by Rachel of The Kpop Writers’ Workshop & newest writer for Asia 24/7
I’ll be honest: I was a little more excited for Orange Caramel’s comeback than I was for Girl’s Generation’s or 2ne1’s. Don’t get me wrong, I like both groups, and I definitely was eager for the two to come back with new music and styles, but I, like many people waiting for the groups’ album releases, was a little worried. 2ne1 and Girls’ Generation are seen as some of the top girl groups of the Kpop industry, and there was a lot of expectation for both groups to do well, especially 2ne1, who were coming back from a three year break from their last mini-album. A lot of expectation can lead to a huge let-down, and I was worried that this would happen to both releases: they would be hyped to up to be amazing, and end up being just mediocre.
Orange Caramel is different. Unlike the other two groups, Orange Caramel’s musical style has consistently been the same throughout all of their releases. There really isn’t any room for worry when it comes to Orange Caramel, because I know that their comeback will just be more of the same stuff: crazy outfits, a nonsensical MV, high-pitched vocals, and a song full of bright synths and energized beats. While Girls Generation and 2ne1 continuously improve on and/or change their musical styles and concepts, Orange Caramel stay stagnant throughout all of their releases. So why doesn’t Orange Caramel change their style? The answer is simple: because the public doesn’t want them to.
Orange Caramel falls into a concept that not many girl groups have: the “quirky” concept, as I like to call it. They aren’t overtly sexy, like After School and Girl’s Day, but they aren’t an aegyo-filled group either, like Secret or Apink. Rather, Orange Caramel strives on offering a fresh alternative to the many stale concepts that other groups come out with every week. They focus less on good vocals and more on creating a catchy song with a weird but funny MV and outfits that most people would be scared to wear in public. They simply aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves, and it’s due to this that Orange Caramel is able to receive love from the public. Most people even agree with the fact that they even more popular than After School.
As of now, there are really only two girl groups that have mastered this quirky concept and have gained lots of popularity: Orange Caramel and Crayon Pop. Both groups have been able to succeed with this concept both nationally and even internationally, as Lady Gaga just announced that Crayon Pop will be the opening act for her new tour. Industry representatives from major companies such as YG Entertainment have stated that they enjoy Crayon Pop’s music, and Heechul from SM Entertainment said on JTBC’s “Ssul Jeon” that he was anticipating Orange Caramel’s comeback more than Girl’s Generation or 2ne1’s. If these groups have been receiving achieving high success with this concept, why is it that Kpop has not had a quirky girl group wave yet? Here are a couple of reasons that I have come up with to explain this phenomenon:
1. The risk is too high
By trying to make themselves different from other girl groups, those who try to debut with a quirky concept are putting themselves at a higher risk for failure. It’s a lot easier to go the safe route with a generic sexy or cute concept, because there’s bound to be some group of fans who will eat that up. But when a girl group tries to go outside of the normal Kpop-sphere, there’s a good chance that no one will pay attention to them because they are too weird, or because their song isn’t that good. Orange Caramel may be popular, but they still haven’t reached the top-tier of girl groups. Likewise, Crayon Pop released three singles with not much success before their “Bar Bar Bar” fame. In addition, there’s a chance that while a group may release a song that ends up being popular, their other singles will not achieve the same success, and the song may become just a one hit wonder. As Crayon Pop is gearing up towards their comeback after the huge success of “Bar Bar Bar”, they are also facing a large amount of risk. If their new song is not as good, or sounds too similar to their other one, they might not be able to maintain their popularity.
2. Not using members’ full potential
As said before, girl groups with quirky concepts have a tendency to focus less on vocal and dancing talent. Since the songs should be catchy above everything else, vocal ability doesn’t necessarily come in to play. Similarly, the dances are simple and easy to follow along to, leading to dance covers of all sorts. You probably won’t find a dubstep breakdown/dance break in an Crayon Pop song anytime soon. While these ideas definitely help in maintaining the simplicity and the popularity of the concept, they don’t give the members room to show off their skills. Lizzy and Raina in Orange Caramel are vocally talented, but due to the nature of their music, they are forced to sing everything in the upper register of their voice. The same can be said for some of the vocalists in Crayon Pop, like Way and Choa. The quirky concept brings not only a waste of potential talent, but also potential criticism from netizens, due to the fact that the vocals just don’t sound that good.
3. Quirky concepts can’t really change
There is a reason why Orange Caramel and Crayon Pop haven’t changed their concept to a sexy or overly cute one. As was previously stated, netizens like quirky groups because they give a breath of fresh air compared to the stale releases from other girl groups. Because of this, if Orange Caramel and Crayon Pop were to revert to say, a sexy concept, they would most likely be met with generous amounts of backlash from both the national and international community. This means that if a group were to debut with a quirky concept and become popular, they would need to find a way to create the same time of music with every release without becoming boring. Orange Caramel and Crayon Pop have luckily been able to avoid criticism on their similar-sounding releases, but there is a chance that netizens may soon find them boring after a long period of time.
With the debuts of so many girl groups in the past couple of years, there’s no doubt that the industry is starting to become unoriginal and stale, as so many groups have been releasing music with the same styles and concepts. Quirky girl groups can bring a relief to all the blandness in the industry, but they face more problems and may not become as popular as other groups that conform to the standard, which is why there is a lack of them in the Kpop-sphere. Orange Caramel and Crayon Pop are both fun and interesting groups, but I hope they will soon be joined by others who aren’t afraid to branch out from the narrow concepts of Kpop.