Styles: K-Pop, rap
Others: BIGBANG, 2NE1, GD&TOP
A Coup D’Etat was inevitable. In the K-Pop industry’s rush to repeat PSY’s unlikely horse trot to the top, hipster wish fulfillment was a shortcut too simple not to try. It’s true that hallyu’s colonial triumphs have been great and many, but South Korea’s top brass know full well that global pop hegemony will elude them if they can’t take America for good. And beyond the quadruple platinum fluke that was a (hip Seoul aristocrat’s) song-and-dance spoof of hip Seoul aristocrats, imperial overtures in the American mainstream have stayed modest. Time and again, domestic collaborations have proven a costly dead-end, ever since the Wonder Girls went on tour with the Jonas Brothers in 2009 — mostly because an Akon cameo or will.i.am feature places all bets on breaking into hit radio. Coup D’Etat’s shrewder tracklist, meanwhile, reads like YG Entertainment’s best guess as to what constitutes guaranteed blog bait in 2013: Diplo, Sky Ferreira, Baauer, Boys Noize, the long-missed Missy Elliott…. They’ve done their research.
Kwon Ji Yong, better known as G-Dragon, is arguably the best application for YG’s findings. As BIGBANG’s leading man, he’s the face of K-Pop’s supermassivest boy band, and his solo debut was Korea’s highest-selling album of 2009. He has an international legion of stans deep enough to exponentiate any promotional investment and broad enough that Coup’s guaranteed headlines won’t be the first time many Americans have seen his name. More importantly, Kwon’s creative involvement in many of his own hits — barely a consideration in Korea — ably satisfies Western notions of authenticity, as does his refusal to be heretofore-referred-to-as “product” in the faustian legalese that is K-Pop’s argot. And with proven chops as a songwriter, rapper, singer (check the falsetto), dancer, producer, fashionista, and all-around trendsetter, Kwon stands far apart from his more manufactured peers. In other words, he’s both a familiar paradigm and “one of a kind” — skilled, arrogant, and enterprising in all the ways American audiences have come to expect and reward.
So why isn’t Coup D’Etat likely to honor its name in any land not already in thrall to BIGBANG’s empire? The songs just aren’t there. Baauer donates some “Harlem Shake” suction to the opening title track as though already bored with it, which becomes inadvertent parody for all when the rest of the beat refuses to use it for anything (Diplo’s presence is all but inaudible). If Missy and Sky’s cameos sound like filler on their own terms, then the suspicion’s confirmed when each of their songs reappear without them for a very challenging game of spot-the-difference. Even Boys Noize’s feature on “너무 좋아” provides not the desired electro pick-me-up, but a tired Jacko dance routine instead.
Sadly, G-Dragon doesn’t fare much better when he’s the only marquee name in the room. Lasertag dubstep tune “미치GO” grates from the off, while the laminated distortion and cruise-control “driving beat” of “Crooked” sound like an anonymized “Stupid Liar,” BIGBANG’s 2011 hit. “Runaway” has an effective pre-chorus but otherwise suffers from the compound vices of late-80s hair metal and rote newjack swing. “Who You?,” a serviceable “This Love” retread that injects G-Dragon’s peculiar rewrite of yore with a little Jason Mraz, is both sub-average and probably the best thing here. Finally, the flagging victory lap “You Do (Outro)” rhymes “Kurt Cobain” with “Lil Wayne” with “BIGBANG,” grifting a scratch guitar track from Weezy’s rock album and sputtering atop it some hats found in the “trap” tag on Soundcloud.
In the end, Kwon’s failed Coup surprises mostly for the missed cues that could have made its guest star stratagem work. BIGBANG’s biggest hits offer plenty of intel: Kwon could have won the war just by inviting Pharrell to a “Café;” revisiting “Heaven” via FutureSex Timberlake and Timbo; getting Mike Will to remake “I Need a Girl;” shedding an extra tear or two on “Blue” with Drake; or recycling “Fantastic Baby” to make the Gaga collaboration it should’ve been. The crazy thing is, G-Dragon by now has the clout — and YG the petty cash — to have made it happen. No one would’ve even put up a fight.
01. 쿠데타 (COUP D’ETAT) (Feat. Diplo, Baauer)
02. 늴리리야 (Niliria) (Feat. Missy Elliott)
03. R.O.D. (Feat. Lydia Paek)
04. Black (Feat. Jennie Kim of YG New Artist)
05. 니가 뭔데 (Who You?)
06. 세상을 흔들어 (Shake The World)
07. 미치GO (GO)
08. 삐딱하게 (Crooked)
09. 늴리리야 (Niliria) (G-Dragon ver.)
11. 너무 좋아 (I Love It) (feat. Zion.T & Boys Noize)
12. You Do (Outro)
14. Black (feat. Sky Ferreira)