being in control

This will be a short and spontaneous post. I met someone new today and she sincerely complimented me profusely on how in control I seemed of my own life. I was disconcerted because it echoed what a lot of people tell me when they first meet me– that I’m incredibly well-rounded, have great sense of organization and can seem to juggle a lot of things simultaneously while also striving for (and accomplishing) great results. I can also sincerely say that I never fish for compliments; hence my disconcertedness every time.

To me, I guess these things are second nature and I’ve always had a great appreciation for being well-balanced. Where this sentiment came from, I have no idea. It is certainly not from my quite staid Asian family, which predictably values the pragmatic over the philosophic. Yet, someone I turned out that way and I’ve strived to make my education and pursuits come full circle. I have a finger in every pie, and in every major discipline, I at least know the basics.

Everyone is different and we all imbibe knowledge in different ways; I just want to share some of the ways that I’ve used to become an apparently “in control” person. Honestly, I feel inside I’m a mess and a jumble, but to many I seem like a role model.

Read the news. There’s really no way around this. Of course one may focus on the news that one finds interesting but one must stay up to date in the news. It takes years to build up extensive background knowledge from the news, but it is quite worth it.

Something sounds interesting? Follow up on it. Meet others who are interested in it. Read a book on it, etc. For college students: don’t try to load up classes on one field. English major? Take a math class. Computer science major? Take an art history course.

Time management isn’t something you necessarily have or you can acquire really quickly. It’s about developing and learning about how you work best under time constraints and eventually developing a system that you can rely on. Studying, too.

I’ve always been a big proponent of having both quantitative and qualitative activities in my life. For example, no matter how many math or economics course I was taking, I was always playing music, whether in lesson or a chamber music group. I think it’s important to pursue your passions in both sides even if you are particularly bad at one side (I’m a subpar musician but I stick it out anyway). Music has been a huge part of my life and a big coping and relaxing mechanism over the years. Catharsis in music is wildly different than the satisfaction from a problem set or program well done. Silo-ing ourselves off to only feel one kind of satisfaction? Sounds like a very hollow existence.

updated upcoming posts; submit your favorite SHINee cover/collab to be reviewed!

Bad news first, I will no longer be posting comments on Key’s We Got Married. SHINee’s OST compilation review is still coming, but it’ll probably be on the backburner.

I’m adding a few new kpop projects:

  1. The Misconceptions of Us review
  2. Lucky Star review
  3. SHINee cover & collaborations review

My dear readers, I need your help for number 3! I’ve been so out of the kpop loop that I have missed many things (last night I just watched the sobfest that is the 2013 Melon Music Awards). Please submit any and all SHINee covers or collaborations you’d like me to address, like this excellent suggestion for Gloomy Letter in my ask.fm. Of course, you may submit more than one suggestion.

Please submit your suggestions here

[review/kpop] ToHeart’s 1st Mini Album

This is sort of, kind of, most likely, the worst duo project I’ve heard since Eunhyuk and Donghae’s album RIDE ME. INFINITE’s Woohyun and SHINee’s Key, though they are great friends in real life and have great chemistry in the music videos, their singing and rapping do not mesh well. They do not complement each other: they neither lessen each other’s weaknesses nor strengthen each other’s specialties. To be fair, it’s hard to balance with a voice like Key’s. All too obviously, this mini-album fails the balancing act and even raises the question, did they even attempt to create balance?

The production also seems off-quality– I’ve been told that it’s not the usual slew of SM producers backing this, rather from Woollim Entertainment. I’ve never really enjoyed an INFINITE song, and I suspect it may be the unfinished and corny sound that that Woollim tends to favor. Rather than SM’s style of slick pop, Woollim gives off a safe-family vibe.

In this review, I will only be talking about the album and will not review the music videos or the lives, though I may mention them in passing. Be warned, this review is more crass than you would typically read because I couldn’t find much to like about this mini.

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Intro

I can hear it now, the waves of corniness with a big side of unnecessary piano and bass comping in the background. Can I make it through without gagging? $10 on me not being able to make it to the end.

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[kpop] short thoughts on EXO’s “Overdose”

Part of me cannot believe how much EXO reminds me of early SHINee and how much better they are than early SHINee. SM seems to be lavishing them with good production; I usually run from the smooth R&B pop (including SHINee’s) but EXO’s selections seem to continually flout the typical run-of-the-mill sounds. It also doesn’t help that Chen– and the rest of EXO– is handing in better and better track performances.

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Watching the Overdose music video multiple times has made me realize one of SM’s biggest trademarks, which is surprisingly hard to duplicate (no matter how much plastic surgery)– looks. SM probably has potent combination of these three: (1) a killer team of recruiters (2) great plastic surgeons on speed dial (3) makeup magicians. Yet, despite this focus on looks, I must acknowledge SM for debuting artists that are not “typically” the ideal face, e.g., Onew, Tao, Kris, Amber. Think now: how many faces do you see like Hyoyeon and how many faces do you see like Tiffany?

Made popular in part by EatYourKimchi, I think a lot of people still sniff and complain about SM’s “music-videos-in-fancy-boxes”, and some made allowance for this type of video when the dance was “interesting”, most notably for Growl. Yet, in Overdose, just by their looks alone, EXO is captivating– in this case, a storyline would have cut down on the screentime of each member. From a business perspective, a standard box-music-video costs less in terms of concept development and set decoration; if you have fans that will lap up whatever you throw at them, why bother going that far? SM is a company that plays it safe– it will never be home of a Gangnam Style. I do feel that a lot of us in the West tend to have an elevated view of pop musicians and the art form– case in point, Lady Gaga’s release of an album expressly called ARTPOP and the legions of lesser pop stars trying to pontificate on points deeper than they actually intend (I see you, Lana Del Rey). Rather, kpop is less of an elevated art form, more like a vehicle for advertisement. It’s a means for getting the group’s face out there and not necessarily pushing an agenda of any deeper meaning. This is not a critique, this is merely reality. At times I feel incredibly frustrated listening to outside opinions because they continually project their own cultural norms without stopping to think– hey, there might actually be a reason for this behavior.

Favorite tracks on the album are Overdose, Thunder and Love, Love, Love.

[review/kpop] S.M. The Ballad’s “Breath”

In 2014, S.M. The Ballad returned to the music scene. In contrast to the unit’s debut, 2014 S.M. The Ballad included women and released in three languages simultaneously (applause please, seriously impressed with S.M. gunning for the entire Asian market and not prioritizing Korea). The interesting upshot of releasing one song in three different languages is that I get to compare and lampoon everyone who is not Jonghyun. Just kidding, of course.

As this is a SHINee-centered blog, I will be primarily focusing on Jonghyun’s contribution to S.M. The Ballad, but I will briefly discuss all of the other singers and singles within this mini-album. I will also discuss the live joint recital videos that SM has posted on its YouTube channel.

breathe

Breath

SHINee’s Jonghyun and SNSD’s Taeyeon sing the Korean version, and their success is ambiguous. First of all, Breath by itself is not a memorable ballad, just another sappy mix of a piano motive, synthetic strings and teardrop beats. Both Jonghyun and Taeyeon, while sounding controlled, are at times tight and thin-sounding; as Bilbo Baggins describes, it feels like “butter scraped over too much bread.” In the beginning, Taeyeon does have some beautiful moments in her lower register, but her octave duets with Jonghyun feel uncomfortable, sharp while Jonghyun is broad and relaxed. I wonder if they are truly singing a duet, or whether they are merely matching times. There is no real interaction between their singing, and no building off each other. Overall, I believe they are mismatched as a pair; in terms of aural match, Taeyeon and Onew would have been better. Overall, Jonghyun and Taeyeon’s version is not lead vocal material.

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[college] classes to take, no matter what

For many of us, college is the first time that we have the ability to study one favorite subject in-depth– our major– yet, we must remember our perspectives as humans and even within our majors will fail to grow properly if we shun other disciplines. Learning different perspectives and ways of thinking are key to becoming a forward-thinking, rational individual.

To that end, I strongly encourage a few classes that everyone should take, regardless of your major and interests.

what better reason to learn real analysis and topology than to understand this supremely funny comic?

what better reason to learn real analysis and topology than to understand this supremely funny comic?

Computer Science– Nowadays, computer science is increasingly one of the most popular and lucrative majors. However, there are many people (like me), who found it difficult and did not excel in it. Nonetheless, computer science gave me valuable insight in thinking small-to-big, going backwards and looping– all ways of thinking I had never encountered before but now use in my daily thinking. Exploring different methods of thought is critical to becoming a good reasoner, in whatever you decide to pursue.

Formation of Identity– Of course, there is no course called “Formation of Identity.” However, any class that talks about identity formation, whether individual or societal, ranging from ethnic identities in South Asia to transgender identity in the West, is a great eye-opener. These courses on identity help us to understand our own roles in society better, and help to clarify the subtleties the ever-hot topic of equity.

Macroeconomics– Our lives are significantly affected by money, yet many do not understand the basic concepts of interest rates, what the Federal Reserve system actually does, or what “quantitative easing” and “austerity” mean. Honestly, learning the broad principles that govern our economy by yourself can be daunting and full of jargon; thus, having the opportunity to learn it in simple terms in college is something that will be indispensable in the long term. After you have mastered the simple concepts, you will be able to approach the jargon and at least be able to piece together quickly enough the meaning.

Statistics (and if you can, Econometrics)– I swear, this is not my inner economist speaking, but statistics are thrown at us every which way in this age of “big data.” The media is increasingly fond of authoritatively saying “The data show..”, a phrase that even I used to think was infallible. I mean, if the data says so, then it must be true. Little did the naive me know, data can be manipulated in many, many ways. Learning statistics helps us figure out if the data manipulations are reasonable and subsequently, if we can trust them. Taking it a step further, econometrics introduces you to more sophisticated analyses that attempt to prove causation; like does smoking cause cancer? Does playing Mozart to babies cause the babies’ IQ to go up? As our society continues to go nuts about number-crunching, a basic knowledge of statistics is a must.

women who will: why a women’s college

On 30 May 2014, I graduated from a liberal arts women’s college. These four years have been instrumental to my development as an individual, and I would argue that the very fact that it is a women’s college has been the lynchpin to all that I have achieved.

Tower

From here on, I will refer to my college as W, its first initial; this blog is a personal and I would not like to link it to my professional endeavors.

W provided me with two very incredible things: women role models and women peers.

First, the women role models at W have opened my eyes to what my future may hold. For me and many others, gender identification is a large part of our lives and due to societal constructs, we can never really view male role models as the same as female role models. To me, women role models are simply more inspiring because in Western society, there is still a well-documented glass ceiling that men do not face. At W, this glass ceiling does not exist. As a women’s college, W makes a point to have gender-balanced faculty and staff. At every stage in my college career, I have had both women and men for guidance. Witnessing established, professional men interact with and respectfully treat their women counterparts as equals is critical. As a woman, I can relate to the women professionals and think that, “Ah, I can be like that one day.” Every day, I am also reminded of our thousands of women alumnae, who in spite of the glass ceiling, have become successful and live life according to their own terms.

Second, the women peers at W have opened my eyes to what I can do now. W tends to attract a specific type of individual: in-control, ambitious and intense. Being surrounded by women my age who know what they want and go out to achieve that has been an profound experience.  I recognize that some in my college were unhappy with such a high-stress and competitive environment, but for me, it was a source of inspiration and drove me to continue on. Those that succeeded were my friends, my intellectual equals– if they could do this, then so could I.

As much as is possible, W was a paragon of meritocracy– a model that I will continue to look back at and refer to for the rest of my life. W is the world as it should be; judged on merits and not gender or any other irrelevant features. It is a cosseted bubble, but one that let us know our potential and gave us an even playing field to try out our weaknesses and strengths. W made me realize that there are thousands like me in the world, hungry to continually better herself and stand up for our desires and beliefs. As I get ready to face the world as a new graduate, I am reassured that I am not alone.