I’ve got to open up with a disclaimer. Big Bang has a lot of work out. They’re perhaps one of the most popular, acclaimed and prolific groups out there. It is an impact that resonates through the generations and inspires newer groups time and time again. Also, the basis for much of the opinion and facts in this entry is thanks to WordPress site bigbangisforever, who wrote a piece in 2014 describing Big Bang’s illustrious career. I will try to emphasize artistic choices in terms of videos once again, but my opinion has been largely shaped in that wonderful analysis.
Big Bang is now almost a hallowed name, spoken when referring to the five strong stars that have emerged from its success. G-Dragon, T.O.P, Taeyang, Seungri and Daesung. Unlike SNSD which we discussed a few days back, Big Bang is a group of a very different sense. Their defining moments are not the comebacks which showcase their influences as a group, but rather for the two three-year periods in which all five members have pursued and succeeded in solo work. 2009-2011 set the stage for a wild aesthetic upheaval in the group resulting in 2012’s “Alive”, and 2012 until today should be setting the stage for their confirmed comeback (new release) in 2015, as 2012-2015 was yet again a time in which all members were able to build on their individual and continuing popularity.
In fact their solo periods are so important, it makes more natural sense to talk about those at length instead, but in order to understand how important those solo periods were for Big Bang’s aesthetic, it is important to understand where they came from.
Big Bang debuted in 2006 with the release of “BIGBANG”, a single album which became three, which became Big Bang’s first album “Big Bang Vol.1”. Much of the group’s sound and influence was made abundantly clear with numerous songs in these albums, some of which were made into music videos.
“We Belong Together” was released in Big Bang’s first single album and features a obvious, cookie-cutter hip hop influence
Considering that T.O.P was once an underground rapper that set the stage for rappers turning idols, it came naturally for T.O.P to drop an astounding verse around 1:54. In fact, the first noticeable quality about “We Belong Together” is its gratuitous mid-2000s hip hop/R&B influence. It is reminiscent of R&B star Ne-Yo whose clean and crisp drum-basslines coupled with do-wop synths create the quintessential mid-2000s R&B sound.
Whether Big Bang intended to fit in these influences is unknown, but it is clear that Big Bang loves to include hip hop elements into their music. In fact it is a connection with Western popular music in general that is a part of Big Bang’s appeal. Later videos in their solo periods see them individually using different elements of modern American music such as club rap and EDM to create new kinds of textures and gaudy aesthetics.
“Lies” was Big Bang’s first number 1 hit single and paved the way for successive number 1 singles. It was their gateway to popularity and widespread recognition.
Big Bang broke out with their hit single “Lies” in 2007, which stayed number 1 on Korean music charts for a record breaking 7 weeks, and lingered for 54. The song was written by G-Dragon, known today for his gaudy and edgy appearance, and was the group’s first foray into electronic music, and the fact that it did so well made electronic influences prominent in much of their later work.
Not much of their work from 2007-2009 is written about, mainly because of the significance of their solo periods overtaking their group success, and the fact that the K-Pop global boom didn’t take place until 2009. However, it is perhaps their solo periods that truly shaped their sound for 2012.
“Heartbreaker” was a huge release for G-Dragon to kick off his solo career with.
If ever there was a personification of “hit the ground running” it would be G-Dragon’s solo career with “Heartbreaker.” His debut single as a solo artist charted number 1 on the Gaon music chart, and much of the video is retained in his performances today.
The video itself is gaudy and bright beyond belief. Though his hair has not become the signature Skrillex cut we see today, much of his fashion finds its roots here. The entire techno-glam aesthetic of the video, in addition to the full-force use of EDM, is what makes G-Dragon.
In fact this video is so groundbreaking that it involves several sets and looks that are being used by K-Pop stars still today, and this video came out in 2009! While the other singles off of his 2009 album “Heartbreaker” did not chart as well as the title track did, it is clear that G-Dragon came out of 2009 with a mission. He is perhaps the brightest (literally) star in Big Bang’s cast, prompting Ludacris to say “Yo, this kid’s a star” on a piece written by The Hollywood Reporter on G-Dragon.
“Turn It Up”, relased in 2010, is the first single that T.O.P released as a solo artist, peaking at 11th on K-Pop music charts
T.O.P perhaps owes his entire career to his early rap work as underground rapper T.E.M.P.O. In Big Bang videos prior and current, as well as in his solo videos, hip hop is a concept he explores wildly, and his verses are always masterworks of meter and percussion.
Though mostly known for his work in the duo “GD & TOP”, T.O.P’s first single is significant because he explores a different flavor of hip hop than most Big Bang fans are used to seeing. Far removed from G-Dragon’s colorful aesthetic, T.O.P applies an edgy concept with black and white cinematography in addition to a more straightforward club hip hop sound. His rapping takes center stage as his style relates closely to those of rappers such as Wiz Khalifa, who uses the same kinds of “lazier” rap verses while featuring alternating shots of black and white filming.
GD & TOP
“Knockout”, released in 2010 as part of GD & TOP’s debut album, is the video that made Ludacris declare G-Dragon a star.
Perhaps the strongest act to come out of Big Bang, aside from G-Dragon himself, is the duo GD & TOP. There is something awe-inspiring about the blend of G-Dragon’s gaudiness and T.O.P’s edge in one video. Stimuli come in rapid fire, as there are scenes of bubble pop (to reinforce the hook) and there are scenes where dogs are eating bones. Though T.O.P is a rapper at heart, and G-Dragon claims that he owes his career to the Wu-Tang Clan, the marriage of these two distinctly Korean artists produced a distinctly K-Pop video. It is the planetary collision of these two aesthetics that really shape a majority of Big Bang’s sound and look today, and it is a style that makes both stars immediately recognizable. The fact that both come from distinctly hip hop roots seems like a footnote and yet it is of the utmost importance. An authentic hip hop background is what produced the star confidence that this duo has; one cannot understand Big Bang without understanding GD & TOP.
“Where U At” was Taeyang’s first solo single released in 2009. This and “Wedding Dress”, released the same year, are perhaps the most representative of Taeyang’s solo sound.
Where G-Dragon and T.O.P have released the most aesthetically important videos in Big Bang’s newer sound, Taeyang has released the most videos in the first solo period, going into the second. While T.O.P and G-Dragon have chosen to adopt more glamorous and YouTube famous styles of American music, Taeyang has stuck true to the roots of his cornrows. His hip hop influence is more straightforward than perhaps the two other aforementioned stars, featuring urban backdrops and gratuitous dance routines.
The music itself does not feature rapping, but is rather of a more straightforward hip pop song. His music is reminiscent of R&B singing with choreography a la Chris Brown. It draws from earlier Ne-Yo similarities, and this is an aesthetic that Taeyang has been able to build on. In fact, even the lyrical content of Taeyang’s music builds heavily on an R&B obsession with love, especially towards women.
“Wedding Dress” was released in the same album as “Where You At”. The piano melody is also reminiscent of Chris Brown, and this song further serves to solidify Taeyang’s sound.
The ever popular “Wedding Dress” is another, perhaps much more accessible example of this. The opening piano trope is a popular device used in R&B songs, and it is the source of hundreds upon hundreds of YouTube covers. Just purely based on that fact, it shows that the device of using piano riffs in the opening of an R&B song has a wide appeal.
Though Daesung and Seungri contribute immeasurably to Big Bang’s image both inside and outside of their work, especially in shows, much of Alive’s texture and popularity comes from the flavors Taeyang, T.O.P and G-Dragon acquired during their solo gigs. On their 2012 comeback album “Alive”, their most popular track “Fantastic Baby”, garnering 138 million views, melds all of these elements together.
“Fantastic Baby” differs heavily from their earlier tracks purely because of the solo period from 2009 to 2011 where each member was allowed to explore and experiment.
The urban grunge elements draw heavily from T.O.P’s style of rapping and Taeyang’s general color palette from their videos, which was in turn influenced heavily by their hip hop and urban roots. G-Dragon opens the video with his signature Skrillex cut, exaggerated with extensions that run all the way down the stairs. The potpourri of artistic elements, especially the goth techno aesthetics seen in some of the visors, in the video itself draw heavily from G-Dragon’s videos.
This video can be viewed as a unanimous success because of the flawless way it melds the experiences of the entire group over the span of 3 years. There is a new energy in their performance that is mightily close to American artists, and this can probably be attributed above all to the confidence each member must have gained from artistically striking out on their own. The gaudiness, unlike for newer groups, does not come off as a put on because each member believes in and is excited by the artistic choices they bring to this song.
Vestiges of their earlier, straightahead hip hop style can be seen in the occasional bandana and bling, but electronic dance music has largely replaced the earlier hip hop sound that the group started with. The syncopated synths further add to the appeal of the video and bring this group fully into the modern times as around 2012, EDM at its most fundamental, began to gain traction around the world.
Where are they now?
It’s safe to say that Big Bang is not going to stop experimenting, whether it be in solo acts or group performances. They have now gained a twofold reputation of being a group that constantly pushes the envelop in terms of innovation and spectacle, as well as being essentially a supergroup of five very strong solo acts.
G-Dragon and Taeyang released a collaboration in late 2014 in the form of “Good Boy”, showcasing the desire to never stop incorporating new things.
Right now, Big Bang is nearing the end of their second prolific solo period. While not as radically innovative as the first, it is safe to say that Big Bang is wearing its reputation proudly. With such tracks as Taeyang’s “Ringa Linga” and the above video, “Good Girl”, Big Bang shows it is keeping up with the times, incorporating deep club bass drops in the latter, and grungy hip hop dance moves in the former.
It’s hard to say where Big Bang would be without all these influences at their disposal, it’s even harder to say if they would’ve made it if they stuck with a strict hip hop diet in their videos, but it is undeniable that these solo periods have allowed these artists to fully come into their own in whatever Western capacities they have so chosen for themselves.
SPOTLIGHT: A Potpourri
Bad Boy – Big Bang (2012)
While in the last piece we talked about how dissonant and surface level K-Pop’s adoption of hip hop culture might be, there is a surprising wealth of knowledge and adoption in this, the dark horse comeback track for Big Bang’s 2012 album “Alive” (though that’s a hard claim to sympathize with, as each track is a potential K-Pop masterwork).
First off, the producers had good sense in doing a hip hop track in New York. Despite the mulling effects of the color scheme and the linear cinematography featuring a lack of direct cuts to different sets for dance, and despite the locale, the outfits still stand out in an endearingly Korean way. The song itself is a rather mellow R&B sound, though everything in the track seems to lend itself to G-Dragon’s vocals, supplemented by Daesung’s vocals and T.O.P’s rapping in healthy doses.
There is still dancing, there is still K-Pop’s signature gaudiness (even more so in Big Bang’s case), there is still the endearing synchronization and equal featuring we’ve come to expect from all groups, but there is something distinctly worldly or global about this singular track. The fact that it was filmed on a moving camera with no explicit cuts to dancing, plus an actual story in the lyrics quasi-represented in the filming, make it a video perhaps meant more for American audiences than Korean. It seems to hint that Big Bang has global aspirations in their music making, and we could be due for a bigger culmination of that in their 2015 comeback.