Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mellowyel's List of K-Pop Notables for 2010

Party like it's 1999!!!

We're at the end of the year! I don't know if I'm happy or sad it's over - I've got mixed feelings here. Anyway, I did have one reader request/suggest an end-year post (thanks McRoth!) so here are Mellowyel's Asian Pop Notable Awards!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

SMDH: Mellowyel Rants about Girl Groups

So I was going to do a top ten things I liked in k-pop this year, but then I was watching the SBS Gayo Daejun and got mad for a number of reasons, so this is going to be an angry girl rant. Excuse my while I get my soapbox...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who Are All These White Chicks? GD&TOP's “High High” MV

The hype has set in, sleep has been lost, late night rants have been posted and VIPs have been waiting with bated breath – finally, the first stage of the Big Bang comeback cycle has arrived with GD&TOP’s “High High” MV.  And there are a TON of white females in it. More after the jump.

For a general discussion of non-Asians in Asian music videos, check out my post on the topic here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

GD&TOP Premiere Event: Sleep-Deprived, But Intrigued


So with a new boost in the time department (by a couple of hours), I decided to stay up and watch the GD&TOP premiere event last night. I couldn't live-blog it because my internet connection was just barely fast enough for the stream to not stutter and spit like crazy, but I made some notes on my phone that I'll now share with you. Pardon the random comments  - it was 3am.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You Ain't Never Heard One Way Like This Before

One Way are newbies to the Korean music scene, debuting in March of this year, but they are already pwning most of the competition with their remarkable talent and smooth contemporary R&B sound that is for the most part missing from the K-music scene. They're finally releasing their first official album on the 22nd(!) but decided to grace us with early Christmas present - an acoustic, English version of the lead single, "Rainy Days", complete with video. Their English skills are great, making this one a song you can recommend to your friends who don't listen to Korean music.

I absolutely love this song, and it's been on repeat since the video dropped yesterday. It's a heartfelt song about heartbreak, and a testament to good songwriting that you can feel all of the emotions with just a guitar, voices and some rain sounds. One Way have surpassed their previously released material with this song, and I expect their album to do the same when it drops. Apart from Christmas, this is the thing I'm looking forward to the most this month. This and GD + TOP's album release :D

P.S. I might have a little awards ceremony for the end of the year - all the other bloggers do it, so I should do one too right? If I have time, and if at least one person who reads this blog says they want me to, I'll make it happen.

Some Utada for Your Week and Weekend

Hey everyone! This week won’t have a proper midweek music post because I’m in major study mode for the next two weeks. But, I will share with you one of a few great gifts I got this week – a friend of mine sent me Utada Hikaru’s Heart Station album from 2008. Let me tell you right now – this album is amazing. It was extremely successful at the time of its release, and rightfully so. It’s got a beautiful electro-pop-soul vibe throughout that perfectly complements Utada’s dreamy yet powerful vocals. I don’t even know if I’m making sense right now – today isn’t an eloquent day - so I’ll just let you listen to it yourself and hopefully you’ll hear what I’m trying to say about this.

Japanese music companies have a strict hold on video websites so I couldn’t find all the tracks from the album, but please enjoy what’s here (and ignore the anime/manga tributes if that’s not your thing). And if you are so inclined, buy the album! Amazon and YesAsia both have it for around $16-17, and there’s a digital iTunes version for $7.99. Expect more Japanese stuff to pop up on the blog – I’ve found the Japanese electro-pop group on and I’m finding some amazing artists. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thoughts on Kanye's Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Wanted to say a few words about Kanye's new album, as I'm currently streaming it and deciding whether I want it in my music library. I feel like I should, since I have pretty much every other Kanye song in my iTunes, but if that's my first and only reason for wanting this album in its entirety, then Houston, we have a problem.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Midweek Music List - Thanksgiving Edition

Hey everyone! I've got another playlist for you guys. I've been busy, and will continue to be busy, so I won't be able to do much else than compile playlists for you once a week for a while, but I'll try to be consistent with this at least until I find more time. Happy Thanksgiving for those of you who live in the US! Today's playlist is what I consider to be a holiday playlist, as it's mostly mid-tempo R&B stuff (in Korean) that you can play in the background while you stuff your face with good food =) Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Midweek Music List!! Yay!!

[Managed to get it out in time for the Wednesday lunch break! Yes!]

Hey everyone! I'm back again with a short music playlist for you guys. Last week was kinda dull music-wise, so I decided to wait until I found some good stuff before posting. So here it is! All Korean music this week - I only have a couple of songs to review, but each one has a related song which is equally awesome. So I've reviewed one track in each pair and posted the other track as a follow-up on the playlist. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

JYJ's Mini Album "The..." - Lest We Forget

So recently, the three now ex-members of Korean superstar boy band Dong Bang Shi Ki (DBSK/TVXQ/Tohoshinki), Jaejoong, Junsu and Yoochun, released their international English EP, "The Beginning." The general consensus on it was, "Yay that the boys are back but the songs could have been better, especially the lead single." I decided then to go back to find their first real release as a trio, the Japanese EP titled The... to remind myself (and anyone who stumbles across this blog post) that our boys are still capable of making quality tracks. Check them out after the jump!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Midweek Music List II

Here again! More music from myself. A number of goodies this week - I've tried to keep the comments short so you can get back to doing whatever you're supposed to be doing, and included the songs as a playlist so you can listen as you work or over your lunch break or whatever. Let's go!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

SNSD - Hoot MV

This is going to be a short post. Basically, I disliked this song when I first heard it. Bored me to death. Then it started to grow on me as the week went on. Now, seeing the video, I understand why SM chose this as the lead song. And, I might even be happy about it. Basically, with this song, SNSD has matured, leaving the cute and saccharine behind, hopefully for good. If "Gee" was their cute pre-teen phase, "Oh!" was their teenage phase and "Hoot" is when they've finally become young women in their twenties, which is what they are (but you'd never know!). And that, I can get with. The video isn't amazing, but I love the choreography and I appreciate Choi Siwon's hot self making an appearance. The mini-album wasn't bad either; that is, I actually listened to more than one song all the way through, and liked one of them. This is a big step for me as I have severely disliked any song other than their lead single since they debuted. Dare I say, I might be becoming an actual SNSD fan? (gasp!?) Okay girls, I'm onboard. Just... no more cutesy Christmas songs. They make me puke. Thanks.

Random side note: I am older than every single member of this group. Does that weird me out? Yes. It also makes me feel bad that I earn less money than them despite having gone to college. What is my life?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Nicki Minaj - "Check It Out - We Speak Korean!" (edited)

Okay, Nicki Minaj and I love Nicki - she's extremely talented, and is probably one of the few quirky black women in the American music industry to have the amount of success she's had in her short career - I think she can open up doors for other black female performers with new ideas to move up in the industry. I find her constant quoting of Asian cultures interesting, but I was confused when everything in this video was in Korean. I thought,  Isn't she a fan of Japanese, not Korean culture? This intrigued me enough to do some research on the video and the inspiration behind it, and I found some pretty cool stuff. Check it out after the jump.

Midweek Music List

So my dear blogger friend Eccentric suggested I post some of the awesome music I've been listening to recently, so I figured I would :D I may make it a regular thing, I may not - Let me know! I listen to a ton of new music every week (too much, if you ask me) and occasionally I find some real gems. Here are the five top songs of mine that I discovered last week:

1. Sunwoo ft. 4Men - Eyes Nose Mouth

What can I say about this song apart from, it's amazing?!?! I absolutely love it. Pace changing in songs usually does not agree with me, but somehow it works in this one. It's got a lovely R&B/soul bent that really appeals to me. Plus all of the singers are killing it! This is the lead single from Sunwoo's debut EP, Harmony, and can I just say I love her voice? It's as beautiful as it is versatile - you have to listen to "Nella Fantasia" to really appreciate it. Her voice is unique among most k-pop singers in that she's a soprano (do you hear those Mariah Carey notes in the last chorus? damn.) as opposed to a tenor, and it blends perfectly well with the 4Men guys, who do well with the higher registers as well. I'm seriously falling in love with their voices, especially the guy who does the ad-libs in the last chorus (need to learn their names!) Epicness would be seeing all of them perform this live. If I saw that in person, I might die happy. Definitely my most-played track of the last week.

2. Psy - Right Now

Coming in a close second is veteran performer Psy's "Right Now". I absolutely love the music video for it's fun, I don't give a *bleep*, let's dance! feel and Psy's hilarious antics. Also, eagle-eyed YG fans will notice that it's chock full of YG dancers, who I have to say are an attractive and supremely talented bunch. Actress Seo Woo makes a cameo at the end, and has her own version of the MV where she basically looks sexy and makes me feel inferior, but it's still fun too. The song itself is infectiously catchy, and is accompanied by many more great tracks of the hip-hop, pop and dance variety on Psy's latest album PSYFIVE, released under YG Ent. in a new deal he signed with the music mega-company. Fans of his previous material shouldn't worry though - he has full creative control over his music and will still be bringing the awesome every time.

3. Crystal Kay - Flash

Crystal Kay - FLASH from xYao9x on Vimeo.

So I'm not really a J-pop fan, but I have to say that Japanese artists are coming out with some sick stuff these days. Crystal Kay is a Japanese artist of African-American and Korean descent who has been making music for the past eleven years (she's 24). This track is off her latest EP of the same name, and it's got a.t.t.i.t.u.d.e. This should be the theme song of every superheroine movie or TV show ever. This is really only the second release from Crystal Kay (or as the Japanese call her, Kuri-chan - how cute is that?) that I've listened to, aside from "Girl U Love" which a friend sent to me randomly, but I'm already hooked - this woman is talented. The rest of the mini-album is worth a listen too - my current favorite of the other tracks is "Happy", a self-composed tribute to Michael Jackson, which I think is so appropriate and so beautiful.
(Side-note: Notice the Rain doppelganger in the video - not the real thing, but hot nonetheless)

4. I Can't and 5. Even If You Leave Me - 2PM

My favorite tracks off their latest album. "I Can't" was written by Ra.D, who also composed "I'm In Love" which Narsha covered amazingly for her solo mini-album. It makes great use of 2PM's voices, better than any other song of theirs, and is such a chill vibe. Every time I listen to it I imagine sitting in a field in summer as someone strums the chords on their guitar. Lovely stuff. "Even If You Leave Me" was composed by the same dude who did "Maja" my fave track from their last mini-album. It's upbeat, yet heartfelt, which I like, and which I feel few songwriters manage to pull off without getting overly angsty and dramatic with it. It's not mind-blowingly awesome musically, but it's a really enjoyable listen, especially if, like me, you listen to it walking around in a big city, allowing the music to be the soundtrack to the hustle and bustle. Again, great use of their voices - I feel like in most tracks they try to stretch them past their vocal capacity and the result is just barely passable, but here, the song fits their abilities and they sound great. I like that in these tracks Taecyeon doesn't bark out his raps like he's a drill sergeant, but actually delivers his lines with style. It's actually kinda hot. As much as I appreciated the shirt-ripping antics of your Heartbeat days, Taec, this suits you better. Stick with it.

Done! What do you think? What were your favorite new tracks from the last week?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Willow vs. Rihanna... Fight?

Okay, time for some non-Asian music! Ever since 9 year-old Willow Smith dropped her fly girl single, "Whip My Hair" the internet has been ablaze with comparisons between her and pop music's current queen of all things hip, Rihanna. I have my personal biases, but I'm wondering if there's really any competition between the two. Let's take a look, shall we?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Erm... it's my birthday?

Happy birthday to me, I guess, lol. I don't really have a huge reason to post, except to let everyone know it's my birthday (so that I can have more birthday wishes - I'm greedy that way, lol). I don't really have any deep thoughts about turning 22, but I do want thank God for bringing me this far in life, and ask for continued guidance and blessings as I go into my twenty-third (eep!) year in life. To all you young'uns (and older people, who are still young too!) - remind yourself everyday of the good things about you and your life, appreciate them, and constantly strive for bigger and better things. Don't let a day go by without working towards some goal or dream of yours. Trust me, you'll be much happier that way. And if you're religious or spiritual in any way, frequently check in with that greater power - it helps to be reminded that you're not alone, and that there is something out there bigger than yourself that you're a part of. If you live your life mindful of that, good things will come to you. And lastly, for everyone - religious, spiritual or neither - live a life that you can be proud of. It won't be without regrets, but at least live so that when you look back, you can say that you did your best to make yourself a better person, and to make life better for the people around you.

I can't think of anything else big to say, but I did want to spazz a little because Beast won their very first K-chart win today for "Breathe"! I predicted this would happen, so I'm doubly happy at being right, especially since I think they truly deserve it. Congratulations, Beast!

Time to party! Here's a playlist I made for McRoth's Residence's one-year anniversary, and I figured it could be my birthday playlist as well (though I'd throw in some African jams, and some more house music personally) so if you're looking for some dance music (mostly Korean, with some Latin and American music thrown in), click here and enjoy!!! Since I made this for McRoth, I'll leave the playlist as is for now, and in a week or so, convert it to "My Global Party Playlist" and astound you all with my amazing DJ skills - be prepared :)

As a birthday present to myself, I should really move my personal blog to Wordpress already... except I now want to move this blog to Wordpress too, because there you can reply to comments and get e-mail notifications and stuff, and I think that's a much better format for my music and culture blog because I want to foster discussion and debate over this stuff. Do you guys agree? Or should I just shut up and get on with it? This is a major problem for me in general, though - I plan, but never execute. I have to change - this will be my goal for my next year of life.

P.S: Just found out that it's also Shaun Evaristo's birthday! So I share my birthday with him and Matt Damon, as well as some other awesome peeps. I think this is a sign that I am inclined by birth to be a creative and successful person. Or at least, I like to think that way :) If you don't know who Shaun Evaristo is, you're missing out - he's an amazing choreographer and dancer who just launched his own choreography management company The Movement Lifestyle, but he's best known in the k-pop world as having choreographed for Taeyang!! Check him out dancing with Taeyang and Lyle Beniga in "Where U At":

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Proof that you can sell music using a concept alone

Girls' Generation / So Nyu Shi Dae / Shoujo Jidai - Gee (Japanese Ver.)

SNSD is like the unicorn of the pop music industry - no matter what they do, everyone loves it because it's SNSD. They're giving Japanese fans an exact replica of their most popular song ever, except it's in Japanese. No other artist/company in their right mind would risk that, for fear that the fans would be expecting something new. But this is the power of So Nyu Shi Dae - nine pretty girls singing a cute pop song = money in the bank, even if we've already heard the song 50 million times (no, that is not an exaggeration). Only in Asia.

That being said, I really like the styling in this video, and they all sound a lot better than they do in the Korean version, so I can't hate. SM had better hire whoever produced/mastered this and get them to work on all SNSD songs in the future.

Monday, October 4, 2010

guess what just came in the mail??!!

Clara Chung's debut album, that's what!!!

And if you can't tell, I am super super excited. It's signed by Clara herself!!! I think this means I got one of the first 100 copies, but I can't be sure. Anyway, I came across Clara through my perusing of Asian American blogs, and fell in love with her sound. It seems as if all indie newcomers these days are trying to pull the quirky singer-songwriter card, but Clara C's music definitely stood out for me because it had a distinct character to it - the best way I can describe it is bright pops of color on an indie music canvas. I loved her collabos with Dumbfounddead and Jay Park, and Sam Ock, and I have a soft spot for up-and-coming artists, so I took the plunge and bought the CD. I'm sure it'll be worth every penny. I'm off to listen to "The Art In My Heart," and I'll leave you with the first music video from the album, "Offbeat". If you like what you hear, hear on over to Clara's website and order a copy for yourself!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Review: Break Time EP by U-KISS

Hey! So I have a ton of awesome posts lined up, but I'm really busy at the mo, so can't get to them right now. However, I did want to stop by and say a few things about U-KISS's new album, because I've never written about them, and I think there's something to be said about their new EP - I like it! If you had a "wut?"moment right there, don't worry - I did too. This is a first for me and U-KISS, so if you want to find out how this came to be, read on...

Monday, September 27, 2010

INAUGURAL POST! Thoughts on BEAST's Mastermind

Hello everyone! Welcome to Mixtapes and Liner Notes - my blog on music from around the world and other related ramblings. I'm taking an unauthorized break from studying to write this post, so you can find a more formal introduction to me in the "About Me" Section on the sidebar, and maybe in a future post. But for now, let's talk music.

BEAST has always been one of the tragedies of the k-pop industry for me. I've always thought they were talented and charismatic, but they have failed to produce great music in the year that they've been active, despite already releasing two EPs. Their third EP, Mastermind, just dropped, and unfortunately, this is only continuing that trend, albeit with some improvement.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Can't Nobody Do It Like 2NE1?

Aaaand they're back! I have glued to my computer for the last three hours trying to get the first listen of this album, and I've finally found some Youtube videos of the tracks from 2NE1's latest release, To Anyone, with decent audio quality. A large fraction of k-pop fandom has been waiting for this release since it was announced in back in the spring - many expectantly, others not so much. Now that it's finally out, let's have a listen, shall we?

I am a huge fan of 2NE1. These girls bring a sense of style and strength to the k-pop industry that I find really refreshing, mainly in that they don't depend on showing skin and acting all cutesy in order to sell their records - in a word, they're FIERCE. I find it really interesting that k-pop fandom seems to be divided on these girls. A lot of people think they're revolutionizing the industry, others are annoyed at the hype. I think the dichotomy itself is interesting, and it begs the question - is 2NE1 really all that? Or is the whole issue simply a fight between fiercely loyal 2NE1 fans and antis (who are likely SONES)?

Here are some facts to consider: they had the most successful girl group debut of 2009, winning more awards and topping more charts with their first two singles than any girl group of the last decade has been able to do with their first release. This album, one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2010, sold 120,000 in preorders - i.e. they sold almost as many albums before the release as Katy Perry did in her first week. Money talks, and it's telling me that these girls are big, they're talented, and they give the fans what they want.

YG has always made itself out to be the rebel entertainment company in k-pop, mainly through their dedication to releasing R&B/hip-hop influenced tracks despite industry trends towards bubblegum and electropop. Their music definitely stands out from the pack - just take Taeyang's mellow "I Need a Girl", or Se7en's electrified Digital Bounce. 2NE1’s new material preserves YG's reputation, as the songs on the album manage to sound like they belong in 2010 without sounding like every other track that's been released this year. What also stands out to me is how they managed to fit many different sounds onto this album. The mellow "It Hurts (Slow)" is a [great] R&B ballad, and yet it's sitting next to "Clap Your Hands, " a pretty standard hip-hop track, "Can't Nobody" which is a dance track reminiscent of U-Kiss's material (and I mean that in a very good way), and "Go Away" a great electropop track which I think will be the runaway hit from this album. Despite this, we don't doubt that this is all authentic 2NE1 material, and that it captures the essence of what this group is all about.

When it boils down to it, though, they're still making pop music. It can't be too revolutionary or else people won't listen to it. In an industry where instant success isn't just the goal, it's the standard, they can only deviate from the norm so much. However, their uniqueness in an industry filled with cookie cutter girl groups seems hard to deny. While I don't think the album is game-changing, it is explosive, filled with fast beats, improved vocals and that trademark 2NE1 swagger k-pop's been missing in 2010.

I don't want to turn this into a review of the album, but I do want to comment on the songwriting/producing on this album. First, of all, I think YG is wearing Teddy out. His sound is unique, and it wowed us back in 2008 when Taeyang's first solo EP came out. However, he doesn't seem to be growing past that. Taeyang's full album was a lot of Teddy, but unfortunately not a lot of awesome because he failed to produce a lot of stand-out tracks.  Now he's back on 2NE1's album, and the songs are good - great, even in the case of "Go Away" and "Try To Follow Me" - but not groundbreaking, and that's my concern. "Clap Your Hands" is a pretty standard hip-hop track without much substance, though it does have a lot of Teddy's trademark "OH!"s in the background. The chorus is really the only thing that keeps me listening - that and the reggaeton/Naija funky* middle 8, which I LOVE. "Can't Nobody" sounds like a 2009 Brave Brothers track (again I mean this in the best possible way) with influences from the producer of "Digital Bounce". I worry that by next year, k-pop fans are going to expect something new from him and he won't be able to deliver. But I am crossing my fingers for him because he's great and I'd hate for him to peak so early in his career. He should go on vacation somewhere and get inspired. As for whoever did "I'm Busy", you should be fired for making a song that's so all over the place. They asked you to make ONE song, not three in one. The individual parts are great, but the whole is just a hot mess.  Love is Ouch isn't bad, but it's not great either. That producer (Choice37) gets a pass because he produced my favorite track on Solar along with G-Dragon, but he could step it up a little too.

*Naija funky is the word I use to describe your typical Nigerian hip-hop/R&B dance song - slower than Western pop music with a very distinct groove that only Africans seem to get down to. For an example, listen to this song.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

K-Pop Abroad: Japan and the USA

(Okay people, so this is a LOOONG post. Get a cup of tea or hot chocolate or something to sip while you read this. I would add photos and links but I'm up way too late as it is, so I'll try and put them in sometime tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy!)

It seems that as of late, Korean music companies have turned their eyes across the pond and are trying to get K-pop noticed outside of Asia. SM Town Live is coming to America (Los Angeles) for the very first time; Taeyang just released his international album with three English tracks and the other tracks on Solar, and 2NE1 has announced plans to debut in the US, along with news of their comeback in September (OMG SO EXCITED). This is not all that surprising to people who've been k-pop fans for over a year, but it is an interesting phenomenon. Succeeding in the States is like the Holy Grail of K-pop - many have tried, none have "succeeded" - that is, none have attained the level of popularity in the US music scene as they have in the international k-pop scene, and that their many loyal fans expect of them. No group or artist has charted in the iTunes Top 10, or made an appearance on late night or primetime TV (except Rain), though most managed to put on some well-attended concerts, and sell a few songs and albums.

Now, if you ask me, we k-pop fans are asking a bit much when it comes to our favorite artists debuting in America. K-pop artists are tailored for a Korean audience, not for a US audience. My time as a k-pop fan has proven to me one thing - the US and Korean/Asian music industries are extremely different. Both run on the production of popular music for the masses, but each mass has different experiences, is listening to different kinds of music, is watching different TV shows, have different senses of humor. One can hardly expect success to follow each other so easily. I mean k-pop artists wouldn't be k-pop artists without their constant appearance on TVs, radios and advertising. The US music industry operates on a completely different system, and most foreigners only manage to scratch surface of the kind of success that we expect of them. US artists rely less on in person appearances and more on the spread of their name via the internet, TV and the radio. The music goes out before the person, not the other way around. You'd hardly have an unknown artist do a reality TV show before they debut - they'd have to be famous first. In Korea, it's a lot easier to get your name out there and get people interested in you before your music comes out.

Now, successful US artists tend to be successful outside of their home countries as well, but they never clock in the same sales numbers. K-pop has a very firm grip on it's homeland, and the only times that the music of foreign artists has made it into the top of the charts there have usually been related to k-pop (i.e. someone did a cover or collaborated with a certain artist). And in reality, the only two countries where there's significant overlap between the chart toppers are the US and the UK, and even then, in terms of overall sales, native artists reign supreme.

Also, you have to factor in Western hegemony over contemporary popular culture. The fact that it's coming out of the US alone guarantees its success outside its native land because we all like their music. Somehow, they've managed to come up with a formula that people all over the world like. Same with Hollywood. If you evaluated it on the basis of quality alone (and this is very subjective I know, but roll with me here) it wouldn't be any better than the popular music of say, Korea or Mexico. But people will give it a chance because it's from the US. And they'll most likely like it. Not so with Korea, though K-pop and J-pop seem to be enjoying a surge in popularity due to the internet, college students studying abroad and things like Google Translate.

I really believe that k-pop artists are talented enough to succeed outside of Korea but we have to acknowledge the fact that the US music industry is a whole other ball game, and honestly, the US masses have not fully embraced k-pop and probably won't for a while. So we shouldn't get our hopes up too high. I think that most artists who have tried the US market HAVE succeeded - they managed to establish a local fanbase, break onto the charts, sell some records/mp3s, put on some shows, and even, in Rain's case, managed to garner a place in the local pop culture continuum. As our world becomes more global, maybe it will become possible for Asian stars to dominate the US music scene. But for now, let's appreciate how far they've gone and cheer them on for the future.

In contrast to the US, however, K-pop seems to be taking Japan by storm. They're riding the Hallyu wave at full speed, with most of the top k-pop groups having released at least one single there. 2NE1 is also planning to release Japanese singles, and have performed with Big Bang a few times there. Big Bang, DBSK, and now Kara have definitely established themselves as a top group in Japan. And I don't find this surprising. Japanese fans can easily access Korean media - more easily than US fans - and Japan has already proven to be very receptive to Korean pop culture products like movies, dramas and music. Korean groups benefit a LOT from this. Also, the similarities between the two countries' music industries and audiences (in terms of culture), as well as the physical proximity of the two nations, makes it easy for Korean groups to collaborate with Japanese producers and remaster their sound for a Japanese audience . For instance, BoA and DBSK almost never released the same songs in both Korea and Japan - they both recorded new songs for their new audiences. Also, from listening at the Japanese releases of Big Bang and Kara, and the teaser for SNSD's Japanese "Genie," it seems that the Japanese are listening to more processed sounds than Koreans are. (Yes, it's possible - Japan has been into electronic music since the '60s and '70s and is the home of game music.) FT Island, who do pop rock, also adjust their sound, leaning towards more upbeat music in their Japanese releases than in their Korean ones, probably to fit into the huge Japanese rock scene which doesn't usually produce the rock ballads that FTI are known for.

(*It's interesting to note that this reworking of music has not really been done for any other Asian country, except for China - Super Junior's sub-group Super Junior-M, as well as F.cuz are the only groups I know of that reworked tracks or made completely new material for their Chinese activities. The rest of Asia seems to receive k-pop well enough that it's not necessary. I suspect that the political and cultural dominance that Japan and China held in the past still influences the way cultural products are marketed to their audiences.)

One would ask, then, why haven't Korean music companies haven't done the same thing in the US? That is, changed the music to suit the audience? Probably because they didn't know enough about the industry to do so. I mean, Se7en recorded a track with Lil' Kim, who hasn't had a successful album in years - not the best move if you're trying to break into today's music industry. And the Wonder Girls simply released the same music they did in Korea - while it's already pretty Western, it wasn't made for a Western audience, and that makes all the difference. Now that k-pop artists and management have more access to the American music industry, and have actually gone over and worked with producers, they might make music more appealing to US listeners. I think Taeyang's English track "Connection" off his international album is a great example of this. Taeyang is already heavily influenced by contemporary US hip-hop and R&B, but this track is the first one that I feel would fit right in on US radio stations. It has a distinctly American 2010 sound, slick production, and great vocals that would fit right in on US radio stations.

Another thing is we don't even know if these forays into the US were made with the intention of big hits. BoA stated in an interview that for her US album she just wanted to make fresh hot dance music (and she did, with good results - see my post about it here). She wasn't aiming to take America by storm - she wanted to test the waters, have fun, and have the experience of working with top producers, all of which she accomplished. Who knows, maybe later on she'll go back with more knowledge and experience and blow the United States away. But the point is, she didn't fail in the US because she wasn't aiming to become huge in the first place.

With the release of Taeyang's international album, YG has shown that it's learning more about other music industries and reworking their formula to fit their intended audience. Hopefully this means good things for 2NE1's US debut. It will be a challenge, since as of right now there are no girl groups really making music in the US, and the general consensus is that listeners have "moved on" from the multi-membered pop groups that were popular in the '90s and early '00s. But I think that if YG really brings it, and I mean REALLY brings it, the US might just warm up a little more to k-pop, and 2NE1's music will be appealing To Anyone (yes, that was a pun - get over it). And then maybe other music companies will learn how to make music to get America dancing and singing along as well.

Okay, long post DONE! Later, gators.

Mamma Mia, Narsha!

Narsha of the Brown Eyed Girls just released the music video for her single "Mamma Mia" and as k-pop fans have already commented, it may be a bit too risque for TV.  Korean TV stations have strict regulations when it comes to what is appropriate viewing for their audience, and Narsha's definitely pushing that line by engaging a steamy tryst in her car with a hot white guy in her MV. Now, normally, I dont bat an eyelid at interracial parings in pop culture. But I happened to read these articles (here and here) at the Grand Narrative which suggest that Asian female/white male pairings are rare in Korea, at least in advertising, though white female/Asian male pairings are not uncommon. Even then, I have rarely seen either depiction reach this level of sexiness, so I wonder whether this will cause any stirrings among the general public. What really intrigues me about the video, thoug,h is the comment made by McRoth - "I cant tell if she's objectifying the men or herself..." Has Narsha, in an attempt to play up her "adult-dol" image allowed herself to become merely a sex symbol for the enjoyment of her male audience?

 Here's the video if you haven't seen it:

So the video is basically Narsha picking up a dude, making out with him and then returning to her room to find some other dudes that she forgot about waiting for her (she likely left them there to find some fresh meat) all while being followed by a few women (female members of the group Sunny Hill) who are trying to figure out how she manages to attract all the men. Of course, this is no mystery to the viewers, as Narsha is clearly presented as the object of desire for the viewers and the men in the video, and the object of envy for the women. She's the focus of every shot, and has the biggest hair and the flashiest clothes and most elaborate makeup. I haven't seen a translation of the lyrics but I'm guessing the song's about how she's hot ish and no one can handle her (tried Google translate and got something with Obama...). She's clearly a subject of the male gaze here despite being the one treating men like handbags (for more on this, see the second half of this post over at the Grand Narrative). So while objectifying men (and presenting a more assertive woman on television) she still ends up being objectified - possibly because the only reason she seems to get all these men is because she's hot, and not necessarily because she has any other talents such as sweet-talking or any other qualities other than physical attractiveness.

The whole thing is weird for me because despite showing a more liberated female, it isn't necessarily liberating for all females because the capability to hold many men in thrall at the same time is limited to only Narsha, because she's Narsha. It also doesn't do anything to overturn the "men are men but women are sluts" argument when it comes to sex, because she appears OVERLY promiscuous and UNNATURALLY skilled at getting some, in comparison to the other females in the video. (Men are generally considered to be naturally charismatic and attractive, women, less so.) Maybe she's purposefully pushing the envelope and exaggerating things to prove that it's not a big deal for ladies to get with more than one guy. *shrugs* Do what you do, Narsha. Just try not to get banned in the process, lolz. I like the song and the style of the video - I just wish there was some dancing in it. That beat is made for funky dance moves.

Sorry for the hiatus - trying to get my blogging groove back on. Will have a few more posts coming through - mostly k-pop related, but hopefully other stuff too. I need to expand my subject matter - I mean, I like k-pop but I don't want to write only about k-pop. I'm sure you guys would like to see new stuff on here too. In time, my friends - in time.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

YG vs. SM - Fight!

Okay, so we all know that YG Entertainment and SM Entertainment are two of the biggest entertainment companies in Korea. Recently, a friend asked me which company I thought was currently winning the battle for k-pop domination, and I had to think about it. Here's my take on the situation:

SME: So far, they've released SNSD's Oh!, Super Junior's BONAMANA, f(x)'s NU ABO,  SHINee's Lucifer and BoA's Hurricane Venus. It's kind of unfair to compare them to YG at this point because YG has yet to pull out its own juggernaut groups, but SM's not holding back at all this year. Oh! is the most popular k-pop album of the year so far, and BONAMANA is arguably one of the year's most successful singles, as it cleared the weekly music chart awards week after week. Then they came out with "No Other" and continued to win awards and the hearts of their adoring public. Surprisingly, f(x)'s NU ABO didn't do as well, despite being popular with the fans. In comparison SHINee's Lucifer has won four chart awards and is still charting high, with album and digital sales looking very good. Finally, BoA, SME's shining star, is back to Korean music after ten years of winning over Japan and the rest of Asia, and testing out the waters in the US. Hurricane Venus is currently being well received, and BoA had her first K-Chart win last week. Despite concerns that her new, mature image might distance some fans, Korea still seems to be in love with BoA. SME has had to deal with a lot this year: they've officially lost Jaejoong, Junsu, and Yoochun from TVXQ, signaling the end of the reign of Asia's hottest boyband; they've lost a member of Super Junior, relinquished another one to the military, and can't seem to keep a hold on the other one who's pursuing his acting career. Despite all this, they forge on, and will likely continue to deliver hit singles through the year's end.

YG is like the rebellious middle child of k-pop. It purposefully avoids copying the style of what's currently popular in k-pop, and its artists all lean towards R&B/hip-hop as opposed to pop. I personally think that they're less rebellious than they make themselves out to be, as they often make overly grand gestures such as pulling their artists from major K-pop concerts in order to distance themselves from other management companies. That being said, they shake up the Korean music world with every release. This year, it's been Gummy with Loveless, TOP with his single, "Turn It Up",Taeyang with Solar and Se7en with Digital Bounce. Gummy's album seemed to be well-received, as most of kpopdom has mad respect for her and her pipes. Se7en just returned to kpop after four years with "Digital Bounce", an electrified album much more adventurous than your typical electro-kpop, and so far things are looking good for him. TOP's good looks and smooth flow were showcased in "Turn It Up" and it seems a solo album is on the way for him too. Taeyang's much-anticipated solo album is doing well despite having a slow start, and he's busy charming the girls on the music shows as always. However, most people are waiting eagerly for the promised returns of Big Bang and 2NE1 later this year. This will be Big Bang's first Korean album in two years, after traveling to Japan and taking their pop music scene by storm, and people are itching with anticipation. 2NE1 had one of the most successful debuts of 2009, and everyone's so excited about new material from them that YG decided to gift the fans with a music video for the song "Try To Copy Me" which was originally only a promotional track for a Samsung phone. YG is saving the best for last this year, and you can be sure that they will deliver.

I think that so far, there's no clear winner. SM may have topped the charts with Oh! and Bonamana, but the albums that accompany those singles are average at best. NU ABO was disappointing, especially since those girls are so talented. Quality-wise, I feel SM put all its effort into SHINee, and their album is full of good track after good track, such that they could legitimately promote any of those tracks after "Lucifer" and do pretty well. It's unfair to the other groups, but then SHINee's success depends on the quality of their material more so than SNSD's or Super Junior's does. f(x) are the losers in this case, and I can only hope SM steps up its efforts with them, lest they end up like the girl group M.I.L.K, who we recently learned suffered from underpromotion by SM. SM has claimed that they'll treat their artists better, but that's yet to be seen. BoA has made an impressive return, though for some strange reason I prefer her non-pop tracks to the pop tracks, with the exception of "Game". She and SHINee in my opinion have the best SM albums of the year, but with 5 album releases this year, that's not saying much.

YG, on the other hand, has been holding back, and they're losing out because of it. Gummy's album was okay, but not amazing, and she only promoted for a brief moment before disappearing again. Solar is probably my favorite YG release this year, despite it having only three songs that I love and two other tracks that I like, not including previously released singles. Digital Bounce grew on me, and the success of that and Solar showcase YG's talent for bringing different sounds into k-pop and onto our headphones and speakers. I loved Try To Copy Me, and am itching to see 2NE1 come back. Turn It Up has a sick beat but not much else - the song pretty much rides on TOP's charismatic presence on screen in the video, which actually isn't a bad thing. Despite all this, they haven't been able to top the charts this year the way SM has. The Big Bang/2NE1 comeback has to be explosive (no pun intended - okay, maybe a little) in order for them to claim the crown of best entertainment company of 2010.

Now, obviously there are other successful companies in the industry. There's Pledis, which released new material from Son Dambi, After School and Orange Caramel. There's DSP, which brought back by popular demand SS501, and dominated charts with Kara's "Lupin". Media swept up a number of awards for T-ara's "I Go Crazy Because of You", and Lee Hyori's "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", although Hyori's album promotion has been set back considerably due to plagiarism on the part of the album's producer. And of course, let's not forget JYP Entertainment, who this year saw a burst in popularity for their vocal group 2AM, consistent popularity for 2PM despite Jaebeom Park officially leaving the group and the company, the return of the Wonder Girls, if only for a brief moment, and a decent run for rookie groups Beast and 4minute, and new solo singer G.NA under their subsidiary Cube Entertainment, not to mention a hot debut for their female dance group Miss A. However, none seem to have the dominance over the k-pop scene as YG and SM have. They are the hitmakers and the charttoppers, and in the end, the k-pop crowns belong to them. Who will win this year? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ladies (and Men?) of Korea: Keep It Classy

Sorry for the break in posts guys - I'm really busy these days (shooting a film!! For a class. Having a ton of fun. Want to keep doing this in future.) But I found something that I wanted to write up quickly and see if anyone had an opinion. Due to lack of time to devote to my exploration of Korean culture, I get all my news from allkpop, and two of their articles from yesterday peaked my interest: one being the comments of South Korean model Choi Eun Jung saying that "10-19 is the perfect age to show a lot of skin" and "Since the sexy concept is the trend, the young idols are carrying it out. Is it really necessary to look at all of this from a negative perspective?" The other was the news that all the music chart shows were upping their age rating from 12 to 15 because of the sexy dancing and clothing.

What i find interesting about both of these articles is that what is under consideration is the affect that the exposure of skin has on the public, and no one is talking about how the women themselves feel about it. Do young girls ages 10-19 generally WANT to wear skimpier clothing, and are simply not being allowed to? Do female k-pop idols they feel empowered by being able to wear sexier outfits on stage than Korean culture normally allows? Or do they feel objectified knowing that they're dressing and dancing that way simply to attract fans? This is a problem that I feel a lot of women performers face, and have to negotiate through their choices of clothing and performance - when they have them. A professor of mine argued that in the case of Josephine Baker, her sexy performances were empowering rather than demeaning. As a performer, she had great creative control over her performances. However, she worked in a entertainment industry where her "wildness" (i.e. nakedness and silliness) were what drew in the crowds and got her gigs at a time when black performers who performed for white audiences were few and far between. She could have easily decided not to perform these shows (which would have likely led to her exit from the entertainment industry), but she chose to perform, and she chose to perform in that particular style, drawing people in by creating this image of a "wild, African woman." My professor thought that the creative choices that led to this image are indication that she held the power, and while I agree with her, I also think it's still a pretty complicated issue, and not everyone could do what she did. My question now is, where do female Korean artists stand on this issue? Do they think their images are too sexy? Do they agree to do suggestive performances in the hopes that in the future they'll have more control and won't have to be sexy if they don't want to? Or do they find it empowering that they can be sexy on stage, since in real life they're much more limited? (Lucky them they don't have Megan Fox's problem - many people think that because she's sexy, she's also a slut.)

Korean rap artist Defconn responded to Choi Eun Jung's comments with outrage, suggesting that she was not considering the feelings of other young girls, and her comments are improper in light of recent news about sexual offenses against elementary school students. Which wouldn't bother me if it didn't remind me of the common thought process of people towards women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted - "They were dressing provocatively so they are complicit in the crime." I agree completely that young girls dressing provocatively could draw attention of the wrong kind, but I have never heard a sex offender say that he assaulted a woman or girl because she was wearing a short skirt. More often than not, a woman is sexually assaulted simply because she's at the wrong place at the wrong time, and cannot defend herself successfully. It would be great if people could focus less on what the woman did to get herself assaulted (which is often, nothing) and focus instead on the motivations of the attacker.

I think Defconn's comments come from the right place, though. 10-19 is pretty young, and girls that age are not only impressionable, but also in my opinion, not yet as knowledgeable about their sexuality as they need to be in order to make choices about how they want to display that sexuality to others. Encouraging them to show more skin at a younger age will not make them more knowledgeable, but will only make them more confused and insecure, as the reactions of society - both positive and negative - will greatly influence the way they view their bodies and themselves, and could make growing up just that much more difficult.

Back to the music shows: I'm talking about it in relation to women, but is the indecent exposure of men also being taken into consideration? I mean, often times they're simply an ab-fest, and even on family shows such as Star King, men are free to bare their upper bodies. I don't know about you, but if I was preventing my young kids from seeing scantily clad women on TV, I'd do the same for men as well, because half-naked men are not asexual. Maybe they've been desexualized, (and half-naked women over-sexualized) but they can still evoke the same thoughts in the minds of young ones that scantily clad women can. I dislike double standards, and this new rule reeks of it.

Finally, Choi Eun Jung's comment about older women in bikinis INFURIATES ME. How DARE she call other women's bodies "disgusting"? Who made her judge of all that is pretty? And now that I think about it, who the hell cares if she thinks they're disgusting? If she doesn't like it, she should stay away from the beach!!! Those women are proud of how they look and don't go to extremes to keep themselves looking unnaturally young, thin or shiny-skinned, while I'm sure Choi works her ass off just to make sure some other pretty girl who's 8 ounces lighter than her doesn't steal her jobs. Whose life would you rather have?

Seriously, though, whose life would you rather have? One where your image is constantly manipulated to appeal to the masses (either to entice them or to not offend them), or one where you get to decide what that image is for yourself? Are these two lives ever mutually exclusive? I don't think so, but what I'm wondering now is, is that a good thing? A bad thing? Or one of those things about life that we just have to deal with?

NB: Question for those more familiar with Korean culture - how much do Korean parents control what their kids watch? Would this rating change (which is a small 3-year increase on the age limit) have a significant effect on the careers of idols?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mel's Playlist, June 11

Okay, I should really be asleep right now, but before I bounce I have to share with you the AMAZING music that has come my way recently!!! It's all k-pop - yes, I'm still on the k-pop tip - but I promise you, it's really good. Try it! You just might like it!*

First up is the debut track by Epik High's protege boy band, Infinite, titled "Come Back Again". It sounds like no k-pop you've ever heard, I promise you - awesome guitars, great beat, good voices, and they can dance to boot! There's a reason why Epik High is one of my favorite Korean artists, and this is one of them. Also make sure to listen to "Wings" and "She's Back" off their EP - both amazing tracks in their own right.

Second is Code-V's "Addicition". I fell in love with this the minute I heard it, and it's been on repeat all week. I'm a sucker for good voices and heartfelt performances, and Code-V has it in spades. I'm particularly rooting for these guys because they originally debuted under the name Bless in 2007 but apparently flopped, so this is their second shot at fame. As far as I'm concerned, they've definitely made an impression, and I really hope to see more of them.

(Sidenote: I actually didn't like the music video at first, but then I watched it again and noticed the poison gas, which I LOVE - the song's about love being like an addiction or a poison, so it makes sense, and that's a nice way of interpreting it. Some of the shots are particularly awesome with it, too, like at 2:47)

Finally, two songs from a k-pop veteran who I fully intend to investigate in full, Lee Seung Hwan. First is "Dunk Shot 2009", a remix of his 1994 song done by JoKwon of 2AM (I love this guy) and Whale of W&Whale (another group I have to check out). I adore this video, really - it's so quirky and cool. The song is great too :)

Then, a song off his latest album, Dreamizer, which you should absolutely check out. McRoth's done a full review of the album here - if you like Mika or Paolo Nutini or Queen, or just good pop music, you will find something to like on that album. I am into electro sounds right now, so I gravitated to this funky song that reminds me of Clazziquai Project, a favorite group of mine since Eccentric introduced them to me last year. (No coincidence, I'm sure - they're signed to the same label :)

(For curious minds, the song is on the OST for a short promotional drama for a cell phone, featuring up-and-coming actor Yoon Si Yoon and the girl group T-ara - hence the video)

And that's all folks! Expect more soon though - some of my favorite groups, Korean and otherwise, are releasing new material this summer, so I'll be posting the best stuff here. Later though - I gotta get some sleep.

*Throwback to an old Christian video my parents used to show me, which had a segment teaching kids to eat the food they're given without complaining. "Try it! You just might like it!" was the main lyric in the song they sang. Hmmm, maybe I can blame that video for my foodie habits... and my flabby thighs....

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Give a woman a powerful song to sing and she will sing it with power

Sorry I've been away! Reconfiguring my life has been complicated. I'm still kinda on a blogging hiatus, but I had thought of writing this post a while ago, and was reminded of it by James Turnbull's post marking the start of his research into k-pop girl groups and the reactions their fans have to their lyrics. Will post some more this weekend, as another hiatus is coming up - I'm taking a filmmaking class!!! And it's mad intense, so I may not be able to blog while it's going on. Don't worry though, I'll fill you in on this new direction of mine very soon :)

Kara - Mister [05.01.2010] from Matt Marasigan on Vimeo.

VAST difference between performances of "Lupin" and "Mister" at Korean Music Fest in LA last month. Wow. I like Kara, mainly because they're spunky, and Seungyeon and Gyuri have awesome voices. Mister is my favorite to listen to, but Lupin is unconventional and I enjoy performances (more than the song itself, actually). I refuse to believe that that's a coincidence, though. "Lupin" is thematically a more confident, powerful song than Mister. From what I gleaned from Youtube translations of the songs, they sing about being confident (in love?) and not being afraid in "Lupin", as opposed to simply trying to get a guy's attention in "Mister"; check here and here for respective lyrics) and it shows in their performances. They shine in "Lupin", but bore with "Mister". It might just be that "Lupin" is fresher, and they're bored of performing Mister (side effect of weekly live performances, a.k.a overkill, of songs in k-pop) but I doubt it's just that. Especially since 2NE1's performances of Fire seem to have the same energy as their debut performances (I say seem because TV camerapeople are notorious for wrecking performance videos with random sweeping tilted angles. I get motion sickness just trying to get a feel of the energy in a performance. *sigh. Anyway, check out their most recent performance here - a year later, and they're still on fire - yeah, I said it. I'm allowed puns sometimes.)

This may be part of the reason that 2NE1 does so well, despite criticism of Bom and Dara's stage presence. The songs are powerful, the girls feel powerful and embody it on stage. K-pop industry - TAKE A HINT!

Saturday, May 15, 2010


*Edited to include actual video and thoughts on the whole album

It just came out! I want to give my two cents before we get a review from McRoth - that's his department and he's usually on point, so I don't want to compete, lol

Overall, it's not one of those "OMG THIS IS AMAZING" songs, which was how I felt about Bonamana, but it's definitely a "I will play this song again and again" song. I really don't like doing comparative reviews but I haven't voiced my opinion on Bonamana, and I also think that this will be the general comparison since it's rookie vs. veteran and both tracks came out within a week of each other, so I figure it's appropriate. Either that or my brain isn't working well enough for me to write a proper review. Anyway, here goes.:

The two songs do different things for me personally - "Y" is of course a song about heartbreak, and "Bonamana" is about a dude trying to get a girl, but it's really just there to make you dance. And since I LOVE to dance, I got attached to it very quickly. Bonamana also brings a different sound to k-pop - i.e. syncopated beats, i.e. everything I love about African and Indian music."Y" on the other hand is in the vein of your typical electro-pop track, and that's not a bad thing at all. It's catchy, it's danceable, and it's done by one of my favorite k-pop groups - I LOVE IT!!!

Okay, so everyone has noted the "Again and Again" synths that dominate the backing track, right? Now, listening carefully, you can hear the beat pattern is actually much more complex than "Again and Again" and it switches up often enough that it keeps you listening, as opposed to getting bored. (I would suggest listening on good quality speakers/headphones if you want to pick this up, though. I recommend Koss Portapro headphones :) [Product placement!] It's way too easy to point out similarities in pop songs, so I like to find the differences :P

The song itself is about the mixed feelings involved in a heartbreak. On the one hand the singer's devastated and wants to make up, but he also wants revenge. The video's end is a bit controversial, as it's implied that Lee Joon (our leading man who can't keep his shirt on) shoots the girl in the head. I think he doesn't: him finally killing her doesn't fit the theme of mixed feelings: rather, him maybe shooting to the side her and her not actually being dead (as indicated by the girl twitching and opening her eyes in that last shot, which is what I saw) adds a nuance to the song that isn't there otherwise. The note he left at the end, which says "For the last time I'll give you a chance," makes much more sense if she didn't die, because then he'd actually give her a chance as opposed to killing her. I may just be arguing this point because I think it's stupid and unnecessary for him to have shot her, but I'll stick by it in the hopes that Rain and J.Tune did not just pull a JYP on me.

Anyway, I like this song, but the rest of the album is great too. "What You Want" has a laidback R&B feel that I absolutely love. "One Better Day" is an upbeat pop track with a distinctly k-pop vibe about it - not my favorite, but still nice, with good vocals and Cheondung rapping, which is rare on this album (he sings instead - and while he manages to hit the notes and sounds okay with the autotune, I think I prefer him as a rapper). And "Last Luv" shows off the pipes of the main vocalists (Joon, GO, Seungho) while delivering a solid ballad. This is probably the first k-pop EP that I've considered buying. I'm still debating the pros and cons of collecting CDs from foreign artists while looking for a legal download outlet for Korean music, so I might not get it just yet, but it's very likely I will. With Y, MBLAQ has most definitely earned my money, and my fandom :)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More K-Pop Musings

Channeling the Beatles... I like :)

I tried. I tried really, REALLY hard. But no luck. It's happened.

I have been outed as a k-pop fan in public.

It's TOTALLY not my fault though! I was tempted! My South Korean friends, along with my Japanese friend and her African-American boyfriend, were talking about it at a party this weekend. Despite my immediate urge to jump over and discuss the merits and demerits of Rain's new single and video (great song, hot bod, but unnecessary body rolling), I stayed on my side of the room, acting like I wasn't listening in on their conversation. I didn't even flinch when they started playing "I Don't Care" by 2NE1 (okay, maybe I discreetly did the finger waving dance when no-one was watching). But then they mentioned Taeyang, and I couldn't not talk about Taeyang! I LOVE TAEYANG!!! I was over there in a flash, trying and failing to replicate the dance from "Wedding Dress". Sigh. So much for self-control.

It was great though - we had so much fun doing dances from popular songs and reeling over Hyunah's age-INappropriate hip-thrusting. However, my one Korean American friend was not a fan of k-pop at all, and was really surprised that I liked it. She asked me, "So why do you like k-pop?" And I faltered. I panicked in my mind - "I need to come up with a rational, well-thought out reason for why I like this."* But I couldn't. I came out with, "Well, it's because I think it's genuine..." And she counters, "What?! It's like the most manufactured musical genre there is..." "That's not what I meant... umm... I don't really know how to explain it, I guess..." She concedes that it is catchy, then moves the conversation in another direction by asking me what I thought of Rain. We moved on, but the question stayed in my mind. So why do I like k-pop?

I blame my Jesuit education (and the Yale academic atmosphere) for my tendency to mull over things and try to figure out why and how things happen. I had already figured out "how" I had come to love k-pop (thanks, Eccentric! ^^) but I hadn't yet clarified "why". And I have to admit, I was curious about the answer too. I'm Nigerian, not Korean. Most of the music in my music library is hip-hop and R&B, mixed in with African music. I scoff at most American pop music, and read hipster music blogs like the Fader so that I can say that I know where to find "good" music. None of these things indicate that I would like k-pop.

However, there are some things that do. For instance, I like the Beatles. So does my dad. My dad, whenever he talks about the Beatles, always talks about how their songs are just simple melodies with simple, sweet lyrics to sing along to (in contrast to the crazy music kids listen to nowadays - he doesn't say this out loud but I know that's what he thinks). This, in my opinion, is the essence of popular music regardless of national origin.** And despite my desires to be a high ranking music critic who turns her nose up at commercially produced radio fodder, I can't help but like k-pop because it's so damn catchy.

Secondly, despite k-pop being extremely mass-produced, I find that most songs are carefully crafted and put together creatively. That is, they're not just fun and easy to sing along to, they're also quality tracks. I don't get the vibe I get from The-Song-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named***, which is "I put in as little effort as possible to make a song that sells millions. Eat that, mofos." I get this vibe from a lot of American pop music (and rap music, actually). It's not really about crafting a memorable song or a good album anymore. Instead, all they do is make that song interesting enough to get a ton of less discerning music consumers to buy it and put it in the iTunes Top 10. Then, the formerly unknown artist is immediately shot to stardom, everyone will buy their album which only has that ONE good track among 10 mediocre ones, and the big shots smile and rub their fat bellies. Or everyone just buys that single off iTunes, and the artists makes the rest of their money at concerts opening for other, more innovative artists. I find k-pop to be a refreshing change from this model, which I can only describe as "gimmicky". Yes, in the end the execs rub their fat bellies, but at least I don't feel like I'm being duped. Like, "haha, this song sucks but you'll still buy it". I think that k-pop is "good" pop, i.e. it's different and interesting and well put together. A lot of the time, I feel like the songwriters could have done more, but stopped at good enough (e.g. with 2PM's latest mini-album - every song follows the formula of "Heartbeat" but none of them are as intense or memorable) but I always appreciate the effort. And there are those k-pop songs that stop me in my tracks and I go, "wow, that was awesome". The one that comes to mind is SHINee's Jojo - it's a heartfelt song, well put together and completely non-formulaic. Love it.

Another example of where I see the creativity of k-pop songwriters and producers: I just discovered that two songs I really like use almost exactly the same instruments and have nearly the same bpm. But, I get completely different vibes from the two: In Go by F.Cuz, the guys sing about ending it with the girl who broke their hearts, and Gil Hak-Mi's Moving On is about... well, moving on... okay, maybe they aren't so different... but they sound really different, and I feel like Go has more of a frustrated, urgent, "you need to get out of my life" vibe, compared to the more laidback "nothing do me, time to party" attitude in "Moving On." The fact that two songwriters/producers can use the same instruments and beat and still come out with two very different songs astounds me. I really consider producers to be artists too, especially now when electronic music has become really popular, and producers have much more of an influence on the music they create.

So when I said k-pop was genuine, I really meant that someone was actually trying to make a good track - to create something new and different, and not just to sell CDs. I think of k-pop music the same way I think about British pop music - yes it's mass-produced, but I never feel like they're skimping on quality because of it. I haven't been following for a while, but hey, once Will Young puts out a new CD I'll be all over it. And, I still bump my Spice Girls and Sugababes with no shame. So next time I get asked why I like k-pop, I'll simply say, "It's good music. Mass produced, but good."

I feel that my tendency towards cultural products that do not come from the US also factors into my like for Korean over American pop music. Yes you can say that contemporary international pop music is just mimicking Western pop music, but you cannot say that the non-Western producers of this music do not exert any influence on the music or give it a non-Western feel. K-pop (and k-drama, which I'm just getting into) have a distinct emotional vibe that I just do not get from US music. I like music that tugs at the heartstrings, transports me to other places, and to create in my body a need to move. And my favorite songs, including k-pop songs, do that for me, while a lot of other music doesn't. And that's just it.

Okay done. Back to reading about Chinese food...

*This is a fear instilled in me by going to Yale. Everyone knows that you can't be caught looking dumb in front of your peers when asked a question - you need to prove that you're smart, you belong here and you can talk academically and casually about any topic that interests you. ... Or maybe that's just me and my insecurities. Hmm.

**I do acknowledge that there are huge international followings of of electronic and dance musics that do not fit this categorization, where the focus is on beats and rhythms rather than lyrics and melodies. However, I feel like "pop" music and "dance" music have evolved seperately so that they aren't even listened to in similar spheres, or competing with one another. I am focusing on "pop" music here, i.e. music that dominates radio and television, that almost everyone listens to without thinking about it, and that is allegedly produced for solely commercial purposes (though I contest that notion for reasons I will explain in another post).

*** WHY did they choose "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" as the name for Voldermort? God knows You-Know-Who is much shorter and to the point. smh

Friday, April 16, 2010

Make My Heart

Toni Braxton. There's a name you haven't heard in a while. I remember jamming to "He Wasn't Man Enough For Me" in 7th grade, and rooting for her superhero character in the music video (despite being scandalized by her using her assets to distract her enemies). She's come out with a new video, and I have to admit, the first thing I thought was "Aren't you a bit too old to be doing this sort of thing?" But then I said, "You know what? Nobody said you HAD to act your age." And only Toni can look this good doing it - she's ROCKING that fade, and looks altogether amazing. I hope I still look this good when I'm thirty, talk less of her forty-two years. Damn. I also love the track - It's exactly the upbeat jam I've been craving these days. That party too - I really need to move to a more happening city.

Eccentric has given me the Happy 101 Award, and I'm supposed to write about 10 things that make me happy. However, I'm dealing with a lot of stuff lately, so happy is hard to come by. But I promise I'll do it eventually! Just need the sun to break through the clouds...

Anyway, lemme know what you think of the video!

EDIT: OMG I can't believe I completely forgot to mention the awesome dancers in this video! Look out for FannyPak at around 0:44 (LA dance crew featured on America's Best Dance Crew), B-Girl Shorty from the Beat Freakz (also ABDC alums - she's the b-girl with red hair) and a host of other people - WHO ARE THOSE GIRLS AT 0:57??? SO FIERCE

EDIT2: Okay, so I just watched a live version of this - what do you guys think of her use of gay men in her video and performances? Is it cool, or does it make you a little uncomfortable? Discuss ^^

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Used CDs and MP3s

So a random question that just came to my head - is it more ethical to buy used CDs or to download songs for free off the Internet? I used to be Limewire's biggest fan, until I switched to Ares, which is so much better for international music, and then stopped downloading from P2P altogether. I did it for a number of reasons (finding free songs on blogs and Mediafire, not wanting to go to jail) but mostly because a number of people guilt-tripped me into buying songs legally. One of them had a dad who was an intellectual copyright lawyer, and so he basically made a living off of what Limewire threatened to destroy. Another talked about how the artists work so hard and don't get paid all that much, why steal their music, which is effectually what I was doing (in their opinion).

Now, the basic argument was that artists don't get paid when people download music for free, thus it is stealing and it is morally wrong. But, as I began to spend money on iTunes, I realized that for my musical appetite, it was just way too expensive. I have an iTunes store wishlist worth $80, and I add songs to it every week, but I can only chip away at it slowly by buying a $15 gift card every few months. I feel BAD for spending so much money on music - computer files that are essentially a bunch of 1s and 0s. I know that value is not intrinsic in the file itself, but rather the information it holds, but still - when you think about it like that, you could feed a child with that kind of money.

So to avoid the pain of spending more money than I had, I moved to used CDs instead. Which most people seem to be okay with, but I'm not quite. It carries the same problems that downloading for free has: you get the music, but the artists don't get paid for your purchase, only the initial one. You deprive them of income they should have earned. Is there a way for you NOT to feel guilty about any of these things? The way people carry on about it, you CAN'T not feel guilty for wanting cheaper music, and finding ways to get it - either way it's illegal and immoral.

This annoys me. First of all, I hate people making me feel guilty - I have a conscience and it works well enough without you messing with it. Secondly, why is downloading an MP3 somehow worse than recording a tape or burning someone else's CD? I agree that the Internet provides so many more people access to the music and causes much more monetary loss, but it seems wrong to me that one is less moral than another, even though the exact same sin is being committed. Thirdly, I like the idea of used CDs, but who benefits? The artist? The resellers? The buyers? The store owners? Is the money going to whom it should? Is it ever possible that people will be paid in full for their hard work? And if it's not, should I, a consumer, feel guilty about that? Should I change my behavior to benefit the artist, despite the fact that it won't make a difference, and could have a negative impact on myself (i.e. I'll be broke and I'll feel guilty for indulging)?

*sigh. I understand that artists work hard. But music is expensive. I'd love to support all my favorite artists, and buy their albums, but frankly I can't afford it, and all of my favorite bands are international anyway, making it harder and more expensive to buy their music. When I start earning a decent income, I will buy music. But until then, and until the digital music stores start selling more international music, I will have to refrain from paying 99c a song. Digital music is never going to get cheaper, so I'll simply buy used. It doesn't help the artists, but it'll help the small record store in danger of closing, and that person saving for a car. Whatever.

Feel free to weigh in - I'm a little frustrated by this issue and needed to get that off my chest. I consider myself a moral person, so, again, I hate it when people guilt-trip me. It's manipulative. I was also thinking of maybe starting a used CD business, so I'll need to get over this issue if I decide to go through with it.

P.S. Reading over this it gets very philosophical at points. Sorry about that. Fun posts soon.