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] 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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 1.02.57

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).

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 1.02.13

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?)

[review] SHINee’s Chapter 2. Why So Serious – The Misconceptions of Me.

Chapter 2. Dream Girl – The Misconceptions of Me is SHINee’s B-side follow-up to Chapter 1. Looking at previous SM releases, like Hello and Lucifer, TVXQ’s Humanoids and Catch Me, and Super Junior’s Mr. Simple and A-CHA, I did not have high expectations.

ALBUM

(1) Nightmare. Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of this song is the heavy use of autotune, except for a the chorus where Jonghyun’s voice dominates. The thick and heavy electronic recalls the previous album, especially Dynamite. In this way, it serves well as a bridge from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2, but gives the listeners a feeling that this album will be darker than the upbeat Dream Girl.

(2) Why So Serious? I have already revealed my thoughts on the single in this previous audio review, so I will not be giving a long written response, but just discuss some other things that I did not mention before.

Continuing with a theatrical theme, Why So Serious? builds on previous singles. Using electric guitar and rock genre as a base, Why So Serious? seems almost bad-boy and rebellious. This song is mixed with some brass reminiscent of Sherlock, and then some walking bass from the funky Dream Girl. However, all of these callbacks to past styles make this single a mess; it’s like the United States shooting random missiles into the Pacific islands just because we can and we have enough missiles to blow up the world several times over– it’s not because we actually have any enemies there or anything. SHINee’s production team just seems like it’s blindly throwing random explosions all over the place, with the hopes that one lands on something. Moreover, think of it this way: French bread, chocolate, and guacamole taste good together on their own, but mixed together, it is something you’d rather not try. Just because Sherlock and Dream Girl were great on their own does not mean mixing those styles together will make a strong single.

As Why So Serious? is a fast-paced rock song, it favors belting. That is, this song favors a singer like Jonghyun, extremely evident as the chorus is plastered with Jonghyun’s vocals. In Replay era, the only other era that fit Jonghyun’s voice well, the sound engineers had the tact to mix their voices into the chorus until Jonghyun could not be perceived unless you listened very closely. However, they do not even bother to hide it on this track. After to listening to this track and Nightmare, I could tell that this album would be heavily Jonghyun.

Perhaps the most raw and beautiful point on this album is Jonghyun’s vocalization at 1:35s, because even on the recording, the power of his voice is overwhelming. This is a great example of being off-key and fitting nicely because it is controlled: Jonghyun’s voice may seem like it wobbles on the high note, but it is very much intentional. I do like Taemin’s beginning vocalization (the second most beautiful point?), and I am pleased to see him becoming more of an aggressive singer. I hope that Taemin receives proper instruction singing those parts or else he could damage his voice. Taemin’s rapping was awkward because his natural speaking voice is not rhythmic or sharp enough; Jonghyun’s problem as well.

(3) SHINe (Medusa I). The English lyrics are silly. The breaking glass recalls Sherlock. All in all, SHINe is a rather generic addition to the album. The song’s style is non-committal, recalling a bit of Dream Girl funk through some bass solos, though it is decidedly on the darker side, as it swaggers arrogantly, is in a minor key, and focuses on the low end of  SHINee’s registers. Nonetheless, this song does reveal the SHINee members’ different flavorings well. I have always felt that Onew’s voice is a bit nutty– not crazy kind of nutty– but the taste is like eating nuts. Just a bit brittle yet smooth at the same time. Key is just full-on peanut brittle. Taemin is caramel, but the one with the weird gooey consistency, not the one that melts in your mouth. Minho is licorice: stiff and drawn-out, some like it, some don’t. Jonghyun is cotton candy, light, airy, and relaxed.

Continue reading

[musings/rumor] kya! Onew and Jung Ah! wait, but what is that in Onew’s hand..

Last night, a thunderstorm blew into SHINee World– rumors of a possible Onew-Jung Ah (After School) couple. Here are the facts, and following are the photos:

  • Onew and Jung Ah were photographed exiting a restaurant and sitting inside a car together.
  • both agencies deny this relationship. From Pledis: “The two are close as senior and junior. They’ve had meals together for a long time and we′ve known the two are close.” From SM: “This is an old rumor and it’s not the truth. We’ve known the two to be close friends.”
  • Onew has cited Jung Ah as his ideal type in 2010.
  • They tweet each other on Twitter.

 

Here are the rumors:

  • they’ve been dating for a year already.
  • Jung Ah has visited Onew’s dressing room during the SHINee World tour and later they were spotted holding hands, wearing couple bracelets.
  • they were on a date in Apgujeong recently without any disguise; they usually have quick dates in Jung Ah’s car.
  • Onew and Jung Ah had previously been spotted ‘linking arms’ at a movie theater.

My personal take on the rumors– with the Jonghyun-SSK scandal, it is quite safe to say that all the SHINee members know they are under watch 24/7 in public, and I doubt Onew would do something as stupid as having dates in public without disguising himself. If I remember correctly, a patch of After School members had visited SHINee to support them in their solo concert; so, Jung Ah may have visited Onew’s dressing room, but the story is incomplete. Were they alone? Was it a long visit? Or was it one of those “congratulations”, bow many times, and leave? Moreover, apparently the holding hands scandal was caused by a user on Twitter who wanted to stir up drama.

Whether they are actually dating or not, I actually do believe that they have gone on at least one date. Especially since Jonghyun confessed that SSK was his ideal type, and then later was revealed to actually be dating her– Jung Ah is no Emma Watson, so I do not think Onew would have any trouble securing a meeting with her and possibly going out on a date with her. Of course, the more salient question is, are they dating now? Perhaps. If they are, I doubt they are meeting regularly now, because Dream Girl promotions are taking up the bulk of Onew’s time.

However, what actually surprised me the most is that Onew seems to still have serious acne. It is naive of me to think money can cure everything, but really, money can cure most acne. Perhaps it is easier and cheaper to put on makeup than invest in intensive care for Onew’s skin. It pains me when I see that he still looks like that underneath the concealer, because acne-friendly or not, concealer still inhibits the pores’ ability to breathe and prevents acne from healing properly and as fast as possible.

The second thing that irked me was Onew’s smoking. Given the prevalence of smoking in South Korea among men is 50%, I am not surprised that Onew is another statistic. Yet, there is something personally disgusting to me about smoking, even though many studies have shown electronic cigarettes do not have the smell or the heavy dose of carcinogens that conventional cigarettes have. Onew is a singer by trade, and smoking away his signature smooth voice signals a lapse of responsibility to me. Perhaps he only occasionally partakes, perhaps. Who knows? All I know is that to me, smoking is disgusting. Please note that this is not a judgment on Onew, saying that he is a bad person because he smokes. Some people prefer the dark and mysterious type, and in the same way, some people prefer non-smokers.

While it is refreshing to see a more human side of idols, Onew has been slipping up too much lately. To this end, I hope everything is all right with Lee Jinki; that rumors of his continuing depression are false. I have no doubt S.M. will deal strictly with Onew this time around, from flipping off Jonghyun, a ‘major’ dating scandal, not putting on makeup adequately when in public, and smoking an electronic cigarette. If I was Lee Sooman, I would have not second qualms about disciplining Onew proportionately, because the image is a huge part of kpop. kpop is all about the complete package, and if one element is ruined, the other parts are in jeopardy, and the other parts include the other SHINee members. Though these are all Onew’s own actions, the other members will still be negatively impacted by his actions. Though Onew has done nothing wrong, his lack of discretion has an impact beyond himself, so I hope he can learn this lesson well and continue being the smiling face that we have come to support.

BONUS SHINee members with acne:  Continue reading

[kpop/finance] examining the P/E ratio of S.M. Entertainment Co, YG Entertainment Inc, and JYP Entertainment Corp

As an ilam resolution for 2013, I decided to learn more about the finances of some of the largest Korean entertainment agencies, (listed in order of size) S.M., YG, and JYP, which are all publicly listed on the KOSDAQ. For this post, let us look at the P/E ratios of these companies.

yes, let's get to it! P/E ratios for everyone!

yes, let’s get to it! P/E ratios for everyone!

Just a bit of terminology before we delve into the fun stuff:

  • a dividend is money paid out to stockholders from a company’s earnings. From what I know, none of the three Korean companies pay dividends.
  • earnings per share (EPS) is a measure of a firm’s profitability, calculated by first subtracting dividends paid from net income, and dividing by the number of company stocks total.
  • price-earnings ratio (P/E) is calculated by taking the current price of the stock and dividing it by EPS. Essentially, P/E is a measure of how much investors are willing to pay per unit of earnings. For example, Amazon’s P/E ratio is 3,085.12, meaning that investors are willing to fork over $3,805.12 for $1 in earnings from Amazon. The higher the P/E ratio, generally, the higher expectations for the company in the future. New companies which are volatile and have suspicious-looking revenue but have good promise will also sport high P/E, like Facebook, with 267.34. Companies with high growth rates will also have high P/E. However, remember that P/E should only be compared within similar industries in the same countries. Different accounting styles in different countries can result in different P/E; American P/E are traditionally higher than European P/E.
  • trailing twelve months (TTM) is an abbreviation which indicates the timeframe of measurements like EPS and P/E.

With all that good terminology under our belts, we can start looking at the respective P/E.

S.M. Entertainment Co P/E (TTM): 452.52
YG Entertainment Inc P/E (TTM): 38.66
JYP Entertainment Corp P/E (TTM): n/a

General P/E for Entertainment – Diversified: 28.40

Wait, why is there no P/E for JYP? For the past twelve months, JYP has been posting -156.00KRW EPS (TTM); essentially, people who have bought JYP stocks have been losing money for the past year; for every share, they have lost around 156KRW, where KRW is South Korea’s currency. What this means for JYP is that it is in very big doo-doo, and has probably been losing money in 2012; we can investigate this hunch when we look at JYP’s income and cash flow statements. When the EPS (the denominator) is negative, it is convention to not report the P/E.

Ignoring JYP, let us examine S.M. and YG. S.M. and YG are clearly above the industry average of 28.40, YG alone is above by a staggering 50%. This signals that the market clearly expects S.M. and YG to have huge headliners in the years to come. Moreover, the world economy is slowly growing, and so consumers– especially those in North America and Europe– who have made cutbacks to their spending in entertainment will increase their spending in 2013. This raises the entire entertainment industry’s P/E.

However, S.M.’s P/E is much higher than YG, suggesting that analysts feel that Continue reading

[kpop] SHINee: 2012 in review

It has been a busy year for SHINee. Because of this year–more than any other–it has become clear that SM intends SHINee to take the helm of the boy bands after TVXQ.

shinee 3

ALBUM: Sherlock Read the review of Sherlock

Released online on 19 March 2012, and promoted for just under a month, Sherlock is the fourth extended play album SHINee has released to date. With a crazily choreographed dance by Tony Testa, SHINee promoted the singles Sherlock (Clue+Note) and Stranger. The lives in which SHINee did sing live were generally well-received, except for a few bumbling lines here and there by Minho, and even in the lives they did not sing live, their dancing was pristine. A solid, but short, comeback in Korea.

CONCERT TOURS: First Japan Area Tour, SHINee World II, SMTown Live World Tour III

Nothing much to say, really, sold-out shows all over the world; SHINee is busy filling their coffers.

see below for a discussion of JongTae, see Key covering Lady GagaTaemin not playing piano again

DRAMA: You’re Beautiful [Minho]

I never wrote anything about this drama on ilam, because (as everyone knows) my bias is mostly Jonghyun, so I rarely pay attention to other members’ solo activities, like Minho acting in You’re Beautiful. However, since I did love watching the Japanese verison, Hana Kimi, I watched the first few episodes of You’re Beautiful. I concluded that Minho has gotten better in acting, and his range of emotions has increased from two to four. Maybe even five. However, Sulli and the other actors were actually passable; I would have continued watching if not for the asinine writing. The funniest parts of Hana Kimi were perverted into emo touchy-feely moments in You’re Beautiful, so I ultimately decided to abandon watching.

GAYO DAEJUNS [end of year performances]: see this post for a complete review

SINGLES: Dazzling Girl, 1000 Years, MAXSTEP [Taemin], Spectrum [Taemin & Minho] / Read the reviews of Dazzling Girl, 1000 Years.

Released on 10 October 2012, Dazzling Girl was SHINee’s first original Japanese single, an upbeat dance track that quickly went down the drain after the first few listens–it also was not too popular in Japan, peaking at no. 2 in the Daily Singles Oricon chart, eventually earning gold certification.

Later this year, 12 December 2012 saw the release of 1000 Years, another original Japanese single by SHINee. This thoughtful single, while not too novel or epic–more like a hand-me-down from TVXQ–was the first real indication about how serious SHINee is about creating material in Japan. Nonetheless, 1000 Years has not been that successful either, peaking at no. 2 in the Daily Singles Oricon.

MAXSTEP by Younique and Spectrum by SM The Performance are, simply put, disasters in dubstep. I never paid much attention to MAXSTEP, as it was marketed as a song promoting Hyundai–a song like that will never be good, like 2NE1’s quasi-debut, Lollipop. As for Spectrum, I discussed it in depth in this post reviewing SHINee’s 2012 end-of-year performances.

SCANDALS: SHINee members receive SM stock, JongTae, Sulli and Taemin couple rings, jujugal closing, Onew’s depression / isolation / beating up Jonghyun, Taemin having lots of foreign sex

The first ‘scandal’ is not exactly scandalous, but I do remember there being quite a bit of uproar when on March 26, 2012, SHINee and their labelmates received shares of SM Entertainment. Each member of SHINee received 340 shares each, which at the time, was valued at $13,600, which is quite a measly value compared to what each SHINee member should bring in each year. Moreover, after payment of the fees to issue stock in the original IPO, a sunk cost, SM really does not lose money either from this transaction because at the core, they are just issuing pieces of paper. Moreover, however the artists choose to treat their shares, either by keeping them or selling them, SM does not lose money either. It is a win-win for SM. All in all, this was more of a symbolic gesture, SM still trying to cover its behind even all these years after TVXQ’s split, and trying to foster a more collaborative community in its company, giving its artists the illusion that they too, can contribute. But 340 shares? Stop kidding me. Out of 20.4 million shares of SM Entertainment outstanding, SHINee collectively owns only 0.000083% of the company.

SHINee fangirls have been waiting for ever this ever since Jonghyun bared his muscled back in LuciferJonghyun parades his muscled chest, every inch as glorious as Minho’s, and then does a steamy performance with Taemin to boot. Nosebleeds abound. The Taemint fandom gathers up a storm.

Of course, a few sharp-eyed Shawols eye Taemin during Sherlock live performances and bring up the unlikely rumor, yet again, that Taemin and Sulli are dating.

Adding to controversial rumors of Taemin dating, the Shawol boat was rocked when jujugal, a well-known Taemint who did many translations and ran her own popular blog, suddenly closed down. Later along the road, many Onew fan sites started closing their borders to outsiders as well. The reason? Malicious Onew-biased fans started accusing the other members of SHINee of isolating Onew, using evidence gathered from the Onew fan sites.

Running along these lines, rumors of Onew’s depression and uncontrollable breakdown which resulted in the beating up of Jonghyun started to spread, along with a rather hilarious one that Taemin loves having lots of sex when abroad. I partially addressed these rumors on formspring: [1], [2]. The conclusion to all these rumors, as ever, there may be a drop of truth–Onew may very well be struggling with fatigue, Taemin may be dating someone–but the extremes to which they are imagined are definitely not true. SHINee are all normal human beings, and we can all give them the benefit of the doubt that they are not as pigheaded as rumors make them out to be.

VARIETY: Taemin on Immortal Song / Read reviews on debut, ep. 2, ep. 3, 4, 5, ep. 6, 7, 8

We should have all seen it coming–with Taemin’s solo activity on Immortal Song kicking off the year–we should have known that 2012 would be Year of Taemin.

Taemin had a solid but unsatisfying run on Immortal Song, slowly improving throughout. However, it really is in the group activities later in 2012 that shows Taemin’s rapid progress as a singer.

[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.