As producers, songwriters, and choreographers of their own performances, the twelve members of South Korean boy group Topp Dogg are everything but average idols. If you haven’t heard about “kpop” by now, other than the torture of Gangnam Style a few years back, let me give you a brief introduction: Apart from being a pop music genre usually preformed by pretty idol groups in matching outfits, it is also a multi-billion dollar industry that dominates the entire Asian entertainment market. The recipe for creating successful idol groups is built on a system where teenagers are scouted at a young age by entertainment agencies, and then put into a trainee program for a few years, until they are ready to debut as well-rounded performers. To artistically be involved in the work is not expected from idols, and as long as the final product sells. But, with this in mind, this article is not really about Kpop – or at least not according to the South Korean boy group that I’m interviewing.
“We actually prefer not to be called Kpop idols,” says Kidoh, who is a part of the hip-hop group Topp Dogg, where he is one of the main rappers, as well as producers. “I mean, yes it’s true, we are active on the mainstream kpop music scene, but we are also different than many other idol groups. We are part of creating everything related to our work – from producing music, to choreographing stage performances.”
With 12 members in total, equal numbers of main rappers, singers and dancers, the group makes a powerful impact when seen all together. Still, the fans manage to quickly get to know each individual member, because of their unique style and role in the group.
“Of course we are all singers and dancers, as we do the performances as a group, but we have fields of specialty depending on our individual backgrounds” says Yano, who is one of the main rappers. “And it’s in our special areas we are mostly creatively involved.”
“Naturally, the rappers write the rap lyrics, and the dancers mostly do the choreography work, and so on.” Says P-goon who is one of the main singers and also the leader of the group. “Kidoh and Gohn are the main producers in the group, but everyone else is developing their producing and writing skills as well.”
As we are talking I get curious about what they were doing before debuting as Topp Dogg, as I realize they must all have quite different backgrounds.
Kidoh starts, “I was, and actually still am, a part of an underground rap crew. Before I didn’t really think about becoming an idol, but after a while, trying to make it on your own, you realize how competitive the music industry is. If you want to make a name for yourself and work with what you love, the safest bet if is to make it on the mainstream music scene and then see where that leads you. But being a part of Topp Dogg, surrounded buy others who are just as passionate about their work as I am, is very rewarding.”
Gohn who is also a producer and songwriter in Topp Dogg says, “Before I was a part of Topp Dogg I was active on the indie music scene here in Korea, and into more experimental stuff. I didn’t think that the kpop scene would fit me, but since we have a good deal of creative input, I feel like I can express myself in much the same way. ”
“I always wanted to become an artist,” says Hansol, who is one of the main dancers and choreographers in the group, “but especially dancing has been my passion since I can remember. Debuting as an idol is a way to get to do what I love.”
Having listened to several of their songs I notice that something that stands out is the influence from difference music genres that they have mixed into their hip-hop based sound.
“We always want to try something new”, says Bjoo, one of the main dancers, “For each single we release, we develop a concept for both music and performance, along with a story. For example in the song Top Dog we mixed classical and modern. The story behind the concept is the famous conflict between Mozart and Salieri. We got really inspired by watching the movie Amadeus, so you can see these influences in everything from outfits to music video – I play the part of Mozart and Hansol plays Salieri.”
“For the song Arario,” Jenissi continues, “We mixed hip-hop with traditional Korean influences, both in music and fashion. We hope this makes both the songs and performances more interesting.”
Topp Dogg has especially many foreign fans, and have already been on tour around the US and South America, and are currently planning their Europe tour. I ask them why they think so many fans in countries outside of Asia are interested in them.
“I honestly have no idea! It’s interesting, but we really don’t know why. Maybe you should ask the fans that?” Hansol laughs.
A-tom, who is one of the main rappers continue “We really loved going to the US and South America. The fans were so excited to see us – some were even crying! It was surprising to see that they already feel so close to us, it was very touching”.
“Right now we are planning and preparing for our concerts in Europe at the beginning of September,” says Hojoon. “We will be preforming in London, Paris and Milan.”
“To meet our fans there will be amazing,” says Jenissi. “They are usually so far away from us, so this will be such a great opportunity to see their faces up close for the first time.”
As they are talking about their fans and how quickly the fans get to know each member in Topp Dogg, even though they are miles apart, I ask how that is possible.
B-joo answers, “Other than connecting with our music, I suppose they also get to know our personalities through TV shows and things like that. For example, apart from our official YouTube channel where our music videos are, we also have a channel called “On Air Stardom” where we upload more like behind-the-scenes videos, and videos of us just playing around being stupid,” he laughs. “So that way they can get to know us better. All the videos also have English subtitles.”
Catch Topp Dogg during their European dates this September!
3rd September, 2015, 7:30 p.m – Teatro Dal Verme, Milan
4th September, 2015, 7:30 p.m – Troxy, London
6th September, 2015, 7:30 p.m – LE COMEDIA, Paris