K-Pop Round up: March Madness
|No IU in this post, but this is the only k-pop & basketball photo I could find|
As the end of the month arrives, I realize that I have written very little about k-pop this month. Not a lot caught my attention this month, to be honest. I did have a few releases I wanted to talk about, so here we go! This month's post features Handsome People, Kim Hyung Joon, Girls' Day, 4minute, Geeks, CNBlue, Infinite, ZE:A, U-Kiss, Orange Caramel and more. Only one link per artist this time, so the playlist will be short(er).
Here's a playlist with my favorite songs off these releases if you want to listen as you read, or just have a soundtrack for your day:
I've mentioned this in a previous post, but SS501's maknae Kim Hyung Jun released his solo effort and I really liked it. Well, I really liked "Girl" and "oH! aH!" . "Girl" is standard electro k-pop fare, but goes slightly harder as it's a little more fast-paced. "oH! aH!" is slower and more R&B, but still uptempo, and my favorite off the mini-album. I love like the bubbly synths which match the quirky, dreamlike style of the video, and the heavy bass that reminds us that you're supposed to dance to this one, in case Hyung Jun's mellow voice cause you to float away. It's an interesting mesh of effects that works well to produce a unique pop track that makes him stand out as a solo artist and a (relative) veteran in the industry. It challenges the boundaries of what a k-pop song can be, which is exactly what the industry needs. Also, he's great live - a lot of natural charm and charisma, he owns his stages.
Fluxus also dropped some magic in the form of Handsome People's single, "Shall We Dance". The group is a collaboration between Tei, a ballad singer, keyboardist/DJ/producer Choi Young-ho and guitarist Tato a.k.a Choi Jae-young. This is probably the first time I have liked a tempo switch in a song: it starts out mellow and romantic, then quickly turns to "PARTAY!" all while keeping a nice R&B vibe that I love. The effort and mastery that went into this song is undeniable: everything felt like it was carefully thought out and then put in, and I love listening to a different thing every time I play it over - which is a lot. What can I say? I love this song, and I love Fluxus. If I could, I'd marry them and my children could be beautifully crafted songs :)
(Bonus: Handsome people just released a joint single with W & Whale, who drop a haunting ballad, "사랑한 후에". It will somber up a clown. (can't find a video link, sorry)
CNBlue's latest effort - their first full album, First Step - was also on my listening list for the month. I would be lying if I said I didn't like it - I've loved everything CNBlue has done since their debut. While I wish their lead single wasn't a replica of their last two, it's still a good listen. It's also slightly disappointing that half the album is Korean versions of previous Japanese releases. Some songs sound better in Korean than in awkward English though, like "I Don't Know Why". "Lie" is amazing in both iterations, though. Other favorites for me are Jong-hyun's solo "사랑은 비를 타고" and "Love Girl" which is more in the style of their last album. With this album they've tried to add harder guitars to make it seem more rock, but it's still very much a pop album. I think FnC Music is enjoying the success that their idols are giving them, and thus are reluctant to truly try to promote rock music to the mainstream, as they always claim is their goal. Even FT Island is more a ballad band than a rock band. I love both bands, but always wish they'd just loose the chains of the mainstream and go all out with the rock. They'd be amazing, for sure. Barring that though, I'm happy with what CNBlue gives me right now - great vocals and good pop music.
I also stumbled across a new band, Geeks, who released an EP, Officially Missing You. The EP title is also the name of their lead single, a cover of the Tamia original. While I still prefer the Dalmatian version, this one is cool as well. They're a rapper-singer duo with a nice R&B style which occasionally leans into hip-hop. Both are fairly skilled, and the EP comes out mature and well thought out, which is impressive as they're both (I think) in their early twenties. My favorite track off the EP is "Suffocating".
Girls' Day made a return to the music scene with "Twinkle Twinkle" which is basically another cute, girly pop song. It's a 180-degree turn from their badass single, "Nothing Lasts Forever" and almost sickeningly adorable... but I don't hate it. It's actually pretty catchy. It's apparently doing well in Korea. Also, remixers seem to like it: Rexrowdee already has a mix out, and DJ Areia is producing... wait for it... a total of five different remixes to this song - one for each girl O_o. I've been trying to figure out what it is about the song and video that make it so appealing. It's not a particularly amazing pop song - there are places where the melody goes in a direction that kinda confuses me. But I like the chorus. Maybe that "mamamama" thing simultaneously amuses people and makes them go "aww, that's so cute" (that was my reaction, lol). Maybe it's because they pair it with a hilarious music video that almost makes it seem as if they're making fun of themselves and their over-cutesyness (and will eventually bring back the awesome - please?). I came to the conclusion, though, that it's just that they're winning (#NoCharlieSheen) as a group. Their debut single failed not only because it was a bad song, but because it erased their personalities and attempted to sell them on gimmick alone. But since then, it's been about the girls themselves, and it's made a huge difference. I like them as people, and that's a huge part of Korean pop fandom and getting people to support you. In the midst of the cutesyness, they remain individuals, and that makes them stand out as a group, and also makes them believable, whether they do sexy, cute or fierce. Anyway, this is my guilty pleasure this month. Don't judge me.
The other young girl group release this month, 4minute, was somewhat disappointing. While I'd never really been a fan, I'd decided to give them a chance, since "Hit Ur Heart" wasn't as awful as I once thought (I actually started singing it out loud once - so weird...). The lead single is "Heart To Heart". I like the instrumental, though it's nothing special to be honest. What bothered me was that the vocals sounded badly engineered. Like, instead of using minimal processing, they stripped them completely, and it did not serve them all that well. Now I get why the rest of their songs were so overly autotuned - the engineers don't know what to do with their voices. Also, the songwriting is very stock, and the chorus feels off. What surprised me the most about this song was that it was cute! Well, it's not like infantile, look-how-adorable-these-girls-are cute, but for a group that was always about the sexy, the colorful, toned-down image doesn't seem right. I've complained about the overly sexual nature of the band's promotions, but I'd come to accept that that's who they were and they'd eventually grow into it. So now, in a way, it does feel like they've been infantilized. Their fierce image is pretty much gone. And it makes me wonder - is this what Cube Entertaiment considers to be the image of a twenty year-old woman? I was twenty not too long ago, and I'm pretty sure the very last thing I wanted to be was cute. I was trying too hard to be an adult. But then maybe that's just me. You can do upbeat and girly without sacrificing fierceness, as 4minute ultimately proves with "You Know" another track on the EP. And they also deliver a nice ballad as well - "모르는 척" which in my opinion is the best proof of their maturity as women and as a group. So 2 out of 4 songs work for me - not bad. *sigh. Everyone's dropping the fierce to sell records. I would say people will eventually get tired of it, but so far, everyone's eating up.
Speaking of the cute... I've been meaning to get into 70s and 80s Thai popular music: mainly because I keep seeing compilation CDs in museums and world music sections in record stores. Anyway, it seems that I can get a little idea of what it's like by listening to Orange Caramel's latest digital single, "Bangkok City", purported to be an updated version of 70s Thai disco as part of their "One of Asia" project - a compilation of songs, each dedicated to a different Asian city. I'm actually low-key excited for it. Now, there's no love lost between me and this After School sub-unit - their brand of cute bothers me because it's got a lot of thinly veiled sexuality that just makes me uncomfortable in a lot of ways. Anyway, they've dropped the cute for a sexier concept, and also gone disco, both of which make this so much better than their first two singles. It's catchy, upbeat, fun, and I can easily forget the disaster that was "Aing!". My only beef is that due to the style, Raina can't completely show off her vocals, but it's still their best single to date. And that's disregarding the ridiculous styling in their video. I've always liked Pledis for being individuals... but I'm not too sure about this:
Guess who else dropped their fiercer image? None other than U-KISS - along with their member change, they changed up their image from bad boys to a softer, good-er(?) image. It makes sense, as adding two new vocalists allows them to tackle a wider range of music than their usual intense dance music. But I can't help but feel sad, because I actually liked Alexander - he gave the group personality. They don't stand out as much as a boy band anymore in my eyes (this is w/o seeing them live), but maybe they'll get some of that mainstream success they're aiming for. (If you ask me, had they capitalized on the club appeal of their music they would have hit it big.) Anyway, to the music. The lead single, "0330" (if that's the lead at all) isn't bad, but it emphasizes the image change: it's slow to mid tempo, and a sad love song, apparently. They also take on mid-tempo tracks, and do pretty well, like on "I Don't Understand", and still deliver good dance tracks (yay!) such as "Miracle" which is a Euro-pop/Euro dance track. The album does show the benefits of the new members: the vocals are now nicely rounded out on songs like on "내게 아픈 말은…" so Kevin and Soohyun don't have to do all the work. They still have a bit of work to do on songwriting for their new style - a couple of the songs aim high but don't manage to stand out as pop songs to me - but this does seem to be is a step towards being the kind of pop group they aspire to be. I will miss the dancey U-Kiss a lot, but I'm okay with these guys.
ZE:A recently released their first full album! Lead single "Here I Am" is pretty good. The production is on point - I particularly like the bubbly synths in the chorus and the pre-middle eight breakdown. Also, the vocalists of the group are developing their skills, which helps them pull off this melodic pop song. I'm particularly happy because Hyungsik, who I'd originally liked for his looks alone, can actually sing! This totally justifies my stanning of him, same way it justified my stanning of Dongwoon from B2ST before he graced us with his awesome voice. Their album only has two new songs, but they point them in a new direction of better production and vocals, so I hope to see them keep improving.
Infinite, still my favorite rookie band, came out with Inspirit, the follow-up single to their 2nd mini-album Evolution. "Nothing's Over" is uplifting and fun, yet grounded in the signature style that's been found to favor them - uptempo beats and a strong guitar line. "Shot" is great too, but my favorite track has to be the "Can U Smile" reboot, which is a softer, R&B version. I didn't like the original version, but I love this version. It shows that Sunggyu and Woohyun aren't the only ones with voices, and that as a whole they can pull off slower songs. It opens them up to more musical styles, which is an exciting thing to think about. They're slowly growing in popularity and skill, and I can actually see them being as big as DBSK in the future. I hope they make it there: it would make this noona fan proud :)
Those are all my complicated thoughts, but here are some honorable mentions:
- The ballad-lovers should go check out K.Will's latest EP, which even I - dance music head - loved
- If you're into classic R&B from the 90s/early 2000s, you will L.O.V.E. Boni, Korea's R&B diva - check out her Youtube page for acoustic versions of her songs, and buy the originals on iTunes.
- Mate released their last single before they start going through the army mill (*sob!* just as I discovered them!) - "Yeah" is an amazing, amazing song. Search for "Mate M! Soundplex" if you want to see them perform it live.
- MBLAQ's follow-up song, "Again" is their most popular track to date. I didn't think much of it on first listen, but it's actually pretty good!
- Wheesung's solo comeback is applaudable - still has some growing to do as an artist, but is heading in the right direction.
- Brian Joo of Fly To The Sky is back with "Shine (On Your Heart)" - I just love his voice.
- Swings remixed "Instinctively" with Tae-yang and Yoon Jong-shin - pure win.
- Lucite Tokki have a new EP!!! :D
- Kim Bo Kyung has a follow-up song: distinctively happier than her debut EP and she gets to show off her guitar skills. Lovely stuff. Actually reminds me of Yozoh a bit.
- Navi sings for the 49 Days OST - love her, and love this song.
- Eun Ji Won, Gilme and Typhoon have come together to release a collaborative EP under the name Clover. I've only listened to the first two tracks, but I'm already loving it. It's got an old school hip-hop style mixed in with other sounds, as well as great rapping and vocals. You want to listen to this - trust me.
- Seo In Gook, whom I love, releases his digital single, "Broken", a great pop-R&B ballad. Here's another person who could sing the dictionary and I'd still swoon. I don't know if this is a preview for an upcoming album, but I really hope it is.
- And finally, just to put it out there: DBSK's "Before You Go" needs more soul. Someone get 4Men or Brown Eyed Soul to sing this for them, man.
Done! Leave thoughts in the comments!