[review] Tohoshinki’s Time (to make Michelle surly)

Disclaimer: it is currently 1:30am, and thus I may not be able to vouch for the absolute rationality of this post.

Before I rip on each song, let me first rip on the entire album. Discounting the songs that were released previously released singles beforehand, the new songs in Time all make me yearn to tear off my ears. It is so disjointed and silly and not worthy of the vocals that Changmin and Yunho possess. They also do not mesh well with the previously released singles, either. Time is a slapdash album, and it throws into sharp relief precisely what Yunho and Changmin do not excel at– happy stuff.

2

What in tarnation is the first minute in Fated? It is heavy and untoward, and then breaks into a lovely bare, Yunho solo, followed by Changmin. I understand that as the introductory song, conceptually it may be nice to start with a ‘strong’ opening, but the contrast between the strong and weak parts was too unsettling. The chorus is too repetitive and too cliched to be memorable. I get it. The epic introduction. Whatever.

Next up is Catch Me -If You Wanna-. I did not review their Korean single Catch Me, which I did like, though it was simply following the dubstep dance trend. It is a solid song, with a very beautiful embellished instrumental. Their lives were simply amazing.

逢いたくて逢いたくてたまらない is probably the most awkward song to come after Catch Me. Upbeat, happy, replete with whistling sounds, and repetitive, and simplistic, it makes me want to wretch. Neither Yunho nor Changmin are exactly great at conveying cheer in their singing; their voices are on the ‘reedy’ rather the ‘full’ and ‘warm’ side, which makes it hard for them to pull off singles like this.

One More Thing and STILL I had reviewed previously, and to make a long story short, Tohoshinki rules at emo ballads.

I Know is more of the same deal: Tohoshinki ruling an emo ballad. I cannot stress enough that they are flat-out professionals at handling this genre. Every little inflection is carefully controlled, and the instrumentals are just enough to support the voices without overpowering them. The piano motif is sad and plaintive without being too commonplace. Their voices are so smooth and yet so tense and painful at the same time. Better yet, Changmin and Yunho continue to match and complement each other scarily well; when listening, you do not think, “Oh that’s Changmin. Now it’s Yunho.” It is just Tohoshinki.

Y3K is the next song, and Please Kill Me Now. The range is too low and the chorus is contrite, with the ring of “been there done that.” The rather slow beat just makes it excruciating to listen to for the whole four minutes. The yodeling melismas are just silly, too. The bridge seems to no relationship to do with the song itself– it is just an empty cesspool where we wait for the meter to return.

Thankfully, BLINK comes after Y3K. Along with ANDROID, I had reviewed these two singles, and long story short again: I was highly impressed with Tohoshinki’s clean and cohesive electrodance stylings. When compared to Catch Me, Android is the better dubstep single. It is truly an upbeat electrodance single while Catch Me is more like dressing for meat bait– the two steaks being Changmin and Yunho, of course.

When reformatted for the Japanese market, atrocious English was added to Humanoids. Think of Humanoids as the Catch Me B-side. It was not good enough to be a lead single. That is all.

Save me from this happy bland song: One and Only One. The latter half of the song, which dips into the higher register, sounds so unnaturally strained for both of them.

Is this song a love song for their fans? Judging by the six minute run time, and Yunho being forced to “la” into oblivion, In Our Time is the love song. As such, it is an insufferable song, sweet and sickly. Time to wash my ears by listening to another love song for fans, SHINee’s Dream Girl.

[kpop] best rookie groups 2012

This very biased selection is based on quality of members–mostly dance and singing, but looks are considered as well, debut track(s), and live performances.

EXO was easily the most anticipated group to debut this year. Though not of epic proportions, their tracks are slickly produced and the groups are well-balanced with many talented individuals in each. At any rate, their debut was more solid than f(x), Super Junior, and even, SNSD. If SM plays their cards right, 2013 could be a very large year for EXO.

NU-EST played their cards extremely well, despite holding a few weak cards. A well-written debut song, one of the first to capitalize on the ‘new’ europop invasion, and including one very intriguing member, Ren. Dancing and lives are unspectacular though, and the shock of a pretty face will not last forever.

Regarding true singing talent, Lunafly and Busker Busker, in this respect, are both promising.

I hesitate to include BAP, but I see way too many BAP fans around me to think of them as a minor rookie group. They did have a nice, unified concept in debut; but alas, their track to me was stuck in the 2005, way too brassy and heavy, trying out a 2PM concept that barely fit.

A.cian‘s whole debut album is a beautifully crafted imitation of europop. That’s about it. Due to the constantly changing nature of kpop, I doubt they will release a europop album like this next time– if there is a next time.

Like A.cian, Cross Gene delivered an amazingly crafted imitation of europop for their debut. The facts that they have Japanese, Chinese, and Korean members and released simultaneously in Japanese and Korean are very nice bonuses. Another great bonus? Their live singing is A-OK (but please hire another choreographer).

Rounding out the last of the europop imitators, we have A-JAX. Someone fetch them a new stylist.

[review] SHINee’s 1000 Years, Always By Your Side / 1000年、ずっとそばにいて…

Apologies for taking this long to write this– let’s get to it.

1000 Years, Always By Your Side / 1000年、ずっとそばにいて…
Key: Key opens the song, with a slightly autotuned opening, using split headsets, that travels from left ear to right ear, giving it a sense of movement into the main verse of the song. I am not the biggest fan of this tactic because it made Key sound more raspy than usual, but it gave a nice contrast to Jonghyun’s smooth crooning. Key anchors the lower part of the chorus, which is ingenious on the part of the sound mixers, because at lower registers, he is less raspy and he actually sounds blendable with Onew and Jonghyun. Also, his Japanese pronunciation is the best out of the members, which probably was a deciding factor in making Key the anchor on the heavily accented lower register parts of the chorus.

Jonghyun: Curling, full of warmth. He nailed the feeling of this song. He dominates during the falsetto parts of the choruses. Good choice.

Minho: The black hole of this entire song. After Jonghyun’s beautiful emoting in the beginning, we get hit next by Minho straining his voice unnaturally. This dude. This dude’s singing coach. The producers for this track. You dudes. What are you thinking? Minho has been gifted with a rapping interlude, so it is unnecessary for him to take up singing lines. If he must have singing lines, put him in a range that is comfortable for him. In fact, his rapping interlude is more like a singing interlude, except it is in a range that is comfortable for him. He might have been able to nail the high notes in the recording studio, but the lives will be horrendous (see Minho, 2012 Sherlock performances where he has that one singing line. Which he was always off-key for, without fail). I am sure Minho will make a passable singer, if put in circumstances in which he will succeed. For goodness sakes, if he cannot sing in high registers, teach him harmony. Replicate Love Like Oxygen, where Taemin and Minho doubled up in singing. It was quite nice, actually, more so if they increased the balance in Minho’s favor. They even did this in the Japanese Love Like Oxygen, and it sounds great, whispery and Minho is not a frogman.  Continue reading

[review] SHINee’s Dazzling Girl.

song: overall
Cute, infectious, annoying. The registers they sing in are way too high for comfortable listening over a prolonged period.

Nonetheless, it is a very slickly produced track, the chorus especially tight and well-oiled. Yet, the bridge lacks surprise and energy, and seems like a toned-down dubstep more than anything–like a ‘we-needed-something-so-let’s-autotune-Onew-and-Jonghyun-really-badly’. I’ve been noticing over the course of SHINee’s career, that Onew and Jonghyun’s voices do not seem to translate to autotune very well, either.

song: individual 
Nothing remarkable. Key singing that high sounds unnatural. Even Jonghyun sounds strained in this song as well, which could be an effect of the autotune.

Minho finally gets a singing part right down in his proper register. I guess, at this point, it is the most I can hope for.

music video: choreography
It could have done without the hip-thrusting. The choreography, on the whole, is energetic, but not as challenging or as much of a show-stopper as their performances in Korea.

music video: concept
Idiotic. Sorry about this strong opinion, but for SHINee’s debut into Japan, Replay [You Are My Everything], all the members made googly eyes at one female, and this time around, they are making more googly eyes at one female. Well, at least this time she is Japanese.

They even took the same idea of each member having special roles; Key once again took the position of stylist. Boring.

The little feminist side of me also resented the fact that the ‘undazzling’ female in the beginning is stereotypically wearing a nice cardigan and glasses, and in the end is wearing heavy makeup in a floor-length gown. Of course, the positive people will say that the music video is expressing how every girl, no matter how plain, can be dazzling too. But the negative people like me will say, heavy makeup and a concert gown does not make for a dazzling person; a person is more than appearance, and if a person likes cardigans and glasses, then whatever. It may not be dazzling, but it suits them just fine.

Nonetheless, the ‘looking in the mirror’ idea is always very interesting, and I am disappointed they did not explore that more.

music video: fashion / sets
The diamond dance set is quite lacking in originality, but it is rather pretty, I will give them that. Otherwise, the set was pretty run-of-the-mill, white and bland.

The feathers and fur are questionable, but for some reason, Minho’s jacket is quite nice; a rather nice play of hard and soft. We can ditch the dowdy collared shirt and bling-bling necklace, though.

Taemin was sporting some Elvis hair. Ew, I wasn’t dreaming, right?

OVERALL
Very half-baked and generic attempt for a first original Japanese single. Next, please.

[lifestyle] pro tips: how to look Korean even if you aren’t Korean

(1) Look at least vaguely Asian. Sorry, I know this precludes a lot of people, but if you are Asian(-looking), then people will have a much higher chance of perceiving you as Korean; you just probably come from a far-away province with funny genetics.
(2) Have pale to lightly tan skin. If you are tan, forget about it. They can so tell you do not use BB cream religiously.
(3) Wear bold glasses. The bigger, the more hipstery, the better.

While in China, I have gotten a lot of questions about my ethnicity. I always am mistaken as Korean or perhaps Japanese. Here’s how the conversation goes:

Michelle: “Why did you think I’m Korean?”
Person: “It’s your glasses.”
Michelle: B(

[kpop] I like two-member TVXQ better than five-member TVXQ (oh no, Cassies are going to kill me!)

two-member TVXQ; Homin

It has been almost three months since I listened to TVXQ’s Japanese album, TONE. What is shocking is that I still regularly listen to it– unlike SHINee’s Japanese album, which I discarded after two weeks (this coming from a hardcore SHINee fangirl).

The thing I like best about current TVXQ is an obvious reason: we get to hear and see Yunho and Changmin a lot more. All original members of TVXQ are extremely talented, so to me it felt rather crowded sometimes with five of them on one track– the super-talentedness is burning my eyes! Too much to handle! Who is singing this? Who is dancing that? With just Homin, I feel like I can stay on top of their super-talentedness and appreciate Changmin and Yunho much more fully. When there was five-member TVXQ, even as a fan of Changmin, you would have to keep tabs on all the other members, but with only Yunho, it is somewhat liberating only to focus on one other person instead of the collective actions of four others.

That and TVXQ’s current electro-R&B-pop genre really suits me. JYJ has gravitated towards R&B-pop with not much electronic, sadly. Homin also work well as a duo, musically. They both have similar sounding voices– slighty gritty, nasal, and low, though Changmin sings in a slightly higher register; they complement each other well. That, and Japanese sound engineers are amazing.

Perhaps I am getting tired of the traditional 4+ member groups of kpop nowadays. It’s just becoming so tried and true and tiring– most notably in EXO’s debut promotions, which seem like they have no end. It seems like all of kpop is debuting groups that collectively have great talents but as individual talents, they are usually worthless. Sometimes it is nice to be able to focus on one or two genuinely talented individuals– people that would probably have been solo artists if not for the kpop industry’s predilection towards groups.

Would I bother with Minho and Taemin if they weren’t in SHINee? Probably not.

[kpop] Michelle reacts to Kids React to K-Pop

TheFineBros is a comedy channel on YouTube, and their most watched segments are “Kids React To…” and yesterday, it was revealed to be kpop.

They watched SNSD’s “Gee“, Super Junior’s “Bonamona“, and 2NE1′s “I AM THE BEST“. Right from the get-go, this video attracted haters, and I have got to say, some of it was sort of justified.

Some comments made by the kids that especially struck me:

#1: I can’t understand this. Why do people listen to it if they can’t understand it?

It’s like watching subtitled movies, eating Mexican food, listening to Bach. You may not understand the language, you may not know how to cook Mexican, you may have no idea what the heck a semidemiquaver is, but you can enjoy it nonetheless.

#2: What is up with my generation?! How can people listen to such horrible music?!

This was just mainly one kid. He was so effusive and exaggerated about asserting what crap kpop is, and how he hates his generation. Fine, rag on the music being crap, but not on people of your generation! They like what they like, you hate what you hate. Fair?

#3: omg they’re just imitating Pussycat Dolls! … (think for a minute) Lady Gaga!

Eye-roll. I feel like nowadays when anybody ever does anything crazy, it is always compared to Lady Gaga or is imitating Lady Gaga. I remember reading some YouTube comments for Dev’s “In the Dark“– amazing track, by the way– and comment after comment was like, “She’s crazy. Like Lady Gaga!” Probably you can pull out any popular electropop nowadays and you will see some “Reminds me of Lady Gaga” out there. Though I think Lady Gaga is an inspiration, I think it is a little early for her to be influencing performers that have already been performing for much longer or around same time frame as she has. Plus, everyone wants to be different– that’s their selling point. What you don’t get with Gaga is what you do get with 2NE1, with Dev, etc. Rather than just seeing something nutty and labelling it as Gaga-esque, you need to consider if the nutty is in Gaga-style. I think most of us can agree that 2NE1-nutty is not Gaga-nutty.

#4: “What language are they singing in?” — “Chinese.” “Japanese.” (a billion years later) “Korean!”

I recognize the fact that none of them are East Asian and thus may not have much exposure to Korean. Chinese is increasingly taught in more schools in the United States, China is seen increasingly as an antagonistic rival to the US and garnering more media coverage, and Japanese has long enjoyed a cult status in Hollywood, like Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls, Quentin Tarantino’s movie “Kill Bill” and lots of popular dubbed anime like Naruto and Dragon Ball Z. To be honest, I did not learn what Korean BBQ was until my senior year of high school (!).

Nonetheless, I sort of hit my head on the keyboard when so many of the kids failed to identify that it was Korean.

Now reclining in my Throne as Queen of Pretension, I have to say, those older kids were being pretty pretentious. They were trying to make very strong judgments from mal-formed opinions.

However, I only said that the anger directed toward this video is “sort of” justified.

Because look, they’re kids.

still have a soft spot for Mr. Frodo ^^

They’re airheads, but they’re children. I remember that age I was an airhead too. I loved Lord of the Rings and started calling everyone names from Lord of the Rings. I thought Daniel Radcliffe was the coolest boy on the planet because he played Harry Potter, even though he wasn’t good-looking or anything. I fawned over my battle prowess in Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh and petted myself as the strongest trainer there was even though the time I spent with a GameBoy was negligible. I thought George W. Bush should win the 2000 election. Heck, I even thought Bush should win the 2004 election, because John Kerry came across as creepy to me. I even wrote a stellar essay on why George Bush should win– which got me an A for the semester. But did I really know anything in-depth about the issues? About the war? About tax programs? Not at all. I just thought Kerry was a good-for-nothing-flip-flopper. Unless you are a prodigy, which very few of us are, it is really hard for us to absorb so much information at young ages and actually know how to process and understand it. So a lot of what we ‘understand’ as young children are just sound-bites like “flip-flopper” and half-formed opinions we regurgitate from our parents or custodians.

Second, they’re American kids. Especially for the Caucasians who probably do not speak a second language at home, they will probably never need to know any other language other than English for their entire lives. As diverse as America is, our language is extremely insular, due to the fact that English is the lingua franca or common language of the modern world today. One can pretty much get by in the industrialized world just knowing English.

Of course, I am not saying that these traits should be encouraged– because airheads don’t contribute much to the economy, it is personally enriching to know other languages– but we should all recognize that as preteens, we were all once know-it-all airheads and allow a little more leeway for these children when criticizing things like this video. We should not be “Imma stab you with a fork” but rather, putting it in simple and gentle terms why they are mistaken in their views.

I also am skeptical that if they were raised in a more culturally-aware environment they would turn out to be great global children-citizens, because children will be children, and so children will be airheads about some things or the other. They might not say something like All Asians Look Alike again but they might say something else just as politically incorrect. No one is born with a politically-correct compass within them; it is something we learn as we grow.

Though the video was exasperating for those aforementioned comments, a good half of them said they would listen to kpop again, and they said it looked very “future-y”. Taken in good humor, it was genuinely funny and entertaining to watch. Also, don’t tell me that none of y’all haven’t ever had a moment where you’re watching kpop and thinking, “what in the world are they doing?!”

Jaejoong the alien. I still don't like this hairstyle of his.. !

I guess some people had beef with the fact that some kids looked down on Korean artists for not creating their own music. America prides itself on originality, and I believe it does hold true in much more cases compared to kpop. Gaga, Britney, Beyonce, Katy, they all hold much more singing and producing credits than do BoA, Hyori, Rain, Se7en. So even if  the American stars’ contributions were negligible, the US perpetuates a (facade of) self-production culture that South Korea does not perpetuate.

In the end, I renounce all claims to judge their opinions, for I can also remember my phase when I had a vendetta against Asian pop stars. My mother always used to read the entertainment sections in Chinese newspapers and while she read them I would prance around her, pointing at grainy pictures printed in the paper, saying that these Asian people had weird hair and their fashion sense belonged to aliens. Nowadays, I’m just like, “Hey look, Jaejoong is in the news.”