The start of 2015 has been slow for boy bands in Kpop. While female groups have seemingly been blowing up with quality songs and releases, boy bands remain relatively quiet. I am vocal about the fact that I tend to prefer male groups in Kpop, and unfortunately this silent period causes my interest to waiver and eventually lull. However, the introduction of G.Soul has definitely perked attention from casual and serious fans alike who have heralded him as the new changing voice of Kpop in an industry that remains too stagnant.
On January 19, JYP Entertainment, the enterprise of singer-turned-CEO Park Jin-Young, introduced a new sub-label with the promise of bringing together innovative and “diverse” artists. This new label, Studio J, is a bold step forward for Kpop, but one that has been sorely needed. The state of Kpop has been quite stale in the last few years, where a number of small labels have come onto the scene with their own offerings, sometimes with very limited success. JYP may have seemingly slipped under the radar for a while, but their legacy continues to attract praise. The debut of G.Soul is a new direction for Kpop that can potentially lead Studio J down the path of commercial and critical success.
G.Soul is the very first artist to debut on Studio J. It is interesting to note that he did not debut on JYP's parent label, and after listening to his mini album, “Coming Home”, it's obvious why. G.Soul is not typical boy band pop fare. G.Soul was a trainee under JYP Entertainment for 15 years. Originally set to debut in America, JYP had high hopes of solidifying a hold on the American music scene by opening and operating a branch company in the United States. G.Soul was set to be the first major release from this new brand. However, due to the economic downturn at the time, JYP returned to South Korea and G.Soul remained in the underground scene to hone his skills and talents as a singer. He combines classic R&B influences in both rhythm and melody with the distinctly over-polished sound of Kpop, mixing in some electronica hints for a bold and powerful new sound. G.Soul's selling point could be considered his vocal range, but for me the real draw is the similarity in style and substance to artists like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean. While this is not totally unheard of in Korean pop music, the fact that G.Soul is experimenting with this style on a major label that is most well-known for producing acts like 2PM, Wonder Girls, and Miss A, is highly unique. Is it risky? Absolutely. But it also opens the door for major labels to start experimenting with unorthodox groups and styles.
There is possibly no other label that could have pulled off an act like G.Soul other than JYP. Although JYP houses a rather miniscule roster of artists, several years ago these acts were on the top of the Kpop world during their debuts. Maybe this is because JYP himself is an artist with an impressive discography and he has a unique understanding of the idol landscape that many other entertainment company CEOs do not have. Sometimes unspoken, and often quirky, JYP has taken a risk by spearheading a new and overdue direction for Kpop that leads it away from being a “pop teen” genre, into one that houses a stronger sense of legitimacy. Could a group like Beast take on a sound like G.Soul? It's entirely possible but even though their single “12:30” contains many of the same cues, it lacks a distinct sense of maturity and still retains that boy band ballad feeling that minimizes its impact.
I come back again to the sentiment that Kpop has lost much of its old excitement factor. With the creation of new entertainment companies and a dozen or so groups debuting practically every month, the market has become crowded. While production has become more sophisticated, the old blueprint of group creation no longer builds a successful product. Instead, the groups and companies that are choosing to innovate are the ones that will benefit in the future and become more than merely a preteen fantasy. This does not mean that the Kpop idol group as we know it has to come to an end, but rather that the industry needs some fresh perspective. It's no surprise that many of my favourite groups are the ones that continually recreate themselves with every release and push the boundaries of what “Kpop” is, not just as a genre but a whole entity. The “manufactured” boy band phase did not last long in the Western music industry because it was deemed too fake and disingenuous to the spirit of music. Kpop was long considered a return to the pop group era, but that too could be coming to conclusion. Groups that encompass the aesthetic of Korean pop music, but combine it with creative and unique talents can save this industry from attracting the critics that bash it for being produced with only financial goals in mind.
I certainly don't have the answers for what Kpop has in store for the future or where it will go. But I do believe that there is an evolution that is slowly starting to creep up on it. Originally developed in reaction to Western pop music, I firmly believe that Kpop has finally reached the point where it can become a legitimate and stand-alone genre. And the best step forward we could ask for is companies beginning to take risks that break the mold. Studio J and G.Soul are hopefully the first of many new and welcome changes to come.
'L' lives in Ontario, Canada. She is a pop culture and media junkie and has helped organize kpop parties and events across Ontario. Her biases are BTS, Block B, M.I.B and Infinite.