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.

[review] SHINee’s EP Everybody

At first look and listen, the album Everybody felt a bit deja vu. The styling concept reminded me of the red and blacks of Ring Ding Dong, and the empty-R&B-70s sound embodied by the song, Y.O.U. Well, to tell you the truth, I absolutely hated Y.O.U. despite many reviewers saying it was the surprise gem of the album, 2009, Year of US. There are just some songs that cannot be saved, no matter how silky Ontaejongminkey are. Sad to say, Everybody was much like that too.

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Everybody 

I am ambivalent about the title track– I have a strong suspicion that if it were not SHINee singing this song, I would probably never listen to it. It seems to be going along with SM’s trend of “how loud and obnoxious can we make it?” with EXO’s Wolf, SNSD’s I Got a Boy, SHINee’s Why So Serious, and TVXQ’s Catch Me. Careening at breakneck speed, there seems to be little balance and finesse in Everybody, with everyone singing as if their veins are popping at all times.

Because of this, there are not really any memorable or beautiful moments in this song; even Jonghyun sounds strained. All together, I felt that SHINee was unable to inject much personal flavor in such a lead track. The name Everybody is quite ironic, because everybody, or at least, a good number of boy groups, would have been suitable candidates for such a single. With a few minor tweaks, TVXQ, EXO, and Super Junior would have been able to promote such a single.

Moreover, I also think that inclusion of the dubstep or “complextro” added to Everybody‘s weaknesses. It is not necessarily the dubstep itself that ruins the song, rather the overuse and misuse of dubstep in kpop makes SHINee feel behind trend– even more so because Everybody‘s use of dubstep is rather ordinary. Continue reading

[kpop] 2013 retrospective: top 10 singles

I always claim I am out of kpop, but I never really left. Limiting SHINee to three spots, here are top 10 singles sung by Korean artists that I have (embarrassingly) played the most this year. Note that this list is only based on play counts– if I were to do a top 10 based on my actual judgment, this following list would be very different.

10. Rum Pum Pum Pum, f(x): Finally, a girl group manages to crack my listening habits. f(x) shed most of the cute with Pinktape, and the result is a solid electro album.

9. Coffee Shop, CNBlue: Blame Lee Jonghyun. Nonetheless, the rest of the album was lackluster and sounded increasingly similar to their previous work. I am getting worried that CNBlue is running out of ideas.

8. Black Pearl, EXO-M: I panned XOXO when it came out, but I still kept it in my library. I rediscovered it this fall and have fallen in love since, and also gotten a lot angrier that some of these amazing ballads were not given to SHINee. Shawol through and through, eh? Nonetheless, EXO-M continues to surpass my expectations, and I think vocally (not counting the rapping) possesses the edge over EXO-K. Continue reading