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.