Fans of Korean music in Singapore responded rabidly to K-pop Night Out, a showcase of the genre put on by the Music Matters conference. Held at the nightlife district of Clarke Quay under huge metal and molded plastic umbrella-like canopies, the 6-band event engendered the kind of response from fans usually reserved for tours by huge stars.
RhythmKing (Room 24 Entertainment), a guitar-driven act, provided a bouncy opening set of urban soul. Their funky riffs offered a new take on the idea of K-pop. Clayton Jin, Director and CFO of Billboard Korea, notes, "This event was set up to showcase the diversity of Korean music. What a lot of the international fans of K-pop think of as the genre is really only one segment of it." The five-member group features vocalist Burnkey, known for his collaborations with celebrated Korean artists, such as Epik High. The band's guitarist Junsu Kwon, aka RhythmKing, won the Electro section of the John Lennon Songwriting contest in 2009.
While the crowd responded warmly to RhythmKing it became instantly frenzied and surged forward when boy band BTOB hit the stage. The idol group is produced by the Korean management company Cube Entertainment, who oversee popular acts Beast and 4 Minute. Though BTOB has yet to have the profile of those outfits, the Singaporean fans seemed to already be enamored of them and the constant shrieks from female fans would have led one to believe the unit already had worldwide hits. In fact, BTOB released its first EP in April of this year and Born TO Beat (Cube) has moved around 30,000 units according to Billboard Korea.
Electronica act Clazzi (Fluxus Music) offered a solid electro-house set, helping the crowd settle into a smooth dance mood after the craziness of BTOB. Jin observes, "To be sustainable K-pop is going to have to offer more than one type of music," and Clazzi's deep grooves added a nice counterpoint to the idol-driven Korean act.
The final slot was reserved for Drunken Tiger, a hip-hop act made up of Korean-Americans Tiger JK (born Seo Jung-kwon) and his wife Yoon Mirae (aka Tasha Reid). The band snared the Best Rap Album for the 2010 Korean Music Awards and that release, Feel gHood Muzik: The 8th Wonder (Jungle Entertainment), has sold around 160,000 units according to the label. Jin relates, "Drunken Tiger is the godfather of rap in Korea, they really pioneered the genre there." Tiger JK brought the energy but it was his wife's flow that mesmerized everyone. Yoon is clearly on the rise as an artist. Her 2011 digital single "Get It In" feat. Drunken Tiger sold around 1.8 million digital units according to Billboard Korea.
Tiger JK related to Billboard that his position as a go-between for US GIs and locals in Korea led him into hip-hop. "I was living in an area of Korea near a US base and there were a lot of misunderstandings between soldiers and locals. As a bilingual person who understood both I had to step in and mediate. I realized hip-hop is a way to bridge the gap."