K-Pop’s high-quality earworm songs, sharp choreography and charismatic performers have experienced a boom of global interest, spearheaded by record-breaking boyband BTS. But the focus on our side of the world is B.I.G, who are proving to be K-Pop’s next sensations.
Throughout the years, K-Pop acts have chosen to record songs in English. For a Korean act to cover a song entirely in Arabic is a rarity, making them a refreshing presence in the highly competitive industry. B.I.G is the next K-Pop group poised to cross over.
B.I.G — an acronym for Boys In Groove — was formally introduced in 2014, but it wasn’t until this year that Benji, Gunmin, Heedo, Minpyo and Jinseok grabbed our attention for their rendition of The5’s ‘La Bezzaf’, an Arabic song that got them praise from fans and from members of the Middle Eastern boy band.
The success of B.I.G’s version was followed up by another rendition of Abu and Yousra’s popular 2017 track, ‘3 Daqat’, featuring female singer Soya. This is all part of their ‘Global Cover Project’ in which they cover international songs.
It’s springtime in Seoul and B.I.G’s English-speaking member Benji just wrapped up his two-hour radio segment of ‘Music Access’ at Arirang Radio, which he has had since last November.
In the recording studio at the broadcasting station’s headquarters, Benji is remarkably candid and upbeat, ready to reveal all to Gulf News tabloid!.
When deciding what songs to cover, Benji and his bandmates wanted to find something that was a “little bit more unique” and that could “actually correlate to something that is called a ‘Global Cover Project’”, rather than the usual pop track or the latest hit song on the Billboard charts.
“Global does not mean a song that everybody knows. It could mean a song that is particular to a certain country, a certain region, or a certain language,” he says.
When the five members were going through tracks, they first found ‘La Bezzaf’. For Benji, the Arabic song was personally interesting for him. Having been born in America and raised on American pop and hip hop, he wasn’t familiar with K-Pop until he came to South Korea.
“You know, you hear the occasional ‘oh, this is Korean music’. But similarly, when I was listening to Arabic music, I didn’t know what to expect for the first time. You have ideas in your head, but then I heard The5’s ‘La Bezzaf’ and it was amazing,” Benji says.
“When it came to ‘La Bezzaf’, we were looking it up and this song really stood out as something that not only we could handle, but also it was a song that we thought we could kind of bring our own style too as well. So, when we started with ‘La Bezzaf’, we didn’t think it would get as much love and support as it did,” he continues.
For the group, Benji admits that starting off with ‘La Bezzaf’ was better for the band as the song makes it something that is “approachable” for them.
“Honestly, if we started with ‘3 Daqat’, I don’t know if we would have been able to do it as we did because that’s a much more difficult track in terms of like pronunciation and rhythm,” the singer says.
The main vocalist of the group confessed that although he loves ‘3 Daqat’, ‘La Bezzaf’ was one of the tracks that was “a gateway into other music”.
He points out that he manages to always listens to a wide variety of music, but in terms of getting absorbed in Arabic music it was definitely after recording and releasing ‘La Bezzaf’.
“To find something that you don’t know and then have that experience turn into something beautiful is something that doesn’t happen that often,” says Benji.
“We were also taken aback when we first heard what we were recording because as people who sing in Korean and in English sometimes, to hear ourselves singing in Arabic, it’s crazy. And to have people come through and say your pronunciation is good, is even crazier.”
It’s a well-known fact that K-Pop songs have few English lines, but singing a whole new language is a quite a challenge. For B.I.G, it took the quintet “so many times” to get the recording right, most importantly, the pronunciation, all with the help of a teacher by their side at their studio.
And B.I.G certainly got the pronunciation spot on and are bringing a new solid fanbase, known as Biginning, as each cover video racked up a total of 3 million views to date on YouTube.
“It’s crazy because that has more views than our music videos,” Benji says with a laugh.
“I think the thing that really took us aback the most was the fact that people loved it from the fact that people appreciated it as a culture,” he explains.
Viewers didn’t hold back their love for the video covers, evident from the rising number of views and messages coming from countries like Algeria to Egypt. The singer found it “very heart-warming to receive that kind of response”.
B.I.G went on to drop another Arabic song. As a thank you to fans, the all-male group released an Arabic version of their own Korean single ‘Hello Hello’. Benji admits that it’s “one of the best ways of showing an expression of gratitude” and “it’s something that you can understand in a way that is much more approachable”.
As for the Arabic language, not only does Benji find it beautiful but his members have taken their love for it to a whole new level, just after they released their renditions.
“They’re studying the language, they know how to read, they know how to write,” Benji reveals.
“I’m doing something else right now, a survival programme on the side called ‘Super Bad’. So, while my members have been studying Arabic, I haven’t really had the chance to participate in as many of the classes they have.”
Benji went on to add that if they get then opportunity to go to Arabic-speaking countries, his members would have a blast and hopes they’ll get the opportunity to show off their hard work.
As for coming down to the UAE for a concert or a visit, local fans might be in for a treat.
“Honestly, I’m not 100 per cent [sure] of the details, but from what I hear, they’re trying to work something out,” he says.
“So, given the chance would be super awesome. I know [B.I.G member] Minpyo really wants to try on like the turbans and the whole outfit [and] maybe ride a camel,” he adds.
A self-confessed foodie, Benji would like to experience all the food and even mentioned that they’d all like to fast for Ramadan for a day.
“If we’re going to do a global cover project, it should extend beyond ‘we sing different languages’. Experience the culture,” he says. “If you’re going to do something and you’re going to receive that much support, that’s the least you can do.”
As K-Pop spreads further into the western mainstream, there has been an increase interest in cross-cultural collaborations with K-Pop artists, seen with the likes of BlackPink and Dua Lipa, BTS and Halsey, EXO’s Lay, NCT 127 and Jason Derulo and more.
For B.I.G, it’s no different. Benji previously mentioned in an interview that he’d love to collaborate with The5 and its member Mohammad Bouhezza aka BMD. When asked about this pending collaboration or any other upcoming ones, Benji didn’t reveal too much.
“Of course, English will probably be in there as a bridge. But what if there was a section in Arabic and a section in Korean or something that’s totally in Arabic but it’s released in Korea under a K-Pop group? There’s endless possibilities about what could happen, which is why I’m saying I have no idea.”
What’s next for B.I.G? As for any upcoming music, fans will just have to wait as they are still working on getting something out there. They want to make sure that they are ready and it’s of good quality.
K-Pop acts thrive in their own right and are known for a particular concept. When it comes to what B.I.G want to be known for as a group, Benji jokingly says that “it’s six goofballs now because our leader [J-hoon] did go to the army but five goofballs” that show their true selves on the main stage.
In terms of music, it’s more of “someone who always was able to do whatever they tried to do,” he adds.
Benji thanks fans for the amazing support and response and adds they’d like to put on a performance in front of Biginnings when they get the chance.
“We kind of sing the stuff live, you know, it’s a waste to just have it online and I’m sure people want to hear it too.”