Give Dreamcatcher their first win, you cowards

Dreamcatcher, Seventeen, VIXX, and the K-pop song of the summer

Hello! Welcome to maybe if you stanned, a weekly dive into K-pop releases and fan culture. This week, I’m digging into recent releases from Dreamcatcher, Seventeen, and VIXX, with a look ahead at upcoming releases from Twice and KARD. I’m also going to make a case for my K-pop song of the summer.

Here’s this week’s Spotify playlist, which contains every track I mention in this newsletter!

Dreamcatcher, “Deja Vu.”

What’s coming up?

Twice — “Feel Special”

Welcome to the golden age of Twice, baby. After their single “Fancy,” which has been inescapable since it was released in April, the girl group seems to be moving into a more electronically-based and mature era of music. It feels like a natural progression, and one that Twice is more than capable of pulling off.

JYP has been releasing individual teasers for the members over the course of the past two weeks that feature varying arrangements of “Feel Special,” the group’s upcoming title track. Mina, who didn’t participate in the group’s summer tour due to mental health reasons, will return for the comeback.

“Feel Special” will be released on Sep. 23 at 6 p.m. KST.

KARD — “Dumb Litty”

I love KARD. I love everything about them. I love the fact that they’re releasing a song called “Dumb Litty,” and I love that it’s produced by group member BM, who is one of the biggest bros in K-pop (y’all remember man tiddies?). I’m obsessed with all of it.

The co-ed group has been releasing a series of Greek god-themed photo teasers on its social channels in addition to MV and dance teasers on YouTube. Looks like we’re in for a dirty drop. Dumb Litty! My god.

“Dumb Litty” will be out on Sep. 22 (tomorrow!) at 6 p.m. KST.

New this week

Dreamcatcher — “Deja Vu,” Raid of Dream

There’s no other girl group right now that has quite the same sound as Dreamcatcher. With a concept and musical identity rooted in rock, there’s always a particular attitude and emotional range to their music. Even with the Nightmare series (which lasted from Dreamcatcher’s 2017 debut to their latest EP The End of Nightmare) now over, their concept is just as fantasy-focused as ever. 

“Deja Vu” is a brilliant single that packs the group’s heavy rock sound into a powerful chorus that’s bookended by softer verses that show off the members’ lower registers and vocal control. There’s plenty of time for power vocals as well, with vocalist Siyeon taking up her customary spot closing out the chorus. The discrepancy in tone between the verses and chorus makes for a killer dramatic arc, and things slow down at the bridge just in time for a key change into the final chorus. I’m a sucker for an impactful key change, and I definitely straight-up gasped at my desk.

In tandem with a lush, thematically-driven MV that pits the members — now embattled royals – against one another in pursuit of the throne, “Deja Vu” is one of Dreamcatcher’s most dramatic releases to date. That’s really saying something (side note: every girl group should have swords). Frankly, Dreamcatcher is long overdue for their first win at this point, and I’m hoping that “Deja Vu” will be the single that helps them nab it.

The EP, titled Raid of Dream, is a spectrum, ranging from the driving and bright “The curse of the Spider” to the meter-shifting “Silent Night,” eventually concluding with a ballad, “Polaris.” The EP was released through a collaboration with mobile game King’s Raid, which released its own animated music video for “Deja Vu.”

Seventeen — “Fear,” An Ode

If I’m going to choose to watch any single K-pop group dance, it’s going to be Seventeen. With dramatic choreography that rarely leaves anything to be desired, the group takes advantage of their size and ability to perfectly synchronize. Their latest release, “Fear,” is no exception to the trend, with snappy choreography culminating with final chorus of languid body rolls.

That being said, “Fear” feels different from Seventeen’s other releases. Darker, more sultry, and void of the kind of earnest hope that drove singles like “Don’t Wanna Cry” and “Thanks,” “Fear” is equal parts intimidating and intoxicating. There a few quiet moments at the beginning of the verses that punctuate the song’s bass-heavy sound and slow things down, ultimately making the song’s climax that much more impactful.

“HIT,” which was released as a single earlier in the summer, leads the album, bridging the thematic gap between “Fear” and Seventeen’s earlier concepts. A high-energy EDM track, it has the same dark confidence as “Fear” but also the almost cocky, playful attitude that defined tracks like “Mansae.” 

We’re entering a new era of the self-produced Seventeen. Despite the tonal shift, however, An Ode as a whole isn’t all sultry synths. It harkens back to the group’s earlier, boyish works with tracks like “Snap Shoot” and wades back into more sentimental waters with “Lie Again” and “247.”

VIXX — “Parallel”

VIXX makes, and always had made, great music. Typically backed up by concept-heavy music videos like the lush “Shangri La” or the unsurprisingly kinky “Chained Up,” VIXX is known both for their killer vocals and performance. Now, things are a bit different — with N (Cha Hakyeon) currently conducting his mandatory military service, the group is down a member.

While “Parallel” doesn’t have an MV, its unique synth color along with the members’ distinctive voices (that Ravi rap whisper!) make it feel undeniably VIXX. Between N’s military service and Ravi starting his own label, I’ve been curious about the group’s future despite the fact that their label, Jellyfish Entertainment, has made it clear that the group isn’t disbanding. While I’m not certain if VIXX is actively promoting “Parallel,” it’s nice to get a musical confirmation that they’re still alive.

The K-pop song of the summer

There’s really no good way to determine the song of the summer — sure, you could count album sales, or YouTube views, or music show wins. Or, you could follow your heart and choose basically regardless of any objective information, which is what I’m going for here. 

Before that, however, it’s worth doing a quick run down of some of this summer’s standouts. We kicked things off with WJSN’s “Boogie Up,” which has some of my favorite synth sounds of the summer and a killer chorus hook. There was ATEEZ’s “Wave” and “Illusion,” both breezy follow-ups to the group’s previous singles; Chung Ha’s “Snapping,” a sassy track with a music video that gave her a sword (technically a fencing foil, but… Chung Ha should have a sword); (G)I-DLE’s in-your-face “Uh-Oh;” GFriend’s more electronically-driven “Fever;” Somi’s irreverent “Birthday.”

There have been a few standouts for me. I had fromis_9’s “Fun!” on repeat for most of June and July after falling in love with the group and their music. “Fun!” is just… so much, but it’s bouncy with a repetitive chorus that builds up to a beautiful, chef-kiss worthy post-chorus that is starting to become a staple of the group’s title tracks. Twice’s “Breakthrough” was another one of my favorites as well as one of two Japanese singles the group released this summer. Its headstrong attitude and almost minimalist music video aesthetic tugged the group even farther away from its previously cute-centric concept. Finally, had it not been released in April, Twice’s “Fancy” may very well have ended up being my pick given its meme longevity.

But yeah, I’m following my heart here — while it’s been a great summer for K-pop, there’s been one single that is guaranteed to make my Spotify end of year top 10 based on the sheer number of times I’ve played it in the past month.

So — hey hey hey! — it’s Itzy’s “Icy.”

I was barely on the Itzy train after the group’s debut single, “Dalla Dalla,” which is a ridiculous, albeit unbearably catchy, mess that’s basically five different songs fighting for dominance in one. “Icy,” however, takes all of the bravado and bonkers energy from “Dalla Dalla” and packages it into one cohesive song. 

Oscillating between quick rap couplets and light vocal lines in the verses, “Icy” has a killer pre-chorus with synths that take up hella space complemented by belted vocals. It’s also got a near-perfect bridge that begins with a funky eight-bar dance break, eventually dropping down with a muted synth sound that bubbles up before boiling over the surface. There’s enough cockiness inherent here that the song doesn’t need to end on an insanely high moment, instead fading back to its original level. Shot in LA, the music video is full of wild graphics and wildly funny moments that punctuate lyrics like “No one can stop us now, blah blah.” Blah blah indeed!

And while I’m definitely just going with my gut, there are some numbers to back this take up up. “Icy” racked up a significant number of music show wins and performed well on both the Gaon Digital Chart and the Billboard World Digital Sales chart. Aside from being a slam dunk of a comeback for the group, “Icy” was the perfect song to cool down with this summer. 

This is extremely subjective, though — drop a line in the comments or on Twitter about what your top pick was this summer! I know this was a bit of a long first read (too much content to be excited about!), so if you’ve made it this far thanks for sticking around.

Thanks, and until next time,