Weekly Playlist: Study-friendly K-Pop

It's Friday night as a write this, but right now I literally have a mountain of schoolwork lined up for my weekend. I have reports to put together, entire novels to analyze, 2/3 of Foucault's Discipline and Punish to read (TT_TT) -- senior year is not cutting me any slack. So now's a good time to write about some of the songs I'll be listening to quite a lot this weekend, and over the course of this school year -- my study playlist!

I'm a literature major so obviously I do a lot of reading, but half of the time I read really boring texts -- I need music that won't distract me, so I have a few requirements for songs on my study playlist. First, they have to be perky or high-energy enough to keep me awake through the night and all the way until early morning. For this I usually lean towards perky, fun pop or spunky pop-rock. EDM/Dance music is a no-no because it doesn't keep my brain awake! And second, the songs also have to be complex in their simplicity -- they have to be "regular" enough that they don't distract me from reading, so that means it has to follow the standard pop song structure and there can't be any surface-level sonic juxtapositions (no "Rising Sun"s or "Ain't Nobody"'s for me when I study!). But they also have to have a strong sense of dynamics and they shouldn't be too one-dimensional, so usually the songs are simple arrangements with very strong production.

At the end of the day though, my main requirement is that I actually like the song I'm listening to. Sure I listen to music to keep me awake, but I also put together a playlist to make studying more enjoyable. So every single one of the songs on this week's playlist are songs that I genuinely enjoy listening to -- songs that I think are proficient, maybe even outstanding.

Because who says you can't listen to K-Pop while studying?

SNSD - "Beep Beep"
"Beep Beep" is my go-to song for when it's really late and I'm about to collapse from exhaustion from studying -- it fulfills every single criterion I have for a study song, and it also has a really pretty melody to boot! The arrangement is sharp, the dynamics are pronounced, and the instrumentation is very perky -- there is a lot of repetition, but they come in short enough bursts that it doesn't drag out. The same goes with the melody because on one hand, you have the extremely perky and repetitive hook, but on the other there are these girly, perky but flowing melodic lines at the verses and the first part of the chorus. "Beep Beep" is sickeningly cute done right.

Infinite H - "Fly High"
If "Beep Beep" keeps me awake, for some reason "Fly High" is what wakes me up and keeps me concentrated. This is what I listen to when I have to read or write at an inhumanely early hour, or if I'm tired from classes but need to pull an all-nighter. I attribute this to the duality of "Fly High"'s arrangement. The instrumentation is sparse, the production is sharp and the choice of instruments is similar to "Beep Beep," -- it's not too heavy that the dynamics are lost, but not too boring either that it becomes a drag. On the other hand the rap verses, the timbre of the rapping itself, contribute a sense of urgency and intensity to the "chill" instrumental, and the melodic hook is a familiar contrast to the rap on two levels -- melody against rap, and female melodic lines against male rap verses. "Fly High" is unassumingly intelligently-executed, and it's such a joy to keep listening to.

Ga-in - "Bloom"
As I said earlier and as you may have already noticed I listen to a lot of well-produced perky pop when I study, and Ga-in's "Bloom" is another one of those songs. It's perky, it has a relatively sparse instrumentation, and a very catchy melody. What also helps with "Bloom" is the fact that the hook isn't just in the melody, it's also in that guitar riff/hook at the beginning of the song and that's repeated throughout. This works in two ways -- first in that the catchiness is consistent throughout all aspects of the song, but also that the quirk of "Bloom" is easily identifiable so you don't have to concentrate on every single little detail to understand what's happening (and instead I can concentrate on my work!) to get the gist of the song.

Ailee - "Shut Up"
Aside from being one of my all-time favorites from Ailee, who is one of my favorite K-Pop acts, "Shut Up" keeps me awake because of the sheer strength of Ailee's vocals on this song and the graceful force of the arrangement. Again, it's not over arranged -- you can really hear how the instruments work with each other. The dynamics of the arrangement mirror and accentuate the dynamics of the vocals -- they're synced with regards to transitions, but the arrangement also allows Ailee's delivery of the melody to stand out.

10cm - "Nothing Without You"
I've also observed how I gravitate towards strong melodies -- songs where most of the action is in the melody. I don't listen to that much outside of mainstream idol K-Pop, but 10cm's "2.0" and their second EP got me through most of last semester precisely because their melodies are strong, their production sharp and their arrangements interestingly quirky. They have their fair share of perky tracks ("Don't Let Me Go" and "근데 나 졸려" are my favorites!), but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that even their slower tracks like "Nothing Without You" were interesting and well-produced enough to keep me awake! I assume it's because of the extremity of "Nothing Without You" -- it starts off with just a haunting piano line and a graceful melody. And the build-up is so gradual that the shock comes from realizing that the climax sounds nothing like the beginning. Instruments are literally added one by one -- first the guitar, then the drum line, then the melody intensifies as well. So it's another duality at work because on one hand, it's interesting enough an arrangement not to bore, but on the other it's gradual enough not to shock or disturb.

Jaejoong - "Dear J"
What I like about "Dear J," and why I think it will be a staple on my study playlist this year, is that it's loud but not noisy. It's a high-intensity song for a reason -- it's not just a bunch of random sounds thrown together. There is a sense of dynamics to the intensity, a sense of musicality to the loudness that's very important to the appeal of "Dear J." This is a song that's intense enough to wake me up, but interesting and active enough to sustain that effect. Loudness is best heard and most evident when it's juxtaposed against quietness, and that's exactly what "Dear J" does. Whenever I listen to this I feel like I want to either hit something, or study the life out of my readings out of angst.


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