The boy band is more than an East Asian staple, it’s a perennial tradition. Where the Western mass of dancing, lip-synching, and be-costumed man-children have long since grown up, discovered sex, and reaped the benefits of young teenage girls’ expendable incomes only to devolve to made-for-TV C-list movies and the hope of a lucrative reunion, East Asia has clung to its boy bands like the last lifeboat on a sinking ship; V6 is turning fifteen years old, but instead of politely handing the torch of chart dominance to its more youthful offspring, they have donned the mod-suits, angled haircuts, and dour temperaments of the serious, refined (but still hip!) gentleman in their latest promotional video for “GUILTY,” their neutered, mostly-in-synch dance steps the only traitors in their quest for relevance as they shimmy to their graves.
Though the turnover rate for boy bands isn’t as large in the East, there is the occasional competition. With a flood of overseas Asian pop finally invading the shores and record stores of Japan, a large number of these contenders are Koreans, keen on sharing a piece of the second largest music market in the world’s pie, and eating it, too. Big Bang, formed in 2006 by YG Entertainment, may have everything you need for a successful boy band (edgy, occasionally bizarre fashion choices, requisite staple “personalities,” attractive mug shots), but they also have the least important component on their side: quality music. Quality being a relevant term, that in this case, denotes a straddling of the line between surprisingly good and not completely horrible.
Their second full-length Japanese-language album, BIGBANG, teems with all the correct formulas: there’s the fashionable auto-tune, shouts and catcalls that mark the backbone of the genre, usually by G-Dragon (the loudest and most popular disposition who has finally been given a solo outlet to perhaps quiet his roaring ego), occasional harmonies, raps, and a distant smattering of quasi-italo disco vibe (“Bringing You Love” in particular) that renders the hip hop safe, fun, and accessible, curving the average “danger” level of tracks like “Emotion” and “Top Of The World” that try to be hard and somewhat threatening, from mild to lukewarm. That’s not to say the tracks aren’t good – when you throw everything at the wall of music crazes, things will eventually stick. As a result, the arrangements hit the pulse of tail-end 00’s pop without leaving any tricks hidden up their sleeves.
To say the album isn’t “classic,” that in fifteen years it will simply be a product of its time, a sort of early 21st musical fossil, is tired and useless; whether classic or kitsch, every album inevitably bears the mark of its production year. In fifteen years, the most important thing won’t be if this album has aged well, but that we remember Big Bang at all, before they were dressing in smart suits and crooning stuffy ballads.