I despise trap music. I think that’s been apparent for a while.
It’s one of the few genres in which I struggle to find any redeeming qualities. To me, it’s an awful venue for melody, it lacks groove and funk and any sense of organic energy, and its tinny percussion is pitched at a level that really grates. It’s the sound of apathy rather than joy.
Yet, alongside our good friends “tropical” and “deep house,” Trap has been K-pop’s go-to trend for the past several years. It’s become so ensconced in idol releases that – even if trends change – we’re in for a long ride before the genre eventually falls out of favor.
In the meantime, let me suggest some alternatives. After all, global music is wide and varied, and K-pop is at its best when it embraces that buffet of choices rather than settle on one overriding sound.
I’ve been calling for this one for years. Techno was never very mainstream in the States, but it made a huge impact in Japan during the mid-to-late 90’s, often accompanied by rock guitar to craft a compelling, bombastic brew. Korea also embraced techno in the 90’s, though the “rock” part of the equation was often lacking. Outside of Japan and several European markets, this genre’s never really gotten its due. Too often it was regarded as the sound of novelty acts. But, techno is ready for a reinvention, and K-pop could use the jolt of high-energy arrangements and stadium-ready choruses.
I don’t care whether you want to call it synthpop, synthwave, new wave, post-disco, or just straight-forward 80’s nostalgia. I’ll gladly take it all! The beauty of 80’s synths is their texture – bright and colorful and exciting. Too often, K-pop is relying on darker sounds, which may result in striking visual concepts but rarely crafts songs that bring joy to the listener. Of all the genres mentioned in this feature, I really do think 80’s synth/retro is where we’re heading. Global trends bear this out, and this summer in K-pop has already seen its share of retro fare. Just remove the trap completely, and we’ll be good to go.
I’m a little biased because my music taste spawned largely from Michael and Janet Jackson. I consider their work to be the pinnacle of pop in every way. It’s long been a strong influence on K-pop, particularly for SM Entertainment. But, that influence has waned over the past few years. I want to hear layers upon layers of rhythm, all anchored by an insistent snare that never drops out for some crappy half-time breakdown. But what really makes the work of the Jacksons incredible is their ability to live within the music. Every vocal tic and flourish add to the groove. I’d like to hear more idols attack their music like this. It’s what made groups like SHINee so excellent.
Trance is one of my favorite EDM sub-genres, mostly because I love its euphoric nature. “Euphoric” isn’t a word I get to use often with K-pop anymore, because trap music just isn’t designed to elicit that sensation. With trance, the key is layering sounds on top of each other, repeated like waves in a hypnotic structure that creates a sense of build and suspense. Tether this to a more traditional pop structure and you’ve got the ingredients for something quite compelling. With all the emphasis on stop/start arrangements and musical diversions, this generation of K-pop rarely lets a song build unencumbered. An influx of trance inspiration would help make that a more common approach.
If we must go down a darker path, let’s do it in style. Industrial music has so much potential to capitalize on K-pop’s concept-heavy style. And, its lurching grooves even compliment what’s happening in so many tracks nowadays. But, it draws from a more interesting sound palette that’s incredibly robust when compared to something like trap. Industrial’s heavy electronic backbeat is also a much better support for great melody and choruses. Sprinkle in some rap (the way K-pop always does!) and you’ve got the seed for really interesting, inventive material.