[UnitedKpop K-pop Album Review] MARCH: BIGBANG – Alive

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BIG BANG: ALIVE

After nearly two years hiatus as a full group and two devastating controversies involving two of the members, BIG BANG left their VIPs worrying about the group’s future.
Although fans voiced their relief and happiness at the appearance of all five members as they accepted their MTV EMA Award for Best Worldwide Act in November 2011, it is clear that a BIG BANG shaped hole still remained in the heart of K-Pop…until 2012 that is…

One of the most successful idol groups in today’s South Korean music industry teased fans as they slowly released member’s individual photos and album track titles day by day.
With fresh new looks, an ice cold concept and the promise of the simultaneous promotion of SIX SONGS (!), did they deliver what VIPs wanted so much?
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Track 1: Intro (ALIVE)
For a track that only lasts 48 seconds, it completely sums up what this album is about. Fans will understand the message the group is trying to get across here. BIG BANG are showing that they have come through their problems and are able to smile on the other side. The short song is energetic and uses the stylish electronic sounds BIG BANG have now become synonymous with. It can be taken as both a message to their VIPs, reassuring them that the group is back and stronger than ever and also as a triumphant gloat to all that may have doubted them during their past hardships. The English used in the song is also very good, ensuring that you can bounce along with it easily.
UK Potential: 3/5 (As this is an Intro song at the start of an album, it’s hard to try and separate it as something that would make a successful single in the UK. However, if it was extended to the usual 3-4 minute song length, it would have some potential to stand alone).

Track 2: BLUE
This track was the very first single to be released from the album and it ensured that BIG BANG where placed firmly back on the K-Pop map almost instantly. The official MV on YouTube soared to over 3 million hits just a few days after its initial release and it continued to rise rapidly. Initially this may seem a strange song to choose as the very first single release after such a long time, but after a few listens, one can see how strong this song is. Many fans have labelled this song as a sort of continuation of BIG BANG’s previous track “Love Song” and you are certainly reminded how well the group handles ballads. Even though I personally am not so fond of slower songs, the unique composition and its slow and heavy beat paired with the members’ soft vocals makes it grow on almost anyone who listens.
UK Potential: 4/5 (This ballad communicates a very relatable message that Western audiences will understand. The English used in the song is well pronounced and full of feeling. If they were to release this song in the UK, I think a lot of people would love its beautiful sound).

Track 3: 사랑먼지(Love Dust)
Another song with a similarly sad concept. The lyrics talk of the discomfort felt when a relationship has fallen apart and the hard road to you have to take to get yourself back on track and feel alright again as a single person. Feelings of jealousy at hearing the fact that your ex is doing well are confronted in the song, but despite its deep content, the persona in the song remains positive that they will be able to see the one they used to love and feel genuinely happy for them. The song is quite bouncy and the vocals are light and happy. It gives you a feeling of reassurance that you will be able to push through the rough patches in your life if you just give yourself some time and allow yourself to succumb to some of those bad feelings for a little while.
UK Potential: 3/5 (The song uses a little bit of English with a catchy electronic voice, but the general sound is something that would probably be fairly comfortable in the UK mainstream. However, I personally think that this would not be the right song for BIG BANG to use as a tool to break into the Western market).

Track 4: BAD BOY
This is a track that has a very unique flavour and style. It seems that BIG BANG have remained true to their Hip Hop image as they have produced a sound reminiscent of many 90s R’n’B “slow jams” (as I like to call them anyway…!)
With one of the most catchy English hook lines on the whole album, the song roots itself in your mind. Its slow beat is quite relaxing but manages to keep listeners from feeling bored. The lyrics show the persona feeling guilty towards the one they love because she is a “Good Girl” and they are a “Bad Boy”. The song talks of wanting to let the one you love go simply for being afraid that you will not treat them as well as they deserve to be. I think this song is something that is very well suited to BIG BANG’s image. One of the reasons why VIPs love the group so much is because they steer clear from the “boy-next-door” concept. The members personify a guy that your parents may not exactly approve of, which I think is a strangely attractive attribute to many girls!
UK Potential: 2/5 (Even though BIG BANG revived an “old school” sound and made it their own, I think it could be too cheesy to a UK audience to tolerate. This song would probably do a lot better here if BIG BANG were already well established in the Western market).

Track 5: 재미없 (Ain’t No Fun)

This track is unique in the way that it was not something I really expected to hear on the album as the tune has a slight disco feel and vibe to it. This song also had a different feel to it because the members provide slightly monotonous vocals, which is not to say that the vocals sound bad, it’s almost oddly soothing and also reflects the emotion of the song. The combination of these two unusual factors are what quickly made this song one of my favourites on the album.

As the song title suggests, the lyrics show that this track is pretty much another break up song, and the song’s persona sounds uninterested with having to explain that they’re bored of the relationship with person that they’re breaking up with. As mentioned before, the slightly monotonous vocals sound a bit robotic and reinforce the fact that the persona doesn’t feel anything for this person anymore. They’re regretful that the relationship has ended, but it was no fun and it still isn’t, so maybe breaking up is the best option. The persona comes to a calm acceptance at the end of the track.

There are small injections of English lyrics throughout the song which are well pronounced and clear, which this is nothing less than what I expect from BIG BANG. On the other hand, with the chorus and any parts of the song that are repeated in mostly Korean there is little English for non-Korean speakers to be able to pick up and remember easily which might make this song a little harder to like for non-Kpop fans.

UK Potential: 2.5/5 (A decline into a boring relationship is probably a fairly universally relatable concept, and the good use of English will go far in the UK market. On the other hand, with slightly disinterested sounding vocals and no English phrases to immediately remember, perhaps this is not the best song to break into the UK with, but might do better if BIG BANG were established here.

Track 6: Fantastic Baby

As soon as I heard about BIG BANG making a comeback, ‘Fantastic Baby’ was the kind of song that I was waiting for, and oh boy, I was not disappointed. This is the kind of song that contains lyrics that have managed to integrate their way into my everyday life, which I’m sure happened to a number of people; now whenever someone gives me good news or I hear the word ‘fantastic’, every fibre in my being wants me to reply with ‘Wow, fantastic baby’! I can only describe this song as a classic BIG BANG anthem which is unforgettable and instantly memorable.

It has a badass, electro beat that makes me feel a little bit epic whenever I listen to this song. Without even knowing what the lyrics meant I always feel a little bit freer when listening to this song. It’s liberating in a way…I can imagine anyone having a bad day at work, coming home and listening to this song loudly and feeling good again. A real feel-good anthem.

The boys really let loose in this track which is pretty much what the song is about. On the surface the lyrics are saying to break free, just accept yourself the way you are, not to question things so much and have a good time…and well, to pretty much accept that BIG BANG are back and as awesome as ever. If we take into account the struggles that BIG BANG faced in the previous year (Daesung’s accident and GD’s marijuana scandal) we could take this song as a combined sign that as a group they’re back on track, ready to have some fun with their fans again. A song to confirm to their fans that they’re alright thanks to continual support, and also as a big middle finger to the haters and anti-fans.

I should probably stick to only talk about the song, but I honestly love this video and think that the style and concept for the video are worth mentioning as they tie in so well in with the lyrics. In the video we are presented with some fairly outrageous and wild looks, such as TOP’s matching suit and hair colour combo, and GD’s lip art and Rapunzel-like-hair. These are fashion statements that probably wouldn’t go down too well in the UK as men wearing eye-make up is dubious enough, but this shouldn’t really impact how the song is received.

I feel that their style in this video is something akin to Lady Gaga, Jessie J and Nicki Minaj; bright coloured hair, neon coloured clothing, excessive accessories and Seungri rocking some kind of S&M theme. These are concepts that we’re used to from female artists, but is the UK ready for male artists to be so experimental? Plus, some of the quirky visuals in the video are symbolic for K-pop fans, such as the crowns, thrones and a veritable army fighting against some authority. To a K-pop fan this shows K-pop royalty being protected by their fans and returning to their rightful place at the top, but perhaps a lot of these visuals and symbolism of overcoming obstacles from the video would go over the head of a non-kpop fan. No matter really, it still looks amazing.

UK Potential:  4.5/5 (With some amazingly catchy English lines and an insanely memorable tune and insatiable beat, I think this song has strong potential to make it in the UK. The only flaw would be some of the outfit and style choices which might put people off this song. Really, that’s the only thing I could find that might distract non-Kpop fans from a song which is, as TOP so eloquently put, boom shakalaka. Oh yeah. I went there.)

Track 7: (Wings)

In lieu of the promised solo album by Daesung, I looked forward to this song as soon as I realised he had a solo track on this new album.

I had assumed that Daesung would be stuck with a ballad style song for his solo, and while he totally rocks at ballads I fail to find interesting all the time. I was more than pleasantly surprised to hear a more upbeat pop song, which I find much more suited to his personal style. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good ballad as much as the next person at times, but with a voice like Daesung’s it’s great to hear him sing a more fun and hopeful song.

This is basically a track about the aftermath of a breakup and the lyrics deal with losing yourself a little bit; telling you that it’s okay to be upset and lost right now but to not forget that the future will be better. It’s such a positive message with an upbeat tune (with a slight bittersweet twist) that shouldn’t fail to bring a smile to your face. The vocals are beautiful, powerful and emotive and Daesung definitely conveys the mix of emotions of losing someone well.

This serves well as the final song on the album as it is definitely a hopeful song that encourages you to make the best of what you have right now and look to the future. It seems to tie in well with their recent controversies and problems, and it’s almost like a final assurance that BIG BANG are alright now, and they’re looking to the future.

UK Potential: 3/5 (A solid pop song that is fairly similar to the kinds of songs UK boy bands make with regards to sound and style. I have massive love for this uplifting song, but perhaps it’s not explosive enough to grab UK listener’s attention. It’s lovely, but a little safe to break into the UK.)

Packaging
The album is available in five different editions, featuring a poster of each member. It comes in a thick and chunky box featuring the album’s stylish grey and blue theme. Extra posters and pictures of the particular member come with the CD and separate A3 posters of the group are also available to purchase. This is perhaps a little excessive compared to albums released in the UK, where there is normally only one edition available at a time. The only exception I can think of immediately is My Chemical Romance’s ‘Black Parade’ album where you could buy it in either black or white.
It may be wise, if BIG BANG were to release ‘Alive’ in the UK for them to consider just releasing one version, or it could run the risk of appearing a little too gimmicky.
Packaging rating: 5/5 (It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into the design of a packaging. It is unique and made of high quality material. It also keeps with the feeling of the album’s concept in its colouring and overall style. It is also nice that there a separate ones for each member, as fans can choose one depending on their favourites!)

Conclusion:

‘Alive’ is an incredible album that ticks so many boxes, as it provides the listener with a range of songs that still match and flow really well together as the album progresses. If you like slow ballad style songs, there’s a song for you. If you like party anthems, there’s a song for you. This album combines a variety of safe, pop style songs and pairs them up with slightly more experimental electro sounding tracks that create a great mix and leaves you wanting to replay the album as soon as it’s done.

How would this album fare in the UK? Well, this album has good potential here with an overall average of 6.5/10, which could probably be improved further if they perhaps added more English lines to some of their songs. It contains some styles of songs that are popular in the UK right now; the ever classic party song (Fantastic Baby) that we find from artists like Jessie J, not to mention our Nation’s eternal love affair with the comeback of 90’s-style boy bands, which we can find some similarities to in ‘Bad Boy’. Also, singers like Adele have brought songs about lost love and heartbreak into the charts, which we can find in ‘Blue’ and ‘Wings’. I think without understanding a single word of Korean, many people in the UK would genuinely appreciate the sound of this album.

It would be recommended that BIG BANG release either ‘Fantastic Baby’ or ‘Blue’ as their first single into the UK market as these have been given the highest UK potential with 4.5/5 and 4/5 respectively. I think ‘Fantastic Baby’ would be the better choice as it would be easier to tempt someone into listening to an interesting sounding, intense electro track than a slower song with softer vocals. ‘Blue’ would be the kind of song that would grow on UK listeners, but ‘Fantastic Baby’ is more likely to gain popularity faster as its explosive and fierce sound commands attention.

Click here to buy Alive on YesAsia

Thank you for reading, and feel free to post any comments below. Do you agree with the scores or do you have a different opinion? Let us know!

This is one in our series of K-pop album reviews. You can read them all here.

Ashleigh Gregory

Writer at UnitedKpop
UnitedKpop's resident film connoisseur.

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