Femtrooper’s Guide to Asian Pop: Styles: The Girl Groups

This post is part of an ongoing series of Asian Pop.

Depending on who you talk to, Asian Girl Groups and Boy Groups can get very varied reputations.  Some people view them as nothing but factory created singing robots with little to no musicality with the only intention of being cute, and some people view them as having incredibly talented singers that offer a style of pop that is lacking in the west.  I for one believe that many girl and boy groups that come out of Asia are actually full of incredibly talented singers who can do so much more (and of course, they are all stunningly beautiful).  While there are girl groups (mostly in Japan) whose sound is that of the stereotype, as I discussed in previous entries, those types of ‘girl and boy groups’ will not be included here.  I have decided to make this entry into two posts and split the girl groups from the boy groups.  There are just too many to discuss in one post!  All the groups I want to discuss in this entry are here because, in my opinion, do not sound like the stereotype and present an interesting and sometimes more evolved sound in pop music today.  Let’s start with the first group, shall we?

Girls’ Generation (South Korea)

Paparazzi (2012)

Girls’ Generation is the AKB48 of South Korea, and when I say that, I am simply referring to their popularity.  They are the epitome of what a girl group is all about and what girl groups strive to be.  The difference though, is that the group only has eight (previously nine) members and their sound is very westernized and full of great vocalists.  I’m not saying that AKB48 of Japan isn’t full of great vocalists, but the group’s producers and team certainly don’t provide them with music to show their vocal talents; most of the groups in South Korea do.  For starters, it is important to note that the majority of girl and boy groups from South Korea are made up of young people that live and study in ‘music production companies’ for years training to become the best.  The music label will then wait until these teenagers are ready vocally, physically, and emotionally to place them into groups like Girls’ Generation.  Instead of auditioning people to be in these groups created by the major labels in South Korea, they just choose from the kids they have already working for them.  While this concept sounds really weird, all the members in these groups grow up together, commonly live together, and are all really talented.  They wouldn’t choose them to be in groups if they couldn’t sing or dance.  For westerners, this may seem odd, but to some extent it makes complete sense.  There are so many singers in the west who really can’t sing; this would not happen in South Korea partially due to the labels creating the groups themselves with the ability to pick their own content.  While Girls’ Generation’s music has evolved to become modern, funky, and poppy, they actually gained a lot of popularity with the song Gee (2009), which ironically is a little more stereotypical, but is catchy as hell.  Whether you like them or not, they are definitely the main inspiration for a lot of girl groups just starting out or even ones that have been around for awhile.  When people think of girl groups in South Korea, it’s all about Girls’ Generation.  They tour around the world, release music in both Korean and Japanese, and have even appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman.  They are the most classic example of a great girl group, and while they may play it safe, some of their newer songs are darker with a more electronic sound.  They also happen to have a sub group called TTS made up of three of the members primary vocalists that have released two mini albums, and I have to admit, some of their stuff is fantastic.  What I like about Girls’ Generation and a lot of South Korean groups is that they make radio friendly pop hits while still incorporating lines with powerful vocals to showcase the incredible singers they have.  Pop music has gotten a bad reputation lately for having poor vocals that are covered up with machinery and autotune, but Girls’ Generation just has great vocalists and you can hear it in their music!

Gee (2009)

Mr. Mr. (2014)

Holler by TTS (2014)

The Boys [English Ver.] Live on The Late Show with David Letterman (2012)
((Honestly, they dance and sing all live – IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE – gotta give credit where credit is due!))

2NE1 (South Korea)

I Love You (2012)

How can I not talk about 2NE1?  They are certainly the chocolate ice cream to Girls’ Generation’s vanilla. They have a completely different image and sound than Girls’ Generation mostly due to the fact that they use different elements of music such as rap, reggae, and r&b in their music.  2NE1 is made up of four talented young women who are all pretty different with their singing styles and personalities.  Their leader, CL, has become incredibly popular on her own due to her being a fantastic rapper, and honestly, just damn cool. Girls’ Generation goes for the more traditional fashionable look maintaining the status that they are all good girls while 2NE1 goes for more of a ‘bad girl’ image with darker, more electronic beats, and an edgier sound.  They certainly have a lot of swagger and their leader CL is full of energy and is a sight to see.  Their music has gotten more popular in the west with their massive hit “I Am The Best” making appearances in various shows and commercials, not to mention having a song with Will.I.Am on his latest album and CL rapping on a track for Skrillex’s new album.  They are certainly a force to be reckoned with.  They have incredible stage presence, fantastic voices, and a very unique sound that is theirs only.  I have created a separate category to focus on CL’s solo career, so only 2NE1 stuff will be discussed here.  As for 2NE1 though, it is no question that they are so popular due to their music being unique to them and their incredibly dynamic members.  They do it all!  When they come on stage, they OWN the stage and make sure to give you their best.  I would love to see these guys live because give 110% no matter what and always entertain.  They will try something out like incorporating rap and reggae into a very poppy song and it works, mostly because they have such charisma that anything they do will work.  Sure, I’m a little biased, but who isn’t when such badass chicks exist?  2NE1 is just fun.

Do You Love Me (2013)

Can’t Nobody (2010)

Falling in Love (2013)

I Am The Best Live in 2011

Brown Eyed Girls (South Korea)

The Sixth Sense (2011)

Brown Eyed Girls is a girl group composed of women in their twenties and thirties who can definitely belt out a tune.  These guys are incredibly talented and have a really nice retro sound where they will use strings and horns to sound orchestral while still maintaining a modern vibe with rap and loud punchy beats.  The common theme, really, with all of these groups is that they all have strong vocalists which make all of their songs stronger.  Brown Eyed Girls really love to experiment with older sounds, whether they will mix new electronic sounds with electronic sounds of the 80s and over the top dance beats from the 70s in one song.  Hot Shot (2011) shows the girls pairing sultry vocals with latin beats yet still keeping it fresh and new.  Their new-retro sound works and the four women who make up Brown Eyed Girls are incredibly talented.  Although they don’t release music at the same rate as Girls’ Generation, when they do, they sell very well and always bring something fun and unique to the table.

Abracadabra (2009)

Brave New World (2015)

Hot Shot Live in 2011

SunnyHill (South Korea)

Midnight Circus (2011)

While this group never use to be a girl group (they previously had one male member), they are certainly one of the most unique and creative ones.  The song above, Midnight Circus (2011), uses all sorts of different sounds for modern day pop music that leaves you wanting more.  They use saxophone, organ, and even accordion with electro pop beats to create a very unusual auditory experience.  Very few pop groups use muted trumpets with strong emphasis on organ, but SunnyHill combines that with strong vocals and catchy pop hooks that create one of the more unique girl groups from South Korea.  Like Brown Eyed Girls, they love to incorporate order sounds from the 70s and 80s, like using strings.

The Grasshopper Song (2011)

Monday Blues (2014)

Is The White Horse Coming? (2012)

Pray (2011) Live in 2012

E-girls (Japan)

Move It! (2014)

The E-girls are a rather unique girl group in the sense that they maintain the stereotypical sound of most Japanese girl groups that we discussed in the last post while also using sounds and fashion that are more westernized.  It may not seem like that big of a deal, but most Japanese girl groups have a very specific sound and a very specific look.  E-girls on the other hand have members that have their own unique style and strong vocals.  This may not seem very revolutionary, and I suppose it isn’t, but they are unique in the sense that they stray from the norms in their home country.  E-girls are also interesting because they are comprised of five other girl groups, so I suppose you could call them a super group.  They may be on a fine line between being in the ‘Stereotype’ category and this one, but due to some of the more westernized musical styles they use in their songs, I have decided to put them here.

The Never Ending Story (2013)

Follow Me (2013)

Gomennasai no Kissing You (2013)

Kurukuru (2013) Live

 While I cannot talk about EVERY girl group out there in this category, I do have a list of other groups you should definitely check out if you liked the groups in this category.  Be sure to give them a listen!  Some of the groups I have listed below are actually ones I really enjoy, I just like to have the featured groups above be fairly diverse (f(x) sounds very similar to to Girls’ Generation but is pretty awesome!) and then list other great groups below.

  • 4Minute (South Korea)
  • After School and their sub-unit Orange Caramel (South Korea) (these guys are hilarious – I love their stuff)
  • Dream Girls (Taiwan)
  • f(x) (South Korea)
  • KARA (South Korea)
  • Miss A (south Korea)
  • Rania (South Korea)
  • S.H.E. (Taiwan)
  • SISTAR (South Korea)
  • T-ARA (South Korea)

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