The Real Deal

I think KPop might have been a passing fancy for my jaded ears if not for this quartet. In just two short years, the remarkably prolific Mamamoo has emerged from the small incubator of Rainbow Bridge to capture the hearts and ears of music fans from Asia and beyond. Relying on a formula of retro sounds from jazz, 60's R&B and 80's synthfunk blended with a dash of hip hop, Mamamoo has dazzled both young and old audiences with their powerful vocal performances that include effortless harmonies, sleek dual leads and crisp solos. As this is written, they are currently the toast of Seoul, having risen to the top of almost every chart and music show with their punchy, brassy R&B hit "넌 is 뭔들 (You're The Best)."

Most KPop girl groups have a lead vocalist to hit all the high notes and do the supposedly ad-libbed riffs at the key points of a song. One of the many things that sets Mamamoo apart is their having not one but three outstanding vocalists that rival some of the most accomplished voices in KPop, including the remarkable Kim Taeyon of Girls' Generation and Sistar's Hyolin. They are the group's leader, Solar (Kim Yong Sun), along with WheeIn (Jung Whee In), and Hwasa (Ahn Hye Jin), the maknae. Completing the quartet is Moonbyul (Yi Moon Byul), the group's rapper. Unlike the vast majority of girl groups, MoonByul's main duty is rapping and sings very little, usually during group vocals. Every Mamamoo song is highlighted one of her spunky rhymes, usually used to build the song to a tension-and-release climax as in the eSNa collaboration "Ah Oop!" or the stylish "Piano Man."

Each of the three voices are distinctive and its easy to tell by ear who is singing each part after watching a few of their videos or live performances. Solar has a rich, warm and powerful voice while Whee In's voice is crisp and sparkling, unmistakable, capable of surprising runs. Hwasa has the most expressive and husky voice, and is usually the member who handles any of the shouting parts that Mamamoo often employs as part of their magnetic stage presense. When the three of them come together to harmonize, sometimes with Moonbyul contributing, they have a sound that is uniquely... well... Mamamoo.

They clearly love performing and combine both a joie de vivre and esprit de corps that is infectious. Unlike most KPop groups (again), they often make changes to their songs to match the venue and keep their fans on their toes. One of their most famous examples of this Mamamoo live factor is the humorous and ingenious "hits medley" they surprisingly inserted into a live (with band) performance of their debut hit "Mr. Ambiguous" on the program "Sketchbook." It was so popular that they devoted an entire number to it in their next visit to the show, an unlikely mashup of classic KPop bubblegum, interpolated with Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk" and the background and rap from their own "Um Ah Oh Yeah," polished off with their eminemesque rap hit "1cm (Taller Than You)." Nobody does this stuff quite like Mamamoo. Watch for yourself here. Their penchant for covering other artists' music in live performances, especially during visits to radio stations, is also another enjoyable part of the Mamamoo experience. Among their favorites (or mine) are Primary's "See Through" and the English girl group Stoochie's "Love Me." (A sanitized version of their brazen "Fuck Me.") Their appearances on the KBS program "Immortal Songs" (like this one, "Backwoods") are legendary and have endeared themselves to an older audience along with their evergrowing legions of young "MooMoos."

They're talented, charismatic, energetic and prolific. It's going to be fun watching this group grow and evolve over the years.

Girl Group