There’s a new king of cool in Kpop. It’s a crown that changes hands quickly, and necessarily so (when is “cool” ever synonymous with “stodgy” and “unchanging”?). It’s a crown frequently worn by G-Dragon, and all members of Big Bang, and more recently earned by Taemin and Jonghyun during their solo debuts. But now, right now, it belongs to Teen Top’s Niel.
The music video for "Lovekiller" announces its intentions almost immediately. The damp ground reflects the streetlights, rain falling. Niel calls a beautiful woman who rejects him (wait, seriously?) by refusing to answer. And then, over the next three minutes, she is made to regret that decision; by the end, after all, Niel will be crowned king of cool.
His progression to that point involves plenty of dancing through steam rising off asphalt. He gives the camera looks of charming sadness. And he dresses up, too, donning shiny red shoes to highlight his footwork. But that’s simple stuff, the stuff anyone can mimic. What sets Niel apart is when the producers put him on a moving sidewalk, making every movement look like both an exaggeration and like Niel is doing absolutely nothing at all. And then, there are Niel’s feet, at once frantically fast and deliriously in control. He might actually be better at pretending to be on a moving walkway - it's like the second coming of Michael Jackson out there. The key to earning the crown, of course, rests on doing something no one else can do, all while looking like you’re hardly trying at all. Game, set, match.
The music is equally cool, starting with the sultry notes of an acoustic guitar, oft punctuated by the percussion of finger slaps. The vocals during this first minute and a half are not what we expect from songs with this level of cool, but are much closer, dare we say it, to a ballad. In the second verse, though, the music rises in tempo, and the acoustic guitar fades, replaced with jazzier elements. It is here that the song becomes full-fledged Kpop, something that we will remember, will crave, will put on repeat. But it’s the contrast, the slow build up created by the first verse, that end up giving this song the kind of complexity needed to stand out.
Watch out for Niel over the next few weeks. Until the arrival of some of the other big name boybands, Niel’s “Lovekiller” will be killing it on the Kpop charts.
Zander Stachniak is a southern-born, Chicago-based writer who first discovered Kpop through ShoutCast Radio. His biases are f(x) and Block B.