With G-Dragon’s last solo album being one of the largest selling of South Korea in 2009, the announcement made by YG Entertainment way back in March that he would be returning again as a solo unit left many fans waiting with baited breath.
Despite this, it wasn’t as if G-Dragon was working away alone in the shadows. As the leader and one of the main composers and rappers in the group BIGBANG, he has been extremely busy promoting and performing for their very successful 5th studio album ‘Alive’ along with his fellow members during the first half of the year.
You would be forgiven for almost forgetting that he also had a solo album in the works after all of BIGBANG’s appearances and exposure. However, thanks to GD’s frequent self-promotion in the uploading of mysterious teasers and images to his Twitter account, fans were undoubtedly ready to explode from anticipation of his solo work once more.
So, will this album pack as much punch as his first solo effort ‘Heartbreaker’?
Track One: One of a Kind
This track is the album’s namesake, so as expected; it was also the first single release. UnitedKpop writers have given this song and music video quite a lot of coverage in a review and a semiotic and lyrical analysis, so I shall refrain from going into too much detail here. This song has an incredibly Americanised Hip Hop sound. There is a very heavy bass-line that penetrates through all other musical layers. This, along with the incredibly extravagant music video ensured that G-Dragon exploded back onto the music scene with all his might.
Personally, I am always excited to see what YG Entertainment has to offer from their music videos and I have yet to be disappointed by any. They are always so exaggerated and you really feel that there are no restrictions placed on the creative flow of all those involved. They are almost shameless in their pedalling of American rap stereotypes which actually works to give them a very original feel. G-Dragon was once again able to show us all the ridiculous and fashionable extravagance that he has become known for.
Initially, I disliked the sheer American-ness of this sound. It feels as if GD is trying to abandon the entire Korean heritage and flavour from his music, which I think is an element so many K-pop fans love about Hallyu idols and groups.
I also think that a lot of people might be put off by the content of this song. GD raps about himself, how he is “young and rich” and about how he feels as an idol in the public eye. The complete narcissism of this message may cause people to shun it, let alone the fact that it isn’t exactly a relatable concept for your Average Joe listener. However, I hope that people have been able to delve deeper into the song and MV to be able to find the great amount of substance that it holds within.
UK Potential 4/5: This sound is not very dissimilar from what we are offered from the likes of Lil’ Wayne and Chris Brown. However, I feel that G-Dragon’s unique nature and image may scare a lot of people off. Having said this, I can make connections between GD’s weird humour and what Busta Rhymes offered fans in his MVs in the 1990s.
Here is another track that has been given an in-depth review by UnitedKpop, so again I will keep things brief here. This is a very exciting and upbeat club banger! G-Dragon has taken that perfect dance-track formula and manipulated it to keep with his own style and attitude.
It has a certain similarity to some tracks by female American rapper Nicki Minaj. If you listen to her songs ‘Starships’and her more recent hit ‘Pound the Alarm’after listening to GD’s song, I’m sure that most people will be able to see a slight likeness. This made me a little sad at first, but once again, the song managed to grow on me anyway in such a short amount of time and it became much less of an issue for me. GD shows off his ability to rap with incredibly fast speed in some of the verses and it is a seriously impressive thing to behold. I feel it shows his great amount of versatility as an artist, especially when one also considers his ability to sing so well in a lot of his slower songs.
He once again raps of his wealth and the fact that he has “swag” for the majority of the song, but he also shows off a little of his humour in his apparent ‘fan-boying’over female Korean celebrities like Jun Ji Hyun. He also acknowledges things like the fact that he is a “pretty-boy” (or as he pronounces it: “Purr-dee boy”!), which may have been used as an insult towards him in the past.
The MV for this song is so great! In my opinion, it’s the best that GD has ever come out with. I was a little worried that it would just involve him draped in bling and jumping around like a strange Hip Hop ‘gangsta’ type, but it ended up be so fun, silly and bright instead. It really illustrates the feeling of the song and I don’t think anyone will be able to watch it without smiling at least once!UK Potential 5/5: I am rarely as sure of the potential success of a K-pop song in the UK as I am with this one. The recent success of PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ in the UK has further bolstered this opinion. I think that there are people from every culture that could relate to this track’s sense of fun.
Track Three: Without You (Feat. ?? of new YG Girl Group)
Whoever this girl group member is, she has a very unusual-sounding voice and has a clearly very wide vocal range. I loved how GD sang lines in the first part that were later echoed by woman. Her voice has a distinct originality to it and I think it matched GD’s soft voice very well here. The girl’s part is fairly short and I found myself disappointed by this. I guess this is exactly what YG and G-Dragon were aiming for when they planned to feature her on the track!
Many people have been so excited to see what this new girl group will be like after enduring YG Entertainment’s teasing for so long.
I think this song, along with the fact that another member has featured in GD’s MV for ‘That XX’, has only added fuel to the fire. The opening lines: “Love is painful, all the love is painful…” initially made me think of how a cheesy song from a musical starts, but the line “…but the pain is beautiful, the same as you” is so heartfelt that it shut me up instantly. Overall, it’s a sweet song that makes you feel pretty sad, but you can really feel a sense of love that the two personas have for each other.
UK Potential 3/5: This song is full of great vocal talent, but as I say with a lot of K-pop ballads in the album reviews, I don’t think it would have a lot of success in Britain unless GD was an already established artist here. I’m not sure that it would grab enough new listeners’ attention to get enough success.
Track Four: That XX
This song has shown a great amount of success even despite its restriction for minors placed on it by YG Entertainment. These were restrictions placed because the ‘XX’ is actually an insulting swear word that is also mentioned in the chorus of the song.
Predictably, this generated an awful lot of interest around the song and I remember being a little cynical when I heard about it myself. I thought it was just going to be G-Dragon’s way of being a controversial rapper and get people to kick up a fuss about his work, but when I heard this song and looked up the English lyrics translations, I saw that this wasn’t the case.
The song and music video for are so beautiful ( I LOVE GD’s fashion throughout) and the use of the swear word really adds powerful emotion. GD sings to a woman who will not leave a man that treats her badly no matter what anyone says. He pleads with her to leave him and for her to notice that there are others (specifically GD) that could be with her and treat her well. G-Dragon’s vocals are so amazing and he slows his rap flow enough to sync it with the overall feel of the song perfectly. It’s very acoustic and stripped-back sound really shows that G-Dragon is able to tackle many different genres of music, which is something that is almost expected of the talented artist nowadays.
On EatYourKimchi’s music video analysis of this track, they mention that the fact G-Dragon plays both the characters of persona singing the song AND the ‘XX’ boyfriend may show that GD is actually fighting inside himself.
He may actually be the ‘XX’ boyfriend that treats the one he loves badly and he may actually be pleading with her to break up with him rather than another man.
This made so much sense to me after I thought more about it more and I think it is an interpretation that makes you look at the track in such a different way. It gives it many more levels than you might have not noticed at first.
Watch EatYourKimchi‘s video on ‘That XX’ here.
UK Potential 3/5: I think UK listeners would appreciate the deep, emotional message that GD is communicating and also the clever way he has presented it in the MV. However, it isa very soft song, which may mean that it could be overlooked by people that are not prepared to think more about it.
Track Five: Missing You (feat. Kim Yuna of Jaurim)
When I first heard who was featuring in this song, I was thinking: “Kim Yuna? The figure skater?!” But then I found out it was actually the vocalist from an Indie band called Jaurim that has been active since around the mid-90s.
As you may have guessed, I am not very familiar with the group, but Kim Yuna’s vocals in this song are so lovely. This has actually become one of my favourite songs of the entire album and the hook-line: “Maybe I’m missing you~” has been firmly planted in my head for the past few days.
The track has a similar flavour to the work of the British band The Beatles and is very cheery and happy-sounding, even despite the fact that the song is about missing someone you love. This upbeat sound makes even less sense when you look up what the lyrics are actually saying. The persona sings of a past love that they regret letting go, about feeling lonely and wishing that they could turn back the clock. Even though the message and sound are seemingly in conflict with one another, I feel that a music video for this song would focus more on the happy memories the now separated couple once shared. In that way, happiness is shown – albeit a rather melancholy one.
UK Potential 3.5/5: I reckon that because this song is ever so slightly reminiscent of the Liverpool-based band The Beatles’ sound could possibly mean that UK listeners will find it relatable and familiar. I also think that a lot of people will be singing along to the chorus every time they listen. However, I think the bouncy sound may also work to put some listeners off instantly.
Track Six: Today (feat Kim Jong Wan of Nell)
Once again, GD has enlisted the help of a vocalist that one would probably not expect him to duet with.
In this song, Kim Jong Wan (lead singer of rock band Nell) sings in a very high pitch which is very impressive for a male to hit. He manages to sound very sweet and angelic and actually takes most of my attention for the majority of the track.
It’s not that I dislike GD’s parts, but I personally don’t think it is the best of what he can do. This song is upbeat in quite a cheesy way. If fellow BIGBANG member Daesung had been the one to sing it, I would not have batted an eyelid. However, I have personally never been that much of a fan of cheesy upbeat songs. On the other hand, this is yet again showing that GD is an artist that has many colours on his pallete. He is able to try his hand at so many different genres, but they all have a great amount of his personal touch. Kim Jong Wan’s parts give the song another level and are beautifully contrasted by GD’s rough rapper’s drawl.
UK Potential 2.5/5: I’m not really sure if this song would go down well with listeners here as it is, as I said, a little cheesy. However, the lyrics are about forgetting everything and living life to the full, which I think a lot of people from the UK would like (who doesn’t like that?!).
BONUS TRACK: Light It Up (Feat. TABLO and DOK2…)
This track is only made available as part of the physical album, so only the fans that have bought the album rather than downloaded the tracks from iTunes will have it. The song is what I call a ‘dirty’ Hip Hop track. I don’t know if I have picked that phrase up from somewhere unintentionally or if it is just something I have made up myself, but what I mean by this is that it has a very ‘old-school ghetto’ vibe to it and a very heavy beat.
You do not have to speak a word of Korean to know the message of this song. It oozes confidence in every note played and word rapped. The song has a really unique particular sound that grabs your attention as a listener, it is a kind of squeaky tune that manages to set it apart from all other songs from this genre. The hook-line (“bul butyeobwara” meaning “Light it Up”) and GD’s “didididididididididi” are so catchy that you may find them implanted in your head even after the very first listen.
As you may expect, the song lyrics are about telling other rappers that they have nothing on GD, TABLO and DOK2. The three rappers recall how they have been put down during their careers by people that they feel are not even good enough to be looking down on them.
The one thing that annoys me about this song is its sheer level of arrogance and over-confidence. I know that the act of bragging is seemingly intrinsically linked with rap culture, but personally, I can only really tolerate it if it is done in a cheeky way and even then it quickly becomes tiresome for me to listen to. I just do not really like immodesty in anyone and I think that music can be a great vehicle for getting important messages and opinions into the public domain – so why waste it by only feeding your ego? Despite this, the three rappers are very talented at what they do and their voices go really well together. I think this song is one that could be very much enjoyed by a Western audience.
UK Potential 4/5: This song is quite American-sounding with its ‘dirty’ Hip Hop flavour. I think a lot of British people would appreciate its ultra-cool vibe. The only barrier I could see for its success here would be the fact that it is in the Korean language instead of English.
Upon first seeing this album packaging, I’m sure a lot of fans laughed. I mean really, it has been made to look like the Bible! At first I was thinking: “Is he comparing himself to Jesus? Or perhaps his lyrics to the words of God?” and then I just thought: “Maybe he is just being G-Dragon.”
The rapper has gotten into a lot of trouble over his creations in the past, and I kind of expected the fact that he mimicked the design of a holy scripture for his work to have ruffled a few feathers. However, no one seems very bothered by it thus far, so I don’t think it is seen as a big deal by anyone.
You can get the album in either a ‘Bronze’ or ‘Gold’ version; the designs featured on both are very intricate and beautiful – made up of patterns and detailed drawings of animals like leopards and horses. All this, combined with the use of black and gold in the colour scheme results in a very stylish and chic look.
The product is bulky a quite large and, as is common among K-Pop albums, the materials used look to be of a very high quality. Buyers will also get a poster and the usual extras which you can be sure will be interesting to see thanks to GD’s ever-changing and unpredictable fashionisto ways!
I think a lot of G-Dragon fans will be happy with this album. As I have mentioned repeatedly throughout this review, GD has given quite a complex mix of genres for us to listen to here. It is safe to say that G-Dragon is an artist that doesn’t want to be pinned down to any particular image or music style. He seems to be someone that is very open-minded and experimental when it comes to his projects, which is something that needs a lot of courage in a career where you are constantly judged.
Even the most die-hard of VIPs and GD fans may find songs that they dislike here, and equally, people who do not usually like anything GD does may find themselves pleasantly surprised. Overall, what I can say about this album is that it makes for interesting listening.