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K-bands : The Essentials

By Kya Brogdon and Avree Noelle Linne | 29 April, 2024

While music coming from South Korea is rapidly gaining popularity in these past years, if you aren’t plugged in to the scene your knowledge might begin and end with the image of a typical idol group, like BTS or BLACKPINK. However, there is a growing sub-genre of music being released from K-bands - i.e. groups that play their own instruments in their songs similar to bands like 5 Seconds of Summer or Fall Out Boy. To express our love and appreciation for these musicians, we have compiled a list of essential listens by our favorite K-bands.

ADOY is a fantastic introduction for those who aren’t typically into Korean bands, as they mostly sing in English. Their tracks are dripping in synth beats, and this is perfectly exemplified by their song “Don’t Stop”. As you will come to realize through these recommendations, no matter the genre I love a track that feels like a nostalgic love, easily blastable from your car speakers in the summertime. This track is the epitome of that, feeling right at home in any 80s coming-of-age movie like The Breakfast Club. While the track is technically incredible, hitting all the beats one needs for a late summer night playlist, it is also so carefree and light; it shines free of expectation and allows the listener to experience pure bliss while listening.

Not an uncommon theme for DAY6 songs, “Afraid” tells the story of the insecurity and vulnerability that comes from being in a relationship. The group sings about the lovers' light being like the moon, covered up by the protagonists’ darkness. The subtle opening instrumental of the song clues the listener into the feeling of anxiousness and nervousness, and then the explosion of the chorus reflects raw emotion that comes with the possibility of losing a partner. The repetition of “I’m so afraid,” in each of the member’s unique tone, reveals the internal grapple of the protagonist. DAY6 not only makes their listeners feel seen, but they make them feel less alone with the relatability and vulnerability of their music. Whatever mood you’re in, DAY6 is sure to have a song for it.

When I think of Korean bands, I think of DAY6. Even though they are the most established group in this genre, they do not lack a single bit of skill. This was one of the most difficult picks due to the perfection of their discography, but the album this track was released on truly struck a chord with me and began my love of DAY6. That album, Moonrise, is the final release of the Every DAY6 Project; a project in which the band released a title track with a music video and a B-side every month for a year. Moonrise compiles all of the months in the second half of the year while adding “I like you” and “Better Better” to represent December. This couldn’t be more perfect, as “Better Better” begins like a cozy winter evening, the rawness of the electric guitar being softly blanketed by member Wonpil’s ethereal vocalizations. It builds into a powerfully beautiful love song worthy of the climax of a K-drama. This track is my most sung song at the karaoke rooms because of the absolutely stunning lyrics sing-ability of the track. The chorus goes 너의 그 미소만이/날 숨쉬게 해/네가 있어 난/Better better, better baby/너의 그 사랑만이/멈춰있던 날 (translation: Just your smile alone/Makes me breathe/Because of you, I’m/Better better/Better baby/Only your love/Makes the frozen me/Jump up again). Just like the lyrics say, listening to this song helps me breathe a little easier in this life. If you are a fan of traditional jam bands or indie rock love songs, this one's for you.

This song radiates freedom and youthfulness. In a distinguishing factor from other bands, LUCY boasts the use of a violin throughout their discography. “Flowering” has my favorite violin solo out of their entire discography, it feels like the sonic personification of floating through a flower field on a spring day, which is exactly what the lyrics talk about. The brightness in  Sangyeop’s voice pairs incredibly well with the violin, it’s simply impossible for this song to not bring a smile to your face. The fact that this is the band's debut song will forever astound me, they started off their careers on a high and have continued on that path since.

LUCY has one of the most unique sounds of any group on this list. They are incredibly fun and playful, all while breaking the boundaries of what a rock band can be. “One by One” leans more synth-pop, but with their resident violinist Yechan balancing out the track, it can hardly be held down into any one genre. This track comes off the single album Gatcha!, and while the title track “I Got You” is another one of my favorites from the band, “One by One” has something incredibly special about it. The stylistically autotuned harmonies remind me of a brighter version of British indie rock group Amber Run, while the fluttering aah’s in the background of the soft anti-chorus feel teasingly flirtatious; a fun addition to the new relationship being described in the lyrics. If you're looking for your song of the summer, "One by One" is an easy contender. LUCY is about to head out on their first US and Canada tour spanning 21 dates - see if they're playing at a venue near you!

Released during the midst of their military enlistment and and the end of their contracts with their previous company, “Beauty and the Beast” is the perfect song for the romantics. Although released a year before their album Heal, the vibe of the song fits right in with the aura of that album. “Beauty and the Beast,” similar to the namesake film, is a story of longing, of feeling lost and then feeling found. This song also has some of my favorite vocal color and style in The Rose’s entire discography. The feeling of longing and want sung throughout the lyrics is evident in their vocal tone, and it tugs on your heart strings in just the right way. In the first chorus, the lyrics read; “You're beauty / 시들었던 꽃이 피어나 / 마법이 풀릴 것 같아 / Beautiful love you and I / It's a beautiful life you and I” (translation: “You're beauty / The withered flowers bloom / I think the enchantment will work out / Beautiful love, you and I / It's a beautiful life, you and I”) and at the end the words change to read “My beauty / 시들었던 마음에 피어나 / 마법이 풀린 것 같아 / Beautiful love you and I / It's a beautiful life you and I” (translation: “My beauty / Blooming in my withered heart / I think the enchantment has been dissolved / Beautiful love, you and I / It's a beautiful life, you and I”). This subtle change in the lyrics is reflective of the happy ending of the song, and the repetition of “It’s a beautiful life, you and I” will forever make me teary eyed.

“Shift” by The Rose is a soft rock love song that is sure to tug at the heartstrings of any listener. The sweetness in vocalist and keyboard player Dojoon’s voice in the beginning of the track almost brings me to tears on every listen. He sings, “I think I need you/I knew you'd care/When I first saw you/I knew it then/I think I love you//'Cause it hurts so bad, so bad, so bad/Oh yeah, I would die to/Call you my friend.” You can hear the honesty in his voice, detailing the exciting, yet also terrifying moment that he realized he was in love. As per the title, when Woosung comes in for the second verse the relationship shifts. Woosung’s raspy, yet soft tone drives home the depth of his love. He reflects the first lyrics of the track singing, “I know you need me/You know I care/You speak with your eyes/I can always tell/I know that I love you/'Cause it hurts you too, I know, I know/Oh yeah, we can die for/All the things we have.” Now that the singer and their love are in a relationship, instead of being hopeful that their love will stand by them, they sing about how they will stand by their love no matter what they are going through. This song, as well as their entire Heal album, is perfect for any occasion; if you are a fan of indie rock and need some music to truly heal your soul, it’s a must listen. I would highly recommend checking out this performance of “Shift” filmed in Joshua Tree that they did with the Grammy Museum.

If you read my article about ONEWE earlier this month, you would know how much I respect ONEWE artistically. I had been looking for a Korean band with more of a traditional heavy rock sound when I heard “AuRoRa” in 2021; the first notes hit my ears and I felt the entire world slow down.  It begins softly before exploding through the chorus fronted by the power of frontman Yonghoon’s voice. The moment Kanghyun’s guitar solo hits, so does the realization that this is the greatest song to ever exist. Sometimes rock music falls into the trap of being too high energy all the way through, but ONEWE knows exactly the moment to let the song breathe. The way the song ebbs and flows keeps the listener fully engulfed in the track for its three minute and forty one second runtime. If you are a fan of cinematic sounding music and need a soundtrack to late-night summer drives, check out this track.

The first track of their album Planet Nine: Alter Ego, “Intro : Spaceship” is a sonic voyage to the stars. Showing off bassist and rapper Giuk’s unique vocals, guitarist Kanghyun’s incredible riffs (this track mayhold my second favorite guitar solo in all of ONEWE’s music - the first being in AuRoRa), and Harin’s stellar drumming, “Intro : Spaceship” tells the story of the band’s journey in making their music, and how their fans (WEVE) drive them to be the best they can be. Their whole Planet Nine series revolves around the motifs of space and the cosmos, which makes “Intro : Spaceship” the perfect beginning to the journey. Despite coming in at only a minute long, this track is a quintessential listen for anyone wanting to get into ONEWE’s music, and it’s also the perfect place to start.

Bringing a spark of pop punk into the K-band scene, Xdinary Heroes is the second band to come out of JYP Entertainment (the first being the aforementioned DAY6). Their second title track “Test Me” shows off their vibrant, youthful energy and encourages their listeners to chase their dreams and wants. With the age range of the members skewing younger than most of the other bands on this list, their coming of age upbeat vibe is a perfect reflection of where they are in their lives. With their first full album dropping April 30, 2024, I can’t wait to listen to the new songs that come from these boys.

It’s impossible to mention every song we love, so below is a list of our honorable mentions. Make sure to check out all of the music by these talented bands!


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