[lifestyle] two ways to up your street cred with Asians

1. Order a hot bubble tea and drink with relish. This is especially great for cold days, but if you order during a summer day, more power to Your Asian Self. For people still ticked off by the “hot” part, just think of it like hot chocolate. Moreover, usually when one drinks milk tea in the West, it is served warm.

2. Eat (weird) Asian snacks without worrying about the ingredients. I was working at the library the other day, and by chance, Japanese tourists visited us and gifted us with a set of what appeared to be green tea egg rolls. However, none of us could actually read Japanese and even though I recognized some kanji, a quick Google did not reveal anything. The other Asian girl who was working and I both munched quite contentedly on the egg rolls while our Caucasian co-workers held a pow-wow about ingredients. Asian-Americans and Asians in general have grown up eating things without necessarily knowing how to read the labels, and it is second-nature to us– if it looks good, then munch away!

Green tea oreos? Bring it on.

Green tea oreos? Bring it on. Seriously, delicious.

[lifestyle] how to hunt Kuroshitsuji and other manga in Shanghai

As a huge Kuroshitsuji fan and spending the summer in one of the most international cities in the world, a three-hour plane ride away from Tokyo, there is absolutely no doubt that I would go manga hunting. Though it is all very nice to read the quickly translated scans online, there is nothing quite like owning the physical books themselves. Moreover, these official translations provide professional translators’ insights into the manga; though I must say, there are many amateur translators that are amazing, in terms of depth and linguistics. BlackButler.net translators are definitely along these lines.

This post will address three things: where to physically buy manga in Shanghai, what phrases to use when looking for manga, and how to tell apart fake and genuine copies (this is more specific to Kuroshitsuji, but you can probably apply the criterion to other manga).


Maomao Bookstore

MAOMAO BOOKSTORE
Address580号 Guoquan Road, Yangpu, Shanghai, China
Pro(s): most extensive selection, cheap, sells Japanese manga magazines and photobooks, may have doujinshi
Con(s): kind of shady, likely to get a fake copy
As I scoured the entire internets and asked my Shanghai manga-crazy friend where there was a bookstore entirely devoted to manga, I turned up only one store– 毛毛书店 (Maomao Bookstore). This is just off the Fudan University campus, Handan Rd. entrance. It is a small and cramped bookstore, consisting of only one room, which also sells international magazines and newspapers. Their collection of manga and manga magazines spreads across four to five bookshelves, from floor to ceiling. Manga sells from around 10-30RMB; the copy of KuroshitsujiI purchased was around 10RMB, dirt cheap. Continue reading

[SHINee] Key finally does a solo cover of Lady Gaga: “Hair” and “Judas”

Sort of an odd choice, but I suppose after Taemin covering Korn, anything is possible. In terms of popularity, I would have thought Poker Face, Bad Romance, Born This Way, and Edge of Glory would be first on the to-cover list (SHINee has already done Just Dance). I suppose, vocally, Bad Romance and Edge of Glory may be beyond Key.

Well, quick comments on the audio?

It is definitely prerecorded like every dance-heavy track that kpop artists perform as an “extra goodie”. Key’s voice was a little monotone and nasally than I liked, and they changed the melismas to fit in Key’s range, and most of the song was chopped up aurally using autotune.

However, this is just quick thinking about the audio. Key is rather a good performer, and judging by the way the fans were screaming, I should hold my tongue until a fancam surfaces.

[review] SHINee is soooo back with Sherlock.

CONCEPT

Though SHINee’s members are all males and legal, I got a distinct hippie-Japanese-Lolita feel from their teasers, or as Westerners call it, cheesy French porn made in the 70s. Something was not quite right about seeing everyone (excluding Onew) so clearly half-naked. Perhaps it is because the image SHINee projects is overwhelmingly “little-brother”, “cute”, and “chaste”, and to have teasers so obviously about their sexuality was a bit shocking. A bit of shock in the kpop industry is not bad in a time of Shinhwa, EXO, and BIGBANG promotions.

After seeing the music video and noticing that they are all fully-clothed, I am more inclined to believe that these photos were more fanservice than anything, as sly thank-yous to the fans who have waited for them for close to two years. Nonetheless, the hippie concept sans the half-nakedness really jibed with their album, which used acoustic guitars and brassy old-school sounds. Also, it is worth noting that no other male group has used the hippie concept, so congratulations, S.M., for being ahead of the curve again. After Lucifer, there was a marked rise in heavy eyeliner and androgyny. Perhaps we should look towards the rise of hippie-style.

Though the teaser images had little to do with sleuthing, the Sherlock plotline is cute, finally providing SHINee with some sort of story. Compared to the other things they could have named this album like “Detective”, “Mystery” or “Sleuth”, I am totally fine with “Sherlock.”

MUSIC

I will review in order that the songs appear on the album. However, as it will make more sense if I evaluate Clue and Note separately before I evaluate Sherlock, I will change the order slightly, putting Clue and Note as 1 and 2, respectively.

1. Clue: Throughout the song, the scratchy synth– so overused for their sibling group, f(x)– predominates. Plus, every five measures, there is the sound effect of glass breaking. This, coupled with the scratchy synth, makes Clue one of the most grating and annoying songs I have ever heard from SHINee. The chorus is a Key and Minho rap, but it is not immediately obvious; it just sounds like a customary rapping interlude. Clue is a hot mess of a song– the sort of song that sounds like it could go on forever, until it suddenly stops.

2. Note: I find the drum lead-in much more effective and exciting than Clue‘s synth lead-in. Also, this is the song that includes the infectious and energetic hook, “I’m so curious.” This is a challenging song, keeping all of SHINee continuously stretching to the top of their ranges. Some reviewers have commented that this track feels very Broadway, what with its overambitious hook and straightforwardness. Yet, though I do understand that the instrumentals sound punchy in that way, they way they sing is not comparable to Broadway– it is simply not clear and enunciated enough.

3. Sherlock (Clue + Note): The first thing I thought when I heard it for the first time was just how very SHINee it sounds. With AMIGO, SHINee debuted with some 90s and old-school funk influence. Despite being old-school, the youthfulness with which they sang and performed conforms to SHINee’s self-description as a ‘contemporary band.’ Though SHINee has now been active for close to four years now and are sunbaes to many other kpop groups, SHINee still remains one of the groups that continually sounds fresh and young. The lead single, Sherlock, is not an exception to this concept, with its overconfident brass blaring in the background, with an imaginary DJ scratching up the record and breaking glass, fast pace and vocalizing gymnastics all over the place. Sherlock is a thoroughly satisfactory comeback song. It is bold, assertive, and highlights the strengths and style of SHINee, almost blindingly so.

4. Alarm Clock: The lyrics were penned by Jonghyun, the rap by Minho. I am happy to see them doing some of their own participation, and Minho finally getting a rap credit. Yet, what sits wrong with me is the music itself. It does not recall an alarm clock, rather an afternoon cocktail at the bar, neither happy nor sad. The swirling synth in the chorus sounds like someone swirling a martini to me, not an alarm clock. Perhaps that is just me, but this song could have used more evocative instrumentals, emotive chordal progressions and vocal runs. Read: where are Jonghyun wailings?

5. The Reason: I did a double take when I first heard the beginning, it sounded at any minute the raspy voice from Three Doors Down would be crooning. Yet, once we dive into the chorus, we have this lovely, calming oscillating synth. The Sherlock album is heavily composed by foreigners, but right away, I knew this song was written by Koreans and serves as SHINee’s mandatory sob kballad. In this way, this song seems a bit filler and out-of-place when stacked up to the rest of the album.

6. Stranger: This is the other out-of-place song, composed and written by Kenzie, in the employ of S.M., who also wrote Graze, Jo Jo, and Life for SHINee. This originally was featured in SHINee’s Japanese album, The First. Since Kenzie is Korean, I am guessing that it was intended as a Korean track but since SHINee’s Japanese debut was looming, it was converted to Japanese in the meantime. Is there any difference between the Japanese and Korean versions? Not really. I prefer the Japanese version because there is no English it in it, though the English in the Korean version is all grammatically correct.

7. Honesty: Not what I would have expected coming from SHINee, but it fits, somehow. The bare guitar, SHINee putting on their best voices, it is all so terribly endearing. In general, kpop rarely does this sort of acoustic-sounding track, mainly because none of them really play instruments and none of them have groups in which all the members can more or less hold their vocally. You know what would be super magical? A live of Honesty with Jonghyun accompanying everyone on guitar– but this may just be wishful thinking. Onew especially shines here, and Jonghyun would have been absolutely gorgeous if they let him touch some of the lower parts. Minho still sounds like a frog. Key still tries hard to reign in his raspy voice. Now for the million dollar question, how did Taemin do?  Continue reading

[review/jpop] STILL / One More Thing, TVXQ

Despite reading all those Homin fanfics in my spare time, I did not know until yesterday that TVXQ had actually released new singles in Japan: STILL and One More Thing. Along with downloading SHINee’s Sherlock, I also downloaded TVXQ’s new singles.

As soon as I heard Homin’s gritty voices, I think I fell in love. In love with two ballads, no less. Whereas I am holding off reviewing SHINee’s Sherlock so it can ‘grow on me’; SHINee was not love at first listen.

STILL

http://vimeo.com/62549193

Gorgeous cinematography, simple but sophisticated, as always. Gorgeous-looking men, carefully done hair and natural makeup, as always. The woman is not a typical Japanese ideal beauty, and I think that testifies to the good taste Avex has. Nonetheless, the PV is not really special unto itself, it provides a lot of eye-candy, i.e. ‘looking-into-your-eyes’ shots for those of us who have a secret burning passion for Shim Changmin and Jung Yunho. So while it may not be a deep or exciting video, it certainly satisfies on those levels.

The song itself is a slower midtempo ballad in which neither Changmin nor Yunho are subjected to vocal gymnastics, but rather relaxed and written for their lower registers. The climax comes when Changmin sings, “I love you,” at 3.32s. It is a soft, beautiful declaration. I admire this final product very much, because it shows how TVXQ is able to bring a song without much bells and whistles and still manage to have a compelling interpretation.

Again, their voices harmonize extremely well, melting into each other and making it sound cohesive. Some people may find offense with this, but I am glad that Changmin and Yunho were the ones who stayed behind and formed duo, as their voices are uniquely suited to each other. They support each other, which I find refreshing after considering groups like BIGBANG and SHINee, the members of whom have distinctive voices, distinctive enough to sound disjointed. TVXQ sounds whole.

One More Thing

*no one has successfully uploaded this song to YouTube or any video-sharing site I could think of, therefore, if you would like to listen to this song, you must download it. There are two versions: a regular mix and the Sakura mix.

One More Thing is a faster midtempo ballad than STILL, but yet it still retains that relaxed vibe as the song has also been arranged for their lower registers. As with STILL, there are minimal voice alterations, their voices are crisp and sharp as they are backed with pulsing electronic layering underneath.

There are a bit more vocal gymnastics in this, yet it is still not over-done. Though, sometimes the chorus feels a bit strained as they sing in the higher register. I find this to be a recurring theme in Japanese pop music, so I am not entirely sure if it is just a Japanese idiom to have singers sound strained in the upper register. Yet, their voices in this song is not unlike chocolate, especially the ones with espresso beans inside. A bit crunchy, a bit sweet; it wakes you up, and you savor it. Refreshing.

As I listen to more of Homin TVXQ, I am realizing why it is I love their body of work so much– they have a mature, yet flexible sound. They can sing lullabies, dance music, ballads, all with the same aplomb. They can be overly sentimental, overly aggressive, overly cute. Their voices and styles can accommodate it all.

Comparing to SHINee, SHINee ballads are either cute or overly emo. They cannot sing relaxing ballads like STILL, or even overly aggressive music like Why? Keep Your Head Down. SHINee has never promoted a ballad; Romantic had a brief run, but it was only for a few performances. However, Homin can easily sing Romantic, Quasimodo, Stand By Me; Homin can easily promote ballads alongside dance music, such as Before U Go. To top it off, Homin sounds like a group of singers. To me, SHINee sounds like two singers, one struggling to be a singer, one who may be a singer but his voice does not match, and the last one, well, he is not destined to be a singer.

As I have deeper into the Homin fandom, I see many people lamenting, saying that this passage or that passage could have used JYJ more delicate voices, that Yunho is not a strong singer. Yunho more than holds his own here in STILL / One More Thing; singing is not all about hitting every note technically, but also matching the tone of the song and the group members with whom you are singing. Yunho does all of that extremely well. If Taemin could ever reach Yunho’s level, I would probably shut my mouth and never say anything bad about his singing ever again.

I am beginning to understand TVXQ’s claim as the Gods of the East.

[kpop/SHINee] Tohoshinki’s TONE. I’m worried about 7 December 2011

I listen to the first opening riffs of almost every single song on Tohoshinki’s TONE album and I immediately start saying, “So good, so good!” I only deleted one ballad too, and kept the rest of them. #unprecedented

my most favorite cover of TONE. so favorite that I need to have a ridiculously huge one in this post

Tohoshinki (or DBSK, TVXQ, as other people who don’t know the joys of saying “Tohoshinki” call them) started in Japan as a jpop group. They learned the Japanese language and became fluent, they stuck with Japanese producers, they weren’t a kpop group entering in the Japanese market. They didn’t immediately debut on major Japanese music shows; in fact, it took them two years to get there.

SHINee debuted as a kpop group in Japan, as evidenced by their various remakes. Everyone’s ability to speak Japanese well is suspect except Key’s. They immediately got put on bajillion popular music shows.

I’m worried.

I absolutely love Tohoshinki and BoA Japanese repertoire so much, because it is so much well thought-out and not meant to be simply a fad or ‘catchy’. What is common to both their development is that they sought to develop an authentic jpop flavor instead of being mainly imported. They both are under Avex.

SHINee is under EMI Music Japan. SHINee has been in Japan for over half a year now, with all-right album sales but nothing too spectacular, and nothing for fans to particularly proud of. In fact, they gave quite a lot to piss off fans. SNSD is under Universal Music Group, and they followed the same path: remakes of Korean singles, finally culminating in a Japanese album that was meh. It had high album sales, but really, was anyone listening to it?

I’m worried.

PS I’m going to be gone until Dec. 17th. I am literally blocking myself from all of these websites that cause me to procrastinate. I will also be turning off email notifications, so this blog may run rank with unapproved comments. I will get back to you, but in two weeks.

PPS  here is my review on SHINee’s The First.

[kpop/musings] brief thoughts on Japanese BoA, her duet with Daichi Miura

updated 23 July 2011, 6PM. crossposted from tumblr.

UPDATE! BoA and Daichi Miura actually sang this on Daichi’s Gravity tour, and the mic balance was much better! We get to hear Daichi’s voice and see his face much more equally. Also, there was more artist interaction.. like actually looking into each other’s eyes.. what?! And moving towards each other! And ad-libbed vocalizations! I think I’m developing a crush on Mr. Miura.


Live BoA and Daichi Miura are so, so, so good.

There is such a difference between how Korean idols are treated in Korea and in Japan. BoA is not tricked out in some weird makeup and forced to do ‘catchy choreo’. She can be herself, and really just let her voice shine instead of having to rely on other artificialities, and the end result is spectacular, if anything, much better than her Korean repertoire.

Same goes for TVXQ.. it’s the reason why I like their Japanese albums so much better than their Korean counterparts. Continue reading