It's not uncommon to find J-Pop influences in the giant melting pot of K-pop, but it's usually subtle.
You might hear an anime-esque guitar riff, or see your favourite girl group wearing a Japanese style school uniform, but that's generally as far as it goes. Groups that have tried to go full J-Pop, like the infamous Pritz (best known for their controversial ‘Nazi’ concept), often fail.
Two girl groups trying to buck the trend are rookies BONUSbaby and DREAMCATCHER, both of whom debuted this year with Japanese-inspired songs and concepts. The pair also share another common denominator in that they're both revamped versions of unsuccessful rookie acts from their respective agencies. Maroo Entertainment’s BONUSbaby has two members from the short-lived but underrated myB, and Happy Face Entertainment’s DREAMCATCHER features all five members from MINX, plus two new additions.
BONUSbaby’s first single, “Urikiri”, has been lifted directly from the Japanese idol pop playbook; cheerful teenage girls that sing with adrenaline-charged enthusiasm, a hi-NRG dance beat pounds as electric guitars and twinkly synths whizz by. It's the kind of song you’d find on an AKB48 album or anime soundtrack. It's admittedly a little jarring at first, if only because the brain needs a moment to switch from a K to a J, but it only takes a few spins to connect - then it's an instant happy pill.
The concept and music video are definitely inspired from chart-topping G-Friend, who themselves were influenced by Japanese idol visuals for their first few videos.
While BONUSbaby have gone with the popular, innocent concept, DREAMCATCHER have ignored the charts and gone for an Asian horror movie image that's rarely seen in K-Pop. Their first single, “Chase Me”, draws from heavy metal and visual kei, but in a very packaged, commercial way that still appeals to pop fans. Some of the more jarring and experimental aspects that are sometimes found in J-rock, like screamo vocals, are nowhere to be found, while the tight hooks and addictive melodies of K-pop burst forth at every turn.
DREAMCATCHER doubles down on the Japanese concept for the music video, which sees the group dressed in shortened yakatas (a type of casual kimono). Yakatas are often worn by the Japanese for casual events in the summer or trips to the bathhouse, but they can also be worn by the dead if folded a certain way. Judging by the “Chase Me” music video, in which DREAMCATCHER play scary schoolgirl ghosts who torment a mystery man, I’d say they're definitely channelling the funeral-wear side of the garment.
With all the cute groups out right now, I'm not sure if BONUSbaby will be able to stand out enough to break through the sea of rookies, but I'm more optimistic about DREAMCATCHER. Their talent is undeniable (just take a look at the razor sharp choreography from their live performances so far) and their concept is so unique that they're bound to start building up a fanbase in no time.