracachia’s Love”. Odd sounding title, I know. But like I said. It gave my palate some much needed variety. Tony’s song had a more mature R&B vibe to it that wasn’t overpowering or aggressive. Some nights after working the closing shift as a delivery driver, Tony An’s songs were just what I needed to unwind and relax.
But more than that…Tony An could rap and compose his own songs. Like Jang Woo Hyuk, Tony’s voice was unique. Not what you’d expect to hear from a soloist. It’s hard to explain. One of my top five favorite Korean songs of all time, was performed by Tony An. In fact, I found that a lot of my favorite “timeless” songs have managed to blend classical music from Mozart, Brahm or Beethoven in with a modern sound.
Tony An – “Love is Beautiful When You Can’t Have it”
Now, the funny thing about Jang Woo Hyuk and Tony An is they have a lot more in common than their unique abilities as solo artists. Remember when I said that the mark of a legendary group is one in which all the members could excel on their own if they went solo? Well…turns out Jang Woo Hyuk and Tony An were once part of the same group. And that group was called H.O.T. Yep, the same H.O.T, I passed on early in this chapter.
More than that…But just like in the states where we have end of the year musical award shows like the Grammys or the VMAs, they have the same of their own brand in Korea. In this next video, you’ll see groups like CSJH, Super Junior and DBSK holding it down in which they sing a medley of songs. One of which, caught my attention the first time I heard it. For the life of me, I’ve been trying to find out the original artist who sings the song @2:16. It’s being performed by DBSK…But this performance, it’s a tribute to the original artist. The original artist was none other than H.O.T.
The ORIGINAL “IYAH!”
Straight up, that’s Jang Woo Hyuk rapping at 00:54 seconds in and Tony An at 1:08.
Now, ladies and gentlemen…I cannot begin to tell you how profound the effect H.O.T had on me. I was 19-years-old. DBSK was the group that got me hooked in to k-pop. But H.O.T. will always be the greatest.
The K-Pop Chronicles – A 13 Year Love Affair By Rock Kitaro
When I was in college, everyone told me that my love for Korean pop music was just a phase and that it would pass. Thirteen years is a long time to simply call it a phase.
Ever since 2005 I’ve been listening to popular music from the countries of Japan and South Korea. This was back before everyone else heard of “Gangnam Style.” Back before BTS took the Billboards. Back before Twitter and Instagram determined one’s prestige.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’ve watched the rise of Big Bang since they were still trainees. I rocked out to Dir En Gray. Witnessed the fall of DBSK when they were near untouchable. I went back and explored the history of legendary groups like Seo Taiji, H.O.T, NRG, Turbo, and stumbled upon gems like Clazziquai, Epik High, Drunken Tiger, and Dragon Ash.
But…as you can imagine…we’re talking about a span of thirteen years. The music has changed. I’ve grown up.
Since this journey of mine has come to an end, I thought I’d take a moment and tell you my story. In the upcoming memoirs, you will see me as an impressionable college freshmen who lived out his twenties dishing on some of the best kpop and jrock ever produced. It’s been an honor, really. You’re going to see what real diversity looks like. Hint: it’s not about race, it’s about taste. Back when the charts weren’t saturated with artists who look the same, all producing the same thing.
That being said…fair warning. You might read some things that strike a nerve if you’re a hardcore fan of certain groups. Mind you, this is just one man’s opinion, the perspective of one who’s been watching the scene since 2005. So if you just discovered kpop in 2016 and get mad talking about how so and so is the greatest when you haven’t even heard of H.O.T or Seo Taiji…yeah, you’re in for a bad time. This is my journey. My discovery of musical groups and the evolutionary effects they had on my life. Sit back and let me show you what I saw…starting in the middle of 2004.
Here’s a taste with a music video I edited in 2013, compiling some of the most impressive kpop dances I’ve ever seen.
Dance Appearances in Order – Song “Jiggy Get Down” by the Untouchables
1. :10 – Yunho of DBSK
2. :37 – Xiah of DBSK
3. :52 – Hyunseung, formerly of BEAST
4. 1:02 – Kikwang (AJ) of BEAST
5. 1:12 – Rain (Bi)
6. 1:31 – 2pm
7. 1:50 – 2NE1
8. 2:10 – Untouchables
9. 2:30 – Taeyang
10. 2:50 – DBSK
11. 3:09 – Big Bang
12. 4:08 – Block B
13. 4:17 – BEAST
14. 4:27 – Big Bang
The Meaning Behind “Dragon Ash” – My exploration of Jpop and Kpop By Rock Kitaro Date: March 26, 2013
“Be Stronger, Fly Higher, Don’t Be Afraid”
Those are the opening lyrics to Dragon Ash’s “Underage Song,” a song dedicated to the youth, inspiring them to strive no matter what.
I’m currently in the midst of writing the second episode of one of my short stories. The “Dragon Ash” series I’ve created is named after my favorite band. Not my favorite Japanese band. Not my favorite rock band. But favorite band, period. And out of respect and overwhelming gratitude, I felt it was high-time I explained myself. If by reading the end of this memoir, members of Dragon Ash thinks I should change the title of my story, I will.
Let me take you back to the end of 2004. In the midst of my senior year of high school something was happening to me. I think the last English CD I bought was Slipknot’s “Vol. 3 Subliminal Verses.” After that, I confess that I couldn’t help but to simply download my music. But the music I took an interest in downloading wasn’t American made songs. My dormant rebellious nature kicked it up a notch and I think I just got fed up with English lyrics. I think after 18 years of life, I got tired of hearing the same lyrics over and over again. I felt that I had heard every possible way that an artist could overextend “why” or say “I love you”. Not to mention, the kind of music that was clouding the airwaves during this time was just…just terrible. And so…I moved away from American music for a brief period of time.
Using filesharing sites like limewire, I began with downloading instrumentals. Music from anime, video games like Need for Speed and background music from movies like Daredevil and Vin Diesel’s XXX. My friends back then understandably thought it was puzzling, as did I for a time. But then I found a similarity between those instrumentals and metal, another genre I discovered a liking for at the time.
With some metal songs from artists like System of a Down and Slipknot, until I looked up the lyrics, other than the main chorus I had no idea what they were saying. And on a subconscious level, I think I preferred it that way. I couldn’t articulate “why” back then, but I think I was tired of lyrics dictating to me what to think, how I should feel and how I should go about situations. When I listen to music, I want to simply feel good. And 2004’s mainstream music kind of made me feel shitty because I wasn’t and still don’t, feel like I’m part of the mainstream.
Giving you this background information was crucial to help you understand how I was able to transition into what happens next because something spectacular happened.