Despite officially debuting as leader of boy band BIGBANG in 2006, 25-year-old G-Dragon has lived over half his life in the K-pop industry. And as the title to his new album may suggest, “COUP D’ETAT” (the French term for “coup”) is about the Seoul native overhauling what fans expect from him and turning to music, and emotions, he wants to express.
For example, on paper a G-Dragon collaboration with Diplo and Baauer might lead fans to expect a genre-blending, wacked-out banger. The actual result, the title track to the LP, is a dark, trap-inspired thumper that sees the K-pop star announcing: “People, the revolution will not be televised / The revolution is in your mind / The revolution is here.” A bold statement to kick off an album that enlists surprise guest features and addresses intimate album topics.
That’s not to say G-Dragon doesn’t deliver something for longtime fans who love the hyperactive bangers that have gained him an international legion of supporters. Hybrid songs such as “GO,” a cross-pollination of rap and dubstep, and “Crooked,” a classic pop track that fuses heavy drumbeats and metal guitar riffs, show that the boy still knows how to create a true earworm.
But on “COUP D’ETAT,” GD is throwing in more sonic suprises and musical treats of the East and West. Missy Elliot collaboration “Niliria” samples vocals from the Korean traditional folk song of the same name over with heavy-hitting hip-hop enhanced with double reeds and sirens.
Another fascinating East meets West collaboration comes in “I Love It,” featuring Korean singer Zion.T and German DJ Boys Noize. The result is a smooth R&B-disco mash-up packing alien-like harmonies, vocal belting sections and electronica embellishments in one of the most-ambitious, yet still radio-friendly, songs on the record.
As well, “R.O.D.” features K-pop composer Lydia Paek (who helped helm K-Pop Hot 100 No. 1s such as 2NE1’s “I Love You” and Lee Hi’s “1,2,3,4”). The collabo is a dubstep thumper sprinkled with Carribbean timbales and an ominous choir.
“COUP D’ETAT” is a flare signal that behind “G-Dragon of BIGBANG,” there is an artist trying to branch out and discuss the pressures of living life as one of Korea’s most in-demand stars.
While it’s hard to believe that such a desired superstar would ever feel lonely, “Crooked” unveils GD’s vulnerable side — full of angst and despair towards a failed relationship. On the pop track, a future single, an emotionally-wrecked GD demands (in a mix of raps and singing) to be left alone as he will spending the night like a “crooked-minded person,” because in the end, he’s alone and doesn’t need anyone’s “sugarcoated sympathy.”
Album standout “Window” sees GD doing his best Drake impression, making his personal reflections accessible to hip-hop and pop fans alike. With melancholic ’80s synths (that recall Toto’s “Africa”) blended with tribal beats, anticipation is felt, sonically, as GD admits “This might be the last time, we say goodbye / This might be the last time, we say goodnight.” One can imagine the track capturing the K-pop superstar’s feelings leaving a potential love interest early in the morning because he needs to make an international flight. At the very least, G-Dragon’s “COUP D’ETAT” establishes that K-pop stars are no different than pop stars of the West and, really, no different than everyday people strugging with insecurities, relationships and proving one’s maturity perhaps just a bit prematurely.
While G-Dragon still has some growing up to do — like when meant-to-be emotional album moments fall flat (e.g. low-brow lyrics on the bass-heavy, Sky Ferreira collabo “Black” with “Someday when it all goes black / I might want it all back / but I know I can’t go back to you”) — “COUP D’ETAT” is an indication there’s more to be seen from the K-pop wunderkind than glossy videos, crazy hairstyles and easy-to-remember hooks.
G-Dragon’s “COUP D’ETAT” full-length album is out Sept. 13.