[review/kpop] S.M. The Ballad’s “Breath”

In 2014, S.M. The Ballad returned to the music scene. In contrast to the unit’s debut, 2014 S.M. The Ballad included women and released in three languages simultaneously (applause please, seriously impressed with S.M. gunning for the entire Asian market and not prioritizing Korea). The interesting upshot of releasing one song in three different languages is that I get to compare and lampoon everyone who is not Jonghyun. Just kidding, of course.

As this is a SHINee-centered blog, I will be primarily focusing on Jonghyun’s contribution to S.M. The Ballad, but I will briefly discuss all of the other singers and singles within this mini-album. I will also discuss the live joint recital videos that SM has posted on its YouTube channel.

breathe

Breath

SHINee’s Jonghyun and SNSD’s Taeyeon sing the Korean version, and their success is ambiguous. First of all, Breath by itself is not a memorable ballad, just another sappy mix of a piano motive, synthetic strings and teardrop beats. Both Jonghyun and Taeyeon, while sounding controlled, are at times tight and thin-sounding; as Bilbo Baggins describes, it feels like “butter scraped over too much bread.” In the beginning, Taeyeon does have some beautiful moments in her lower register, but her octave duets with Jonghyun feel uncomfortable, sharp while Jonghyun is broad and relaxed. I wonder if they are truly singing a duet, or whether they are merely matching times. There is no real interaction between their singing, and no building off each other. Overall, I believe they are mismatched as a pair; in terms of aural match, Taeyeon and Onew would have been better. Overall, Jonghyun and Taeyeon’s version is not lead vocal material.

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[kpop] rookie alert: Royal Pirates

A few years ago, I came across a Sorry Sorry rock cover, and subsequently fell in love with Royal Pirates and their emo-punk rock inspired style, epitomized with their own single Disappear– my 11th most played song of all time.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 23.57.45

so I’m thinking, part of the Royal Pirate’s “training” included plastic surgery

Royal Pirates made their debut in kpop summer 2013 with Shout Out and were disappointingly bland, bright and cheery, sounding nothing like their emo selves from four years ago. CNBlue, FT Island, and LEDApple all have varying shades of cheeriness, but none of them are “emo” bordering on screamo, and I thought Royal Pirates would really have a chance to differentiate themselves if they stuck with their roots.

Royal Pirates have released another album and single, Drawing the Line (with a fantastic head-banging teaser that recalls their emo days!), and yet again, paired with a few funky electro-synths and happy vibes. Yet, the music video is interesting and the song slightly more punky with quite delicate vocals from Moon-chul, almost like LEDApple’s Hanbyul in some respects. Due to the band being from California, there is an expected pleasure in the album– an English version of Drawing the Line.

Listening to the rest of the album, it is disappointingly produced and full of electronicky-instrumentals. Just another kpop band.

[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

[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.

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[review] SHINee’s 2012 Gayo Daejuns & SM The Performance’s “Spectrum”

KBS Gayo Daejun

(1) Sherlock (Clue+Note) [Remix], SHINee

Does not Minho look totally fat?!

Does not Minho look totally fat?!

First impressions– Minho’s outfit is terrifying. The rest are okay, and I guess can appeal to my hipster tastes, but why is Minho always put with these awkward knee-length suit combinations? With pink highlights to boot? Just because he is the tall one in this group with model looks does not mean he looks good in everything. In fact, these pink highlights are absolutely in the wrong positions; they make him look look chunky instead of svelte. However, you will be happy to learn the Minho was on key! Twice! Even if barely. In fact, this whole performance was nothing short of wildly impressive. I was so moved that I am downloading the performance as I type.

This performance was completely live, though sadly, the MR backing was too loud for most of the members except Jonghyun. Nonetheless, despite Jonghyun having the loudest natural volume, sometimes the MR even crept up upon Jonghyun. Overall, Jonghyun was incredibly energetic in this performance, growling into the microphone all over the place and channeling beasts. Perhaps he has a special lady friend he was thinking of as he performed? This was one of the more aggressive performances of his I have ever seen. Jonghyun’s scatting was amazing, throwing caution to the wind, and came out sounding studio-recorded–it was a pity that the MR was fighting his voice for prominence. Jonghyun needs to be punted back to Immortal Song or better yet, Jonghyun should become a solo act (likewise, S.M. The Ballad should release more material).

Key handled the first chorus, Jonghyun got dibs on the second chorus, and Onew rounded off the third, though only for one line. Key really is a power singer, and I do not think I give him enough credit because I am always hounding him about his raspiness. Good job, Key, really. I think being in a musical has really helped him strengthen his voice for longer periods of singing and more intense choreography. That being said, I wish Onew could sing power parts more. If there is one New Years’ resolution I could give to SHINee’s producers, it is have Onew and Jonghyun swap parts–Onew handles the higher pitched power wailings and Jonghyun handles the smooth basses. Onew and Jonghyun are both extremely competent singers at any range, and that should be showcased and used more.

The dancing was sharp, as usual, and in sync. I never have much to say about dancing because from the past five years, SHINee has been very responsible for dancing, and I have come to expect nothing less. They have not delivered below par, ever.

Overall, the song performed was not the complete song Sherlock (Clue+Note), but a remix version, including the scatting and bridge of Clue, and then ending with Note. Musically, the connection from Clue to Note could have been handled a lot better; essentially, it was just like an awkward pause, or a “we must have something” moment. Perhaps a dance break would have disguised the awkwardness a bit more. Speaking of awkward, this was the performance in which Taemin ripped his pants.

(2) 90s songs medley, Idol Super Band

*most of the videos have been removed. When I have time, I will try to find a video to put here, otherwise please Google the songs yourself for the time being, or watch the full show.

For reference,
Guitar: Jinwoon (2AM) & L (Infinite)
Bass: Jinyoung (B1A4)
Drums: Minhyuk (CN Blue)
Keyboard: Taemin (SHINee)
Vocal: Jonghyun (SHINee), Changmin (2AM), Yoseob (Beast)

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[music] top 10 kpop songs of 2012

Another one of these 2012 posts! Over the last twelve months, I hope I have gained a wider appreciation for kpop. These following 10 songs released in 2012 dominated my playlists:

(1) Catch Me, TVXQ: not a surprise. It is actually quite a solid and epic track, if not for the blubbering bridge in the middle that could have used a sharper ear for dubstep. TVXQ’s jpop release, Android, released earlier in 2012, was a great example of good dubstep pop.

(2) Midnight, BEAST: the instrumentals and the raw vocals really hooked me. B2ST should stick to their sunnier image for a bit.

(3) MAMA, EXO-M: despite the Engrish gibberish, MAMA held its own as an epic dance track. Chen wailing is not bad, either.

(4) Sherlock (Clue+Note), SHINee: the only thing to be said is “why isn’t this number one?”

(5) History, EXO-M: next to Sherlock and Catch Me, quite possibly the third sharpest dance I have seen this year in kpop.

(6) Note, SHINee: Clue‘s synths bother me, but Note‘s relatively straightforward entrance is endearing.

(7) Blue, BIGBANG: I was chilled to the bone when I heard it for the first time.

(8) Day by Day, T-Ara: a girl group appears! Amazing. Then the whole thing with Hwayoung blew up, and suddenly I am scared that T-Ara cannot get this nice sound anymore. You take what you can get; they gave us quite an amazing music video, something you can only weakly hope SNSD gets a chance to do someday.

(9) Sexy, Free, and Single, Super Junior: straight from the indomitable dance anthem gods, and gosh, how can I not resist a song with the word “bingo” slathered all over it?

(10) Beautiful Night, BEAST: for a group that I have regarded on the fringes of kpop for a while, welcome into the ilam realm of consciousness.

[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.