An in-depth piece about Big Bang’s impact in Korea written by Kang Myung Suk (music critic and former editor-in-chief of 10Asia magazine)

note: please listen to BIGBANG’s “Lie” while reading the entire article. lol 😛

About the music business without talking about music – BIGBANG

Bigbang Part I : Succeeding like a lie

In these articles I don’t usually talk about music, but for Bigbang I’m going to talk about music, to be more specific talk about ‘Lies’. In that time, the one song ‘Lies’ satisfied all the music consumers in Korea. This song was the best to put as their bgm(background music) for their personal homepages, was first on the music charts for weeks and even made Bigbang shine on stage. Bigbang through ‘Lies’ became a group that had did well in music sales and a group where all the members became stars.

The reaction for the song ‘Lies’ starts from the unique characteristic of this song. As everyone knows, the song was influenced by the Sibuya musicians such as Free Tempo or Daishi Dance. In the beginning of the song there is a piano melody, and in the hook the entire rhythms storm; this reminds us of the Sibuya musicians. However, ‘Lies’ doesn’t only remind us about the sound of the Sibuya musicians. ‘Lies’, from the start to the end, is led by the rhythm. The only piano part that makes the melody repeats itself, making it a repeated beat. These songs usually become a performance song where the repeated sound is emphasized, or there are a lot of cases where the repeated part is emphasized more than the melody. FreeTempo’s ‘Sky high’ which ‘Lies’ had a quarrel about plagerising(which was not true), have the melody repeat itself again and again.

But, in ‘Lies’ in this sound he put in all the developments that normal kpop has. ‘Lies’ melody development starts out very softly, but when it comes to the hook ‘I’m so sorry but I love you…’ until this ends the song is at the peak, then in the middle of the song the song rises again because of the rapping part, and in the end part before the climax of the song there is a bridge ‘I’m only like this / I still cant forget you’. If you divide the melody up ‘Lies’ has all the development it needs to be a song and all the elements develop in a predictable way.

The Sibuya style sound is not very new anymore. So is the development of kpop. However, it is hard too find both of these in one song balanced out well still having the characteristics of each. The ‘sound’ of this song was better than the normal kpop, and the melody development was easy for anyone to enjoy. Before ‘Lies’ came out, the music charts were dominated by medium tempo ballad songs. Songs with an R&B style rhythm with orchestra or synthesizer sounds which where easy to listen to. The strong vocals put a lot of power into the predictable melody line and made an impact. So, these songs were suitable to put them as bgms, or as colorings.

‘Lies’ satisfied the public in a different way from these heavy medium tempo ballad songs. This repeated sound with an electronica basis gave a different feeling from the existing kpop, but at the same time was easy to listen to as a bgm. But on the other hand, the existing development of kpop was well mixed in with this song so anyone could easily enjoy the song. It could be a calm song if you wanted to, or it could even be an exciting song that you would like to sing along. Of course before ‘Lies’ a lot of people were listening to FreeTempo and Daishi Dance. But that’s the same for lounge music and Latin music too. In Korea, these songs that were based on the sound weren’t able to come into the mainstream market. Or when it did come in it became ‘kpop-ized’ and only had some of the sounds in it. ‘Lies’ made us listen to the Sibuya style sounds in the most popular way it could. The music that was good and polishing that we couldn’t easily go near, all a sudden became a song that we could sing at the karaoke.

The characteristics or ‘Lies’ is also directly reflected in the music video. The story in ‘Lies’ is not very different from the existing dramatized music video stories. A guy goes into jail for the girl he loves. But, this music video doesn’t just bluntly tell us the story word by word. The story was conveyed by a very concise edited video, and in between the members of Bigbang sing while following the girl around. The parts where Bigbang sing and the music video’s story line also are linked. Bigbang doesn’t have to ‘act’ to show their song and fashion style all they want. The plotline isn’t new, but the way they conveyed the story was new. ‘Lies’ had the elements that the market requested for them as their poll, filled up the rest of the elements with things that did not come into our mainstream market yet, and completed it as one building.

However the popularity of ‘Lies’ is not only because of the great balance between the existing kpop style and the new stuff. The more important thing is the unique ‘thing’ that came out in the process of balancing them out. Everyone wants to try to preserve the unique characteristics of the sound and make it have the existing kpop structure. The problem is how you do it. ‘Lies’ resolves this by its very unique melody structure. Most kpop usually has a structure that gradually increases. In the process the melody rises gradually and is at the climax near the end of the songs. Most ballad songs have this structure, and songs with rap usually have this structure rap-melody-rap-melody-bridge-melody. If you express this as a graph, it’s a straight line from the bottom left that goes up to the right.

On the other hand ‘Lies’ is like a staircase graph. In this song the rap and melody the members sing doesn’t link to each other, but the parts are broken and the mood of the song is raised in a short amount of this. After G-Dragon’s rapping part, melody wise with no connections ‘Without you, I can’t smile’ melody appears, then after that ‘It’s like shit…’ appears, and then the song right away goes into the hook ‘I’m so sorry but I love you…’. In the second verse TOP’s rap and Daesung’s melody come after one another and in an instant the song comes to one of it’s highlights ‘Loner who’s left alone…’, then after the rap and melody cross over one another ‘I’m so sorry but I love you…’ appears again.

The melody of ‘Lies’ is not connected as one, but it’s more like many pieces are just gathered together. This is because ‘Lies’ is more based on the rhythm than the sound or melody. When a new rhythm comes out the mood of the song changes, the song’s melody is replaced by another melody with a new rhythm. This structure was the core of making ‘Lies’ first on all the online charts and even making Bigbang on the top of the game. The melody rose rapidly so the members could come into their parts making a large impact, and the song goes to its climax in a short about of time. You can hear the hook of ‘Lies’ in less than one minute of the song, and in the end parts the bridge is right before the hook and the song is at its climax. When you listen to it on the computer it’s suitable as a BGM, but on stage the climaxes come out restlessly in ‘Lies’. And, during this the members get a chance to appeal themselves.

The overall development of ‘Lies’ is very experienced and skilled, making us doubt G-Dragon’s age. G-Dragon didn’t stop by repeated melodies that rise rapidly, but also when you see the song structure as a whole, the song rises. In the first verse G-Dragon and Seungri cross over each other with their rap and melody slowly building up the tension and finally reveals the hook; on the other hand in verse two TOP and Daesung develop the song in a similar way but TOP’s rap comes out strong and makes a larger impact than it did in verse 1. In the end of the song the bridge and hook brings the song to its climax. In verse one where he could’ve just made it loser, he puts in the line ‘It’s like shit’ and makes the song have a fiercer feel. These days there are ‘hook songs’ that cannot give an impact except with their repeated melody; but on the other hand ‘Lies’ when you see it as a whole, and when you see the parts separately there are no useless parts. This is why TOP’s rap part and the vocal parts are easy to remember too. G-Dragon made this song with memorable rap and melody pieces, and Bigbang through this song could show their completed style and the characteristics of each of the members at the same time.

This is why ‘Lies’ had an explosive reaction over the existing idol market. This song has this generation’s culture fortune that listened to Lula and Jinusean’s music in his childhood, listened to FreeTempo and Maroon 5 when he grew up, and can pull off the style mixing in hip-hop style clothing and other style clothing. ‘Lies’ has the generation’s code who wants to be a step forward in the trend but comfortable at the same time, and that wants to stand out but also somewhat mix in at the same time. This was a market that not exist before Bigbang’s ‘Lies, and this was the moment where the idols met this generation’s emotions.

But the interesting thing is this song that is like scenery made of pieces has also some minor and depressing characteristics. ‘Lies’ is a explosive song that runs to its climax, but the parts that make up this structure are calm and melancholy. The piano melody that is the theme for ‘Lies’, and G-Dragon’s rap and Seungri’s vocal in verse one, progress with a low tone. The parts that actually give us an explosive feeling is in verse two in TOP’s rap and the hook. In ‘Lies’ all the verses are wrapped up by a strong hook, but the process of this is more like the feelings are building up gradually than being exciting. Also in the hook ‘I’m so sorry but I love you it was all a lie, I didn’t know, I need you’, instead of going on with the powerful melody, in the ‘Eeya mollatsuh(I didn’t know’ part the notes go low and make the mood calm. You can excitingly enjoy ‘Lies’, but it doesn’t burst out all the feelings. In the hottest points the melody of ‘Lies’ leaves some aftereffect. This is probably one of the reasons why it was able to maintain its originality. Exploding, but doesn’t burst out all the feelings and ‘Lies’ became a cool song. It became a song that we wouldn’t be fed up with for a long time. Also, this became Bigbang’s stage and their appearance. Bigbang through ‘Lies’ not only did they make a new group image, but also made their group style that they’ve showed from before to define their group identity.

The path that Bigbang went after ‘Lies’ is also the story of how they changed these feelings. If ‘Lies’ is the root of Bigbang’s identity until now, the activities after this of Bigbang is how they varied this. This is the different between ‘Lies’ and ‘Haru Haru’, and also ‘Sunset Glow’. The things I’m going to talk about next are about that.

Bigbang Part II : Between a style icon and a national idol group

Since I’ve talked about the more musical things in Part 1, now I’m going to talk about everything except the music. The reason I’ve talked musically about the song ‘Lies’ is because it is impossible to explain about Bigbang without those explanations. Also it is not common to see the music(to be more specific their title tracks) that Bigbang has showed us, directly impact the flow of the music market. Bigbang through ‘Lies’ became a top star, and found a new market that the other idol groups have not found before. The big hit of ‘Lies’ showed us that idol groups could not only be the style icon for their fans, but also for the people that were living in the same time era. Everyone put the songs of idols as their background music for their homepages or blog, and guys around Bigbang’s age wore the Bigbang style clothing. When an idol group comes in contact with the ‘public’ over their fans, the commercial impact is phenomenal. They appeared on CFs that were targeted for teenagers and people in their twenties; in that age range the Bigbang fandom that grew larger and consumed the products they put out.

It is impossible for a group to do this with only one hit song. For example, if Bigbang came out with a ballad song after ‘Lies’ would they have been able to gain the popularity they have right now? The song could of somewhat succeeded, but the place that they had as the ‘style icon’ wouldn’t have been as firm. The new market was stirred up by ‘Lies’; the consumers wanted Bigbang to have the style that ‘Lies’ had, and Bigbang needed to bring out a song that was on the same lines as ‘Lies’.

From that point, the songs in their second mini album, ‘Fool’ and ‘Last Farewell’ were an intelligent choice. YG Entertainment released the second mini album not far after they finished their promotions for the first mini album. The album with the songs was different, however ‘Last Farewell’ and ‘Fool’ had the momentum of the group that had made a big hit with ‘Lies’. Bigbang in those two songs wore street fashion clothing that was on the line of ‘Lies’, and the two songs had a basis of electronica music like ‘Lies’.

However, the two songs didn’t just simply repeat ‘Lies’, but played a variation Bigbang’s style. ‘Fool’ and ‘Last Farewell’ are the two variations of ‘Lies’. ‘Fool’ has the ‘slow, low, gloomy’ part of ‘Lies’, and ‘Last Farewell’ had the ‘fast, high, exciting’ parts. The song development in ‘Fool’ is the same as ‘Lies'(Please refer to PART 1 about how ‘Lies’ was written). ‘The order of the member’s parts, melody and rap in ‘Lies’ is almost fully repeated in ‘Fool’. However this does not mean that ‘Fool’ is the repetition of ‘Lies’. G-Dragon in the same structure, was able to bring out a more calm, gloomy and sentimental melody. The voices were thinner, and in the hook they don’t rush in with power like they did in ‘Lies’; it is more like they chanted it. However, ‘Last Farewell’ emphasizes the explosiveness from ‘Lies’ even more. The tempo’s fast, and in the hook a simple and explicit melody ‘baby baby..’ appears. Contrary to ‘Fool’, this is probably why Brave Brothers participated in writing ‘Last Farewell’. Brave Brothers, like we’ve seen in ‘Crazy’, is good at writing melodies that are short and easy to remember. In the hook of ‘Last Farewell’ Bigbang dances a dance that can easily be danced by anyone; this shows the characteristics of this song(The sharing of works between G-Dragon and Brave Brothers is clearer when you hear ‘Crazy’ and ‘Saturday Night’ which he wrote by himself). ‘Fool’ emphasized the more sentimental feeling of ‘Lies’, and ‘Last Farewell’ released the style that Bigbang showed in ‘Lies’ even more to appeal to the public. This isn’t the best metaphor, but it is like how Apple made a big hit with Ipod and released the Nano and Shuffle to vary their products. So they showed the ‘Bigbang style’ to the public in a way that they would not get fed up with it; they showed different products so they would easily like it.

During this process Bigbang dominated a specific market. At that time Bigbang showed their own music and fashion, and Bigbang showed a variety of products so their consumers didn’t have to try to go find another team. The solo activities during the first half of 2008 hardened the cool and stylish image of Bigbang. Taeyang’s ‘Only Look at Me’ was not only popular, but even was acknowledged for the musicality by receiving an R&B award from the ‘Public Music Awards Ceremony’. G-Dragon became a fashionista that was acknowledged by fashion magazines. On top of this Daesung showed himself in variety shows, Seungri showed himself in a musical and TOP was casted for . Bigbang did this while maintaining their style extended their popularity. If you exclude their music, fashion, drama, musical, variety show, movies etc. the Bigbang members are just normal guys that enjoy their cultural life. They exist in all of the cultures of people around their ages, and were able to make themselves shine in that market in a way that was suitable for them. They made their music and fashion ‘cool’ and in variety shows they tried their best. The reason TOP was able to kiss Lee Hyori was because of the unique characteristics of Bigbang. They are an idol group with a fixed fandom, but they are also guys that are in their twenties that can be cool outside of the territories of their fandom.

‘Haru Haru’ and ‘Sunset Glow’ is a choice that came from Bigbang as the dominator of the music market. Bigbang through their first album found a new market, in their second mini album varied their products and by the solo activities they made their shares in the market firm. This is the ideal situation, but at the same time it means that the profit that they can gain from this field is at a saturated state. When they sell their albums, they can sell more than 200,000 and all the tickets for their performances are sold out. To receive more than this, they needed to expand their market.

This is why YG chose ‘Haru Haru’ and ‘Sunset Glow’. Some of the parts in ‘Haru Haru’ remind us of ‘Lies’. Like ‘Lies’ it starts with a piano accompaniment, and like it did in ‘Lies’ there is a hook that has a strong beginning ‘When you leave don’t look back…’. However ‘Haru Haru’ is subtly different from ‘Lies’ in many parts. Instead of having the rap and melody cross over each other, they have a development that was from the rap to the hook. Instead of how TOP had a rap part that was like a solo performance in the second verse of ‘Lies’, the song shows a similar development in the first and second verse. Also, in ‘Haru Haru’ the simple rhythm is the core of the song, contrary to ‘Lies’ where the rhythm splendidly is built up. In ‘Haru Haru’, the rest of the empty spaces are filled with the synthesizer that sounds like an orchestra.

Thus, ‘Haru Haru’ is easier for the public to easily understand than ‘Lies’. Instead of the complicated rhythm, the melody of the synthesizer comes in and instead of the kaleidoscopic development, there was the more predictable development; so, more people could come in contact with the song with less pressure. Look at how the hooks of ‘Haru Haru’ and ‘Lies’ differ. It’s the same that the melody is catchy and the voices of the members are strong, but in ‘Lies’ in the part where they sing ‘eeya mollatsuh(oh I didn’t know)’ all a sudden the tone drops and leaves a melancholy feeling. On the other hand in ‘Haru Haru’ ‘Gurukjuguk haengbokhaeyadweh(you have to be somewhat happy)’, they shout out the feelings making their voices even a little rough. In ‘Lies’ they finish off having their feeling cool, but in ‘Haru Haru’ they shout out their feelings.

Until they released ‘Haru Haru’, there was no song that was like ‘Lies’, and the public could not consume the ‘Bigbang style’ without Bigbang. At this point, Bigbang released a newly designed product that still had the style that ‘Lies’ had, that the public could easily contact. The consumers still consumed ‘Haru Haru’, and the public that still did not enter Bigbang’s market yet started to get to know Bigbang’s music, style and members. Bigbang’s ‘Haru Haru’ music video was parodied by , and in an end of the year awards ceremoniy Kin Gura(comedian) mimicked TOP.

Of course you cannot only focus on the profit side for the intentions of the creator. You cannot say that ‘Haru Haru’ is a better song than ‘Lies’, but it has a different charm. Near the end of the second verse, by TOP’s fierce rapping and the synthesizer the climax is brought up; you can say that Bigbang increased the repertories that they could show. However, G-Dragon doesn’t compose/produce the Bigbang albums himself; YG’s owner Yang Hyunsuk does not only produce, but also participates in the mixing. Through ‘Sunset Glow’ you can clearly see the route that YG wanted from Bigbang. The song ‘Sunset Glow’ wouldn’t of come out if YG didn’t want to make Bigbang the ‘national idol group’. ‘Crazy Dog’ which they sampled from Seotaiji and Boy’s ‘Hwansangsokeui Geudae(You in the fantasy)’ brought one of the sounds and rebuilt the melody. Also Seotaiji and Boys and Bigbang were the starting point of the same group, so the justification as a tribute was reasonable.

However, ‘Sunset Glow’ is hard to find a connection with Bigbang’s music looking into the time period or just musically. Also they sampled ‘Sunset Glow’s main melody. Of course, you could say that sampling a legendary song is a new experiment. However, the result of ‘Sunset Glow’ is far away from that. The original song’s melody became the core of the song and the melody and original structures that they showed in ‘Lies’ and ‘Haru Haru’ disappeared. But instead, like in a lot of dance songs, the rap and hook are just grafted together. There were no tries like the reform of ‘Lies’ where they mixed in the Sibuya sounds and the popular music basis together well, or how they found a new way to develop the melody differently in ‘Haru Haru’. This gets even clearer when you compare ‘Sunset Glow’ with the series of albums they released in Japan.

Of course, while going through ‘Sunset Glow’ Bigbang received a lot of popularity. Bigbang from a survey came in second after Jang Yoonjung(trot singer) as a ‘national singer’. When an idol group has starts to hear that they are a ‘national singer’, they can have infinite choices in doing things. Bigbang is on many CF such as cell phones, beer, drinks, PMP and even games. Their own essay book became second for sales for the first half of 2009. It was possible for Bigbang to sell more books than their CDs because of the parent generation that moved. Bigbang who’s dominated the younger generation, became a ‘nation singer’. There will be nothing that Bigbang won’t be able to do in Korea.

However, the merits of ‘Sunset Glow’ overlap with this. ‘Sunset Glow’ made everyone get to know that Bigbang is becoming a ‘national singer’. Bigbang filmed a music video with Taean as the background, and in KBS’s end of the year music program they sang with Lee Moonsae(original singer of Sunset Glow). The style icons for the twenties all of a sudden started to deal with the whole country. ‘Sunset Glow’ made more of the public get to know about Bigbang, but was a choice that could made Bigbang’s ‘core’ go father away from them. Actually, ‘Sunset Glow’ didn’t’ do as good as ‘Lies’ or ‘Haru Haru’ on the digital online music charts. ‘Lies’-‘Last Farewell’ hardened the market for Bigbang, but ‘Haru Haru’-‘Sunset Glow’ hardened the new market they were aiming for but at the same time had the danger of losing their original market. This is why some of the fandoms opposed to ‘Sunset glow’ and their essay book that had their success stories in it. They liked the Bigbang that brought the new trend, not the Bigbang that talked about their success stories like adults.

Still these problems have not been raised up yet. If their book didn’t do as well, then this problem would’ve been published by the media. But the sales of Bigbang’s book was outstanding, and broke through this crisis by receiving compliments from Lee Whehsoo(writer) who’s known as a ‘cool teacher’. However there is no guarantee that they are going to have the same result again next time. And, more than anything, the style Bigbang has shown from ‘Lies’ to ‘Sunset Glow’ all are based on the specific style that started off from ‘Lies’. Until now, that style was with this generation’s style. But there is no guarantee that this generation’s consumers will keep consuming the same style. Like how it’s obvious the trend changes, the consumers right now could want another ‘Lies’ to speak by proxy to the trend right now. Bigbang is at the point where they will have to show the public if ‘Lies’ is only one of the styles they can bring out, or if that is the only style they can show.

So at this point what Bigbang needs to make an attempt to break the frame of a ‘national idol’ once more. During one of the year end music programs at SBS, G-Dragon rapped with Dynamic Duo. This was a memorable moment where YG and Movement made a collaboration, but it also reminded the people how Bigbang could naturally go out of the idol boundaries and present a new style for their generation. If until now they’ve broadened their market, now it is the time that they have to come back to their original market.

The fortunate thing is that YG proved that they know what Bigbang’s true nature is through Bigbang and 2NE1’s ‘Lollipop’. YG has put Bigbang with a new group, and interlocked with a cell phone CF by their song and music video. The song swept first place in many music charts and 2NE1 received a lot of spotlight even before their debut. But, YG wisely didn’t make a consumption of Bigbang in this huge project for 2NE1. Instead, YG offered a colorful music video and a stylish song that made Teddy’s producing skills shine. ‘Lollipop’ reminded us once more that Bigbang is a style icon. If Bigbang can renovate their own style, they’ll be able to spread their own style in a larger market than they had in ‘Lies’. There is only one thing Bigbang has to do. They have to open a post ‘Lies’ era. Their long run depends on this.

Original article written by Kang Myungsuk.
Translated by Beau @ bbvipz
taken from mol @ oh!


About jenny0115

BIGBANG stan since 2009 and a GTOP junkie since 2014 :P
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2 Responses to An in-depth piece about Big Bang’s impact in Korea written by Kang Myung Suk (music critic and former editor-in-chief of 10Asia magazine)

  1. Pingback: [GROUP FEATURE] Big Bang: Greater Parts | A Musical Stew: K-Pop and Western Influences

  2. bigbangvipfr says:

    And look where they are now 😀 From the “Lies era” to the Alive era to the MADE era, no one can say they haven’t spread their styles, and they did it successfully!

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