by Ziggy Merritt
What’s not to love about K-pop? Whether it’s the music itself, the over-the-top videos, the fashion, or the vibrant personalities of the Idols within the industry, the phenomenon holds a tight hook on the hearts of millions across the globe. Where initially it appeared to spawn from the explosion of manufactured pop groups that dominated pop culture in the late ’90s, K-pop has since come into its own. For many, and particularly for those within the industry, it has evolved past the trappings of its own genre and into a culture that incorporates hip-hop and R&B with the latest trends in electronic production. Few exemplify this more than one of South Korea’s most recognizable exports, BIGBANG.
Spawning from a star search that was released as a multi-part documentary in 2006, there was never much reason to suggest the group was destined for anything less than success. Founders Taeyang and G-Dragon had been working together since they were scouted and signed to YG Entertainment at the age of 12. Members T.O.P., Seungri, and Daesung would round out the group, each contributing a level of dynamism and name-recognition that few acts outside of 2NE1 and the viral sensation of PSY can lay claim to.
This week’s Lost and Found recognizes the special edition of their comeback EP, Tonight. As is standard in the industry, groups often take a two year hiatus in which the members are free to focus on their solo careers and pursue other projects, often in fashion and film. During this time both G-Dragon and T.O.P. released their GD & TOP album to critical acclaim in 2010, focusing on a sound and visual style that marked a departure from their “bad boy” hip-hop origins. The shift into maturity fed into the realization of Tonight, a turning point in their careers where each member, even the too often overlooked Daesung and Seungri, found the confidence to pursue their own creative ambitions.
The product of this was an album that focused in on modern rock and pop rhythms while inserting the trademark hooks that they were already well-known for in their native Korea and Japan. The tone throughout embodies this trend while being noticeably more high-spirited and upbeat than anything they had produced in their already robust discography. “Love Song” and “Stupid Liar” both compliment this direction, giving each member their moment to show off the range of their vocal talents alongside uplifting pop melodies. Particular credit here goes to T.O.P. in opening up “Love Song” in his signature moody baritone while later rapping alongside G-Dragon in “High High” and the more texturally complex “Cafe.”
With the release of GD & TOP not far behind them, some criticism can be directed at the album taking away from the image of BIGBANG as a group and not just a duo. Even so, some of the more standout tracks on this special edition are notable for the solos and collaborations afforded to not just the members but label-mates as well. Park Bom of 2NE1 joins G-Dragon and T.O.P. on the terrifyingly catchy “Oh Yeah.” Featuring a simple synth line and Bom’s own full-bodied vocals, the track is not one of the most lyrically interesting arrangements out there, but makes up for this in its ability to stay on your lips for the foreseeable future.
Taeyang’s solo track “I Need a Girl” correctly predicts his eventual success as the breakout star he would live up to on his 2014 album, Rise. The production here is the most technically ambitious, combining elements of synthpop and R&B with the soulful vocals that only Taeyang himself can render. “What Can I Do” and “Baby Don’t Cry” round out the solo performances from Seungri and Daesung respectively. Where Seungri approaches from a place of bombast, Daesung finishes out the album with a slow-paced ballad that suits his mature yet soulful voice.
Following the success of Tonight and its later iterations, BIGBANG would soon go on to release the single they are most well-known for worldwide, “Fantastic Baby.” Yet before that and before what should only be recognized as the greatest music video ever conceived, they released one somewhat underappreciated special edition of their EP. Where too often we can overlook the extras and “Deluxe Editions” of the industry as trying to reap further benefits from a band’s image, and at least in part this is true, this edition succeeds expectations. It delivers an album of transition where the boys of BIGBANG set their sights on global domination.