Upon hearing the term “band”, legendary names like “The Beatles” or “Rolling Stone’‘ probably spring up instantly in your mind! However, under the same canopy, lie numerous talented bands in South Korea with an impressive catalog of music, waiting to receive the recognition and appreciation they deserve. Whether it’s the way they write their riffs or how they present their sonic avenues, these Korean bands seem to be in a league of their own too!
So let’s explore and celebrate 5 such exceptional bands residing within the sphere of the Korean music industry.
1. The Rose:
Synonymous to how the last piece of the puzzle brings meaning to the picture and sets everything in place, the serendipitous addition of member Kim Woosung (lead vocalist, electric guitarist) in 2016 to the trio of Park Do-Joon (vocalist, keyboard player, and acoustic guitarist), Lee Ha-Joon (drummer, sub-vocalist) and Lee Jae-Hyeong (bassist, sub-vocalist) was the last key to the formation of the musical powerhouse named “The Rose”. Do Joon, Ha Joon, and Jae Hyeong were artists of an already existing passionate indie-band “Windfall” famous for busking on the streets of Hongdae. The fact that the band evolved from busking on the streets also validates their genuine passion for creating authentic and raw music!
In 2017, the band officially debuted under J&Star Company with their emotionally compelling track “Sorry”. Featuring pleasant bursts of modern rock, the song has been beautifully orchestrated to bring out the essence of “emptiness” and “loneliness” through its heart-wrenching lyrics. It is backed up by a slow-building chorus as Woosung enchantingly sings in his unique, breathy vocals, “I feel tired tonight/
A word that you can’t forget in a breeze/ Sorry, for not turning back/ Sorry, for selfish self of mine”.
The following year, they released their debut EP “Void” – a sonically flawless creation meshing the sentiments of heartache, love, lust, and parting – all in a single album through its 9 charismatic tracks. From delivering a ballad with aesthetically calm vocals in “I.L.Y” to featuring upbeat guitar notes in “Candy(so good)”, the album manages to cover a dynamic range of music from ‘progressive rock’ to ‘true blues’, sometimes even sprinkled with a country feel that reminds you of old-time music.
Later the same year, they came out with their second EP “Dawn” featuring the poignant track “She’s In The Rain”– their opus which gained them initial love and recognition from most K-band fans! While the first track “I Don’t Know You” flaunted the signature color of the band’s soft-rock vibe, the final track “Insomnia” echoes the sentiment of raw anguish through Woosung’s perfectly balanced raspy vocals combined with simple, but brilliant instrumental riffs. The Ep’s lead single “She’s in the Rain” was also noteworthy in its clever lyrical shift in the last chorus from “She’s in the Rain” to “We’re in the Rain” accompanied by a gorgeous electric guitar riff that excellently complements the heavy drum beat.
“She’s in the rain/ You wanna hurt yourself, I’ll stay with you./You wanna make yourself go through the pain./It’s better to be held than holding on, no woah/We’re in the rain.”
“The Rose has got thorns” as Metro news says it – the unique band has been delivering us masterly contrasting creations like the authentic breezy music in “Like We Used To”(2018) that evokes stirring emotions along with heavy-rock music like “BABY”(2018) that takes us down a frenzy K-rock road trip. Their latest release before the military enlistment of most of its members is a song titled “Black Rose”, a song that promises their fans, Black Roses, that despite the hardships they have faced, The Rose will always keep moving forward: “Nobody can take away, take away/Love is thе way/ Don’t you be afraid”.
Check out their latest track ‘Black Rose’ below:
Christened with the title of “South Korea’s Representative Band” and often called as connoisseurs of the country’s Korean band scene, JYP Entertainment’s 5 membered band Day6’s musical brilliance outclasses the plain vanilla rock styles, with each album fashioning an unmatched discography through their adaptation of an off-center conflux of ubiquitous human emotions in their starkly unique lyrical threads and phenomenal vocal styling. Debuting as JYP’s first “idol band” in 2015, Day6 originally consisted of 6 members- Park Sungjin (Leader and guitarist), Park Jaehyung (Guitarist), Kang Younghyun (Bassist), Kim Wonpil (keyboardist), Yoon Dowoon (Drummer), and Im Junhyeok (keyboardist) who had left shortly after their debut in 2016.
Spinning between genres of cool synths, post-punk revival, alternative rock, and emotional rap from one verse to another, Day6 debuted with their first album “The Day” (2015) comprising of 6 recordings. The title track, track, “Congratulations” which is now one of their hallmark songs has an oxymoron nature in it as the protagonist bitterly “congratulates” his ex-lover for breaking his heart in a sweet but sardonic tone thus flipping the meaning of the titular word which is generally used for wishing someone’s well-being.
Congratulations, you’re so amazing
Congratulations, how could you be so fine?
How could you
Trample on me?
Featuring Choi Woo Shik of “Parasite” fame, the MV seems no less than a satirical music stage taking full advantage of the song’s mocking lines cemented up with members’ complementary vocal tones and immaculate acting by the cast.
You can check out the full music video below :
The beauty of Day6’s musical craft is deep-rooted in its graceful fluidity of incorporating divergent artistry in a single album – a powerful force that was blossomed thanks to their individual musical proclivities, making them able to create a panoramic discography ever since their debut till today. Listening to their fifth extended play “The Book of Us: Gravity”(2019) is a terrific roller-coaster ride between the 70’s groovy, smooth-sounding jingle in “How to Love” to Japanese modern-rock Radwimps infused styling in “Time of Our Life” which sounds like a high-spirited stadium anthem song with YoungK’s lyrics conveying the notion of “carpe diem” while a person writes their present page in life. Though the entire album focuses on the sole intention of comforting its listeners through inspirational lyrical binding, the persona in each of the songs perceives several distinct situations and human behaviors like self-love (in “For Me”), and thus the messages in the songs are knitted correspondingly.
Switching between genres in a single verse is considered quite off the wall even amongst the most visionary bands, however, Day6 proved to have acquired proficiency over it through their monthly song release project “Every DAY6” in 2017.
For Example, their song “I Wait”, released in Every Day6 project January, sets in with a breezy electronic pulse backed with Jae’s honeyed and composed voice creating a synth flavored trance ambiance but later slowly builds up into a jam-packed rocking chorus, loud enough to reverberate the mellowness between the lines.
Check out the dreamy MV for “I Wait” below :
Day6’s comeback “The Book of Us: Negentropy<Chaos Swallowed Up in Love>” which is said to be the final stroke to “The Book of Us” series is scheduled to be released on April 19,2021-approximately one year after their last release “The Book of Us: Demon” due to guitarist Jae and leader Sungjin’s mental health hiatus last year.
While the list of emotionally connected songs the band brings to the table is unending, start by humming to the heartbreaking tune of “You Were Beautiful” and enjoy the pastel-monochromatic shuffling of reminiscent clips in the MV.
Instead of mining stereotypical rock sounds, Korean band Lucy stresses on their forte of signature violin riffs and deliberate incorporation of natural atmospheric sounds that create a unique musical innovation under their preferred genre of “Ambient Pop”. On finishing at Second place in JTBC’s survival show JTBC “SuperBand”(2019) the band debuted the same year having proved their talent in the competitive show. The charming band focusing on synth-pop – comprises members Choi Sang Yeop (vocalist, guitarist), Jo Won-sang (producer, bassist), Shin Kwang Il (vocalist, drummer), and Shin Ye Chan (leader, violinist).
With a violinist in their quartet- an addition not so common in the Korean band scene- Lucy debuted with their cheerful single “Flowering” (2019) featuring a fresh rock vibe adorned with soft violent strings that form the backbone of the track.
Their first and latest mini-album “Panorama” (2020) proffers a summery vibe with its 5 colorful tracks: “Jogging”(a wistful jazzy track backed up with fervent vocals), “Watermelon” (a tropical bop featuring dynamic music of electronic guitar riffs), “Straight Line” (featuring the signature color of the band’s melodious violin strings), “Missing Call’‘ (set in a vivid retro theme matching the groovy bass in the background), “Enough”(presenting a unique echoey and drifting intro that sets it apart from the other pieces) and finally “Flare”(a vocally charming piece) that was used in for their performance back in JTBC’s Super Band.
With well-thought-out and balanced musical acts, Lucy’s next stop in their musical journey is worth looking forward to!
Check out their vibrant music video for “Jogging” below:
4. South Club:
The indie-rock band “South Club” was born when 24-year lead vocalist Nam Taehyun of the chic boy band WINNER chose to pursue the path of musical liberty shedding the robe of pop music’s allure and glamour. The band was technically articulated in 2016 with Nam Taehyun leading the vocals, Kim Euimyeong playing the bass, Choi Yunhee handling the keys, Jang Wonyoung on the drums, and Kang Kunku on the guitar. Later when Kim Euimyeong and Choi Yunhee left the band in 2018, Nam Taehyun’s brother Donghyun took over the role of bassist.
With a hope to create honest music that reverberates their individual artistic vision, the band debuted in 2017 with the emotionally explosive rock ballad “Hug Me”. Their musical experimentation on 90’s British Pop was unveiled in their debut EP “90” which was released just a month later. Reminiscent of the rock band “Nirvana”, the EP’s opening track “Dirty House” is a dive into dynamic electric- guitar riffs with an eclectic mix of punk and traditional rock and roll.
Temporarily abandoning their style of punk-rock, the band chose to experiment with old-school, laid-back true blues – the result of which was their second EP “20” (2018). Out of the 4 jazzy ditties in the collection, their outro song “Grownup” echoes graceful musical arrangement layering Taehyun’s mellowy vocals over the throbbing bass in the background. A sonically beautiful creation, “Grownup” lyrically talks about the genesis of the protagonist’s emotional maturity as he says, “I didn’t think about the discomfort of your heart/Now I won’t do that again/I’ll be grown up, I’ll be grown-up.”
A band with a strong base in indie-rock, blues, and an impeccable talent to mix punk-rock and heavy metal, their discography is worth checking out!
Their latest single “Rock Star” is a fusion of dreamy-synth pop and soft-rock merged in charming and uplifting vocals:
Korean band ‘Hoppipolla’ is a prime example of the fact that being unconventional has its own perks! With a cello in their mix (an unusual addition), the unique team consisting of Ha Hyun-sang (vocalist), Kim Young-so (guitarist), Hong Jin-ho (cellist), and I’LL (vocalist/piano-player, is a harmonious combination of exceptionally talented individual artists.
Kicking off their career after winning JTBC’s “Superband” in 2019, Hoppipolla’s professional journey started with the release of their singles “Opfern” and “About Time” both of which are exceptionally stunning- in the aspect of vocals and the musical layering of soothing cello over the bass riffs.
Their first mini-album “Spring to Spring” released in 2020 is a heavenly musical expedition comprising 6 tracks. A musical piece reverberating calmness and serenity, “Marchen” from the album, feels like an acoustic anthem dedicated to our life and existence. The 5:43 minute melody radiates a feeling of unruffled happiness and relaxation that spring brings after the biting cold of winter. Each of the other pieces, “Our Song” and “Sorang” are also testimony to their bewitching vocals and exceptional musical aptitude. However, it’s worth mentioning the song “Enough” which owes its air of tranquility and composure to the euphonious mix of the soulful cello along with Hyun Sang’s captivating vocals.
Their latest release “And Then There Was Us” (2021) delivers everything we expect from the band – graceful instrumentation, phenomenal vocals, and intricate lyrics- all of which when put together is capable of creating timeless music. Though all the tracks in the EP are well-balanced, “Unnatural” stands out with its impeccable execution of the cello that shines throughout the track eliciting a soft and pleasing feel. It is way beyond impressive how the indie band is barely one year into their musical career and yet their artistry goes to the extent of having several masterpieces under their hood!
Previously known as ‘M.A.S 0094 (Make a Sound 0094)’, the band was later rebranded as “Onewe” in 2018 after re-debuting with their sibling boy group “Oneus” under the agency of RBW. Comprising the original lineup of M.A.S, the now existing band Onewe has Yonghoon as their leader and main vocalist, Kanghyun as a guitarist, Harin as a drummer, Donmyeong for keys, and CyA for the position of rapper and bassist.
“1/ 4” (2019) is the band’s debut single album featuring 3 songs in total and a remix of their intro song. Instead of having a cliché energetic–rock opening, the band opted for a more repressed melody for their intro song “Ring on My Ears” with a smooth transition to the vintage rock vibe only in their chorus. The title track “Reminisce about All” -as the title suggests-draws an old-school reflective ambiance while flaunting a genius musical arrangement with the drum beats setting in only during peak parts of the track beneath an otherwise soft-ballad tune throughout. Also, a representative track of the band’s vocal range, the member’s vocals complement very well and shine singularly even when they are overlapping each other.
Closer inspection of their second album “2/4” reveals a vocal-driven comeback with member CyA’s commendable rapping skills coming to the forefront in the track “Feeling Good”. The title track “Regulus” is a well-balanced track with the guitar strums dominating the bridge part- the most charming section of the song. Weaved with incredibly emotional lyrics and gentle guitar riffs, ‘Regulus’ is successful in creating a poignant aura.
Onewe have also worked to progress their instrumental experiments forward with their first full album “ONE” (2020). With a pulsating EDM background, “End of Spring” is atypical to the band’s previous non-energetic discography. Front-man Yonghoon leads the engaging chorus with the drum beats being the essential instrument that makes the song stand out.
We insist on listening to “A book in Memory” from their latest single “MEMORY: illusion”(2020) which tones down the intensity from their last EDM banger towards a more ballad style:
These Korean bands are slowly finding their way into the common masses’ contemporary rock and roll consciousness with their impressive and versatile musicality. Though it may be a little longer route to reach the label of “mainstream” music like BTS, BLACKPINK, etc.; however with discographies worth repeated listens, their time in the limelight is fast approaching as well!
Featuring an assortment of stellar musical talent, it’s time for us listeners now, to shine a light on these Korean bands and to explore their artistic endeavors.