Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Secret Behind Kpop Choreography

I'm sure I'm not the only one that is mentally & emotionally drained from recent events regarding Jaebeom of 2PM in the past few days - until further developments arise, the best remedy is to keep your mind off of the issue. With all the recent news, hopefully this editorial provides a temporary distraction.

The hallyu wave is an undeniably alluring phenomena - all you readers are the perfect testament of kpop addiction, don't deny it. Whether it be the catchy beats, talent, outfits or aesthetic appeal, solo artists & idol groups seem to have fans both in Korea and beyond wrapped around their finger. How exactly do they do it? Earlier this week, we unlocked the secrets behind a successful hit track, and today we're examining the nuts & bolts behind choreography to some of kpop's recent hits.

With the prominence of music shows, festival performances, variety shows and other stages, performance obviously plays a critical role in the success of a song. Oftentimes, people get obsessed with a song for a few months, then move on to something else - and though they may forget specific lyrics, three distinctive parts remain imprinted in their minds - the tune, chorus and signature dance move. For "Abracadabra" by the Brown Eyed Girls, there's the hip sway; for "Sorry Sorry" by Super Junior, there's the hand rub. DBSK's "Mirotic" had that irresistible chin pose, SNSD's "Gee" had the crab leg dance, which was arguably similar to Wonder Girls' "This Fool" move... the list goes on and on.

Case #1: JYP (Wonder Girls)
You could hate the Wonder Girls for all I care, but if you know who they are, you undoubtedly know one of their moves. With this pop quintet, there's no way you can get around knowing a song and not knowing the dance. Sure, "Tell Me" is a catchy track by itself, but the unique and strangely addicting dance moves allowed the song to sweep the nation into a "Tell Me" craze both online and offline. Indeed, "Tell Me" has been replicated all over the world. Just Youtube it and fanmade covers ranging from drag queens to celebrities, soldiers to traffic cops and more will show up.

Then there's the "v-line" & "bracelet dance" from "So Hot" - two leading dance moves ingrained in people's minds. Hong Young-joo, the choreographer for this song, explained, "the "So Hot" dance is a little tricker than the "Tell Me" routine but still easier than dances of other songs." Though the moves are smaller and more detailed than in "So Hot" 's predecessor, the dance is still widely replicated even now. Unlike with "Tell Me", in which the dance routine ended up overshadowing the track, "So Hot" was equally popular for both aspects.

Same with Korean & American hit "Nobody" - from ukelele remixes to solo covers, fans worldwide have done it all. American Idol star Jordin Sparks, who toured with the Girls this summer with the Jonas Brothers, even asked the girls to teach her the song, once admitting, "I walk around singing/dancing "nobody, nobody but chu" and people give me weird looks", which beckoned a round of laughter. As someone who helped out at four concerts this summer, I've seen the Girls' mass influence firsthand - at the end of the concert, there would be people "shooting love bullets", wagging their fingers etc as they flooded out the stadium doors.

'Omona', 'v-line dance', 'love bullets' - this is no coincidence, so how does JY Park do it? The answer is quite simple - the choreography has a perfect balance. By choosing deceptively easy yet addictive moves, JY Park repeatedly creates choreography that can be learned universally. "Each movement is easy, but when you put it together it looks impressive," Yoobin once explained. As Chosun has called it, the Wonder Girls are reaping the fruit of reverse thinking by taking a 180° approach - instead of taking after idol groups which coordinate complicated performances down to the smallest details, the Girls' moves are simple and easy to follow.

Looking at the Wonder Girls' successes as a whole, JYP Entertainment has done an excellent job in marketing the quintet as people - not just their songs, but their dance, personalities etc. Music critic Kim Zakka commented, "The Wonder Girls' charm is their intentional clumsiness, a contrast with idol groups under SM Entertainment who are so refined as to appear artificial." Whether the latter half of Zakka's opinion is true, I'll leave up to you to decide, but whatever the secret is, it's definitely pulling in fans both in the East and West.

Case #2: Rino Nakasone (SHINee, SNSD, f(x))
Okay, so maybe this name isn't exactly familiar - but you'll undoubtedly recognize her track record. This talent was a backup dancer for Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Girls and is a current member of Beat Freaks - the runner-ups of the third season of America's Best Dance Crew. (Ring any bells? Yeah, I thought so.) A Japanese dancer-turned-choreographer, Nakasone has choreographed for various SM Entertainment groups like SHINee, SNSD and f(x).

In June 2008, SHINee wasn't the only group to debut on the Korean entertainment scene - the choreography for "Replay" was Nakasone's first project for SM Entertainment. "When I was in Seoul working with SHINee, I was very impressed how hard they worked. I love their songs. They were great at picking up choreography fast and were able to do anything that I taught them."

This wasn't the end of Nakasone's involvement with SME - she also choreographed "Tell Me Your Wish" by SNSD as a collaboration with the company's dance team. "They learned off the video tape that I dance in, and then we reviewed it together later on," the choreographer explained. "Sooyoung of the band speaks Japanese and Jessica speaks English, so I had no problem communicating with them, but I just listened to the song first and the move came up."

So how exactly does Nakasone come up with those catchy moves? "Music tells me what to do. When I look back, ["Tell Me Your Wish" choreography] could look like tango or salsa inspired. That's what I do. I see some dance movement that I like and I tweak it and change to make it my own." Regarding the allure of SNSD's music and dance, Nakasone commented, "It's a lot for a band, but their formations are well-organized and they all look together, which is very important in a group ... [SNSD's performances] make people want to do what they do."

Are we going to see more of Nakasone in the future? The Japanese talent had expressed interest in working with Korean artists should more opportunities arise. Currently, she's focusing on Beat Freaks & performances with Maryss, her fellow crew member from Paris.

These are merely two examples of how choreography can truly carry a track far - and indeed it's become a staple contribution to many songs these days. Reflecting on the hot moves of this summer and fall, which one is your favorite? Fun fact, Brown Eyed Girls' "saucy hip dance" (don't ask) ranked #1 "most popular dance in clubs" last month.

source: chosun, SF Chronicle