Deep Cuts: Red Velvet, Lovelyz, Gugudan, XXX

Hello and welcome to the last Deep Cuts of 2018.

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Red Velvet – “Butterflies”

Red Velvet is a group that seems to consistently put out quality b-sides, and “Butterflies” is yet another noteworthy effort. The verses don’t standout much, as they’re rather gentle and nondescript, but things take a turn when the outstanding chorus kicks in with the thumping beat and distorted synths hovering over it.

While it’s definitely a relatively safe effort, especially for them considering where they’re willing to take title tracks, the layering of the instruments and the chorus puts “Butterflies” over the top.

Lovelyz – “Like U”

Did nobody enjoy “Like U” or something? I hardly saw any discussion about it. While I understand that Lovelyz definitely had better efforts, it is a quality b-side with a distinct and addictive sound.

The verses could use a bit of work, but the build of the dreamy pre-chorus is well done, and it then drops down a bit into the chorus. That’s where it gets into catchy hook song territory with the “you about you” repetition embedding itself into your brain immediately.

XXX – “What You Want”

After bursting onto my radar back in 2016 with “Flight Attendant“, XXX took a purposefully less commercial and more experimental tone for their latest album. Ironically, the fact that many seemed to think the lyrics of their breakout was actually an earnest attempt at the whole sweg sweg sweg trend and not a commentary on it likely played a part in this change in direction. They’re seemingly one of the few acts left in Korean hip-hop that actually seem to care about pursuing it genuinely and not just milking it for money. They seem to want to use it legitimately as counter culture, which is likely why they speak against social ills relevant to Korea, especially the status quo that essentially promotes superficiality/materialism, school/work slavery, and the nihilistic outlook the youth have adopted as a result. The working class rap duo, if you will.

While many of the lyrics to “What You Want” are in English, the best exchange is towards the end in Korean, where Kim Ximya raps about being unable to break the cycle he’s stuck in. “Art is human, being human is greed, thus greed is money“, which works in conjunction with the “just wanna talk art” lyric that’s repeating itself. While XXX say they just want to be real about their artistry, because of the nature of the music industry, it comes down to money in the end.

The sound is angry as fuck, both in terms of the instrumental and rapping, because they are angry about the direction of Korean hip-hop and they’re channeling that. The unorthodox beat, throbbing synths, and what sounds like cowbell somehow works. And when I listened to Korean hip-hop this year, I really felt where they were coming from and thus endeared me to the album as a whole.

Gugudan – “Be Myself”

Be Myself” was somewhat shocking, as it it was rather unapologetic r&b that didn’t sound a whole lot like it was from a girl group. While I’m not sure how to feel that some of the best r&b out of Korea this year was done by idols, Gugudan pulled this off with aplomb nevertheless.

For the most part, it’s a gentle effort, but there’s a definite acceleration forward in the chorus. The “be myself” repetition stands out immediately, but the strength of the chorus is that it always keeps the listener on their toes as just when you think it’s done it adds a wrinkle instead. It also served as an opportunity for the members to showcase their harmonization, which worked out perfectly.

Gugudan – “Do It”

Do It” is much more of a Gugudan type of track in the “A Girl Like Me” build, which is never a bad thing. It’s a vocal-centered effort, but the more I hear Mina‘s rapping style, the more I actually enjoy it. Maybe not like as a legitimate hip-hop artist, but her clear and rapid style with necessary attitude and bite is appealing in a less-annoying AOA‘s Jimin type of way.

Meanwhile, the chorus of “Do It” is a perfect combination of a hook song, with the catchy “I do do do do it” refrain, and a layered, fleshed out chorus with vocals excelling to boot. The guitar in the background adds a welcome funk element, and the result is a foot-tapping jaunt.

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