A lot of words get typed down in regards to the Korean music industry about how the success of groups from that country internationally prove that pop is becoming more internationalized. The bulk of the lyrics in their songs are sung in Korean, so globalization works. K-pop, though, has always been great at adapting to local markets in subtle ways without losing their own accent. No territory represents this better than Japan, where K-pop continues to do well in 2019. This week offers a few examples why, including a new Japanese single from the girl group TWICE and, most important to our purposes, a new Japanese number from the group IZ*ONE. Check out “Buenos Aires” below.
Quick refresher: IZ*ONE is a unit featuring a mix of Korean performers and entertainers from the AKB48 universe. The group came together via a talent contest aired on Korean TV, and their first few singles have moved a lot of units in both South Korea and Japan. IZ*ONE jet set between Korean and Japanese releases in an effort to hit on their potential as a real pop bridge between the two countries. So far, it has worked.
One of the traps about J-pop and K-pop is treating them like musical genres when those terms really reflect musical industries. The actual sounds of both are all over the place, and trying to boil them down to distinct characteristics often results in some bad generalizations. IZ*ONE serves as a great example of this, partially because they have feet on both sides, but also because they explore all kinds of styles. “Buenos Aires” boasts a thumping beat at times nodding to Latin pop (well, see the name) and electro-pop synth work (see also the slight digital manipulation deployed on the group’s vocals at times). You also get some rapping and an all-together-now singing style reminiscent of idol groups like AKB48.
That’s not the only time “Buenos Aires” reflects the biggie-sized idol group’s songwriting blueprint. The lyrics here feel very Akimoto Yasushi, with the titular city cast as a far-flung place that the love-struck protagonist can run off too. They even mention that they’ve seen it in a movie, which is some real idol songcraft. The group’s Korean singles aren’t radically different when you get into the words, but little details like these remind that IZ*ONE, like many other outfits hopping between the sea, can make slight alterations to fit the audience.