From The New York Times:
In the video for “Crooked,” the K-pop star G-Dragon — effortlessly lissome, his hair Warhol-white — does a lot of running, some staggering, some mean-mugging, some dancing and a little aggressive flirting.
But mostly he changes clothes. He cycles through at least two-dozen outfits: a tight cotton-candy-blue double-breasted suit; a drapey leopard-print top; a distressed black motorcycle jacket; a huge black fur coat with a face dyed on the back; a tattered white punk T-shirt with tight chain-festooned jeans straight from Trash and Vaudeville.
The song? The song is fine.
These are the trade-offs sometimes required in K-pop, a genre that plays fast and loose with visual excess, a tendency that has only served G-Dragon, the most electric member of the long-running boy band BigBang, well.
“Crooked” appears on the recently released “Coup D’Etat” (YG), the second full G-Dragon album and the first since he emerged as the genre’s style vanguard. At its best, K-pop is gloriously synthetic, and G-Dragon is a miraculous canvas to work with. He morphs easily into almost any style, he moves with panache and confidence, and he has a perpetual sense of theater about him. His is a version of pop stardom all but abandoned in this country.
Peak G-Dragon came last year in the form of “Crayon,” a pneumatic-intensity thumper with a Southern rap backbone. The song was gleeful chaos, and the video was a cultural treasure — hilarious, dizzying, and full of retina-frying explosions of color.
“Crayon,” which appeared on the EP “One of a Kind,” set an almost impossibly high bar. Nothing on the sometimes ambitious, sometimes comfortable “Coup D’Etat” bests that, although the album does show G-Dragon trying a range of styles. “Black” is mellow early-1990s R&B, and convincing. “R.O.D.” opens with roots reggae and ends up with neutered dubstep, the sort of song the reconstituted No Doubt could be making. “Runaway” has some of the shriek of 1980s arena rock. And “Niliria” samples a Korean folk song before shifting gears into fire-alarm-urgent club music.
Throughout, G-Dragon is a slithery presence — he doesn’t leave as much of a mark on the ear as the eye. He’s got a reedy voice that is typically made even more needling with digital manipulation. His singing is thin, verging on cute. His rapping, though, as with “Black” and “Niliria,” is nimble and bouncy, and has a faint outline of tension — his emphases fall in all the right places.
Whether K-pop needs American saturation is open for debate. It’s done relatively well here without much effort — top acts have begun to play arena shows, thanks to fan bases cultivated largely online. But “Coup D’Etat,” though largely in Korean, is perhaps the K-pop album with America most heavily on its mind and in its credits, thanks to a clutch of collaborations with American stars. Diplo and Baauer produced the title track, which has a couple of echoes of Baauer’s “Harlem Shake,” this year’s unlikeliest pop hit. Sky Ferreira sings on “Black,” a little blankly, as is her wont. And Missy Elliott continues her quixotic comeback campaign with a jubilant, slightly lazy verse on “Niliria.”
G-Dragon has no American male pop-star equivalent; the closest in recent memory would be Justin Timberlake from peak-era ’N Sync. His malleability is more reminiscent of female stars like Lady Gaga, Kesha and Nicki Minaj, all of whom are as much about the packaging as what’s inside. Ms. Elliott may be the inadvertent blueprint for K-pop’s polyvalent aesthetic, futuristic and borrowing widely. (She and G-Dragon performed “Niliria” at a convention in Los Angeles last month.)
Much of the time K-pop is importing pop ideas from here, although its splicing of them into something different is unique. It’s a surprise that the recent song interpolating Rick Ross’s “Hustlin’ ” doesn’t come from G-Dragon but rather his far tamer BigBang band mate Seungri, on “Gotta Talk to U,” from his less imaginative EP, “Let’s Talk About Love.”
Occasionally all that borrowing can reveal a glaring lack of context. A couple of months ago G-Dragon posted a photo of himself in black face paint to Instagram, causing a small firestorm; later, a representative said it wasn’t meant to be blackface, but was part of a photo shoot in which he wore several colors of face paint.
It was a rare misstep in presentation for G-Dragon, who appears far more mindful of how he looks than how he sounds. But he’s capable of exciting musical synthesis, and the more he lets his appearance inform his music, the better off he’ll be. Before long, it’s likely the borrowing will be going in the other direction, with the world learning from him.