K-Pop Music Reviews: Epik High – Umbrella

Title: 우산 (Umbrella)

Release Year: 2008


“No clouds in my storms

Let it rain, I hydroplane into fame

Comin’ down like the Dow Jones

When the clouds come, we gone”

…No, no no no no! Wrong Umbrella!

This is “Umbrella”, a song from Epik High’s 5th album, “Pieces, Part One”.

Epik High is a 3-member Korean indie rock band. The three members are: Tablo, Mithra, and DJ Tukutz. As of 2011, the group is currently on hiatus due to both Mithra and DJ Tukutz enlisting in the army (which is mandatory in South Korea).

Even from the album cover, you can tell something's different.

Epik High is…well, it’s hard to encapsulate what Epik High represents in just a couple of words. A good way to say it is that they represent the rebellion; the rebellion of unhampered creativity and musical talent against the mechanized popular music-making process that is the current K-pop industry. “The Movement”, which is an unofficial alliance of Korean hip-hop artists, is led by Epik High.

Insofar as “mainstream” goes, it’s pretty hard to refute the fact that even though they are ostensibly “indie”, Epik High is as far into the mainstream as some of the idol bands are. It’s up for debate whether this immersion in popular culture should be criticized or praised; should they be cheered for successfully navigating the treacherous waters of the entertainment industry on their own, or should they be booed for “selling out” their indie roots and appearing on variety shows, talk shows, essentially “hawking their wares”, so to speak? Do they betray the very foundation of the Korean indie music scene, or are they simply the next evolution of it? It’s hard to say.

What’s easy to say, however, is that this song rocks.

Congrats. You guys rock.

I’ve always been a sucker for soft keyboard openings. And coupled with Younha’s angelic voice (she lent her talents to this song), well…let’s just say it’s hard to dislike this song from the get-go. Younha, by the way, is a fantastic artist in her own right. She’s one of the most prolific singers to date, and is active in both Korea and Japan. Unfortunately, as of yet I do not know anything about Younha apart from her name…something I will seek to remedy in the near future.

Sorry, Younha. Don't cry.

So thankfully, “Umbrella” has avoided the disease known as “skipping-song-after-first-ten-seconds-itis”. ‘Tis an infectious disease, that.

Remember what I said in my review about Big Bang’s  “Lies”? About how I disliked rap? That I considered it to be little more than overhyped talking?

I take it allllll back. All of it. I’ve changed my mind. Rap can be beautiful. Rap can be melodic, adventurous, soothing, calming, exciting, and adrenaline-rushing.

With a caveat. It has to be done by the right person. (American rappers, I’m looking at you. Pull your pants up and takes some lessons from these guys.)

Epik High is, without a doubt, the right person. Or the right people, rather.

In lieu of the usual thumping bass/guitar/drums that often accompanies rap, Epik High has eschewed these instruments for a more classical feel with string instruments couple with some not-too-overbearing drum beats. They complement the smooth voices of the rappers very well; this is definitely a case where the voices and the instruments work in harmony with each other without overpowering both of them.

I don’t usually talk about the music videos, but let me just say this: the art direction is superb. The simplistic watercolor paintings contrast with the grey-scale reality, creating this concept of yin and yang that neatly follows the lyrics.

Ah, the lyrics. One does not review a piece by Epik High without devoting some time to its lyrics.

Suddenly the rain has gathered at my feet
The tears that I held in are welling around my eyes
I cry

The sound of the clock in an empty room
The sound of the rain hitting the roof and my lips
The ring inside the coat I haven’t worn in a while
The gathering memory
The Seoul I haven’t seen in a few days
The gathered rain are like little mirrors
Within them I struggle because it hurts
Without you I’m like a chair with a short leg
The umbrella that was too small for the both of us
The umbrella that shielded us from the cold world
Now seems much too big and awkward
Your left shoulder always got so wet
I hang my head with the weight of the memories
My shoelaces are untied, undone
Now all thats next to me is the rain and wind (not there)
a person that will hold my umbrella for a while
and I cry
A puddle of rain has gathered around my feet
The tears that I held in are welling around my eyes
I cry

chorus
You are the umbrella above my head
The cold rain falling above my shoulders in night
You next to me has become a habit
I cant be without you
alone in the rain

The ground has gathered the tears of the sky
I can see the moon behind the star blocking clouds
The sound of lonely shoes echo down the alley
I turn around
Its just heart wrenching night
A shadow that looks just like me
The us that couldn’t see us
Are we two now?
The answer is lonely
The picture in my mind and my response is vague
The umbrella that was too big in my eyes
The umbrella I close facing the world that made me cry
The umbrella that I opened with the promise of forever
Under the now ripped umbrella are two hearts
I guess even though I turn you wont be there
I put my two hands deep inside my pockets
Even though I walk carefree
My two cheeks will easily become wet
Suddenly the rain has gathered at my feet
The tears that I held in are welling around my eyes
I cry

*chorus

I opened the door of my heart
you’re the umbrella above my head
You are my shadow, I am your shade
You’re the umbrella above my head
I opened the door of my heart
you’re the umbrella above my head
You are my shadow, I am your shade
You’re the umbrella above my head

Because you are not next to me
I waited outside with an umbrella
outside your house
I cry

*chorus

You are the umbrella above my head
The cold rain falling above my shoulders in night
The world is in two pieces without you next to me
you cant be without me
forever in the rain

(SOURCE)

*wipes tears* Oh, boy. And trust me, they sound 1000x more poetic in Korean.

I don’t believe there’s anything else that needs to be said about this.

5 stars out of 5.

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