Hi folks, this is something I’m sure many of you saw coming, since I’ve been vocal about how much I love this group. This post is for all of those of you who might benefit from a pick-me-up. I’m not a big fan of Kpop, since I can hear the production tricks to make up for weak singing ability, like auto-tune, but these ladies have impressed me right from the beginning with their vocal talent. I don’t remember exactly when I stumbled on Mamamoo, but I remember being curious about this girl group with a weird name when I clicked on “Piano Man”. This sounds cliche, but these women have changed my life since that day. Their existence is the inspiration for what I’m currently doing: engaging as many communities as I can to catalyze the Korean music industry (not just Kpop) and showcasing the full beauty of Korean music to the rest of the world. Without further ado, I’d like you all to meet Mamamoo.

Full disclosure: I have listened to every single Mamamoo track, and know their Immortal Songs 2 performances by heart and what other artists say about them on that show. Almost all opinions presented here are going to be taken from my own experiences and from what people say about them on the Immortal Songs 2 show.

NAME MEANING & “CONCEPT”

Mamamoo’s name, as per interviews, came about because “mama” and “moo” are two of the most basic words that babies learn. In the same way, they want to approach fans organically and instinctively with their music. This, to me, was mind-blowing. Essentially, as an idol group, this means that their concept (something an idol group is centered around) is about being musicians. Let me repeat that – Mamamoo’s concept is music, not sexiness, not cuteness, girl power, what-have-you. They aim to be musicians that people want to listen to (I therefore have a hard time considering them as idols). Side note: I’m writing up a post, essentially redefining Kpop, where I challenge the ideas of idol worship and outline where I hope Kpop goes in the future.

Mamamoo's latest comeback

This video was quite controversial, since in the original version they had decided to change up the last of the four kiss scenes, which happened to be Solar’s. In the first three kiss scenes, the members initiated, and in the fourth, to change things up, Solar was to resist. Unfortunately, the way the scene was filmed gave off a sexual harassment vibe, and so the video was edited to take that scene out. Much love to Rainbow Bridge World (their label) for listening to the fans and taking swift action.

So, because I’m crazy, I decided to link their comeback stage. In suits.

The name of the album is ‘Memory’. The iTunes link is here, and Spotify is here.

Some fun facts before we get into the meaty stuff. Out of all the female idol groups (for comparison only) they rank one of the highest in terms of female fans. The normally observed phenomenon is that female idol groups have a lot of male fans, and vice versa, and Mamamoo breaks that notion, getting them nicknames such as the “Ultimate Girl Crush” and “Girl Power” concepts. They can sing acapella. They make medleys. They’re known for personalizing every single live performance, including embedding medleys in an older song. There are other versions of that medley performance, but that one’s my favorite.

Every member can sing well (yes, even the rapper), and if you don’t believe me, here. Actually, there were rumors circulating a while ago when they first became more popular, that Moonbyul can’t sing and that’s why she raps, and how she shouldn’t be part of the group. What those people don’t know is that she prefers rapping but she was originally set to debut as a vocalist, and she also helps write the lyrics to most of their songs as well as leading their choreography. Personally I’d love to see more of her work, such as this impressive cover of Crush’s 잊어버리지마 during their solo concert in August. On that note, they are the fastest group to hold a solo concert after their debut. That concert was sold out in under a minute, if I recall correctly. They also hold the record for fastest selling fan meeting in Korea, which prompted for a day 2, which also sold out in under a minute.

MAMAMOO ON IMMORTAL SONGS 2

These lovely ladies are the very reason I started watching Immortal Songs 2 – I was dumbstruck at how they sounded live in Music Bank performances, and came across songs I’ve never heard of, and even more amazed at how they performed there. From Wheein being basically a Korean Christina Aguilera, to Hwasa’s innate jazz vocals, Solar as the vocal anchor with her steady and clear voice, and Moonbyul being the rapper/low register of the quartet, they’re a blessing for the ears.

To someone, who at the time, knew only of Kpop because that’s what I was exposed to, I considered them the best group I’ve ever heard, bar none. Imagine my disbelief then when I found out they’ve only won 2 episodes so far out of their 8 performances, with one of them being the first part of a 2-part episode (which means they didn’t keep the trophy for that episode). That disbelief turned into curiosity as to who exactly could win against these ladies, and that’s when I started digging into the rest of Korean music and learned about all the other amazing singers in Korea.

The best part for me is that said other amazing singers in Korea all acknowledge Mamamoo’s singing ability. Since I watched the full episodes, I can share with you what happened after the performances. Of course, where’s the fun in just reading? Each dropdown is complete with the performance for that week, for your convenience.

Extra fun fact: To date, November 8, 2016, Mamamoo holds the highest winning score by an idol group in 2016 and is the only idol group in 2016 to have won an episode with all members present. In general, idol groups do not perform well on Immortal Songs 2 (more on this later).

First appearance: Composer Kim Yeong-gwang Special, English episode aired on January 31, 2015.

The performer they’re up against, with a respectable 407 votes, is Jung Dong-ha, former vocalist of legendary rock band Boohwal and currently #2 in terms of number of episodes won. They won against him with 411 votes, which is really rare for an idol group to do, and rare for even non-idol singers to achieve on their first appearance. They then go on to beat Hong Kyung-min, yet another seasoned veteran of Immortal Songs 2, before losing to a stellar performance by legendary rocker Kim Kyung-ho who scored 428 votes. Kim Kyung-ho ended up winning that episode, against yet another amazing singer, Son Seung-yeon.

KBSKpop version (KBSKpop doesn’t allow embedding, unfortunately)

That lineup is ridiculous and Mamamoo won against 2 of them before getting ousted on their first appearance. For an idea of how ridiculous that lineup is, Jung Dong-ha, Hong Kyung-min, and Son Seung-yeon were all on a record-holders’ special called the “Immortal Big Match” together, and Kim Kyung-ho generally scores over 415 whenever he performs. All in all, not a bad first impression, especially since all of the seasoned veterans were predicting that Mamamoo is the group to watch in 2015, showering them with praise regarding their incredible vocals and perfect performance.

Second appearance: The Late Lee Young-hun Special, English episode aired on March 7, 2015.

The performers they’re up against are 2 members of S, a project group made up of 1st generation idol group H.O.T.’s Kangta, Shinhwa’s Shin Hye-sung, and vocalist Lee Ji-hoon, with 396 votes, against Davichi. They won against S with 419 votes, 8 more than their previous performance, before facing off against yet another seasoned veteran of the show, Moon Myung-jin who scored 432 votes. Now, normally, 432 is more than enough to win an episode, but Moon Myung-jin ended up losing to VIBE’s Yoon Min-su who scored 443 votes, 4 less than the current top score of the show.

Again, ridiculous lineup in terms of talent/difficulty, and yet Mamamoo scored well, earning them compliments from the other artists regarding their singing ability and performance. They also revealed that after their first performance, they were recognizable to older audiences, showing that they appeal to a broader range than other idol groups (more on this later).

Third appearance: Kim Soo-hee Special, English episode aired on March 31, 2015.

The performer they’re up against is none other than the youngest record holder, Son Seung-yeon, with 428 votes. This woman is astoundingly good, to the point that she’s nicknamed “Beast Vocals” for how well she can sing. Her record is winning the episode on her very first appearance, which prior to her, no one has ever done before. In the interview after the performances Son Seung-yeon revealed that of the guests for that week, Mamamoo was the group she was looking out for. Son Seung-yeon wins with her 428 votes, before losing at the end to Park Ki-young earning 435 votes.

The people I didn’t mention in this lineup include legendary rock band Boohwal, talent show winners Ulala Session (who Mamamoo is said to be a female version of), and Homme, who I talked about previously in a different post. At 428 votes though, Son Seung-yeon was very close to winning the entire episode.

Fourth appearance: Baettaragi Lee Hye-min Special, English episode aired on April 25, 2015

In this case they performed first, and lost against Norazo with 392 votes. They earned a lot of compliments from the legend himself as well as the other guest artists even though they lost. Personally, the way they sang “The Way to Sampo” is one of my favorite performances of theirs, and 392 is a pretty high score for a first round. Norazo goes on to win against Lee Jung and Kim Young-ji, before losing to the #1 record holder, ALi with 407 votes. ALi faces off against g.o.d.’s Kim Tae-woo and loses to his 428, which secures him the episode win after he also beats 15&.

Fifth appearance: Adapted Songs with C'est Si Bon Special, English episode aired on September 12, 2015

After a recent comeback with “Um Oh Ah Yeah”, they came back and performed first again on this 2-part special. After their performance, first generation idol group S.E.S.’s Bada and g.o.d.’s Kim Tae-woo complimented them on being able to sing in harmony while dancing, with Bada going so far as to say that they’re not just a dance-pop artist group, which I’m taking to mean that she doesn’t think of them as an idol group. They competed against Rooftop House Studio, a talented rookie duo who made a name for themselves with their singing and dancing, winning with 361 votes. They go on to beat fusion couple duo Poppin’ Hyun-joon and Park Ae-ri, before losing to 2BiC who scored 385 votes. 2BiC ended up winning part 1 of this 2 part special.

KBSKpop version (KBSKpop doesn’t allow embedding, unfortunately)

Sixth appearance: The Late Bae Ho Special, English episode aired on November 14, 2015.

In this performance, they’re up against Yurisangja’s Im Se-Jun who scored 368 votes. It’s their first performance where they focus entirely on vocals, mixing a ballad arrangement with a traditional singer, earning them a lot of praise from the other artists for how well their vocals mixed with the arrangement and the traditional singer. They scored 404 votes with that performance, winning part 1 after beating the last performer for the week, 90’s ballad singer Kim Hyung-joong. They lost to Bae Ki-sung who scored 412 votes at the beginning of part 2.

That version of “Backwoods” is yet another of my favorite performances because of how heart-wrenchingly beautiful their rendition is, especially after I saw what the lyrics meant in the English version (I saw the Korean version first, which airs 2 weeks ahead of the English version).

Seventh appearance: Min Hae-kyung Special, English episode aired on March 12, 2016.

Harkening back to their second performance on the show, Mamamoo faces off against Moon Myung-jin once again, this time with him having 403 votes. They end up winning with 419 votes, and defeating 2BiC, before ultimately losing to Stephanie from The Grace by 2 votes with her 421.

My favorite part of this performance, aside from Solar belting for almost 10 seconds (count it!) and the lovely harmonies, is that Min Hae-kyung herself during the post-performance interview/chat that she sings Mamamoo’s songs at karaoke, specifically Piano Man.

Eighth appearance: Yoon Soo-il Special, English episode aired on May 14, 2016.

Ah yes, this one. Their current latest performance, and they were up against none other than living legend Kim Jong-seo and seasoned veteran Hong Kyung-min, packing 416 votes. If you’ve been keeping up to date so far, you’ll know that Mamamoo has a hard time of breaking 420 votes, hitting 419 votes twice in their 7 older performances, making a win pretty unlikely considering the bar.

With that said, I was especially happy to see that they scored 433 votes, which ended up securing them the win against even seasoned veteran Lim Jeong-hee and top rock band Rose Motel. I like the post-performance interview as well, since Yoon Soo-il’s first words were the title of their newest song at the time, “넌 is 뭔들 (You are the Best)”, and said that he’s a fan.

MAMAMOO: IDOL GROUP?

Now for the controversial piece: Is Mamamoo an idol group, or not?

I think not, and here's a simple reason why:

For a singer, their songs are the product and the singer is merely the deliverer of the product, whereas in the idol industry, idols are the product and the music is a by-product.

This is why idol groups have a hard time winning on Immortal Songs 2, since the show is geared towards delivering compelling performances by the singers, instead of appealing to the audience with looks. Instead, I would say that Mamamoo is an artist quartet that’s marketed similarly to idols, but at their core they are singers/non-idols. This is very important because they can set a precedent for future groups.

For further proof, from a small scale as well as from the internet, there are many people who proclaim to not like Kpop but are also avid fans of Mamamoo. Their fans include very well-established artists and people featured as legends on Immortal Songs 2, from composers to legendary singers.

ABOUT MAMAMOO’S LABEL

Now, of course, none of this would be made possible if not for the vision of the label. Kim Do Hoon in particular is the producer behind all of Mamamoo’s hit songs, from their debut song “Mr. Ambiguous” all the way to the main song “Decalcomanie” from their latest album, ‘Memory’. If my research is correct, he founded WA Entertainment back in 2012, before it merged with Rainbow Bridge Agency in 2014, and a subsequent rebranding as Rainbow Bridge World (RBW) in 2015.

What’s remarkable about this label is that it’s not a big label like the big 3 (SM, YG, JYP) entertainment companies, and their approach is decidedly much more progressive than the bigger labels. The other artists in their lineup include hip-hop trio Phantom, of who the most famous member is probably Sanchez, who performs a lot with Verbal Jint, as well as hip-hop duo Geeks, vocal quartet Vromance, soloists eSna and Berklee College of Music alumnus Yangpa, and rapper Basick. I mention the lineup because often, the identity of a label is influenced by the artists it produces, with the big labels in particular focusing on a separate niche of music (at least for me). For example, SM Entertainment is most well known for their ballads and nowadays, EDM tracks, while YG is known more for club music, and JYP is pop rock and experimentation with things like reggae.

Given that, RBW’s identity seems to be focused a lot on strong vocals – prior to Yangpa joining the lineup, they already housed eSna (a jazz singer/songwriter I wrote about), Vromance (where each of the 4 members were vocal trainers prior to debut), and you should really check out Sanchez’s songs. Aside from the strong vocals, there is a lick of jazz thanks to eSna, and a taste for hip-hop due to Phantom, Geeks, and Basick. Due to the talent in the crew and in Mamamoo, they’re able to put all of those together to come up with the artistry that can be heard in Mamamoo’s songs.

MAMAMOO’S FUTURE:

For me, I see Mamamoo being potentially big enough in the future to affect change in Kpop, along with other talented artists such as Ailee and Eric Nam, to name just 2 of the roster. On that note, I went to KCON New York to watch them live, and they sound better live than they do in the studio. My only criticism (WHAT! A fan criticising the group?!?!) is that once they become more comfortable with English, they’d be able to really showcase who they are on the international stage.

I’ve seen a few clips of their interviews in Korean, and they have so much personality that it hurts to see how shy they get when they have to communicate in English. At the concert, I saw it multiple times, especially when they had no translator on stage. The funny part there is when they realized that English wasn’t going to cut it, they switched to Korean and they were able to let their personality shine (and the crowd actually understood the Korean words they were using, so it worked out).

Bonus: Following Mamamoo was Day6, a band signed under JYP Entertainment. They sounded good live as well, so I ended up thinking it would’ve been nice to see a collaboration between them. The thought had barely crossed my mind when this performance happened.

Day6 X Mamamoo - KPOP Medley

Forgive the audio quality, I think it suffered when Mnet was managing all the screaming.

My wish for them, aside from staying healthy, is to become more comfortable with English so that it’s easier for the rest of the world to see how incredible they are. It’s not about performing in English, but more about being able to converse in English. Unfortunately, we can’t expect everyone to learn Korean to be able to communicate with these artists, so on top of their busy schedules (and I know at least some of them are aiming to do this anyway), learning how to converse in English would be quite good for the group.

If you want proof about how good they sound live, here’s a good recording.

Yes, they used a live performance as a music video. This is actually the third they’ve done, “Angel” and “Dab Dab” (their 2 subunit songs) were also done this way. Don’t believe me? Listen to Solar’s voice crack when she cries. It’s live.

Last, but not least, even Billboard is paying attention to these lovely ladies. The article’s a nice read, for those of you interested in finding out more about their studio songs.