Monday, October 29, 2012

Bad Girls Do It Well: Policing Korea's Idols, Part I


So, clearly, I suck at keeping this blog updated. Many apologies. Working on a plan for more regular updates. 

Ever since the T-ara fiasco hit this summer, I've been thinking about k-pop's "bad girls" and how the Korean media and populace treats female celebrities that don't fit the sweet, inobtrusive images we expect from them. This post is a mishmash of all my thoughts and related on the issue, so bear with me if it isn't very coherent, and please, share thoughts, corrections, disagreements in the comments section. Part II will look at Seungri of Big Bang's situation in comparison, and the cultural context surrounding all these scandals that may/may not have been addressed yet.

I generally refrained from commenting on the whole T-ara debacle, because I feel like there wasn't enough information for me to make any judgements either way. Save for the very obvious fact that CCM doesn't know how to run an idol group without running them into the ground, all I could surmise was that Hwayoung, as the maknae and newbie, bore the brunt of the stress that the CCM CEO placed on all of T-ara, which was clear from his statements the beginning of the year publicly shaming his main moneymakers by saying they weren't working hard enough - despite them hitting a career sales high at the time with "Roly Poly". The netizen backlash is still going strong months after evidence of bullying in the group first surfaced - Hyomin has recently been outed as a former member of a group of high school delinquents who were involved in "sex parties", for example - and they just won't let it go. It seems that Korea has a real issue issue with girls behaving badly.

The types of things that get idol girls in trouble with the web mob range from looking uninterested in a talk show and getting overly enthusiastic during a competitive game. While the first two may not seem that big of a deal to a lot of us - maybe annoying or mildly irritating, but not necessarily worth a public apology - these sorts of things can cause greater offense in South Korea, where the age and professional hierarchy of the entertainment industry, as well as general standards of public decorum, mean that public figures are held to higher standards. Unfortunately for women, they don't have the advantage of just drafting into the army and spending two years in repentance if the heat gets too much. They generally tend to apologize, and then, if it's really bad, lay low until the incident blows over. Han Ye-seul did that after ditching her drama in the middle of filming, but T-ara, surprisingly, has not. CCM may simply be ignoring how much damage netizens are prepared to do to their public image and the company's bottom line. But it's still an interesting stance to take, regardless of the motivations behind it - it almost demands that we "get over it".

Netizens clearly have no intention of getting over anything, however. It's a huge shame that they are focusing on the girls's bad behavior, and not on the stress that being an idol has placed on them, and how the system itself can cause these sorts of incidents to happen. A concerted effort to change idol management practcies would make much more of a difference, but for now it just seems like a hate parade. Which is why I'm reminded of the various "nyeo" incidents in the Korean media - dubbed "Ladygate" by the writers over at KoreaBANG. Again, you have women behaving badly - drinking, smoking, swearing on the subway, clearly not caring what anyone thinks of them, and people are recording the incidents on their cellphones and uploading them onto the internet, basically setting the women up on the internet firing range. Of course, the men probably behave badly as well, but why the focus on women? KoreaBANG postulated, and a Korean news outlet concurred, that likely the disgruntled netizens out to hate on wayward women are unemployed, single males with a bone to pick with society. They target men who are more successful than them, and women who won't date them (or are simply easy targets). There's enough hate to go around, so why not vent it on the internet?


This explains why Krystal from f(x)'s disinterest on variety shows makes headlines: people apparently actually care about this, or are simply using her as a target for their anger at the world. Interestingly, SM has made no attempts to make sure she behaves properly, or at least that broadcasts get edited to cut out her "I'm so bored" look. And in her most recent "rudeness" incident, unlike the first, there was no official apology. So SM, like CCM, is staging a resistance of sorts against the web mob. Others are also beginning to speak out against netizens in support of the idol girls, such as this university professor, and the producer of Eunji's hit drama, Reply 1997.

Krystal intrigues me as a public figure because she clearly is not into playing the game for the cameras. She can't be bothered, and has no problems being called a bitch. I'm sure if you called her that to her face, she'd probably just smile and say "Yeah, well, I'm not here to be nice to people." I have to say, I have a little respect for that. Not that girls should go about disrespecting people, but that she is one of the few idols who is singlehandedly waging war against those who target girls for misbehaving, simply by not giving a fuck. It's not as interesting or as revolutionary when other idols do it. Take, for example, Super Junior's Heechul - well known for his mean streak, yet people would probably still love him even if he ran over a puppy. Krystal's older sister, Jessica, is often the subject of whispered conversations about diva idols as well, but her "ice queen" persona doesn't get her any netizen hate, and is in fact much cherished by dedicated SNSD stans. For them, and most other "mean" idols, their tendencies towards bitchiness generally don't come out on television broadcasts, and when they do appear in other instances, they only serve to make them more popular. Heechul, is also a guy, so I guess he doesn't get targeted by the woman-hating netizens.

While I may not ever like Krystal as a person, I like that she plays against the general opinion of what appropriate celebrity behavior should be. She reminds me of Kristen Stewart, actually, who also refuses to play the fame game. Her cheating scandal with the director of Snow White and the Hunstman has had people labelling her "trampire" and burning their Twilight books, and like T-ara, people refused to on her, as reports of her boyfriend Robert Pattinson being "heartbroken" keep pouring out into the media. Unfortunately for T-ara though, there's no evidence that Hwayoung's booting from the group was part of an elaborate PR stunt to get them publicity for their latest release while simultaneously severing an artificial relationship.

Bullying is wrong. Rudeness is not behavior that I endorse. But when faced with a misogynistic public which will mercilessly skewer you unless you play by their rules, how should idols  and their management respond? Ignore the problem and keep trucking on, hoping that at least they can stay at the top of the searches and gain notoriety that might translate into sales; or apologize and lay low until the public finds another target? I think working out your issues in public is a bad idea - CCM's CEO should have learned that from Rihanna and Chris Brown. But micro-resistances against a netizenry whose sole purpose is to shame women? That I can get behind.

Lee Hi, "1, 2, 3, 4"

Not having followed K-Pop Star, I had no idea this girl even existed until she did "It's Cold" with Epik High for their new album. So coming into this with no expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. Given that I had said earlier that JYP was the entertainment company who had the best chance of delivering a song with some soul, I was not expecting this from YG at all. I was expecting some sort of synthed-up pop track, but instead I have a stripped back soul instrumental - funk guitar, drums, a little electric piano - that allows Lee Hayi's gorgeous voice to shine. Don't expect elaborate vocal gymnastics a la Ailee here - Lee Hayi is all about the low, gravelly, laid-back delivery, and it works for the track. She has a truly unique voice, and that really sets this song apart in the sea of retro-inspired tracks that have come out of k-pop in recent years. Credit goes to Lydia Paek, Choice37 and MastaWu, who are (finally) bringing some new-new to YG's musical repertoire. This song is very clearly in the vein of Duffy's stripped down soul sound, but that's not a bad thing. K-pop desperately needs some soul and sass, and Lee Hi is bringing it... even if her video only gives us a glimpse of that. Besides, Duffy was riffing off of the sound of many black singers before her, so it's not like anyone's reinventing the wheel here.

Even though she has issues emoting (there since her K-Pop Star days, apparently) as the video progresses Hayi gets better, and is actually pretty adorable and engaging in that last scene outside the theatre. While this is not my favorite of director Han Sa-min's work (that'd have to be BIGBANG's "Blue") I do like the gradual transformation she makes from from regular girl to fresh young star. And I LOVE the elevator projection at the first chorus.

She's still a little rough around the edges, but Lee Hi has delivered a solid track that should put her fellow K-Pop Star graduates (Park Ji-min and Baek Ah-yeon) on notice. Dull ballads and short-lived star power aren't going to cut it when you're competing with girls just as vocally talented, as well as older, more established stars for the solo singer spotlight. Sisters better recognize.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

DBSK, Catch Me (album)

HoMin returns with their second album after the departure of JYJ from DBSK - still a sore spot for many Cassies, and a thorn in the Korean courts' side. (Why they don't just end the case, I don't know - waste of time and money, if you ask me.) Something about this album feels very different - it almost feels as if this album represents a growth, a moving on, a maturing of the group. Thinking back, much of DBSK's music was very youthful in that intense, all out raw emotion way, and also very fun. But the boys have grown up, and they ain't here to play.

The lead single, Catch Me, is really good, but it's bogged down by the long dubstep break. I mean, as far as compulsory dubstep breaks in pop songs go, it's pretty good, but it takes away from the lovely piano lines and booming electropop of the rest of the song. It also extends the song's runtime to four and a half minutes - way longer than any pop song it needs to be in this day and age. Dubstep is best utilized when it's placed in unexpected places, like at the beginning of the second verse, or bookending the chorus in the hip-hop tinged Viva. (Shout out to the boys for what might be my favorite rapping from them ever in that song.) It works for the video, but if there was an album version or radio edit of this track that got rid of the dubstep break, I'd be a happy camper.

What strikes me the most about this album is how much I like the mid-tempos and ballads. Usually SM ballads are sweet, sweet filler - meant to be pretty and nothing else. But these seem like they have more substance - they feel very romantic and sincere in a way that many ballads that came before them did not. I kept thinking "OST track", and that makes sense since that music is meant to set a mood and evoke a feeling more than anything else, and these songs are wildly successful in that regard. And they feel very suited to this duo, who have grown a lot in the last two or three years - as opposed to the ballads on their last album, which seemed like they belonged to a different DBSK (some of them probably did). My favorite by far is Like A Soap, but I also love the mellow R&B jam Destiny, which does much more for me than the YYJ leftover, Good Night; and How Are You, which is the perfect background music for a chance meeting with a former flame on a city street.

All in all, I think this is a stronger album than Keep Your Head Down. It's a simpler, more cohesive album than anything else that SM has put out recently, concentrating on two different vibes - you could call them "romantic" and "masculine" - rather than throwing everything and the kitchen sink in there. And Changmin and Yunho's vocal progress is well-highlighted. Great addition to the catalogue. But now I'm beginning to wonder - how long before these two are shipped off to the army? *sob*

The "Catch Me" video is your typical SM MV-in-a-box video, differentiated only by its uber-dark color palette, the "Doc Ock Tentacle Of Hell" and the choreography which seems halfway between interpretive dance and imitation tribal dance. The boys look good and make the whole thing look good, but it will only be getting a few replays from me.

Friday, September 21, 2012

RaNia, "Style"

Now hold on just a hot minute... where's Jooyi???!

Okay, so considering the main reason I cared about this group in the beginning is their awesome vocals, led by Jooyi, and their envelope-pushing version of sexy, I'm disappointed that both Jooyi and the sexy are absent here. At least, the version of sexy they debuted with. I hate people who do the sexy as a gimmick to get people talking, i.e. most k-pop girl groups. (Which I guess is why I like Hyuna - it's her MO, not something she only does when she's low on the search rankings.)

What is here, though, is some decent electro, some solid singers, and a girl group that still brings some of the sexy and some good performances. The verses are a little boring, but the chorus is decent, and I'm all about that middle-eight dance break. It's enough to get me to hit replay on this at least a few times. The YG touch isn't obvious, which means they can move on (and hopefully up) from here without necessarily changing their style. And the song's got enough going for it that it will keep them in the game. They just need to bring their A-game next comeback. I would suggest making the most of their vocals (can I get some harmonies, please?) and bringing back the choreographer from "Dr. Feel Good." And more Jooyi, please.

Tuesday, Sept 24: Okay, so I basically played this song all weekend. It grew on me unexpectedly. My initial impression still stands, but I'll add that it's actually pretty catchy with a nice melody, and the girls kill it live. You just go, girls.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

U-KISS, "Stop Girl"

I feel like, aside from hardcore KissMes, I'm the only one still on the U-KISS train. Usually by now my t-list would be bombarded with OMG U-KISS SO HOT tweets right now, but there isn't a peep. Which is a shame, because this song is smooth and sexy like you've never heard U-KISS before.

The beat goes hard. The song starts off as bump-in-your-car R&B straight from US urban radio, then a little drama is added in at the pre-chorus to remind us that no, we're still in k-pop, despite the mostly English chorus with gorgeous harmonizing from the guys. Kiseop steps up to the singing plate, with much less processing than before, and nails it. Kevin works his lower register. Dongho slays his rap as if to say, "Noona, I'm not a little boy anymore." I love it all. Except, of course, for the lack of AJ, which would have made it all that much sexier. That being said, less members means more room for the others to shine, and shine they do.

I think part* of the lackluster response to U-KISS these days is that they haven't yet done something as epic as "Neverland" was last year. Songs like "Stop Girl" and "Doradora", while solid, are less in-your-face and may not draw much attention coming from a group who made their name making cray-cray dance pop. Before U-KISS's transformation into a more well-rounded (music and talent-wise) boy band, all they had to make them stand out was loud, brash electro-pop. But I think they stand out in a different way now - experimenting with different sounds in a way that doesn't make you tilt your head in confusion, while still maintaining fantastic production quality and improving in their own way. It feels like they've gone indie, actually - like they've decided not to slavishly pursue the number one spot with gimmicks and trendy music, but rather try out new things and see what fits them in their new iteration. While they may not be showered with confetti anytime soon - particularly with a DBSK comeback right around the corner - they're definitely setting the bar high for the competition in terms of the quality of their music, and it can only get better from here. Whether they'll pull a dark horse and get into the winner's circle with this release is hard to tell, but you can be sure I'll be rooting for them all the way.

*The other part being their small fanbase in comparison to other boybands. Anyone know if they've gotten more fans over the course of the last two years?

Monday, August 27, 2012

ZE:A - Phoenix

Okay, okay - I know what you're thinking. Mel blogs for the first time after like, two whole months, and she's reviewing ZE:A???! Whatever. I wanna talk about it.

I got on the ZE:A train after they greatly improved on their awful debut single with the follow-up, "All Day Long," which showed that there were actually some singers in this hot mess of a group. I decided to stick around and see what they could put together. Sadly, the string of singles that followed were either poorly constructed, forgettable or both. This is the first ZE:A single since "All Day Long" that I actually want to listen to again after the first go-round. It's also their first number one single, which is huge.

That #1 spot is well earned, if you ask me - though more for the improvements they've made since their debut than the song on its own. Relative to other releases from other groups, it's not all that, but it's a huge leap forward for ZE:A. For one thing, the song is constructed so much better than their older stuff. They finally moved the raps to the middle eight, allowing the vocalists to do the work in the earlier parts of the song. The vocal treatment is much improved, and the song's actually catchy and dancey. Basically, the producers finally figured out how to write a song, and ZE:A is reaping the benefits. Maybe everyone who's struggling to get to the top spot should name their albums after mythical creatures who rise from ashes.

The video is still boring and low-budget as all hell get out, but it's easy on the eyes, which is more than I can say for their promo photos (shudder). The choreo doesn't look awful, so that's a relief.

Also, Hyungshik looks amazing (the singer with the flipped up black hair), and since he and the Dongjoon (the Han Ga-in doppleganger) are the only ones I care about, I'm satisfied. Also, they do have pretty good live stages, so I think they can make this song work to their advantage.

I'll be real for a moment: The only reason they got to #1 is because they timed it really well. They're probably really happy that 2PM and Ailee delayed their comebacks, otherwise they wouldn't even smell the top 10 of the charts. That being said, ZE:A has put out good tracks before, and this is one of their better ones. They're coming closer to being contenders - we just need a few tweaks here and there. Like a better vocal trainer, a bigger MV budget, new stylists, songwriters, choreographers.... Kwanghee and Siwan's drama salaries can cover that, right?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Quick Take: BoA, "Only One"

Does anyone remember my post about BoA from way back when she was still on hiatus from Korean activities? Where I was basically like, "BoA is awesome, just wait - she'll blow your mind?" Well, the wait is over. Ladies and gentlemen. I present to you, "Only One".

I gotta admit, I was surprised when the teaser for this came out and it turned out she was doing an midtempo as opposed to her usual uptempos. But this is gorgeous. First of all, the instrumentation is beautiful - the elements of the song come in bit by bit and pull you in, with BoA's voice sealing the deal at the end. Lovely atmosphere and great transitions. The instrumental carries this track, and BoA flows with it wonderfully. With her reputation as a dance queen, it's easy to forget that she's a beautiful singer as well. While I feel like the recording doesn't demonstrate exactly what she's capable of, I have no doubt she will slay it live. This is the sort of song that doesn't suffer from being understated. The lack of a middle eight is noticeable, though, especially since it's a four-minute song. It leaves you with a lingering sense of longing for something more - possibly intentionally, if the teaser for the drama version of the video (featuring hottie Yoo Ah-in) is anything to go by. Props to her for doing this one herself as well.

BoA's career has been plagued with a number of incoherent albums, featuring a few gems but a lot of filler and little substance. No doubt this is in part because of the direction that SM wanted to take her as she grew out of her teen pop image - one that didn't seem genuine to her. But it seems like now that she owns a considerable portion of SM Entertainment, she can do whatever the hell she wants. And it's about time, too - SM owes her that autonomy after 10+ years of her dancing at their whim. She's taken her experiences in Japan and America and used them to craft a sound and image that's completely her own. Anyone following her Japanese releases will hear the Japanese influence in the song - the melodies are much more intricate than your average k-pop song, and the song structure is much less hooky. It would actually fit perfectly with "White Wishes" on an A-side B-side single. Borrowing from McRoth's vocabulary, it's painted in broad strokes, and is all the more gorgeous for it. Even if I lose interest in this song for not being as in-your-face as other k-pop songs this summer, I will still give it high marks for being one of the most genuine things BoA has put out in recent years. I'm really interested to see what's on the rest of her album, and if she's managed to finally put out a release that feels cohesive and personal. I love that she chooses not to be caged in by uptempos, but still kills it on the dance floor.

Speaking of dance. I have. To talk. About the dancers. After the egregious casting snub from B2ST's management for their latest video, (details over at Angry K-pop Fan), I was all ready to write up an angry post about black people in Korean music videos. I've already touched on it in other posts, but I felt like there was more to explore here than what I'd already covered. While I still plan on writing, this video calms my rage a bit, by simply featuring black people as - well, people. Not simply props to give false authenticity to your music, but equally valuable set pieces with a defined role to play in the context of the video, not on a lower plane than any other race. And it's a beautiful blend of skin tones too, not just black people. I just want to give her a hug for it. And get the numbers of all the dancers ;) Besides the attractive and awesome dancers, the choreo is amazing - NappyTabs are some of my favorite choreographers, and I'm loving what they've done here. And BoA looks gorgeous, obviously. So glad this video is free of all the useless gimmicks SM usually throws into its MVs to make them look cool. It's just BoA, being her awesome self. Yay!!!

Quick Take: B2ST's "Beautiful Night"

This may not be coherent, because I am feeling way too many things right now. But I'll give a quick first impression:


lol. Now that I've gotten that out of my system:

This is brilliant. It's upbeat, catchy, and perfect for summer. It's a great melding of pop and electronic influences, in a way that doesn't seem trite, and stomps all over the attempts at the same by other boybands (JLS comes to mind). It's a considerable feat considering this is basically all that pop artists do these days - that is, try and use electronic music to update their sounds. Considering B2ST has majorly upgraded their vocal game recently, I'm surprised they put so much processing on them here. But it's with a light hand, and they come out sounding amazing, so I'm fine with it.

I'll probably get bricked for what I'm going to say next, but I'll say it anyway. The song and video remind me a lot of Big Bang. [hides behind computer] BUT! I don't particularly find it to be a strike against B2ST here. Let me explain:

B2ST came up around the time when boybands were in their emo phase. Since their upbeat [and wonderfully bad] debut single "Bad Girl" didn't get them where they wanted to be, they took up the angst and ran with it, only shedding that image once, when they released "Beautiful" in 2010. Now that they're famous and ish, and they have money to fly out to NYC to shoot a video, it makes sense to do a bright, colorful party anthem with matching video. Heck, 2PM did the same thing with "Hands Up". I can't hate - make that money, flaunt what you got.

However, because 2PM made this move before, and the visuals (and location and sound) are heavily influenced by Big Bang, this release doesn't feel very B2ST-like. I feel like "Soom" and "Fiction" felt more true to the group, whereas this release feels a little "been there, done that". I'll admit though, that this could simply be because of their tendency toward moody singles as opposed to upbeat ones.

That being said, the execution is stellar, and that's what makes this a winner for me. B2ST exudes so much confidence and the whole thing is so clean and well put together, that by the second round of watching/listening I'd forgotten all about their influences. They're like "Psssh, forget Big Bang, we can do it better." They own the song and the visuals - something that's so sorely lacking in so many pop groups these days. And I don't even want to say I give them props or kudos for that because this is what I expect from them at this point. B2ST has established themselves as a group that releases high-quality stuff, and this keeps up that legacy, and once again puts them a step up above other boy-bands looking to compete with or surpass them.* I'm just happy they delivered.

I am in LOVE with the warm color treatment on the video - this seems to be the new trend seeing as Super Junior (and Justin Bieber) have used it recently, but I'm not complaining at all. I am complaining about the predominance of white people in the video, but that's for a later post taking on broader topics. They all look great though, and the outfits are great too. Still crying that I decided not to go to New York when they were filming this. *sigh*. Oh well, hopefully they'll have a world tour soon.

*Not only that, but I think it also shows just how influential Big Bang still are. While I wasn't crazy about their last two albums initially, looking back on them now I can see what they were trying to do with it, and this release confirms that Big Bang are still the trend-setters, still running things. And that B2ST is only a step or two away from becoming trendsetters themselves.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Quick Take: Super Junior, "Sexy, Free and Single"

This will be a very quick take because I don't quite know what to make of this song. It has some really good things going for it, like the lower octave synths around the "have a good time, party time" bits (gorgeous - reminds me of Sam Sparro's first album, where he used a lot of those). The song abandons those pretty quickly for some other less engaging effects, but it's still got a bit of R&B swag and I like it. But then throws in this clapping beat for what I assume is the chorus - the song's structure is at the moment a mystery to me - and it just throws me off my groove. I stop bobbing my head, and the magic is gone. They did the same thing with "Mr. Simple" with that weird breakbeat-ish bit with the rapping and the "blow your mind" stuff.

Super Junior got big because of "Sorry Sorry". It wasn't mind-blowing pop music by any means - it was catchy, sure, but it was predictable. That predictability, however, is what made it such an earworm and a fun listen - you knew exactly when to jump in and do the dance, and you could sing along easily and annoy your friends with it. SuJu's last two singles have abandoned that predictability, and I think it hurts rather than helps. Sure, we like to hear new sounds, but not if it breaks the flow of the song in a bad way. There are ways to change things up that are less jarring, but SM's producers must not like them. Too bad, because they lose me as a listener with what they did choose.
Oh, and I don't like the effects they put on Yesung's voice. It's unrecognizable.

The video has lots of swag, and I like the color treatments. That being said, it's just aight.

If I were to sum up Super Junior in these their twilight years before the military, I'd say something like "attempts at uniqueness that often fell flat". I know that they're trying to avoid the "just another k-pop band" label, but their younger competition is doing it better right now if you ask me.

I might listen to the album. From what I've read, though, it might not be worth it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Quick Take: Girls' Generation, "Paparazzi"

Hmm. If I were to sum up the song in one word, that would be it.

I've never thought SNSD put out the best music in k-pop or j-pop. But I've also never thought their music was generic. Unfortunately, that's how I'd describe this track. It sounds like something that any old pop group could put out. The now-obligatory dubstep breakdown doesn't help - they could have done without that section completely if you ask me.

Which isn't to say it's a bad song, because it's not, but rather that I've always thought that their music had a unique quality to it - that the songs were written for them and not for anyone else. And I don't hear that in this song. I think it'll work for them though - they've hit on everything that's hot in J-pop right now, and given it a Western flair that should please international audiences. But I do hope that they come up with something a little more unique for their follow-up singles and the eventual album.

The video's pretty. Not sure about the styling, but they're working the song and the choreo. The dance version in particular is a whole lotta hotness. I don't know what was going on in the intro though: first military drums over Ravel's Bolero, then "Singing In the Rain" - as the lead-up to an electro-pop track? #confused

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Not-Very-Quick Take: f(x) - Electric Shock (mini-album)

I've always thought that f(x) was a talented group with good performers, but I've also always been of two minds about their material. For example, I initially really liked "NU ABO", but I fell out of love with it after a while and haven't quite repaired our relationship yet. I also liked their Pinocchio album - I realize that it's a hot ass mess and not consistent at all, and yet that's part of what I love about it - they take any style and infuse it with their "f(x)-ness". What f(x)-ness is, exactly, I can't tell you, but I'm a fan of it and will take it in any form they give it to me.

Because of all the above then, I'm kind of sad that this mini is not as much of a hot ass mess. Defeated expectations, I suppose. But I'm sure I'll get over it because I think this mini is actually pretty good. It's consistent, which is nice, and it's surprisingly different. This is material that SM wouldn't try out with any other group, unlike the Pinocchio album which, despite my fondness for it, sounded a little like a collection B-sides from a host of other girl groups. It's like they took the f(x)-ness and translated it into music - loud, slightly grungy, almost quirky electro-pop. It doesn't quite make sense, but you love it anyway.

"Electric Shock" will probably leave a better impression with the MV, but for what it is, I like it. This is what I wanted them to do with "Mr. Simple" - take out the weird beat changes and just make it a straight up dance track. Maybe not as interesting, but at least you don't stop and go "wtf just happened?" at random points in the song when you're supposed to be dancing it up. The other songs are fun too - my favorite right now is "Love Hate". Among the writing credits for this song include two British songwriters that have worked with some of my favorite British artists (Ed Sheeran, Girls Aloud, Lily Allen, Kylie, Sugababes - and not my favorite but I figured I should mention them: One Direction), and the sound really reflects that background. It sounds very British, like something an up-and-coming girl group would put out in an attempt to grab a chart spot before GA make their comeback. I love the British pop sound, so I hope I can hear more of it in k-pop.

Before this gets too long, I just want to thank SM for freeing Amber from the short-rap-at-the-end-of-the-song box. f(x) works so much better when she's actually a part of the group and not the token member. So yay for her singing, actually rapping, and not just dropping a few English lines here and there (see "Beautiful Stranger"). Yes, she's different from your typical girl group member, but that doesn't mean the best way to use that is to single her out and go "look how different she is!" Not only is it annoying, but it also undermines the integrity of your group's image - by showing how unlike the other members Amber is, you take away from the f(x)-ness that makes the group what it is. So yay for fixing that. SM seems to be figuring out how to actually drop decent material these days, and not just throw money at its groups and wait for them to scrape together a CD. They're improving at a snail's pace, but they're getting there. Not that I have a lot of hope for Super Junior's upcoming album, though. Unless they plan to go on hiatus once Leeteuk enlists, I expect it'll be the same ol' thing from them. (There's a teeny part of me that hopes to be proven wrong.)

Edit: The video came out - it doesn't really change my perception of the song. But they work it as usual, and they look fabulous - save the throwbacks to the "NU ABO" styling, which was my least favorite video fashion-wise.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Quick Take: Wonder Girls "Like This" + "Wonder Party"

This mini-album threw me off. The promos had me expecting WG to throw down some electro-pop in the vein of "G.N.O" or "Supa B". Instead we get what I can only describe as a tentative foray into pop R&B, which unfortunately falls short of their previous releases. I tried to come up with ways that JYP to justify this release, cos I didn't really get it:

1) They were too busy preparing for their US debut to come up with any good songs: But it's not WG that's writing the songs, it's the in-house songwriters. And that album was done like two months ago. Not a good excuse.

2) They got complacent and decided that since they're about to take over America, they just needed to release a lil' sumthin sumthin to please the Korean fans: But then why a mini instead of a single? Yes, you could charge more for it, and yes, almost no artist whose been around for over a year releases singles these days - but to compromise your group's reputation with a lackluster release just seems like a bad idea no matter how I look at it. Wonder World set the bar high, and Wonder Party just walked right under it with headroom to spare.

3) They wanted to experiment with the pop R&B sound without spending too much money or exerting the girls since they're gearing up to debut in both Japan and the US:
This seems to make sense. To be honest, this sound really only suits Ye-eun and Sunye, and maybe Yubin - the other two just don't have strong enough vocals to pull off anything that even resembles R&B. Hence why the main track is minimal on the vocals but major on the fun, and the only other songs that leave an impression are the ballads. Also, the in-house songwriters probably aren't used to the genre, hence the lacklusterness of the mini overall.

I'm kind of relieved that they've dropped the retro for a bit, though, especially since they're going to reproduce "Nobody" for the nth time for their Japanese fans. (A good idea? Only time will tell.) At this stage they really should be experimenting more with their sound, and as we saw on Wonder World, they can actually branch out and not fail horribly. Here's to hoping that they continue to grow and develop as a group.

"Like This" on its own kind of washed over me. Catchy, but unimpressive. But I loved the video - it's not typical WG, and the girls looked like they were having a great time. I'm a fan of the dance, and I'll probably rewatch the video just to learn it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Moving House - Another Poll!

Among the huge list of things I hope to get done this summer, pimping out this blog is one of them. I have to do a lot of things before that becomes a reality, such as learning code and come up with something pretty and all that, so it'll be a long time coming. But before all that, I want to know if people like what I have going on here in terms of layout, ease of commenting, etc etc. I know there are a bunch of people who find Blogger burdensome, but others who find it convenient. So vote in the poll and/or leave a comment if you feel strongly about this. Poll's open for the next three weeks. Thanks again!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's Official: I Have Tumblr

The votes are in, and apparently Tumblr is the favorite among readers, so here you go:

In about a month I'll pimp it out with an awesome background and possibly also change the name to match this one. But for now, go follow me, ask me questions, and check out other stuff I've posted on there. I'll be posting on Tumblr when I'm too busy to post on the blog itself and I have more to say than Twitter's 140 character count will allow - which will be a lot of the time. See you there!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Last Words: EXO - "Mama" EP

And we come to the last EXO post I will write until they drop a full album. I am definitely a victim of SM's beat-you-over-the-head marketing tactics, but I think I've come out on the other side not completely obsessed. Which is more than I can say for the rabid fanbase that has already formed. I'll be focusing on the music here, since their live performances weren't much better than their videos - though I did see some more confidence from a few of them (and adorable nervousness from others). This'll be my final assessment of whether this band passes muster or not. Shall we?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Poll Time!

Yo! So I'm beginning to get tired of my empty promises to blog, as you are. I am frequently on the internet, but these days I just don't have the time to write the kind of posts that you're used to seeing from me. I have exams in a month's time, so I have even less time now than I did before. But I do want to keep you guys updated on my opinions on music, race/gender issues in k-pop, what I'm listening to, etc etc. So with that in mind, I've put a poll up at the top of the sidebar: let me know which sites you want to see my content on, and I'll post regularly on whichever one gets the most votes. If there's a site you want me to get on that isn't in the poll, select "Other" in the poll and post the site in the comments below.

Mind you, if nobody votes, then you won't see me until mid-May. So follow Kyuhyun's lead and vote, people - otherwise, I'll see you in the summer!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

More EXO - "What is Love" + "History"

Since my last post on this group, EXO has released two full singles complete with videos. I wanted to wait until they released an album before assessing these guys and their skills, but they seem to be taking a while, and I haven't written anything in a minute, so let's just get to it.

I spent most of my last EXO post ranting about SM's poor management of their current lineup, and how while it looked promising, there wasn't any guarantee that this band was going to be any different from the rest. After that they released what seemed to be countless useless teasers (most featuring Kai) and I was ready to drop this group like a hot potato. Then! They dropped "What is Love" (as it happens, right when speculations about SNSD's Jessica getting plastic surgery were flying around the internet - coincidence?) and I had something to work with...

... Well, not really, since only two members of each group actually sang, while the rest simply did their teaser thing. I don't have much to say about this single - typical Yoo Young-jin track in that overly heartfelt R&B style he loves. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

I tried really hard to ignore the teasers after that, and succeeded for a while, but then Tao dropped this epicness:

The music in the other teasers stuck with me though, and I found myself letting the all the teasers play in the background while I did work.I have to applaud SM for the great production value in these teasers, and their commitment to this extra-terrestrial concept. The music is slick, and sounds futuristic enough to not be stock, save some of the R&B tracks. The teasers were all shot to capture that vibe as well. (Sidenote: that camera is everything.) If anything, that's what kept me curious - as a die-hard science fiction/fantasy fan, I dig anything futuristic. And consistency is a word I would never have associated with SM, but here they are, making me eat my words - in this department at least.

"History" dropped last week, and finally, I could actually assess the boys for their own talents, which is really, what I - and everyone else, I assume - have been waiting for:

I liked this the single. Again, nothing particularly groundbreaking - it reminds me a lot of old BoA singles like "Girls on Top" and "My Name" - but it's catchy, with electronic effects that echo back to some of the teasers. (Again - consistency!) Thomas Troelsen, who I'd written off after he dropped Super Junior's "Perfection" (my ears are still healing, thanks for asking), comes up with something that's actually pleasing to the ear, with the help of YYJ and his R&B sensibilities. It reminds me of SHINee circa 2009, which can only be a good thing. I like that the lyrics stick with the theme of their teasers, but also gives you some interesting imagery for the group: two halves of the same sun, moving forward to a new awesome future on earth. I can get with that. The video is clearly the stuff of, oh, every SM video in the past two years, but I am loving the choreo, as well as the Aurora Borealis effects in the background.

As a group, the boys check off all the right boxes - good dancers, decent singers/rappers, good looks - but they lack personality. They do what they're told, but bring nothing of themselves to the music, and thus they come off as well trained imitators as opposed to special, unique individuals who have something to prove. It doesn't help that SM seems to have picked them all from a very small gene pool - I can barely tell them apart. I almost don't want to try, just to spite them. Rebel against the power of the idol clones, or whatever. I did feel a bit more personality from EXO-M than EXO-K, hence why I prefer their renditions of both prologue tracks (despite the apparently awful Mandarin); Chen has a unique voice which prevents YYJ from molding him into his vocal Mini-Me, unlike D.O. and Baek-hyun, and Lu Han to an extent.

Individually, the boys are a mixed bag. You have Kai and Lay - very pretty, wonderful dancers who hit every move, but with no emotion. It's partly the SM dance training which says you can't look like you're having fun when performing unless the song's cute, but it's also a lack of charisma on their part. Then you have people like D.O and Tao, who try way too hard to stare me into paying attention to them. Sadly they haven't invented ESP via Youtube video, but they have other things going for them. Chen and Baek-hyun stood out for their voices and camera presence. The others didn't make much of an impression on me. Xiu Min carries himself well at least. I had no friggin' idea where Su-ho came from - I vaguely remember a teaser with his name on it. He was okay. I kept an eye out for Lu Han, but felt he wasn't quite charismatic enough. Also, what was with the collars? SM, a.k.a. S&M? (Actually, let's not even go there...) Chan-yeol and Se-hun were like cardboard cutouts, even with all the posing. Though I'll throw them a bone - Chan-yeol has a much deeper voice than I expected, and is cute enough. Se-hun reminds me so much of MBLAQ's Thunder. Even their voices are the same. Chris looked cool, but I felt he was trying a little too hard. And I've covered all of them, right? Good.

Compared to rookies like Infinite, B1A4, and B.A.P, who broke onto the scene with strong debuts, EXO ultimately aren't leaving a impression on me. I don't know who they are, or who they're trying to be, and therefore I find it hard to care whether they succeed or not. In these times in k-pop, that is a dangerous thing: there are too many idol groups around to risk letting yours blend into the crowd. All I can see right now is a group of people selected to make a idol supergroup, not a band with any sort of identity - however loosely constructed. And zero personality + zero group identity = zero distinguishing factors = zero reasons why I should pay attention to this group as opposed to any other k-pop group.

I will admit, though, that I have a soft spot for rookie groups. I always want to see how far they'll go, if I think they're any good. Undoubtedly, these EXO kids have the stuff. But the SM idol mill is suppressing their personalities, and they're suffering for it. There's hope yet though. SM are taking it real slow with this group - testing the waters, seeing the public's reaction to the group, tweaking things here and there - biding their time until they think they can make the most impact with their debut. (Preferably, of course, when there's not much competition on the charts). There's still a chance their actual debut will blow me away, as promised. Until then, though, I suppose we'll keep complaining about the excessive teasers. If nothing else, SM has guaranteed that we'll keep talking about them, whether we ultimately care or not. And maybe, that's all they need to succeed.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: Black Woman Featured Prominently in K-Pop Video

Thank you, Jay Park. The dancer, named Mauika Cole(?) has a nice 20-second feature in his new video, "Know Your Name" (starting at about 2:07):

Not a fan of the song or the video (cameraperson taking liberties with the tilt and zoom here) but finally! some inclusiveness in k-pop that includes black people as more than a 5 seconds or less cameo.

Curious to see how SK reacts to this. There was all sorts of fan hate when JYJ went on their first world tour and Yoochun was getting down with their dancer Telisha Shaw, and also when she and Junsu appeared to be close:

I don't think it'll be that big of a deal in this case though. While she's the only woman in this video, she's a dance partner, not a love interest, and the video of the acoustic version of "Know Your Name" shows that the sweet, demure girl is still the favored leading lady in k-pop.

Still - yay for brown women!

School's crazy at the mo, so I think this'll be the extent of my blogging for this week. If you're interested in reading more on race and k-pop here, check out these posts:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Video: Jin Akanishi, "Sun Burns Down"

Adding to the ever-growing list of Asian musicians trying to make it big in the US is Japanese heartthrob/sex-symbol Jin Akanishi. I'm not as into J-pop as I'm into k-pop, so I don't know much about him except he used to be in a boy band and my j-dorama watching friends think he's the hottest guy in the world. I didn't even know he was trying to break into the US market until I saw him featured on the A-tunes blog. His first single, Test Drive ft. Jason DeRulo, was terrible, so I didn't have much hope for him, but this song is definitely better. I think because the last song was named "Test Drive", I can forgive him. "Sun Burns Down" is not the most innovative track, but it's catchy, dancey and everything that's hot in the US Top 40 right now. I dig it.

He's working with The Stereotypes, who were a major part of the creative team working on Far East Movement's breakout album, Free Wired. You could call it a safe choice or a smart one - by establishing himself  using their signature sound, he's placing himself into a category - I'll call it "party Asians" - that the American mainstream has gotten used to. Far East Movement have essentially paved the way for him, so maybe he'll have less of an uphill climb to his desired place in the music scene. I like that he's taking it slow and not simply throwing himself out there and hoping for the best, a la SNSD's random TV appearances last week. (I haven't seen them, and I probably won't ever see them, simply because I don't think they'll show me anything I haven't seen before). He has a full album in the works which should come out in March, as well as a national tour, and I expect he'll release at least another single before that. I hope his album is good - from all I've heard along the lines of Asian pop in America, I think this is the best crossover track, and Jin is currently the most promising artist to make the break through to the American mainstream.

Fans have noticed that Jin has been covering his face up a lot in his videos. I can't help but speculate as to why that is, and I think stereotypes about the attractiveness of Asian men have a lot to do with it. I mean, he's good-looking, for sure, but in that bishounen/kkotminam way that's become ridiculously popular in Asia, but not so much Stateside. (Anyone curious as to why can read my post about attractiveness and race from a while back where I put in my two cents). Many a handsome Asian man has failed to capture the hearts of the American public with their looks (example: Daniel Henney). By covering himself up, he gives himself an aura of mystery (playing on ninja imagery?), and also shifts the focus away from his looks and onto his music. That's probably a good thing in the long run, but it's also an example of how much Asian artists have to shift their personas in order to fit into the American mainstream. I mean, the dude can sing, but let's not get it twisted - he's popular because he's hot. I think it's sad that artists have to lose a lot of their uniqueness just so that they can break into the top 40, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's even worth it.

Everyone seems excited about Asian pop in America, but I'm much more pessimistic. From what I'm reading in the blogs, it all just seems like one big fad, the same way indie music was about 5 years ago. All of a sudden the mainstream media discovered that people were making music that didn't sound like everything on the iTunes Top 40 and decided that that was the new cool. They lauded all these bands like MGMT as the next big thing, and yet nobody cares about them anymore. If you ask me, it's because they're not that great - saw them live and it was pretty awful). Now k-pop is the new media darling, and yet the songs they pick as representative of the genre are for the most part the least musically appealing songs that k-pop has to offer. If they were really interested in new, innovative music, you'd think they'd try harder and actually give credit to people making good music. I'm pretty sure that by the time I graduate law school, America will be on to the next fad. Pop music by nature is temporal anyway - it's not like it's music we'll be listening to years in the future. Or at least, we won't be listening to it because it's good music. And because nobody's making music for years to come, it's bound to fizzle out eventually. K-pop artists can ride this wave while it's still high, but they should be prepared for when the tide pulls them back to sea.

What do you guys think? Is Jin Akanishi the best contender for Asian breakout star? Or are Korea's girl groups (2NE1, SNSD, Wonder Girls) going to be the ones to do it? Sound off in the comments!

For more on Jin Akanishi and his US promotions, check out his Youtube page.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

B.A.P's "Warrior": Ready for Battle

So last year I wrote a lengthy post about boy bands and how the market for them is getting seriously crowded. I predicted that boy bands would have a harder time distinguishing them from the pack, and would really have to bring it both musically and performance-wise in order to make their mark on the music scene. After Block B's debut, I pretty much stopped following the new boy bands (and girl groups) because there were just too many of them, and I couldn't bring myself to care.

However, after hearing the buzz about B.A.P, the new boy band from Secret's management, TS Entertainment, I decided to check them out. I have to say, I was pretty impressed. I'd been keeping my eye on Bang Yong-guk ever since his duet with Song Ji-eun, and he and his crew basically came in ready to fight their way to the top. I promise not to make any more puns, but I can't help but find their debut song and concept really appropriate: k-pop has become a very serious competition for chart awards, sales and fans, and if you don't go in willing to give all you've got to make it, you get left. B.A.P knows it, and the song almost comes across as a message: watch out world, we're coming for ya.

"Warrior" is a great track, though it may not be obviously good or immediately appealing. It's not particularly new in terms of sound, though it does stand out from the myriad of electronic, four-on-the-floor tracks, with it's mid-tempo hip-hop beat. It also starts off fairly low-key, slowly building until the last chorus, by which time you're bobbing your head and singing along. It's surprisingly un-catchy, yet I find myself listening to it over and over again. The vocals are solid, the rapping is on point, with Zelo giving Block B's Zico a run for his money in the speed-rapping department, and even the sub-vocalists/rappers make the most of their eight-second appearances.

Their performances are also great and full of energy, despite not having a dancey beat or particularly complicated choreo. There's something about the controlled aggression they bring with their performance that really appeals to me. It's a nice change from the "beast" concept that has been popularized by 2PM and has pretty much dominated the boy band scene in terms of strong masculine imagery. They're not dressing in all black, rocking guyliner and ripping off their shirts, but they're showing their strength and skill and discipline in a very controlled way. They're definitely influenced by the performance tradition of African-American fraternities in the US - the stepping that they do at the dance break is an obvious example of that. The performance also reminds me of the haka that the New Zealand rugby team does at the beginning of their matches. Check out the videos below for examples of stepping and haka.

(Ignore the over-dramatics in this video - it's from a movie, Stomp The Yard. Couldn't find a real-life example with decent camerawork.)

I like that B.A.P plays to their strengths and doesn't try to be too poppy, but still show that they can do a diverse group of songs. "Secret Love" (below) is a fantastic track featuring Song Ji-eun, who sounds particularly good here, foregoing the belting for a softer sound. It's all acoustic low-key goodness, with mellow rapping and a hint of Spanish guitar in the chorus. I think it'll be a hit with people who aren't big fans of the typical k-pop sound. It's definitely the opposite side of the spectrum from "Warrior" and "Unbreakable" but somehow fits B.A.P like a glove.

All in all, this was a strong debut. I went back and watched all of the boy-band debuts of the past year out of boredom/curiosity, and few stood out (CHAOS and MYNAME seem the most promising). B.A.P has definitely knocked out most of the competition with this one, and I suspect they'll weather the storm and stick around for a minute longer than their peers. It's funny because while I'm still skeptical about EXO's upcoming debut, I think SM may be smarter than I originally thought - their latest teasers showcase some decent rapping, which to me is a sign that they're getting ready to duke it out with B.A.P and other hot up-and-comers for the top spot. You can always tell that a k-pop group is serious when their rappers aren't just pretty boys with deep voices. Could it be possible that the saturation of the k-pop market is actually forcing people to make better music? I'll remain hesitantly hopeful on that point.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Did the Piggy Dolls Ruin Their Credibility?

Question of the day: What do you guys think of the Piggy Dolls?

Of course, I'm supposed to be working. But this thought just occured to me, and I wanted to bring this to a public forum for discussion. So if you read and have an opinion on this, feel free to share it here.

Two weeks ago, the Piggy Dolls released a new digital single "What Is Love" featuring Simon D. I only listened to it about 10 minutes ago, and all I could think is: this is amazing - WHY IS NOBODY TALKING ABOUT IT?

On the real though: their voices have majorly improved and matured in the year and the half since they debuted with "Trend". Vocally, these girls slay, and this song is only more proof of that. And I mean, if the mid-tempo ballad isn't you're thing, watch them out kick Joss Stone to the curb with their cover of her track "Tell Me 'Bout It". (I miss Joss Stone, by the way. Haven't listened to her last two albums. I should get on that...)

I mean, completely live with a band on top of that??? Do I have to say they're amazing one more time, or is it obvious?

So why the hell are they not getting more coverage? I mean, they're probably suffering from the usual bias towards the more prominent entertainment companies in SK. But you'd think they'd have garnered at least some sort of following. But I can't see signs of it anywhere - at least, not in the international k-pop interwebs. But then I remembered their PR nightmare from last year, where they denied, then admitted to going on a diet program for an advertising campaign before they released their second CD, Hakuna Matata. Facepalm doesn't even begin to describe my reaction. I wasn't a fan of their "concept" in the first place, but to then undermine your whole "body image doesn't matter" slogan by making the girls lose weight was just stupid, plain and simple. They were obviously pressured into it by the industry, but if their management had the backbone that they seemed to have by debuting the girls in the first place, then they should have stuck up for them and found a way for them to make it work. I mean, it's not like everyone on the idol circuit is skinny.

Piggy Doll's Debut Single, "Trend" with English subtitles

So I'm now wondering if they have undermined their credibility by that stunt, and whether that's the cause of the lack of interest. Management companies claim all sorts of things about their idols, including that they're all-natural i.e. had no plastic surgery, and don't starve themselves to keep their figure (even though it's obvious that surgery is rampant and most of the idols are underweight). And it's not new for idols to go on drastic diets. However, if you go out hoping to capture the attention of the industry with your plus-sized girl group, and then make them normal size, you lose the support of people who would originally be interested in that sort of group. You also lose the connection that idols work so hard to establish with their fans - whether it's a romantic connection or a platonic, elder/younger sibling connection. And finally, you signal to everyone else that you don't have what it takes to be a rebel, and would rather fit in with everyone else. Unfortunately, that means you disappear into the swarm of young idol groups around today, all vying for the attention of the (still fairly small) k-pop audience at home and abroad.

On a related note though, the pressure to be thin in the k-pop scene is overwhelming and disturbing. It's old news, but every time I'm reminded of it I become really upset. I just read about Brown Eyed Soul's Yong Joon losing weight for his solo promotions. This isn't a tiny girl competing with other tiny girls - this is a grown-ass man we're talking about here. And he wasn't even significantly overweight. I mean, have you seen the people on The Biggest Loser? Those dudes are big. He was slim in comparison. And with a voice like this, why do you even need to lose weight in the first place? Kim Tae Woo's a bit pudgy, and he's doing just fine. (Then again, he was in g.o.d.)

What are your thoughts? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

I hope that more people start covering the Piggy Dolls, as well as other "underrateds". Shout out to McRoth's Residence, Indieful ROK/Korean Indie, Luminosity, and all other k-pop blogs who devote time and energy to showing the world that there are more artists with great music to share outside of the mainstream idol sphere. Visit them, comment on their blogs, show them some love. And buy an indie CD!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Now Approaching: EXO Planet

Ah, finally - a relevant SM topic to write about. I've been itching to write about everyone's favorite entertainment company for the past two or three months, but I didn't want to bore you guys with old news about SNSD. So now I'm turning my attention to their newest group, EXO.

Right off the bat, these guys caught my attention. SM poured their money into their teasers, and for once, it was money well spent. The boys look good, sound good, and are singing, dancing, and staring meaningfully to some phat beats. It's clear that SM wants these guys to be a success, and I'm liking what they're doing with them so far. My favorite teaser is the first Kai one, for a few reasons: (a) he's kinda hot (new noona crush?); (b) I love his dance style; and (c) The song, "My Lady" slays me every time I hear it. I suspect that's Jino singing - I'm just waiting for his teaser so I can make him my bias and leave all these other dudes in the dust.

(People have been hating on Kai's many teasers - I guess he's the leader? It'd be annoying if he wasn't the leader, though, and just the chosen one, like Yoona.)

A big topic over at Seoulbeats has been the unique marketing strategy for this group: made up of twelve Chinese and Korean performers, they will be split into sub-groups, EXO-K and EXO-M to promote simultaneously in Korea and China. They will be singing the same songs, only on different languages. Some have called this strategy genius: I call it poorly thought out. The marketing that's been done so far seems to indicate that they're thinking more strategically about this debut - unlike f(x) who were kind of just thrown onto the scene with a smorgasbord concept that they haven't quite figured out yet, and no directed marketing beforehand. However, I've learned not to get my hopes up when it comes to this company. People have already pointed out the fact that k-pop hasn't gotten hold of the mainland Chinese market just yet, so EXO-M might not do as well as EXO-K. They've also been throwing SNSD onto every continent with mixes featuring a random mix of American talents, which just seems lazy to me. Without a good picture of the foreign market and what they're willing to pay for, they're unlikely to capture the market the way they want to. SM may say that they don't want world domination, but they're making moves that only support that assertion. Probably don't want to be embarrassed when they flop.

Regarding China though, I think there may be a chance for them. If EXO-M can market itself to the younger generations who listen to rock bands instead of the dreary pop ballad singers, and position themselves as a group that plans to change the status quo as opposed to fitting into it (which is what SM tried with no success in China and in the US) then maybe they have a chance. I wonder how they'll deal with censorship though - they probably don't have Chinese TV broadcasters in their back pocket like they do the Korean ones, so they have to be careful about content. Oh well, if it fails, at least Taiwan will take them.

Who'd reject these cuties though?

Anyway, this all looks good, but I'm not confident that SM can deliver the way they are suggesting they will. Here's why: they kind of just do stuff. They don't put much thought into their actions, but simply put out albums and flash their cash for the world to see. This is my main beef with SM, aside from their restrictive contracts and questionable marketing of SNSD. Occasionally you see growth in their artists, but in those cases I would give credit to the hard work of the individuals as opposed to the company's philosophy as a whole, which essentially boils down to "F**k bitches, get money." Release albums with lackluster songs, collect the profits from a rabid fanbase, and then turn around and do it again with the next group the next month. Cycle through the artists and simply wait for the cash to fall into your pocket.

Clearly this is working for them, so I won't knock it too much. However, apart from the possible human rights violations being committed in order to get these albums out so quickly, as a music fan it leaves me disappointed. SM is fantastic at picking out the most talented people the world has to offer. Yet they seem incapable of producing consistently good music. Huge amounts of talent are being wasted over there, shafted to occasional special performances, or the off chance that someone actually knows what good music is and works with the artists to help them get a glimpse of their full potential. So while it looks like someone actually cares about the music this time, I plan on remaining detached from this new group, because I will be let down, as usual.

Sad face.

To be honest, I think EXO is simply a replacement for Super Junior. Down to nine members, which will soon decrease to eight as Leeteuk approaches the age of army enlistment, SM needs another super boy band to keep the fangirls emptying their pockets for merchandise and concert tickets. So far, it seems like the k-pop world is ready to accept EXO as their new deities once they land on Earth. Maybe if we're lucky, they bring with them some awesome music from their planet.

... though if they don't, I suppose there's always the pretty.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rainbow Pixie: Half-hearted Girl Group Mashup

So I actually like Rainbow as a group. I think they're talented, and when they're given a decent song, they rock it like nobody's business. However, I am NOT a fan of this video and song:

The song had potential until the wtf-ery that was the middle eight a.k.a Rainbow's Achilles' heel. It wasn't terribly annoying, didn't sound like Orange Caramel, and Jisook and Hyunyoung have pretty good voices. The video however seriously jacked Orange Caramel's swag. There were also hints of Dal Shabet, A Pink and Girls' Day in there. Once you start imitating your dongsaengs, you should stop and think if this is a good choice. Usually, it won't be.

I've always liked Rainbow for not following trends, but it seems they think the cutesy sub-unit is the only way to be relevant these days. Dear DSP: there are other ways to keep making your money. The most obvious suggestion - MAKE GOOD MUSIC. Also try hiring a decent choregorapher - Rainbow always gets the short end of that stick, not unlike SS501 when they were still with you. I have other great ideas of how you could save this girl band, but I'm still trying to find someone to pay me for all the effort I put into my k-pop obsession. Till then, I'll be saving them for my own entertainment company (a.k.a Mellowyel's plan for world domination).

Sorry for not posting sooner guys - was going to wait until I came up with something brilliant before starting again. But I figured it was better if I just got to posting and forgot about being organized, since I clearly can't manage that. I'll try to post more frequently with short opinion pieces like this, but I'm working on some longer posts that will also go up... hopefully. *sigh. Happy New Year!