One thing that I will always find fascinating about K-pop is the fact that its music industry is so systematized and organized in a way that is vastly different from mainstream music. It has different sets of principles and processes which may come off as confusing especially for fans of the new generation. One of the confusing stuff new fans or even old fans may still encounter are the different album types. If you’re a follower of Western music, you may be familiar with ‘albums’ and perhaps ‘extended plays’. However, in K-pop, it’s more complex with the inclusions of ‘mini albums’, ‘repackages’, and more.
Let us take a fast look at the differences and similarities of K-pop’s different album types.
Usual Album Inclusions
Before we tackle the different types of albums, we’ll first discuss whatever all these albums have in common (aside from the music in the CD, of course) in the physical aspect. K-pop albums are very unique because of these specifications, and most fans buy albums only for the sake of getting these stuff. Every album may express more unique ideas, but these three are the most common specifications of every K-pop album.
Photocard – A photocard is a hard card with the picture of the certain idol/artist. If the album is from a soloist, the picture will essentially be the soloist’s. But if the album is from a group, which member’s photocard you may get is all by chance.
Poster – A poster in every album purchase is also common in K-pop. They differ in size but you can always hang it wherever you want.
Photobook – This is a book… of photos. It’s simply a book containing all concept photos shot for the album’s promotions. Usually, the photobook also contains the track list, credits, and some messages from and for the artist(s).
As mentioned, some artists take this way more seriously and creatively that they incorporate unique concepts into their albums. For instance, VIXX‘s Chained Up album contains “slave contracts”, following the group’s slave concept. Meanwhile, Gugudan‘s Chococo album has a “golden ticket”, following the group’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory concept.
Definitely the most common album type out there is the mini album. A mini album consists of around five to seven songs that may range in music genre. A mini album usually has the title track and at least one ballad/slow track. Some mini albums also have intro songs, which last for around one minute, and instrumental versions of the title tracks.
Studio album, otherwise known as full-length album, is less common than mini albums in K-pop. These albums may have eight or more songs and a wider variety of music as compared to mini albums due to its larger amount of tracks. Intro tracks and instrumental versions are also more often seen in this type of albums.
It’s unusual for K-pop groups/artists to debut with a studio album, and only few had done so, including Lovelyz’s Girls Invasion, Winner’s 2014 S/S, and KARA’s The First Blooming. Another thing I’ve noticed about some studio albums is that they usually contain title songs from mini albums/single albums that were released prior to the said studio album. For example, miss A‘s second studio album HUSH, which was released in 2013, contains tracks Touch and I Don’t Need A Man, both of which were title tracks from prior mini albums Touch and Independent Women Pt. III.
Having many number of tracks may also open doors for groups with many members to show their individual talents through solo/sub-unit songs. INFINITE’s Season 2 and Golden Child’s RE-BOOT have solo songs from main vocalists and sub-unit songs from the remaining members, which showed their talents in different types of music.
Studio Album Repackage
Just as its name suggests, it’s a repackaged version of a previous studio album. It actually goes without saying that in K-pop, after a studio album usually comes a studio album repackage. This type of album adds two to three extra tracks on top of its original album and is released with a new title song. For example, INFINITE’s Be Back is the repackage of Season 2. Season 2‘s title track was Last Romeo but when it got repackaged, two more songs were added (Back and Diamond) with Back as the new title track.
Mini Album Repackage
While mini albums are more common than studio albums, mini album repackages are very unusual. Just like studio album repackages, these are albums which add two to three more tracks on top of its original mini album, with a new title track.
Single Album vs Digital Single
The main difference of single albums from the other types of albums is that it only consists of two to four songs. If there is only one song, it’s not a single album but a digital single because they won’t have a physical album to be sold in the market.
For example, BESTie debuted with a song titled Pitapat. It is a digital single as it isn’t accompanied by any other tracks and it has no physical album sold. On the other hand, Lovelyz‘s single album Lovelinus consists of three songs and sold physical copies of the album. Additionally, the same group released a digital single titled Wag-zak!, which was only released online.
Digital singles are common in groups from not-so-well-known companies. These companies usually work on a smaller budget and can only afford a single song, so their groups/artists only debut with a digital single.
Mixtapes are like albums, but are released not for the purpose of selling but solely for showing the music to people. They can be like mini/studio albums, but are not sold in the market and is rather released online for free through music streaming sites like Soundcloud. These are self-produced by the artists and are most likely by hip-hop artists/boy group rappers.
Kihno albums are quite techy and new. This may come in either single, mini, or studio albums. The way it differs is that you play the music not by using a CD, but using the Kihno device and a gadget with a Kihno player and earphone jack. Note that no album is released only in Kihno format; it’s just like a different version or variant of the original album.
Technically, the device doesn’t contain any audio files at all. It’s sort of a key that if you put to your gadget, it will grant you access to the music of the album through the Kihno App which you will have to download prior to use. While this format may seem quite unnecessary since streaming sites like Spotify or YouTube music are readily available, many fans still buy Kihno albums for the sake of the album’s specifications and for the sake of collection.
Not all K-pop albums come with a Kihno album variant; only selected companies including SM Entertainment, DSP Media, and Jellyfish Entertainment are affiliated with Kihno.
If you’re new to K-pop, you may be confused to these different types of albums so I hope after reading this article, you will understand its similarities and differences. It may be very confusing at first, but it’s quite simple and easy to comprehend.