The ‘Korean wave’ is easily confused by westerners with the better-known phrase ‘Mexican wave’. But despite its dance focus, the Korean wave has an abstract connotation: the globalisation of Korean ‘culture’, especially the revolution that is K-Pop, popularised in the West by PSY’s Gangnam Style, inaugurating the YouTube age of pop music. Now with the rise of Spotify and streaming platforms around the world, the ‘third wave’ of K-Pop that followed PSY, including the groups BTS and Blackpink, is giving way to a ‘fourth wave’ that looks set to conquer the world. The most promising venture in this regard is Blackpink-inspired group NMIXX, whose new album features some compelling pop fusion, drawing on jazz aspects just as Blackpink draws on classical music on ‘Shut Down’.
I remain convinced that Lisa is the most likely of all the existing K-Pop artists, from PSY to SUGA, to transform K-Pop into a fully global genre that is integrated almost entirely into the U.S. market and western economies more generally. Her strategy is to stop by the Middle East on the way in aesthetics and sonics, while PSY goes straight for the Wild West kill with ‘That That’. Good things come to those who wait — even if, or especially when, there is some controversy on the way about the legitimacy on drawing on a variety of musical ideas. For Lisa, this eclecticism comes naturally, as a K-Pop and now hip hop star who draws on her Thai origins to win over South Korean and global audiences alike.
NMIXX showcases the musical acumen of Hub Music Group, a newer label than Blackpink’s YG Entertainment. A creature of the 2020s, no members stand out yet (perhaps except Lily on vocals, according to early fan reviews), but the song ‘Dice’ does startle as extremely inventive, perhaps even more so than third-wave K-Pop and the Blackpink/Lisa era. The song ‘Cool’ echoes ‘Shut Down’ in the classical orchestration, tied to funky R&B vibes. The PSY/BTS era is already ending, and Blackpink/BTS may just be beginning to conquer the world musically, as shown by the MTV Awards at which Blackpink performed ‘Pink Venom’ with charisma and skill while Lisa nabbed the K-Pop award jealously guarded by BTS up to this point. NMIXX’s new EP ‘ENTWURF’ shows a new era may be beginning, which is ruthless and reckless in exploiting every hook and fusing every genre into an at once complex and compelling whole.
Perhaps there are those who doubt the morality of such a move in high commercial pop. There is little doubt over the marketability. As a musician listening to ‘Dice’, as it were, for the first time, I have almost no doubt over the musicality of this new music. It is refreshing in an age in which so many songs sound the same. Bring on the future. Jazz-infused pop fusion has begun a new age of worldwide Wambop, the song of the new society that is emerging from the old. We better get ready. This is gonna be quite a ride.