SHINee 2013 retrospective & Gayo Daejuns

2013 has musically been the busiest year for SHINee thus far, releasing three LPs (Dream Girl: Misconceptions of You, Why So Serious: Misconceptions of Me, Boys Meet U), one EP (Everybody), for a total of six singles. Excepting Jonghyun, all of the members have grown as singers– I would say that the most promising is Minho, with a close second place to Key, who is returning to and developing his original sound in Love Like Oxygen. Improvement of SHINee as singers and the concurrent increase of ballads sans rapping released gave us B-side gems like Beautiful, Password, Symptoms, and Excuse Me Miss. 2013 is easily the most consistent and technically advanced year we have seen from SHINee yet.

Outside of SHINee’s music, Taemin featured on Henry’s Trap (and visually on BoA’s Disturbance). Jonghyun composed and featured on IU’s Gloomy Clock and Son Dambi’s Red Candle, as well singing an OST for The King’s Dream. Key participated in two musicals: Catch Me If You Can and Bonnie and Clyde.

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On television, as a whole unit, SHINee appeared little: Weekly Idol and SHINee’s Wonderful Day were the high notes. While entertaining perhaps to SHINee fans, SHINee’s Wonderful Day was quite boring as the members are never as funny and wonderfully cohesive as when they are together as in Hello Baby. In the spring, Taemin was cast on We Got Married with Apink’s Naeun. However, together with the bland angelic “personality” of Taemin and the constructed fabrication of We Got Married, this was incredibly boring for most other than fans of Taemin and Naeun. A much better casting would have been Key or Jonghyun, who are much less guarded about their words and enjoy hamming it up for the cameras. Next, Onew and Minho both had their own turns at acting, with former with much-panned Welcome To the Royal Villa and the latter with Medical Top Team and Let’s Go Dream Team. Continue reading

[rant] the stupidity of vocalist v. singer

I used to think I can be very snobby about things but I just stumbled across the “Taemin is a true vocalist” and “Jonghyun and Onew are [crappy] singers” arguments, which I think is shockingly even snobbier. Apparently, a singer sings only with their emotions and may not be properly trained, but the vocalist uses their voice like an instrument and has ‘techniques’ to produce different sounds and textures.

Frankly, this sounds like a load of donkey poo.

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Right off the bat, these definitions imply that one is inferior to the other, as one uses ‘technique’ and the other does not, if one is a great vocalist then one is a great singer, but never the other way around. This is perplexing because as trained singers, which all of SHINee are, they all would be using ‘technique’ to craft their singing, though they may be at different levels.

In strict academic terms, there is absolutely no tradition of distinction between the terms of vocalist and singer. If we were to say that those with most technique are vocalists, should we not say, “opera vocalists” instead of “opera singers”? Whatever Taemin has, it surely would pale in comparison to Renee Fleming. In fact, “to vocalize” in musical academia just means to sing, but not with human speech. In fact, there is a Grammy category called “instrumentals with human vocalization”, which means singing, but not in human speech, like humming or singing vowels. I suppose one may argue that this use of the human voice in this situation mimics instruments, in that instruments cannot say words. Well, in the strict sense, SHINee never has and never will sing songs full of nonsense syllables, so they cannot be vocalists.

This brings up the important point of ‘using your voice like an instrument.’ My question to that is, as a singer, every time you sing, how do you not use your voice as an instrument? By not singing? Clearly, if one has made it as far to have a career as a singer, technique must be used– no one can get by on emotion alone. This then brings up the distinction that ‘the better singers are the vocalists’, which again, as I have said before, is utterly asinine and arbitrary.

When I performed a quick Google of “vocalist vs singer”, all I saw were shady articles and blogs written by likewise shady people. I agree that I can be one of those shady people, and by all means, you do not have to subscribe to my thinking. Nonetheless, I honestly urge you not to take everything you read on kpop forums at face value even if they sound like they know what they are talking about: “technique”, “A4″, “open-throat”, and whatever. With the right buzzwords and incendiary tone, anyone can be a snobby critic on the internet.

Bottom line– if you like it, then chuck tomatoes at all the critics and bop your head to all the [insert music genre here, like kpop dubstep] you want.

[kpop] the state of debuts, 2013

Looking over the list of debuts this year, it was incredibly dismal. I recognized a few– HISTORY, Wa$$up, Royal Pirates– but I could not remember any of their debut songs. I could tell it was a terrible year for debuts, because though I do not really follow kpop, I do follow a number of Shawols who do. I remember when NU’EST and BAP came out, my Twitter timeline had more than a few mentions of both (more like a vomit and some people switched fandoms), but this year, buzz surrounding rookies has been small.

Instead of talking about disappointing debuts, let us talk about the kpop groups that finally broke through the barrier this year: f(x), Crayon Pop, and EXO.

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The release of Pinktape was the first serious album of f(x), and brought together what f(x) is good at paired with its oddly consistent, signature electronic sound. Listening to f(x)’s previous releases, it just all climaxes into that album, more mature and more confident. f(x) is fast emerging as a counterpart to SHINee, though they still do have a lot of catching up.

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Crayon Pop had a surprise hit with Bar Bar Bar, but the challenge in 2014 will be proving that they are not one-hit wonders, because frankly, their other songs are disasters and really shabbily produced. Crayon Pop hit the magic formula by a long shot with a catchy song and a funny dance, but I do not think they necessarily have the raw talent to push through (note: Bar Bar Bar is not in my music library).

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Last, but probably the most “wtf was that” group of the year, EXO. To me, EXO is the epitome of why S.M. is the 800-lb gorilla in the room. As the huge company, S.M. can attract the very best talents, and even if the material is a tad mediocre (cough, MAMA), once EXO hits their stride, they are fantastic. While on the surface, EXO may seem to be the reincarnation of Super Junior, they are far more meticulously crafted and far more talented as performers. Again, due to its 800-lb advantage, S.M. can increasingly reach for better songs, produced by a broad range of international professionals. Could Growl have been composed by in-house S.M. composers or Korean production houses? Decidedly not.

I believe 2014 holds the most promise for EXO, because as they are a boy group, they tend to get more Westernized, mainstream pop, whereas f(x) and Crayon Pop are girl groups and must play up the high-pitched aegyo expectations of Korean society from time to time. It is no coincidence that the enduring gold standard for girl groups in kpop is SNSD’s Gee, not 2NE1′s I Am The Best. Speaking of YG, I have no idea what happened to the “you pick who debuts” game, which was largely unpopular, pathetic, and needlessly mercenary. YG could have spent that time building up rookies’ popularity, as surely in 2014 S.M. will be assaulting us with new groups as they have revealed new rookies as well.

As for debuts in 2014, I only have one question: where is Jino? (Apparently he is starring in a musical in Japan and still is under S.M., but seriously. What about his Korean activities?)