G-Dragon soars into the US market

STYLE VANGUARD: The tendency of K-pop to play fast and loose with visual excess has only served the theatrical Korean star G-Dragon well.


    Sep 17, 2013

    G-Dragon soars into the US market

    IN THE video for Crooked, K-pop star G-Dragon - effortlessly lissome, his hair Warhol-white - does a lot of running, some staggering, some mean-mugging, some dancing and a little aggressive flirting.

    But, mostly, he changes clothes. He cycles through at least two dozen outfits: a tight cotton-candy-blue double-breasted suit; a drapey leopard-print top; a tattered white punk T-shirt with tight chain-festooned jeans straight from Trash and Vaudeville.

    The song? The song is fine.

    These are the trade-offs sometimes required in K-pop, a genre that plays fast and loose with visual excess, a tendency that has only served G-Dragon - the most electric member of the long-running boy band BigBang - well.

    Crooked appears on the recently released Coup D'Etat, the second full G-Dragon album and the first since he emerged as the genre's style vanguard.

    At its best, K-pop is gloriously synthetic, and G-Dragon is a miraculous canvas to work with.

    He morphs easily into almost any style, he moves with panache and confidence, and he has a perpetual sense of theatre about him. His is a version of pop stardom all but abandoned in this country.

    Peak G-Dragon came last year in the form of Crayon, a thumper with a Southern rap backbone, which appeared on the EP One Of A Kind and set an almost impossibly high bar.

    Nothing on the sometimes-ambitious, sometimes-comfortable Coup D'Etat bests that, although the album does show the performer trying a range of styles.

    Black is mellow, early-1990s R&B, and convincing. R.O.D. opens with roots reggae and ends up with neutered dubstep, the sort of song the reconstituted No Doubt could be making.

    Throughout, G-Dragon is a slithery presence - he doesn't leave as much of a mark on the ear as on the eye.

    Whether K-pop needs American saturation is open to debate. It's done relatively well here without much effort. Top acts have begun to play arena shows, thanks to fan bases cultivated largely online.

    But Coup D'Etat, though largely in Korean, is perhaps the K-pop album with the United States most heavily on its mind and in its credits, thanks to a clutch of collaborations with American stars.

    Diplo and Baauer produced the title track, which has a couple of echoes of Baauer's Harlem Shake, this year's unlikeliest pop hit. And Missy Elliott continues her quixotic comeback campaign with a jubilant, slightly lazy, verse on Niliria.

    G-Dragon has no American male pop-star equivalent; the closest in recent memory would be Justin Timberlake from peak-era 'NSync. The South Korean star's malleability is more reminiscent of female stars like Lady Gaga, Kesha and Nicki Minaj, all of whom are as much about the packaging as what's inside.

    Much of the time, K-pop is importing pop ideas from the US, although its splicing of them into something different is unique. But G-Dragon is capable of exciting musical synthesis, and the more he lets his appearance inform his music, the better off he'll be.

    Before long, it's likely the borrowing will be going in the other direction, with the rest of the world learning from him.