I love Big Bang as much as any other K-pop fan (I just bought tickets to go see them on their world tour, I can’t wait!), but there are some uber-talented musicians in Korea that are not yet household names in the States…yet. From underground hip hop artists to disco-influenced rockers, here are 10 musicians that are making some great tunes.
If you like Frank Ocean you’ll like Zion T
[Photo courtesy: MTViggy]
Zion T started off as an underground rapper, but he’s now an R&B influenced singer songwriter whose hits range from super sweet love songs to a heart-wrenching dedication to his family. Not going to lie, I cried when I first heard Yanghwa Bridge. His music is best listened to when driving down an empty highway at night, or when you’re winding down from an especially busy day. If you can find translations, or turn on the Closed Caption on Youtube, I recommend it. His lyrics are amazing.
Must listen: Zion T Yanghwa BRDG
[Image courtesy: TiqIQ Blog]
This three-man rap group shot to fame in the early 2000s, but its leader Tablo went through a pretty devastating scandal where netizens (Korean’s term for internet trolls) tried to dismantle his reputation by claiming that he lied about graduating from Stanford University. Tablo hid from the public eye for years, but Epik High is now back and stronger than ever. They just finished a world tour and Tablo is now president of an independent branch of YG called High Ground. Epik High is one of my personal favorite bands and I listen to them anywhere: In the car, while I’m getting for work in the morning, or first thing on a Sunday to get me pumped for my day.
Must listen: Epik High Born Hater
If you like Maroon 5 you’ll like Hyukoh
[Image courtesy: kpopmusic.com]
An indie rock band that set Seoul’s hip area of Hongdae on fire, Hyukoh is one part soft melody and one part disco. Their album is currently at number one on the Korean music charts and even K-pop queen IU claims she’s a fan. I love to listen to them while making dinner. It’s funky and upbeat without being too aggressive like rock can sometimes be. The frontman Oh Hyuk’s raspy voice can make my so-so day feel so much better.
Must listen: Hyukoh Comes and Goes
If you like Outkast, you’ll like MFBTY
[Image courtesy: The Unstoppble Toy Sldrs]
They’re old school rappers and singers, but Yoon Mirae and her husband Tiger JK along with another rapper Bizzy started the band MYBTY (My Fans are Better Than Yours). Yoon Mirae has been known for years in Korea as Tasha/Lady – as one of the first mixed race singers in Korea –and Tiger JK was part of Drunken Tiger, a pioneer of Korean Hip Hop. MFBTY’s music is super upbeat, best listened to with friends for impromptu dance parties.
Must listen: MFBTY Bang Diggy Bang Bang
If you like TKTK, you’ll like PRIMARY
[Image courtesy: Korea-Canada Blog]
I might not know what PRIMARY looks like (he often wears a box over his head to perform or in photoshoots), but the former hip hop producer broke out from the sound room and now has some of the catchiest songs on the Korean sound waves. It may seem like no one really buys full albums anymore, but this one is worthwhile. It’s like getting multiple genres in one album because each song’s style feels a little different. Some songs are latin-influenced, others are R&B, some feel like sweet love songs. I turn on PRIMARY as background music for a get-together or backyard barbecue because the songs cater to many different tastes.
If you like Trey Songz, you’ll like Gray
Gray just signed to AOMG, a music label run by Korean-American rapper Jay Park, and he’s already getting a huge response from hip hop lovers. His fun, pop-y beats are plain easy to listen to. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it sounds familiar enough that you’d hear it on your local American radio stations. “Just Do It”, a song he sings with another rapper Loco, and is a total ear worm from his most recent album grayground.
Must listen: Gray Just Do It
If you like Rachel Yamagata, you’ll like OKDAL
[Image courtesy: Vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net]
Indie-folk is my jam (for reference, my favorite singer is Bon Iver). My husband says I love songs that sound like the singers are whispering and OKDAL is right up my alley. This is my go-to singer-songwriter duo to put on my headphones and drown out the rest of the world when I need to meet a deadline. The harmony is so pretty and, let’s get real, a little sad. But sometimes you need a good sad song.
If you like MGMT, you’ll like The Solutions
Part electronic, part rock, The Solutions reunited recently after serving their mandatory military service. Whenever I need a pick-me-up during that3 pmlull at work,I turn on The Solutions to get my creative juices flowing again. It’s indie electro-pop at it’s finest.
Must listen: The Solutions Movements
If you like Common, you’ll like Beenzino
You know those musicians that have a voice unique only to them? Beenzino’s voice sounds like he’s congested, but it’s weirdly hypnotic and has its own charm. It’s addicting in a way, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s (and his model girlfriend) pretty much fascinating to follow on Instagram. This is my favorite song to listen to when I’m going for a jog because it has the perfect slow beat to run in double time.
Must listen: Beenzino Aqua Man
If you like Jason Derulo, you’ll like Amber
Taiwanese-American singer Amber is the rapper of girl group, f(x), but she branched off onto her own to pursue a singer/songwriter solo career. It’s a feat in and of itself that she’s fluent in Taiwanese, but to rap and sing in a totally different language is incredible. Amber is like the Jennifer Lawrence of Korean celebs – she’s loved because of how authentic she is (and just like J.Law I swear we could be friends). Shake That Brass is her first single as a solo artist, and keep your eyes peeled while watching the the music video: it has appearances of some super famous K-pop stars.
Must listen: Amber Shake that Brass
Until next time,
Diana Ryu is a Los Angeles-based writer whose work has been featured in Refinery29, Lucky Magazine, TimeOut, The Huffington Post and The Zoe Report. She most recently ghostwrote a book and (happily) spends most of her time and money on Korean beauty products and food.
Editor’s note: We’re delighted to welcome some seriously fresh and fun individuals to THE KLOG. In the coming weeks, look out for Diana’s Pop of Culture insights.