[review] SHINee, Misconceptions of Us

Misconceptions of Us is a repackaged album with two new songs, Selene 6.23 and Better Off. I have previously reviewed Misconceptions of You (Dream Girl) and Misconceptions of Me (Why So Serious).

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Selene 6.23

Yiruma, a famous Korean pop pianist, composed Selene‘s instrumental. A bit about what I think about Yiruma: he’s not a classical pianist or composer, despite some people insisting on labeling him that way. He may play as well as a classical pianist but for me, Yiruma is the kind of music you’ll hear in the elevator five years down the road. It’s tired and true, and while it may be popular in the short run, it’s nothing new– and so it is with his instrumental for Selene 6.23. Some swelling strings and a spare piano melody; if the song is going to be any good, it has to come from SHINee.

This song is a little different than usual SHINee songs as each individual singer sings more lines at one time– e.g., we do not hear Taemin come in until the second chorus. The chorus is sung by individual voices– mostly Key, Onew, Jonghyun– without a blended “voice” as we usually hear on lead singles. It’s actually quite nice, you can really focus on each singer.

Both Minho and Key were better than they usually are. Minho still sounds carefully controlled but alas is no longer a frog; his voice color more or less blends in with SHINee but you can still tell he is uncomfortably holding himself in a higher register. His voice, for the most part, still sounds from the throat and floats through the head. It makes zero sense that they gave him the high parts of the song when he could just have taken a part from Onew or Taemin; Onew and Taemin would be able to handle the higher register just fine.

At times Key has a problem with ending his phrases– they’re abrupt and without any vibrato, so sometimes it sounds like you’re in front of a warm, crackling fireplace and then you are thrust in the cold. It’s still a problem in Selene 6.23. However, he surprised me in the second chorus, as he starts quite low and sounds eerily like Onew in his breathing, delivery and control (1.53s). I am divided about Key– sometimes he shows pockets of brilliance and then reverts to his bad habits; he’s been like this since debut, even more so lately. It’s like he cared a lot about his singing at debut but has been lax about it in the last few years. It’s troubling.

Jonghyun and Onew kill it, of course, when they trade back and forth and double up in the chorus, it is evident that they are the vocal souls of SHINee. It’s been a while since I have heard their voices so together on a recording– and only them two, explicitly. Selene 6.23 just confirms that their voices blend incredibly well; Onew’s voice especially, has aged well.

Taemin was a weak presence on this album as a whole and while his parts were non-offensive for Selene 6.23 and Better Off, that is all they were. Neither special nor bad. It sometimes puzzles me to see Taemin as a solo artist now because his presence on a SHINee song can sometimes even be less than Key, despite having more lines.

Better Off

Like Selene 6.23Better Off is an inoffensive mid-tempo ballad. Check out Reynah’s piano arrangement instead.

Key, two thumbs down.

Business as usual.

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.

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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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my heart is breaking for Kris.

Kris has filed a lawsuit to terminate his contract with SM Entertainment.

This decision must not have come lightly; it is right in the midst of Overdose promotions and all around him, Kris sees idols who endure the suffering without saying anything. Those who chose to speak up were shut up, the most notable example– TVXQ.

Even if others choose not to complain about their situation, it does not make the situation any less worse. Kris had the courage to speak up about his situation, in an environment that discourages and shames such disclosure. From the various “reactions” of the EXO members and others, we can see that such shaming is actively occurring. At the end of the day, Kris is not Kris– he is Kevin Li Jiaheng, responsible only for Kevin’s well-being, not SM’s, nor his fans. 

Godspeed, Kris, and I wish you the best in all your endeavors. If you truly believe this is the right decision for you, there will always be people to support you.

[kpop] rookie alert: Royal Pirates

A few years ago, I came across a Sorry Sorry rock cover, and subsequently fell in love with Royal Pirates and their emo-punk rock inspired style, epitomized with their own single Disappear– my 11th most played song of all time.

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so I’m thinking, part of the Royal Pirate’s “training” included plastic surgery

Royal Pirates made their debut in kpop summer 2013 with Shout Out and were disappointingly bland, bright and cheery, sounding nothing like their emo selves from four years ago. CNBlue, FT Island, and LEDApple all have varying shades of cheeriness, but none of them are “emo” bordering on screamo, and I thought Royal Pirates would really have a chance to differentiate themselves if they stuck with their roots.

Royal Pirates have released another album and single, Drawing the Line (with a fantastic head-banging teaser that recalls their emo days!), and yet again, paired with a few funky electro-synths and happy vibes. Yet, the music video is interesting and the song slightly more punky with quite delicate vocals from Moon-chul, almost like LEDApple’s Hanbyul in some respects. Due to the band being from California, there is an expected pleasure in the album– an English version of Drawing the Line.

Listening to the rest of the album, it is disappointingly produced and full of electronicky-instrumentals. Just another kpop band.