Indie groups are an interesting phenomenon in that they can go from complete unknowns to massive hits in a matter of a few good, publicized songs. This year’s breakout indie group in South Korea is the female duo Bolbbalgan4, known alternatively as Red Cheeked Puberty. The group consists of vocalist Ahn Jiyoung and Woo Jiyoon, who alternatively plays the bass, raps, and provides sub-vocals. They are undeniably talented and a personal favorite musical discovery of the year. So without further ado, let’s take a look at how they went from nugu to national hit in a matter of weeks.
Bolbbalgan4 had featured in a few OSTs back in 2014 for the Kdrama Misaeng. However, the female duo didn’t make their official debut until 2016 with the half album Red Ickle. The album dropped in April of this year and their full album Red Planet followed with a late August release date. But there was little buzz until Bolbbalgan4’s performance on Yoo Hee Yeol’s Sketchbook on September 10th. The scenario isn’t an unfamiliar one, with K-indie group Hyukoh making a similar rise to fame last year when they performed on the popular show Infinite Challenge.
The song that skyrocketed these ladies to fame is the bright, whimsical folk song “Galaxy,” which you can listen to below. Following the Bolbbalgan4’s appearance on Sketchbook, “Galaxy” shot up the charts, all the way up to the number one spot on Melon to eventually hit the roof. Currently, the track has already surpassed well over 100k likes on Melon. And it’s still camped out in its cozy little spot in the top 20 of Melon, even with digital juggernauts like Park Hyo Shin, Davichi, and Twice to challenge them during the day and BTS’s fangirls streaming the Wings album at night.
One of the most compelling thing about Bolbbalgan4, aside from their beautiful folk ballad discography, is Jiyoung’s voice. Her tone reminds me a little of IU’s girlish, sweet vocal color – which is interesting given how much Koreans enjoy IU’s music. But Jiyoung’s voice still is distinctly her own and it really brings the duo’s songs to life. It seems strange to say, but Bolbbalgan4’s music, though heaven to the ears, is also capable of painting a visual for the eyes. It’s whimsical and fresh and honestly just so lovely.
In a combination of my two favorite K-artist discoveries of the year, Bolbbalgan4 covered DEAN’s song “D (Half Moon)” during a recent appearance on Kiss the Radio. There’s few things more musically satisfying than hearing two of your newfound loves combine in a performance like the one below, so I’m utterly delighted by this cover. Though I won’t deny that it made me a bit greedy for more Bolbbalgan4 and DEAN crossovers in the future.
I wholeheartedly recommend anyone remotely interested in K-indie to check out this talented duo’s full album Red Planet. In fact, even if you’re not into K-indie, I still recommend it. Featuring a whopping total of 10 complete songs, the album is a cohesive and balanced collection of absolute gems. Some songs are distinctly brighter than others, but even the sadder ones have a replay value that’s hard to always find across an album. To plug a personal favorite of mine in their discography, I’ll make a special mention of the tenth song, 사랑에 빠졌을 때. It’s a powerful and beautiful end to a flawless album and one I wouldn’t want anyone to miss. Bolbbalgan4’s Red Planet as whole is without a doubt a standout Korean album of 2016 for me. So it’s all I can do to recommend you take a half hour or so to listen to this masterpiece.